"The Great British Bake-Off" adds an attention-grabbing ingredient in the mix this season

Far be it from us to take this innocent baking competition to task for casting a man who preheats the audience

By Melanie McFarland

Senior Critic

Published October 1, 2022 11:00AM (EDT)

"The Great British Baking Show" 2022 cast (Netflix)
"The Great British Baking Show" 2022 cast (Netflix)

The following contains minor spoilers for "The Great British Bake Off" Season 13, Episode 3 (aka "Great British Baking Show" Season 10, Episode 3)

For a moment it seemed like "The Great British Baking Show" might go stale, having lost the feeling of essentiality bestowed on it by the pandemic. Don't get us wrong; good old "GBBO" (an acronym of its U.K. title "Great British Bake Off") was a fine distraction before COVID was ever a thought, and will remain dear to us no matter what.  

Now that more of us are hungry to leave the house as opposed to hunker down with a sourdough starter, it stands to reason that one of the panny's most popular comforts might be saved for later consumption instead of devoured each week. That was the theory until Nelsandro "Sandro" Farmhouse entered the tent.

Sandro, as he's known, is one of 10 bakers to survive the first three episodes of "The Great British Baking Show" – including the fearsome Bread Week, the annual challenge that separates the Star Bakers and Star Bakers-In-Waiting from the less consistent performers. Although it's still early in the season, Sandro has risen to the top tier or near it in every episode, although he has yet to clinch the sought-after SB designation.

But what am I doing, evaluating this contestant for his above-average-to-excellent baking ability? I could say the same about other contestants in this Season 13 pool, a couple of whom I'm rooting for a bit harder than Mr. Farmhouse, if we're being honest. Still, I hope Sandro sticks around for many more weeks for the shallowest reason ever.

The man is a snack.

"The Great British Baking Show" was never designed to be a beauty pageant, although it's never been lacking for attractive people, either. That always felt like a matter of happenstance on an inclusively cast show that rewards skill and does not leave room to fake one's way through challenges or coast on charm.

The self-taught talent, artistry, and creativity of the home bakers are always going to be the top factors, one assumes, that determine who makes it into the tent.

Look, I'm not proud. But I'm far from alone here.

Nevertheless, "GBBO" is a veteran show in a constantly shifting world and TV environment, and no TV series is immune to some amount of producer manipulation, even one as pure in heart and intention as this.

There's a real sense that in stumbling upon Sandro, whether as an organic part of the casting process or by following a "sourcing" tip, the "GBBO" producers must have suspected they'd found the undiscovered motherlode of telegenic talent. Here is a muscular Adonis with a winning smile and naturally casual sense of humor, who never, ever, skips Leg Day and seems to be fine with carbs. At least for other people.

Then came the frosting on the profile.  "When Sandro, a fitness fanatic from East London, isn't hitting the gym," co-host Matt Lucas gently shares in the first episode's introductory narration, "he works as a full-time nanny."

At this, dear reader, I am ashamed to say I blurted something unseemly and unfit for publication at my television, and in the presence of my incredibly handsome and very understanding spouse, who had never witnessed his wife transform into a leering Tex Avery cartoon.

The pandemic has changed us in unpredictable ways, hasn't it?

Look, I'm not proud. But I'm far from alone here. It seems Sandro's presence has created a stir in the "GBBO" fandom and related media coverage. "Girls, gays, and theys, meet Sandro," declares the opening sentence in a brief about him in Out Magazine.

Meanwhile, another site did its part to make . . . something? . . . happen by reading a whole lot into an Instagram photo of Sandro sharing the same square as fellow contestant Rebecca "Rebs" Lightbody: "Bake Off stars Sandro and Rebs start speculation they're dating." This is entirely possible, yet discounts Sandro's prominent placement in the previously cited Out Magazine article, as well as another headlined, "This Season of 'Great British Bake Off' Is Gay AF."

None of this takes away from Sandro's talent, backed up by the compliments he's earned from Paul Hollywood and Prue Leith based on his Signature, Technical and Showstopper bakes.

Sure, he works out twice a day, but instead of making him seem intimidating, that hobby goes hand-in-hand with his baking.

For this Bread Week Showstopper, the contestants were tasked with creating a Smörgåstårta, a Swedish dish resembling cake, only using bread and savory filling. Sandro's was "coated in maple bacon and cream cheese and filled with beef brisket, sloppy joe sauce, and spicy sirloin steak" and, according to Noel Fielding's narration, "has been designed to meet a particular need."

That need? Soaking up booze after too much music festival frivolity.


A post shared by Sandro (@sandrosbakes)

"The Great British Bake Off" will forever be defined by its camaraderie and the unusual level of support contestants lend to others when they're in a bind. There's still an air of competition in the tent that's certainly more palpable in recent seasons than when the show began. Everybody understands that cake plates and a bouquet aren't the only prizes a person can get from winning.

In this genre known for people questioning whether other contenders are there "for the right reasons," Sandro's motives to excel seem unimpeachable.

Those stakes already caused some controversy due to a Twitter user digging up photos of rap stars enjoying his cakes, implying that Sandro was a ringer masquerading as a home baker. Sandro refuted those claims, according to Metro U.K.: "Never have I been paid for any celebrity cake I made. They were gifts to those I were fans of. That's it."

It shouldn't be surprising that one of TV's most innocent shows would court gossip about its contenders. A milder instance manifested in Season 12 when the audience 'shipped runners-up Chigs Parmar and Crystelle Pereira, which is an uncomfortable thing to indulge in with two regular people.

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The same is true of this nascent Sandro obsession developing in the public, whether the man is seeking it or truly only wants to be recognized for his skills with transforming dough and batter into edible miracles. In a genre known for people questioning whether other contenders are there "for the right reasons," Sandro's motives to excel seem unimpeachable.

According to his official show biography, he turned to baking at the age of 21 as a way of recovering from his father's death. Now it's his main passion, in addition to running virtual baking classes for children with autism. He is dreamy, but for many of the same reasons that make every "GBBO" baker worth spending time with: he's great at baking and seems like a genuinely good person.

Drool if you must, but consider redirecting that lust toward appreciating his burger-shaped macarons, that delectable cookie mask, or the chocolate orange sponge miniature cakes topped with a white candy rose. It's natural for our favorite show and the people in its cast, to make us feel things. In some cases, however, the best way to deal with those feelings is to eat them.

New episodes of "The Great British Baking Show" debut on Fridays on Netflix.


By Melanie McFarland

Melanie McFarland is Salon's award-winning senior culture critic. Follow her on Twitter: @McTelevision

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