This week’s episode of Next Great Baker went behind the scenes of the show, tracking the 13 contestants from their auditions to arrivals to introductions. Spoiler alert: do not read if you don’t want to know the outcomes of of Episodes 1, Episode 2, Episode 3. and Episode 4.
“I’ve got a small-time bakery,” Lexington’s James Brown of Brown’s Bakery says to the camera, “nowhere near like what you see at that facility.”
Peter describes it as like “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.”
Louisville’s Ashley Holt puts it plainly, “my first day scared the [bleep] out of me.”
Brown says, “you have the tools that you’re used to working with; you have the equipment that you’re used to working with…And then suddenly you come into this environment. That presents a challenge in and of itself.”
Cake Boss Buddy Velastro says, “I asked everyone who applies to send in a video introducing themselves and telling me what they bring to the table.”
Footage is played of James Brown’s audition video, “my dad told me when I came to college, find a job that you can either eat for free, sleep for free, or get clothes for free. I figured with eating, you’ll never go hungry.”
“Some of these bakers have applied all three seasons,” Velastro says.
She says, “I’m so happy I didn’t get picked for the last two seasons. It really is a blessing in disguise, because where I was two years ago, compared to now is completely different. My skill has really gotten a lot crisper and I’ve learned a lot more. I have a lot more confidence.”
Out of hundreds of audition tapes, about 50 are selected to come to Lackawanna. They start with buttercream.
Holt says, “the first thing my Mom told me coming here is ‘Ashley, control your emotions.’ I’ve done good so far, but if I get pissed off, I’m sure you’ll be able to know.” (This is played right after a clip of her calling Paul a douchebag.)
“Because they go to war together,” Velastro explains, “they form some really strong bonds. That bond was really clear in the second challenge, when James shocked us with a very emotional announcement.”
At the end of episode 2, Brown told them the superhero cake challenge would be his last. He’d been diagnosed with a brain tumor, and would be leaving the competition.
Peter says, “it was heartbreaking seeing James go. I didn’t expect that at all.”
Brown says, “To see people crying, because you’re leaving. Obviously you’ve touched them as much as they’ve touched you.”
Velastro says, “I didn’t know this was going on in the stew room, and I was this close to eliminating someone from Melissa’s team. I had no idea why James had returned to the elimination room.Usually, people can’t wait to get out of there. I really couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Everybody in that room was crushed at that moment.”
Fellow contestant Letty Alvarez (who has established a Help James Brown, “James Brown Hope Fund” to help cover the costs of Brown’s Bakery while he recuperates from the surgery he will have on January 10, 2013) says, “He’s sick and he’s got the same illness that took my father out of my life. My heart broke for him.”
Jen says, “he was my savior at that moment. He came in and totally rescued me and Melissa. Because I really thought we were both going home.”
“I have never felt,” Brown says, “as loved by so many strangers. I can sincerely say I love these guys, and I know I felt that from them.”
“Even though there’s competition,” Velastro says, “it’s nice to know that when something real comes into it, these people have hearts. They all really care about each other.”
This is quickly followed by a debate among the contestants as to who is Teacher’s Pet — Ashley or Chad. (The consensus seems to be: Ashley. She has won the most MVPs at this point in the season.)
The remaining mystery to be solved in tonight’s special: where’s Garrett? The Tennessee contestant didn’t show in episode 4, and was AWOL, offscreen having an anxiety attack.
Four bakers have gone to the box truck. Velastro handicaps the rest of the season:
“Gretel-Ann is a tough competitor, and she’s playing the game. Anybody who’s playing the game,I’d look out for. What do the competitors think of each other’s skills at this point?”
Brown says, “I was really impressed with Peter and his work.”
Ashley Holt says, “Jen and Gretel-Ann, they’re the piping queens.”
Velastro adds, “when it comes to cake decorating, Jen does probably the cleanest work out of anybody. Her baking skills…? Um…”
“Chad is definitely up there,” the host says, “in what he can bake and what he can do. The problem with Chad is, it just seems like he’s always on the bottom team.”
“Chris,” he adds, “has definitely been someone who surprised me. I could see his evolution, so I’m probably the most impressed with the way he’s progressing.”
“Everything Ashley has baked for me has tasted great,” Velastro says. “That’s definitely her strength. Her weakness might be sometimes she blows her stack a little bit… So the question is, who will make it to the Final Three?”
“Chad, Ashley, and Jen,” Brown theorizes.
“The biggest threat to me,” Ashley says, “would be Chad.”
“If I had to bet a million dollars,” Melissa says, “I would place my bet on Ashley.”
The horse race is on… And Velastro’s Garrett decision, though teased throughout tonight’s episode (and the two prior), is still a cliffhanger.