GBBO analysis: A data deep dive into Paul Hollywood’s handshakes

What is one thing Paul Hollywood is known better for than his silver locks, piercing azure eyes, and bread-based talents?

His handshakes. 

As another season of GBBO ends, here is a fresh Hollywood Handshake data analysis (dough-ta analysis, if you will) to ascertain whether the famous gesture still means what it once did.

If you are a GBBO OG, you will know the iconic baking show has been through its fair share of shake-ups (we miss you, Bezza).

Perhaps the biggest of which was its move from BBC One to Channel 4 for the eighth season. 

Mary Berry — along with her perfectly coiffed hair, sublime M&S sweaters, and contempt for soggy bottoms — departed as a judge, pledging allegiance to the BBC.

Paul Hollywood, however, stuck with the show as it moved to Channel 4 for Season 8, taking his signature handshake with him.

The legend of the Hollywood Handshake

The trajectory of said signature handshake has somewhat riled up viewers in recent years.

For those unfamiliar, the Hollywood Handshake is the holy grail.

Possibly more revered than winning Star Baker.

One user on X, formerly Twitter, described it as “euphoric” and “DNA-altering”.

Over time, some viewers have questioned the frequency of the handshake.

One such viewer was even compelled to record every Hollywood Handshake ever given out.

Thanks to this record of public interest (plus some data collection of our own), we have tracked and analysed the Hollywood Handshake through GBBO‘s entire history.

Breaking down the handshakes by season

On hollywoodhandshakes.com, Sebastian Zapata notes: “As season 9 started, it became apparent that these handshakes were being given out far too frequently.”

A line graph showing the total number of handshakes from Paul Hollywood series 1–14 of the Great British Bake Off. There is a sharp increase for Season 9.

He’s not wrong about the Season 9 spike.

An all-time high of 12 handshakes were given across this season — up from seven in Season 8.

The number of handshakes tripled from four in Season 7 — the final season broadcast by the BBC — to 12 in Season 9.

It is worth noting although we have a nice round number of seven seasons for each broadcaster, there were only six episodes in the first season and eight in the second.

The remaining seasons all have 10 episodes.

As the graph above shows, there was a sharp decline following the Season 9 spike to four.

Was this Paul and producers panic-reacting to claims the handshake’s value was diminishing? Perhaps.

The line continues to dip at Season 11, which was filmed during the Coronavirus pandemic.

Did this cause Paul to think twice about offering his hand?

After all, he knew per Boris’s guidance, he would then have to sing Happy Birthday twice whilst washing his hands.

And possibly go in for the hand sanitiser, too.

The Hollywood Handshake by broadcaster

The chart below depicts the percentage breakdown of handshakes by broadcaster.

A pie chart showing percentage of handshakes given by Paul Hollywood during the time the show was broadcast by the BBC (19%) and Channel 4 (81%).

As we know, nobody received a handshake in the first two seasons.

Zero. Zilch. Nada.

If you were not there in the early days (early doughs?) of Bake Off, Season 3’s Ryan Chong received the first ever Hollywood Handshake for his Key lime pie.

Whilst there were slightly fewer episodes to account for in the first two seasons, there were also zero handshakes. The show, still in its infancy, was finding its stride on mainstream television.

Even though the Beeb made the handshake a thing, Channel 4 witnessed an evident surge and more overall.

Did Channel 4 commercialise the Hollywood Handshake?

Did the creative and commercial freedoms of C4 impact Paul’s tendency to shake?

Some may argue so.

In charge of its own commercial activities, perhaps the broadcaster encouraged the symbolic shake — once an organic product of Bake Off, to generate further discussion, as we are now, around the show.

The broadcaster titled this Season 9 YouTube video: “Paul Hollywood Gives An Unprecedented THREE HANDSHAKES?!”

Take from that what you will.

The production company behind GBBO — Love Productions — took the show to Channel 4 when the BBC’s licence fee budget didn’t meet its demands.

In 2016, the BBC had an upper limit of around £300,000 for factual programmes. Channel 4 offered £10m more than the BBC for Bake Off.

What does a former contestant think?

Val Stones took to the tent for Season 7 of GBBO. A fan favourite, Val was known for communicating with her bakes via song and dance, Technical Challenge-winning Dampfnudel (German sweet dumplings), and generally great vibes.

Since her GBBO days, Val has continued to bake her way through life — she is now Stannah’s dedicated baking expert and Ed Sheeran is also a fan of her work.

The Hollywood standard

What does a Hollywood Handshake really signify to those in the tent?

“A handshake symbolises that a baker has reached the standard that exceeds expectation and excellence. Paul is an exceptional baker, and to get a handshake is to say: ‘Well done, you meet my standards’,” says Val.

“A spontaneous recognition that a baker needs to be congratulated on a specific bake,” she adds.

GBBO's Paul Hollywood stands in a shirt and jeans with his hand in his pockets smiling to the camera.
THE HOLLYWOOD STANDARD: Val says the handshake is spontaneous recognition a baker should be congratulated on their bake / Copyright: Channel 4 / Love Productions

Whereas winning Star Baker, Val explains, demonstrates each of your bakes have met a consistent level of taste and presentation during one week.

Does Val think the channel change has impacted the course of the Hollywood Handshake?

“When I was on GBBO, it was a BBC programme, a handshake was very rare.

“They only became more frequent when GBBO moved to C4,” says Val.

She adds: “I do think commercial TV requires the show to be watched for the bakers’ skills and the drama in creating the bakes in a given time — the triumphs and disasters of the bakers.”

Perhaps not as spontaneous as they were early on, Val feels Paul’s handshakes play more of an emoter role for the audience now. “Spikes in each episode that the viewers delight in for the bakers,” she says.

Unless, of course, you feel they are too frequent.

Hollywood Handshake data analysis by challenge

The following chart breaks down the Hollywood Handshakes received through Bake Off history by challenge.

The Signature is your most likely bet; a Showstopper handshake is far rarer.

As for the Technical? No chance.

“The Technical Challenge does not have handshakes because a handshake is a spontaneous reward.

“The bakers are sitting on their stools and at some distance from Paul, so he would need to walk to a baker, and the impact would be lost,” explains Val.

Anecdotally, it seems bakers also endure the most disasters during the Technical.

Reflecting on her Technical Challenge win, Val says: “Paul said to me that they were the nearest to his, and that I shouldn’t get clever.

“He said this and grinned at me.

“I grinned back, and his words were better than any handshake.”

What’s the key to a Showstopper handshake?

Val reminds us that the main ingredient of a  true Hollywood Handshake is spontaneity — Paul’s response to his delight after tasting and judging a bake.

“The Showstopper is meant to be the most challenging, and Paul will only give a handshake if the baker meets all the criteria of the bake.

“Otherwise the handshake is devalued,” she says.

She adds: “It takes hours of filming, and the final cuts bring it down to a one-hour show.

Believe me, there are many laughs and comments that arrive on the cutting room floor.”

As we know, only four bakers have ever received a handshake for their Showstopper.

One of whom was Season 14’s Josh for his biscuit illusion bake of burger and fries.

Not only did it look incredible and super realistic, but it also tasted good — which, according to Paul, is quite rare for “illusion stuff’.

Josh received his Showstopper handshake back in Episode Two, and while he didn’t take the overall crown, he was a finalist and runner-up.

All three finalists received one handshake each in Season 14, equivalent to 20% of the total handshakes given.

What about the other winners?

The table below depicts the overall number of handshakes given in each season, followed by the percentage of that total received by each winner.

Seasons 1 and 2, which saw no handshakes, are discounted. 12 of 14 winners received at least one Hollywood Handshake in their respective season.

If you further discount the two 0%s and the 100% (sorry, Frances), GBBO winners have received an average of 26.19% of their respective season’s total handshakes.

Hollywood Handshakes — Beyond the data

However, using the handshake as a predictor of success is difficult, partly because there are so many other elements to the competition.

From stolen custard to carpet-speckled dough, anything can happen.

There is a strong ethos, it seems, that you are only as good as your last bake.

So, in light of our Hollywood Handshake data analysis, are viewers right to be concerned about the trajectory of Paul’s prestigious handshakes?

Val says: “Only those who have baked in the tent know the whole story, and what happens in the tent stays in the tent.”

Featured Image Copyright: Channel 4 / Love Productions

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