by Don Laird, contributing writer
Ever since its inception, American reality television has been synonymous with matching contestants against one another in a way that polarizes the participants, as well as the audience. By the season finale, viewers have witnessed some of the worst qualities of humanity surface for the sake of cash prizes, short-lived fame and “championship” status. Heroes and villains are forged in the editing room. And if the winners and losers seem thrown into a frenzied life-or-death struggle, then the show’s producers have succeeded. Overall, it makes for saccharine television, but it does generate sufficient enough ratings and thus keeps the advertisers happy. Food and home improvement shows are not impervious to this well-worn formula either. Producers impose a narrative structure on the ordinary, but use deception and a very heavy hand to do so.
This is just one of many reasons why The Great British Baking Show emerges as a refreshing reminder that people can still be competitive without being ruthless or aggressive heels. The show moves at a rapid pace, and it is indeed packaged neatly for television, but the participants aren’t driven by money or fame. In fact, no one wins a cash prize. Furthermore, there are no book deals or promises of instant fame by way of a Food Network show.
The participants are there because (wait for it) they truly love baking. It’s about the pride that comes from doing a job well-done and watching the contestants at work, as well as the pastoral scenery that opens and ends each segment which is both soothing and, in a word, nice. No arguments, no name calling and no yelling, just talented bakers from across England demonstrating their skills and humanity. Imagine that.
The Great British Baking Show is a pleasurable example of how competition can be healthy. It teaches us that civility and challenge can co-exist, and stands as a reminder that we can model the same example for children. Both winning and losing helps kids expand on important skills they’ll use in adulthood, like developing empathy, losing with grace and dignity, sharing, persistence and perseverance. Moreover, when these qualities are present a child is more likely to ask to participate in the activity again. After all, learning new skills and improving is how our kids build self-esteem and confidence.
Winning is not the point in life. Finding meaning in a life-project and defining goals and accomplishments while helping others is a much healthier philosophy. We try to be there to support our kids through their challenges and should regularly reinforce the message that it’s okay to not win as long they are putting forth the effort and learning from the experience.
In many ways, the mission and programs of Luminari share a similar connection to the qualities cultivated and displayed on The Great British Baking Show. In particular, Camp Delicious, not simply because both promote an appreciation for food, but because of the enthusiasm, camaraderie and skills fostered among the leaders and participants of the camp. Teens blossom into capable and confident culinary adventurers ready to show off their new skills with a healthy respect for learning and working with others, much like the contestants of The Great British Baking Show.
Don Laird, NCC, LPC, DCC, is a Licensed Professional Counselor with more than 16 years of experience providing psychotherapy and counseling to adults, teens and couples who are struggling with a wide range of mental health and life issues. Don is a writer and adjunct professor who teaches graduate and undergraduate courses in professional counseling and psychology at Carlow University. Additionally, he facilitates workshops and classes in dreams, creativity, self growth, and stress reduction.