The great divide: Bake Off v The Apprentice

Rise to the challenge: Do these two reality shows hold the keys to the human spirit?

Both TV shows ask ordinary people to compete for a grand title. Both attract millions of viewers to the BBC. And yet they could not be more different. So are you more Apprentice or Bake Off?

Last night 10 million people tuned in to watch six amateur bakers compete to make the best desserts inside a tent in the Berkshire countryside. The hour was stuffed with silly puns, whimsical characters, and fretting over filled rolls. And when a disappointing mousse sent someone home, they were comforted with warm hugs and kind words from their former rivals.

This, of course, is The Great British Bake Off — a programme so popular that it has been called a ‘religion’, and it has inspired several copycat shows around the world. After the divisive referendum in Britain last June, many TV critics proclaimed: ‘We need Bake Off more than ever.’ Only choux pastry and gingerbread pubs, they argued, could reunite a country in crisis. And when it was announced that the show would move to Channel 4, there was a national outcry.

Tonight six million people will tune in to BBC One again for the first episode of its other flagship reality show. The Apprentice is extremely influential; two of its stars, Alan Sugar and Karren Brady, are now members of the House of Lords. Its American cousin introduced the world to Donald Trump — a man who could soon be president of the USA.

This will be a very different hour of television to last night. Set in London’s financial centre, the show will see 18 entrepreneurs fight for Lord Sugar’s approval in the ruthless world of business. ‘I can charm and manipulate situations to get results; I’m quite Machiavellian,’ said one of this year’s contestants in his audition tape. ‘I compare myself to Darwin… I am simply the best,’ said another.

The two shows give polar opposite takes of life in Britain. One shows a country which is community-driven and gently self-deprecating. The other is ambitious, competitive and materialistic.

Perhaps, say some, this is the most fundamental choice of them all. Forget left- or right-wing, cats or dogs, optimist or pessimist. The real question is — are you a Bake Off or an Apprentice person?

You’re hired

Clearly a Bake Off person, say many. The most important things in life are being yourself, trying your best, and caring about others. That’s what Bake Off contestants do so well, and it is why the show’s final is often the most watched programme of the year. Best of all, they do it with a sense of humour and a genuine passion for well-iced biscuits. Perfection!

Spare me, say others. Bake Off is a fantasy land — let’s not forget that it is leaving the BBC next year to get more funds from elsewhere. At least The Apprentice is honest about what really makes the world go round: money. Besides, there is nothing wrong with being ambitious, confident and competitive. Those are all vital skills in the real world.

You Decide

  1. Are you a Bake Off or an Apprentice person?
  2. Do either of these shows tell us anything about British identity?


  1. In the Bake Off spirit, design a show-stopping cake inspired by Great Britain.
  2. Now for an Apprentice challenge. In teams, come up with an idea for a small business that you can run at break-time in your school tomorrow. When your class next meets, find out which team made the most money.

Some People Say...

“Life doesn’t imitate art, it imitates bad television.”

Woody Allen

What do you think?

Q & A

Isn’t this a bit far-fetched?
Perhaps — but sometimes so-called trivial things like TV competitions can offer a mirror to the real world. The Great British Bake Off, for example, has been celebrated and criticised for its careful selection of contestants of all races, religions and sexualities. Is this responsible casting or political correctness? It’s always worth thinking about the values which popular culture is teaching us, and whether we agree with them.
I want to be on one of these shows!
Perhaps you can — the youngest Bake Off contestant was 17-year-old Martha, who combined filming with coursework and studying for her AS levels. Young Apprentice auditioned 16 and 17-year-old wannabe entrepreneurs for three seasons, but was cancelled in 2013. Still, give it a few years and who knows?

Word Watch

Copycat shows
As of this time last year, Bake Off had been sold to 21 countries abroad — including Le Meilleur Pâtissier in France, and The American Baking Competition.
Around 53% of voters in Britain opted to leave the European Union on June 23rd.
Channel 4
Love Productions, which makes Bake Off, sold it to Channel 4 for £25m per year after the BBC refused to pay more than £15m.
House of Lords
The upper house of the British Parliament. Peers like Lord Sugar are appointed by the government to approve laws passed by MPs in the House of Commons.
Donald Trump
The businessman was already well known in the USA when he began filming The Apprentice in 2003, but it helped to transform his image.
A reference to the Renaissance writer Niccolò Machiavelli. His name now means a cunning disregard for morality, and a focus on personal gain.
The contestant was referring to Charles Darwin’s theory of the survival of the fittest, or natural selection. In other words, the idea that only the strongest creatures survive to pass on their genes.


PDF Download

Please click on "Print view" at the top of the page to see a print friendly version of the article.