Cooking competitions like Chopped, Cupcake Wars, and Iron Chef (2002) have been relatively popular for many years. However, the cult-like following that emerged after The Great British Bake Off’s arrival on Netflix brought about a whole new obsession with cooking competition-style shows, such as the Netflix originals Sugar Rush (2018) and Nailed It (2018). The latest addition to the Netflix roster, Blown Away (2019), takes this popular competition structure and applies it to a completely different medium: blown glass.
Now when I saw this show pop up on my Netflix feed, I was intrigued. I mentioned it to my roommate, but also confessed that I had no real interest in watching it. Afterall, I was growing tired of being a spectator to these competition-based television shows. My roommate returned four hours later to find me curled up in a blanket three episodes into the show.
While I stand by my opinion that shows of this style can be a bit repetitive, there is something about Blown Away that drew me in from the very beginning. The host and judging panel, an element that truly stands out in The Great British Bake Off, are nothing spectacular. The general structure of the show follows the standard format with competitors forced to complete unique and mysterious challenges within insane time limits. However, what I believe makes Blown Away so captivating is the unique subject matter. As someone who knew absolutely nothing about glass blowing going into the show, I was immediately intrigued by the various techniques and skills required to complete the challenges.
The competitors amazed me, crafting elaborate masterpieces out of a fragile and fretfully unpredictable medium in the hopes of being named “best in glass.” While they are given a “creative brief” to interpret, the technical skills they choose to display are completely up to the competitor. Each individual had a unique style, some working with traditional Venetian techniques of reticello and chalice work, others creating more modern concepts such as one contestant’s “fanny pack decanter.” The original style of the artist is more obviously prominent in a show like Blown Away than a typical cooking competition. There are very few rules when it comes to working glass. There is no recipe to follow, and no flavor profile to aim for—all they have to do is keep it from breaking and make it look beautiful.
Every competition show is stressful as you root for your favorite competitor and wish the downfall of those you find annoying. But Blown Away is ridiculously tense due to the volatility of glass as a medium. The glass could break at any time. If it gets too cold, or too hot, if the contestant presses too hard or taps their tools the wrong way the whole thing could shatter. While this is par for the course in the art of glass blowing, a complex glass sculpture breaking in the middle of a timed competition could ruin a competitor’s chance of winning, regardless of their talent. Another element that freaked me out was the inclusion of assistants in this competition. In order to create these complex pieces, the contestants were given assistants, glass students from Sheridan College. The assistants themselves are incredibly talented, but they are just as likely to make a mistake as the contestant themselves. Miscommunication between the assistant and the competitor results in a few instances of shattered glass and dropped cane. The unique challenges of glass blowing create a tense but thrilling atmosphere, making it impossible to predict the results.
Blown Away clearly reflects another attempt by Netflix to play into current trends, this time focusing on the popularity of competitive creation shows. Though this could create a dangerous oversaturation of the genre, I am intrigued to see what other forms of art Netflix chooses to incorporate into a competition. As long as there is enough variety in the subject matter to avoid the repetitiveness that plagues the cooking show category, I believe shows like Blown Away will continue to be a reliable source of entertainment. I don’t know if I’d say it blew me away, but there’s no denying that Blown Away is surprisingly captivating and uniquely charming.