Three new faces and familiar one.
Three new faces and familiar one.

The only reality TV show worth watching

IF THERE'S one rule you should follow when tuning in to that most delightful of TV confections, The Great British Bake Off, it's to always have something scrumptious in your house.

After an hour of feasting your eyes on the most delectable looking cakes, biscuits, pies, bread or other such waistline-unfriendly treats, you don't want to be caught out with sad carrot sticks.

The GBBO is back for its eighth season this week on Foxtel and it's the first time the cult series will be without three of its four mainstayers after the show made a move from BBC to Channel 4 in the UK.

Chef and judge Paul Hollywood is the only one to have made the transition, with the venerable Mary Berry replaced by restaurateur and cookbook author Prue Leith.

The goofy hosting pair of Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins also stepped down after the previous series and in their place are the mercurial Noel Fielding of Mighty Boosh fame and comedian Sandi Toksvig.

Longtime GBBO devotees might have been horrified at the changing of the guard but the producers have tried to keep as much the same as possible so that should allay their fears. Even last year's set with its aqua and plum KitchenAid mixers and fridges have remained.

Leith is confident, and Fielding and Toksvig's chemistry and cheesy puns are better bedded down with each episode. In short, the newbies haven't stuffed it up.

Great British Bake Off reborn.
Great British Bake Off reborn.

This year's batch of contestants is another slice of multicultural Britain, from enthusiastic teens to seasoned grannies, with a couple of engineers and biomedical scientists thrown in - they're the ones that use spreadsheets to measure out the precise ratio between mango cream and sponge.

GBBO is that rare beast in the "reality competition" genre in that it's actually worth watching. Instead of its nasty cousins with their tedious focus on scandals, rivalries and "villains", GBBO is a salve for all the ills of its thankless category.

The series always strive to show the best in people, like when two contestants jumped in and helped their competition construct their biscuit sandwiches as the clock counted down. Imagine that, a reality show based on people being lovely to each other instead of petty, surely we could all use more of that?

It also embodies that "Keep Calm and Carry On" British spirit - no one throws a tizzy (except for that one time in an earlier series with a melted ice cream cake, and he was promptly booted for losing his cool).

In this series, one contestant confessed that he was a bit "upset" when the judges spat out his food, but then he got on with the job. No tantrums, no scheming for revenge. Someone can even utter "what a disaster" without sounding the least bit dramatic. How invigorating.

Is it a watermelon? Is it a cake? Is it a watermelon cake?
Is it a watermelon? Is it a cake? Is it a watermelon cake?

Instead, GBBO is a master at whipping up compelling TV, the kind of TV when your breath hangs on whether the top of the cottage loaf is going to collapse into the bottom of the cottage loaf. Or if the liquid in the rhubarb is going to turn that fruity cake into a sodden mess, or as it's put on the show: "The Russian roulette of rhubarb".

It's very droll, very British, and full of witty insights like "teacake is the poor cousin of the hot cross bun".

It's the opposite of the loathsome likes of My Kitchen Rules and The Block with their fabricated, overtly produced "controversies". You're also not bored with endless backstories designed to smugly manipulate your emotions.

If you hate those shows, be assured that GBBO is the only reality TV series worth watching.

Sitting down to GBBO is like, well, it's like sitting down to a cup of tea while the smell of baking scones waft through the house. Truly restorative.

The Great British Bake Off season eight starts on Foxtel's Lifestyle Food channel tonight (Tuesday, November 7) at 7.30pm.

For more on TV and movies, follow @wenleima on Twitter.

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