Paul Hollywood says that picking the winner of this year's Great British Bake Off was the toughest task of his TV career – and went right down to the wire.
The show judge celebrates his 500th challenge during tomorrow's final, but the wealth of experience didn't make it any easier to choose between Steph Blackwell, David Atherton and Alice Fevronia.
"Some of them are on par with the best bakers ever," he said after the final was recorded in the summer.
"Certainly from my point of view this year was the hardest judging I've ever done. It all relied a lot on the showstopper and not necessarily on challenge one and two."
The bookies currently have shop assistant Steph, 28, as the firm favorite to triumph over international health advisor David, 36, and geography teacher Alice, 28, after she clinched the "star baker" title four times during the series.
Hollywood, 53, complained that this year's final, presented by Sandi Tokswig and Noel Fielding, had been even tighter than last year's – when Rahul Mandul triumphed over Kim-Joy Hewlett and Ruby Bhogal.
"It was even closer this year that last year," he said.
"The judging, the criteria – it was all about detail. One slip and that's it. It was really tight. Again, they flipped, they moved. You're thinking: 'Why can't someone just dominate, dominate, dominate? … Bam, there's your winner '. "
Fellow judge Prue Leith said that the finalists all became terribly stressed as the prospect of winning the Channel 4 show loomed large – but said she and Hollywood didn't find the task stressful in the least.
"WE don't have to get it right. THEY have to get it right," she explained.
"They feel massive stress. All four of us spend quite a lot of time trying to de-stress the bakers."
Tomorrow's final will not see a repeat of last year's twist, which took the bakers outside to make flatbreads over a BBQ for the first time. Hollywood laughed: "We'll be inside."
* The Great British Bake Off: The Final, Channel 4, Tuesday, 8pm