Thursday, April 17, 2014

Cupcake Wars: A Real Guilty Pleasure

One of my guilty pleasures is watching cooking shows, especially Iron Chef America, Cake Boss, Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, and Cupcake Wars. Some part of me must want to be a chef or something. Or, it's my glutenous side of me trying to act out. Anyway, I decided to analyze Cupcake Wars, a Food Network show that I have grown to be quite fond of, especially since I am unhealthily in love with sweets (in particular, frosting). 
I have been watching this show for probably about three years now and I have noticed that it's very predictable and heavily edited. They repeat the same sequence of shots for specific scenes in every single episode. In this particular scene (skip ahead to 39:00), we can see that the editing just in the first few seconds is done heavily with the camera(s) appearing from various points of view around the table. Also, the host asks the same staged question (with maybe a minor change so it can be punny) in every episode at the end of the judging: "Alright judges, do we have a winner?" 

The editing for when the two remaining contestants come back also clearly reveals that this is not in real time. While the host is talking to them it seems like it's done in real time and the contestants are doing a really good job at keeping their emotions together. That doesn't seem all that real though because if their career's future and a ton of money were on the line, they'd probably look much more anxious then they appear. That leads me to question if somehow they know ahead of time who's going to win and if their reactions afterwords are fake ones to trick the audience into believing it's all happening right then. When Michelle is announced, she does what every other winner of the show does and covers her face, hugs her assistant, then hugs her provided baking assistants. There must be some nudging to go in that particular order because every winner does exactly the same thing. While Michelle is celebrating, there is a visual commentary from the loser saying how sad and disappointed he is that he didn't win. The winner has a similar commentary about how awesome it us that she won. These commentaries are not done in real time and are either scripted or at least guided because it seems like it's in an answer to a question, almost, and most of them say the exact same thing in every episode.

So, with all this editing and scripting that's happening or might be happening, what's "real" about this show? I think the cakes they make are their own real recipes and the display they come up with in the final round is from their own brain. The mistakes they make, such as using the wrong butter or using imitation flavoring rather than the real stuff, are also their own because not every show has that element in it. Also, the reactions the judges have to the cupcakes and displays appear to be authentic because they show the judges personalities in them. For instance, Candance generally has something positive to say about them as well as a negative and Florian is a little more negative and also has particular quirks like his hatred of imitation flavors. As I'm writing this, though, I'm beginning to question whether their Cupcake Wars personas are in fact personas and they've been coached to act/judge a certain way. I hope not... With all this being said, I think the stuff that appears real is enough to keep people watching and to make the show seem legit.

There's so much more to say about this show: like how it perpetuates our culture's competitiveness and capitalist desires to make some quick money, as well as the interesting gender analysis of the show since most of the contestants on it are female (Why are more females baking cupcakes? Are there more female bakers? Is this an accurate depiction of cupcake bakers? How does the show cater more towards females than males? Why? etc.). I could ramble on, but I'd like to read some of your thoughts.


  1. I could have used some happy cupcakes during our class presentations the other day. In addition to the final Marxist and feminist questions you raise, I also like the idea that these shows, which spin around the twin axes of reality and creativity, turn out to be so predictable and could easily construct a show that fits the structure, which seems to be set in stone as much as any genre film that Hollywood spits out... I used to watch A Baby Story, and after a year of watching them, you could basically write a script that would compare perfectly to almost all of the episodes, even though the whole shtick of the show was that with birth, anything could happen!

  2. As far as being staged, when though watch it on Netflix,, one after the other like so many of us bone watchers do, you REALLY see the formulaic monotony. But NOTHING bugs me more than those constant, ridiculous, hideous hair accessories, aka fascinators!!! It cannot be a coincidence that someone, sometimes two bakers have them in their
    hair EVERY SINGLE SHOW. So tacky. WHY would the show do that? Odd. Watch it & you'll see, then it'lldrive you crazy too. You're welcome.

  3. I too enjoy the show but after watching all the seasons on Netflix with my children, we have noticed a trend. It seems that the majority of the winners are white. While I cannot judge the taste, I can clearly identify a beautiful display over and average display. It seems that during the last round, when a black person is paired against a white person, it is clearly obvious the the white person wins. Maybe I am imagining things but it seems pretty racist to me.

    1. I have to STRONGLY agree with you. Very few african-americans win on this show. I believe that it is obviously racially biased

    2. It is becoming more and more blatant to me. The last 5 episodes that I've watched the African-American contestant has gone home in the first round. I love this show but I am going to stop watching. So disappointing.

    3. It is becoming more and more blatant to me. The last 5 episodes that I've watched the African-American contestant has gone home in the first round. I love this show but I am going to stop watching. So disappointing.

    4. I've only watched two episodes and i had to google this. Such a shame because i enjoyed watching before i noticed.

  4. I've always wondered if Cupcake Wars was real. This doesn't give much information.
    Though, I did enjoy knowing that Cupcake Wars is scripted. And how can you guys watch all the seasons on Netflix? I have Netflix and there's only one season on my thing. But it only shows season two. It seems like there's no season one. It's a mystery.


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