Hosts, Madeleine Sami and Hayley Sproull - The Great Kiwi Bake Off - photocredit Jae Frew

“I’m the Mary Berry”: Great Kiwi Bake-Off hosts Hayley Sproull and Madeleine Sami

It’s been a beloved cultural phenemenon for a few years now, but the Bake-Off finally makes it way to our shores. Hosted by Hayley Sproull and Madeleine Sami, Sam Brooks interviews the pair spearheading the Great Kiwi Bake-Off ahead of its premiere tonight.

Straight up: I haven’t watched an episode of the Great British Bake-Off. It sounds like the most wholesome show, but I like me a bit of drama. If I want wholesome, I’ll go to a park and watch toddlers poison ducks with bread.

So I approached the idea of the Great Kiwi Bake-Off with a lot of trepidation. There’s a segment of British society that lends itself well to inherent loveliness and politeness – your Rosemarys and Thymes, your Mrs. Buckets, your Doctor Whos – that I wasn’t sure we would be able to capture with Kiwiness. New Zealanders come by their politeness through 1) colonisation, and 2) an emotional reservation and aversion to conflict.

But after watching one episode of GKBO, I’m hooked. The wholesomeness translates, and there’s just enough of the contestants gently taking the piss out of themselves and each other to keep it from being as diabetically sweet as its originator – it’s the Great Kiwi Bake-Off, if you caps lock the ‘Kiwi’. It’s bright, technicolour television, and exists as the purest distillation of wholesome entertainment.

A big part of why the show works is down to the contestants, which range from an amateur musical theatre enthusiast to an 18-year-old girl who might be the least objectionable frontrunner of a reality show ever. An even bigger part of why the show works comes down to the two hosts: Hayley Sproull and Madeleine Sami.

Second straight up: I’ve been a fan of Madeleine Sami ever since seeing her in Super City, which proved her to be an impressionist and comedian with a talent that far exceeded what we’ve seen in New Zealand for a full generation. I’ve also been a fan (and begrudging friend) of Hayley Sproull since seeing her in Miss Fletcher Sings The Blues, and have been touting her as a straight-up triple-threat star as long as anybody will listen to me, which is not a very long.

They bring a huge amount of charisma to the show, and Sproull, in particular, has a gently dark sense of humour that sits comfortably with a Kiwi audience. She’s the kind of host who takes the piss out of you because you know she loves you, and her taking the piss is an indicator of that love, not a genuine insult. It gels well with the GKBO vibe, and it’s a huge part of what makes it work.

I got a chance to talk, and riff with the two hosts at SkyCity’s Sugar Club (which is a humble brag on my part) about what the show is, and got to introduce them to my homebrew recipe: ‘Samgria’.

A flattering screenshot of Hayley and Mads.

Sam Brooks: Hello! So, who is the Mary Berry and who is the… other one? I have not seen the original show.

Madeleine Sami: (immediately interjecting) She’s the Mary Berry!

Hayley Sproull: (in a terrible British accent) I’m the Mary Berry.

Do you mean who is the Mel and who is the Sue?

Yes, that’s it!

Hayley: It’s easy to mix up.

Mads: I think I’m the Sue. No, I’m the Mel.

Hayley: Yeah, you’re the Mel.

Mads: You’re the Sue. You’re the tall one.

Hayley: Am I the tall gay one? And you’re the short–

Mads: The short one, that feels right, that feels right.

Hayley: We were actually saying before though, I think we have quite a different style to them. I think that they’re a bit more, quite English, a bit more polite perhaps, whereas I think we definitely have brought more of a Kiwiness to it.

Mads: We haven’t seen it yet, so we don’t even know what our style is. We didn’t know each other before – I mean we did know each other before…

Hayley: No, we knew of each other–

MADS: Well we hadn’t like, played, tested – we hadn’t even tested or auditioned together, so we hadn’t even tested our chemistry, worked out what our vibe would be, so making it up on the spot.

So how did you find that vibe and make it work throughout the show?

Hayley: Well, we were quite instant friends, eh?

Mads: Yeah, we sort of let our own personalities lead it, and as the days went on and the heat from the ovens took over, we kind of got quite nuts. We’re a bit more mad I think, than Mel and Sue. 

Hayley: Look, some of it will be hit, some of it will be miss…

Mads:  And look, it’s great to be part of the first season, and no other season – but you know, we had fun, and we’ve made a friendship now.

Hayley: A true friendship.

Where did you guys actually film the show? Do you guys go all around the country?

Hayley: We didn’t go anywhere, it’s all in Auckland! The craziest thing about it is it’s a ten-week show but we filmed it over thirteen days.

So that was hard for us, ‘cause you know, there were long days, and you’re constantly trying to be on, and funny, and all that – but so hard for the bakers, I think, who just each day had to keep coming back. They had two bakes a day… But we were out in Mangere, at this place called Kelliher Estate, and it’s like this beautiful house – but like the British one they had set up a marquee, like a Bake Off Tent, to bake in there. But the contestants come from like, all over.

Mads: Yeah.

Hayley: From Invercargill…

Hayley and Mads: (weirdly pronouncing Invercargill)

So who–

Hayley: (interjecting) Who wins? Can’t tell you, Sam.

Mads: Can’t tell you, mate! Far out!

Funny. Hope we get banter like that on the show.

So who did you end up, like, hanging out with and just being like, “Oh my god, I love this one, and this one.”

Mads: We would only hang out with people while we were shooting, while the cameras were rolling. We actually had to be separated from them a lot, because often we were with the judges and the judges were often deliberating. Some bakes were like four, five hours long though, so we’d be hanging out in the Bake Off tent with them for four-five hours.

Oftentimes the camera wouldn’t be on us, and we’d just be having a chat, going “How are you doing, can we help you with anything?”

Hayley: Yeah, you have your TV chat and then cameras would leave and then you’d go, like, “Are you okay?”

Mads: “Are you okay? Do you need anything? Do you want me to make you a cup of tea?”

Hayley: “That looks so delicious”.

Mads: “Can I have a taste?” Hayley was always trying to eat everyone’s stuff.

Hayley: I ate so much food, Sam. I’d be talking to someone, but really my focus was the food and how I could get closer to the food.

Rugby baker Joel, Hayley, Sue and Dean.

How is the vibe of it – how is it different from like, the UK version? How is it more, ‘NZ’, you know, “Kiwiana’?

Hayley: We had some real Kiwi archetypes as contestants. Like one of our contestants, he’s a rugby player, his friends don’t even know that he bakes!

Oh my god, I already love him. My good rugby son.

Mads: He hasn’t told his rugby mates.

Hayley: He’s a hottie, he’s a tradie. We would go along and try and be like “Hi! How’s it going? and he’d be like, (in a lower, bloke voice) “Oh yeah, sweet”.

Mads: (also in a lower, bloke voice) ”Oh yeah, sweet – I’ll probably go out this week, yeah, but you know, all good.”

Hayley:  And we would be like, “… cool.”

Mads: Definitely in the personalities of the bakers, you know – and that’s the thing that drives this show. Then, of course, Sue (Flesichl) and Dean (Brettschneider) have their own unique judging style. But very similar to the British version in that we’ve similar personality, you know–

Hayley: Probably just not as posh.

Mads: Not as posh, maybe, but similarly kind of self-deprecating. You know, underplayed. Doubting your own ability –

Hayley: “Oh, it’s not that good, y’know.”

You’ll also see heaps of the classic Kiwi recipes – pavlova, ginger crunch, slices… All that kind of stuff. Cream buns, bread-and-butter…

Who made cream buns?!

Mads: (ignoring my important question) There’s a lot of stuff that’s specific to New Zealand.

Hayley: Yeah, and not far from what you’d find in the Edmond’s Cookbook, but just done kind of, better and a bit more fancy than like, your mums.

But it’s really different to other cooking shows in that – so in the Bake Off, they don’t win a huge amount of money, it’s just like they win a title. And so, sort of that ugly competitiveness or all that kind of, like, unnecessary drama that a lot of other cooking shows have – it’s totally away from this.

Mads: It’s quite pure, quite a pure concept. People are there because they love to bake. They’re not going to win a huge prize, they’re there for the right reasons.

Hayley: They love to cook.

Mads: The format is such that it’s not made to create a lot of drama – the drama comes in the actual challenges themselves, and actually trying to complete your bake on time. That’s where the drama is in every episode. So there’s nothing about, there’s no manipulation of people, to get personalities to clash with other personalities; which is the reason why I’ve always been drawn to watching this show.

Hayley: Yeah.

Mads: ‘Cause I can’t stand that bullshit of some of those other things. I’m not one of those people that could buy into a reality show. Especially when I feel like it’s been constructed, ‘cause I guess from an acting point of view I’m always like – that’s a terrible actor! They need better lines, and they can’t fly this!

Hayley: (loudly, actorly) Not trained!

Mads: So you know, this is the kind of reality I can totally dig, because it feels like you’re getting… it feels like you can’t really, you know, fake too much.

Hayley and Mads investigate a dinosaur cake.

So if you had to compete on the show, what would you make?

Hayley: I would make.. I don’t really, I don’t have any kind of, like–

Mads: You’d make a slice.

Hayley: I’d probably make a ginger crunch, ‘cause my dad really loves ginger crunch. Or, I’ve been doing – it’s so wanky though – lots of like, paleo baking…

Absolutely not for me.

Hayley: You have to try something new because you can’t use all of the ingredients you’re so used to using your whole entire life, so suddenly cream and cream cheese become blended-up cashews.

So with paleo baking, I’ve made some amazing stuff, and then I’ve made some absolute – ugh– cardboard.

So I’d maybe make like a paleo cheesecake. Yeah, you heard it here. A paleo baker.

Mads: I don’t like baking that much at all, so I’d probably just go like a lamb cake.

Hayley: You can’t turn up to cake week with a roast lamb?!

Mads: I’ll do a roast lamb cake. I’m gonna do a roast lamb cake.

Hayley: With a kumara crumble.

Mads: Nah, just roast kumara!

HAYLEY: What would you make, Sam?

I can’t cook, so… I would make a Samgria.

Hayley: Oh, a Samgria – I’ve heard about these. I’m yet to have one.

Mads: What is this?

It’s red wine, soda, lime, and vodka. Like, it sounds foul, because it is foul, but it’s also quite delicious.

Hayley: It sounds… trash.

It is trash!

That poor icecream.

What do you guys think that Kiwis will get out of seeing themselves in such a beloved property and like, full-on cultural phenomenon?

Hayley: Like Mads said, so much of reality TV is so warped because there’s nothing real about it, including the personalities they get on there. [On] most reality TV shows they get the biggest kinds of personalities to clash together, whereas this is just like watching us – it’s like watching your neighbour, watching your dad, watching your friends cooking, doing what they love.

Mads: I feel like people are going to root for them, you know? I find that when I watch the British version, like these are just normal people that are pretty exceptional in their own time at making really yummy things.

Hayley: Nothing to win and nothing to lose.

Mads: It’s really just your average New Zealander who’s exceptionally good at this little secret skill they have, that only their families know about, and there’s something quite exciting about discovering these people that can do this really great thing, and because they have just learned it all on their own,  you’re kind of already in their corner.

I felt that even just hosting the show and watching these people every day come in and just bake their hearts out every day – especially the [technical] challenges, where they have no idea, and some of them hadn’t cooked the thing before, and they’re just cooking blind, you know? Some of them literally were like, “I’ve never done this”, and then they come out with something amazing.

Hayley: And they all had different strengths as well, because each week is a different theme. So if your speciality is cakes, then you’ll do really well in cake week. If you’re really good at pastry but not good at bread… If you’ve never cooked bread before but you’re really good at slices… you might win one challenge and then be going home the next [challenge]. That adds a lot of drama to it, eh?

There’s no villain, is what I’m saying.

Mads: No, you just really want them to do well. It’s like they’re kids.

Hayley: Am I the villain?

Mads:  She’s the villain.

Hayley: Damn it!

The Great Kiwi Bake-Off airs on TVNZ2 every Tuesday at 7:30PM, starting tonight. The Spinoff will be doing its patented power rankings weekly, so stay tuned for those.


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