"THE GREAT AMERICAN BAKING SHOW" — ABC, Dec. 14, 8 p.m.
SALT LAKE CITY — On each episode of “The Great American Baking Show,” skilled bakers compete against each other in three challenges to secure a spot and stay in the running for a shot to be crowned "America's Best Amateur Baker" and get that coveted cake plate. For Highland native Bryan McKinnon, there was a fourth challenge in the season’s premiere episodes: self-doubt.
The season’s first two episodes aired Thursday, Dec. 7, and even though McKinnon believed she would be sent home after the first episode, she is one of eight bakers still in the running. Turns out, she was her own worst enemy.
“At least in the beginning, the hardest part for me was not feeling so inadequate, like, ‘Why did they choose me to come here? Why am I here?’” McKinnon told the Deseret News. “I had to learn quickly that it was the most horrible mindset to have. When I did poorly it was because I just doubted myself.”
McKinnon found out she’d been selected as one of the 10 bakers to compete on the show’s third season at the end of July — on the same day her husband was taking a bar examination. As a loyal fan of the show’s British counterpart, she’d applied on a whim, with some encouragement from a good friend.
“I never saw myself doing anything like this,” McKinnon said. “I didn’t think that my skillset was there. But I thought, ‘When do I ever do anything for myself?’ Being a mom of two young kids, that kind of consumes you, which I chose it and I love it, but I thought, ‘I might as well.’”
So McKinnon traveled across the pond — the show is filmed at the same location of “The Great British Baking Show” — and spent a month in England overcoming doubt, getting used to being on a TV show and being in the presence of judge Paul Hollywood, learning how to work with different ingredients and handling being away from her family.
“The hardest thing was leaving my kids for a month, because I’d hardly left them for a couple days," she said. “(But) I figured out that yes, it is so good to be a mom — this is what I wanted to do, it’s always what I wanted to do — but the most important thing is also keeping an identity aside from being a mom. I learned that I’m actually an interesting person past being a mom, which was fun to figure out. That is one of the biggest things I learned from the show. I know it was about baking, but every single one of the contestants would tell you that they learned so much about themselves.”
McKinnon also enjoyed getting to know her fellow bakers and competitors on the show, a diverse group tied together only by a love and passion for baking — the show’s big prize is a cake plate, not a grand monetary prize, after all.
“When do you get to hang around a bunch of bakers and talk about baking 24/7?” she said. “It was cool that you can get a group of people like that, like really anyone, and as long as you can find common ground you can get along with people and you can become really good friends. You don’t have to share the same beliefs or have the same goals in life. It was cool how we all came together.
During the monthlong filming process, the bakers commiserated over the fact that they had to wear the same clothes two days in a row — one episode is filmed over two days — and shared their highs and lows of each episode, which, for McKinnon, might have been when a bee landed in her caramel.
One of the highs for McKinnon, who is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was getting to talk about her faith on the show. After each baking challenge, the judges would interview the bakers to get to know them better, and McKinnon found that faith was an integral part of those conversations.
"(On the show), I learned pretty quickly that it’s better to have a good attitude and just want to be happy for the people around me rather than focus on my feelings," she said. "They would ask me a lot, ‘Why are you being so positive?’ ‘What makes you so happy?’ and it was cool to just be able to say, ‘I definitely am the person I am and the happiness I have is because of my belief in God and the redeeming power of the Atonement.’ It was just cool to be able to openly talk about that on national TV.”
McKinnon’s just as grateful for the opportunity the show has given her to represent and reach out to young mothers.
"You chose a great calling, being a mom’s the best, but you’re also a person, too. I wanted to represent that you’re not throwing your life away. It’s a choice I made and it’s probably the best choice I’ve ever made," she said. ”I just feel like it’s so important for moms to know that you need an identity past being a mom. I feel like I want to shout that to the world."