Penn State Alum Wins Grand Prize On ‘Baking Impossible’ Netflix Original Series

What do you get when you combine a duo of bakers and engineers? Bakineers, of course.

Baking Impossible is a Netflix original series that debuted its first season in early October. Every episode, baker-engineer duos compete in designing edible creations that must survive engineering stress tests.

Judges score creations based on taste, design, and functionality, and decide the fate of the Bakineer team that will win $100,000 at the conclusion of the show.

The show is hosted by Justin Willman, a magician, comedian, producer, and television personality who has appeared on The Tonight Show, The Ellen DeGeneres Show, and Conan. Williams is joined by three judges who range from astrophysicists to former Great British Bake Off contestants.

Penn State alumna Sara Schonour competed on the show as a member of one of nine Bakineer pairs and successfully took home the grand prize.

Schonour is originally from Buffalo, New York, and graduated in 2007 with a degree in architectural engineering. When she wasn’t studying for her five-year program, Schonour enjoyed being involved with Pennharmonics and working backstage at Eisenhower Auditorium during her time at Penn State.

Upon graduation, Schonour moved to Boston to work for CannonDesign for 14 years, where she started and led its Lighting Studio. Now, she works at a start-up, Lytei, where the team tells stories that empower ideas about light and lighting. Specifically, she focuses on creative direction, education, and project management for the company.

Baking Impossible’s casting team reached out to Schonour by email in March. While she initially thought it was a hoax, she jumped on the opportunity when she realized it was legitimate and flew out to California for the competition.

While engineering is her forte, Schonour grew up with grandmas, aunts, and a mom who loved to bake, so she was fortunately exposed to the basics of baking. Her wife loves to bake as well, so Schonour had some experience as her sous-baker and cookie decorator.

“I’m far more talented as a cook where I can be more spontaneous with my creations and pivot when I need to and still save a dish,” Schonour said. “But, I have a great respect for bakers because of their inherent knowledge of chemistry and the crazy things that happen in an oven.”

Courtesy of Schonour

Schonour’s Bakineer partner was Rodolfo, a fan favorite. He pushed her to get outside of her comfort zone and to think boldly. The duo had a great deal of trust in each other in their respective areas of expertise.

Despite their natural chemistry, the duo faced many challenges along the way. Pressure, especially with cameras watching, was a big one for Schonour. Bakineers did not know the details of each challenge ahead of time, so the overwhelming nature of the unknown was difficult at times. But, the pair’s mutual respect for each other helped their collaboration ultimately be successful.

Schonour’s favorite episode to compete in was the finale, as she could finally see the light at the end of the tunnel and all of their hard work. A close second was the mini-golf episode because of its theme and collaborative nature.

When asked about her favorite part about competing on the show, Schonour said, “The surreality of it all…The scale of the set, the legitimacy of the light and sound set-up, the hundreds of crew doing so much behind the scenes, the unlimited pantry and workshop, the famous judges, being chauffeured to and from the hotel, bonding deeply with the cast.”

“The whole thing seems like such a fantasy when I look back,” she continued. “Like…was it real? Did that really happen? And winning wasn’t too bad, either!

Courtesy of Schonour

Schonour and her wife, Shantel, are currently rehabbing a second property to create the fixer-upper of their dreams. Naturally, the architectural engineer is putting much of her earnings into the project including off-grid structures and tiny houses on the property.

As for advice, Schonour encourages others to follow their passions.

“We can often be our own worst critics and worst friend,” she said. “Over the past few years I learned I needed to retrain my brain and become my own best friend and greatest cheerleader, and I’ve found that most of the limits I thought existed only existed in my mind. My advice would be to take time to find and follow the things that grab you, and when they do, don’t be afraid to go for it. You will probably surprise yourself with where you land….I sure did.”

Check out Baking Impossible on Netflix to get an inside look at Schonour’s creations. Additionally, keep your eyes peeled for contestant Renee Frohnert, another Penn State alumna who competed on this season’s show.

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About the Author

Colleen Nersten

Colleen is a washed-up biology grad and former associate editor. Her legacy will live on through stories like “10 Questions With State College Sensation ‘Hot UPS Bae’”. If you’re a STEM girlie, this is your sign to take the leap of faith and learn to write. It’s pretty fun. Colleen misses the hate mail and can be reached at [email protected] or via LinkedIn.

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