I can’t watch cooking competitions. Or any timed, high-stakes TV programming for that matter.
I’m not sure if it’s my innate mother-like trope of wanting everyone to win or the emphatic dread that washes over me when a contestant realizes that they forgot to include one of the secret ingredients, but I’m always left with unwanted stress from each round that is rarely placated by the time of the show’s credits. And while I’m aware that much of the allure of cooking competitions is the suspense, it always felt like a disservice that the cooking-competition format strips the pure joy and comfort of food, and leaves us with a cocky, loud-mouthed winner and plates of delicious food that we will never taste.
So when The Friend Zone Podcast mentioned that comedian Nicole Byer was the host of a new cooking show on Netflix where she provides comedic relief to disastrous baking fails, I tuned in and binged both seasons.
Nailed It is a cooking show that sets its contestants up for failure by pairing amateur home bakers with elaborate confection tasks, and it’s OK because the bakers are in on it.
In each episode, three contestants compete in a two-round challenge for the chance at a $10,000 cash prize and the Nailed It trophy. Instead of flaunting their cooking prowess, the bakers stumble through each of the rounds making common mistakes like not greasing or spraying your pans, undercooking the cakes, and mixing up identical ingredients like salt and sugar in their recipes. The outcome often foreshadowed in the banter between the hilarious and charismatic Byer and her jubilant co-host, French chocolatier Jacques Torres, is apparent and almost cringe-worthy if you weren’t preoccupied laughing.
Nailed It follows the basic bake, plate and taste procedures of most cooking competitions, but the premise is based on Pinterest fails where people try to recreate DIY inspired crafts and desserts, only for it to stray from the original design. In the show, this manifests in an extraterrestrial cake bust of President Donald Trump or a headless serpent.
The expert judges –Torres or the guest judge – can interject and assist a contestant if solicited, or a contestant can sabotage their fellow challengers with the Nicole Gags button, which does exactly what the title suggests.
What’s refreshing about the show, is that it doesn’t fret on perfection nor do the panel of judges expect the contestants who have a “terrible track record” to create masterpieces or even replicate the model confection. Never are the contestants shamed or admonished for lack of cooking skills. After each round, the judges provide legitimate baking tips to prevent the contestant from committing the same baking mishap. Of course, the judges are not modest in their reluctance in eating a cake made with salt instead of sugar, but the feedback is dealt in soft blows mixed with contagious laughter.
It’s in the tenacity and the relatability of the contestants that bring out the genius in Nailed It. In the third episode of the first season, retired cop Sal Venturelli attempts and fails to melt chocolate in the microwave twice, and I’m instantly reminded of my college years when my roommate used to cook raw chicken in the microwave. (I was a vegetarian at the time). Or literally, every episode where a contestant unintentionally makes a lava cake and is forced to finesse an edible base with Rice Krispies or goes off script and wings a recipe is me, true to form.
It’s in these ordinary human errors on the show that make Nailed It so sincere and an instant classic because everyone is the underdog, but they never let that hold them back. Instead, you get a team of contestants trying their best despite themselves, and who doesn’t love a good underdog story or three?