How Food Network baking competitions help fill the sports void

Holiday Baking Championship Judges Around a Table
(Image credit: Food Network)

Hey there, sports fans, welcome back. Hope you’re doing okay. The pandemic has taken few prisoners, and as the world tries its best to feign normalcy, we’ve had all kinds of odd attempts at keeping sports alive. We had the NHL playoff bubble, the NBA hilarious hotel lockdown, the MLB disaster, and the nose out mask mess of the NFL. As we barrel towards Thanksgiving, it feels like the pool of ball throwing and stick pucking gets dryer and dryer. While our beloved games become less available and even more of an ethical minefield, submitted for fans, our favorite off-season sport: Food Network baking competitions.

We’re not here to argue whether baking competitions counts as a sport, but if we had to, we would assert that they definitely do qualify as an “an activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment.” Watching a gaggle of retired football players commentate sweaty bakers sliding around a kitchen carrying jars of sprinkles trying to beat the clock before facing judges is about as “sport” as we’re going to get between football games. So grab your ice cold beer, or maybe even a peppermint hot chocolate and nestle into your butt groove because sports aren’t cancelled just yet.

Contestant and Judge, Eddie Jackson, on Christmas Cookie Challenge

(Image credit: Food Network)

If you’ve ever been an armchair coach, then baking shows are for you. Sure, you might have had a great stint in the AAA when you played peewee, but it’s armchair at best when you criticize someone’s stick handling or layup technique. That’s part of what sports gives us: the ability to criticize a finely tuned professional for something we could never do. And baking competitions, sports fans, give us more of just that. Few of us have perfectly tempered chocolate or achieved a flawless flake in our pie crusts, but that won’t stop viewers from commenting “that’s never going to set up,” as a panicked contestant smears microwaved chocolate onto a silicone mold.

Perhaps Duff Goldman in a Bruins jersey isn’t sporty enough for you, even as he sits upon his Holiday Baking Championship judge’s seat. But don’t worry, former NFL and CFL Quarterback and color commentator, Jesse Palmer, is here with that signature cadence and impossible shoulder width to remind you this is a sport. Did someone suggest to you that cookie decoration isn’t athletic enough for you to bark “come on, hustle!” at from over your Hungry-Man dinner? Eddie Jackson, host of Christmas Cookie Challenge and former NFL Cornerback has other things to say about it.  

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If you miss the instant replay, the slow-motion moments of a questionable injury you wish you didn’t see but can’t bare to look away from, Holiday Wars could be your flavor. As bakers show up week to week to compete with cake and sugar, you’ll almost definitely be bombarded with slow motion clips of large sugar pieces falling to the ground and shattering. The familiar calamity.

As you unbutton your jeans after that extra slice of pumpkin pie and consider what sport to throw your eyeballs at after football is done, do yourself a favor and click your way through to the backlog of holiday baking competitions. Get ready to hurl your unsolicited advice at professionals who can’t hear you through the TV, cheer along with Hail Mary cake stacking, and feel the emotional weight of upsets when the favorite serves up an underbaked crust. Sports fans might feel without as ESPN continues to reflect on trades for unscheduled seasons, but you’re all just a few clicks away from the next best thing.

Lindsay Traves

Lindsay Traves is a Toronto-based writer. After submitting her Bachelor’s thesis, “The Metaphysics of Schwarzenegger Movies,” she decided to focus on writing about her passions; sci-fi, horror, sports, and comic books. You can find her writing on CGMagazine, Pajiba, What to Watch, Grim Magazine,, and Bloody Disgusting and can follow her work on Twitter and Instagram. You can also check out her podcast, The Pod and The Pendulum, at your usual podcast spots and find The Smash List on YouTube for tech reviews.