Marissa Lopez, winner of TLC’s second season of The Next Great Baker, tells That’s SO Jenn about winning $100,000, a dream job at Carlo’s Bakery, a spread in Bride’s Magazine, and most importantly, a confidence boost. It’s go time!
Congratulations on your well-deserved win on The Next Great Baker! How did it feel when you heard your name?
I was ready to pass out. I couldn’t breathe when he said my name so I just dropped. I had so many flash backs and flash forwards that I wish I could go back to that moment to redo it so I know what I would be thinking. It still hasn’t hit me.
During the finale, Buddy said if you walked into a room full of bakers, you were better than most of them. What did that feel like for you?
I appreciated that so much. I doubt myself about everything, so for someone who is well-known in baking to say that to me about baking, was a sigh of relief.
Before Buddy announced the winner, was there any point you felt you had made it?
There was no point I thought I had won. When I was sitting with Nadine before the finale, I didn’t know if we were being chosen based on overall performance, personality, or just who would fit best. I felt we were neck and neck no matter what. Nadine had great detail on her cake and thought outside of the box, so I wondered if mine was too safe. I had so many emotions in my head.
What made you persevere after not getting picked for season one?
My sister sent me a link to try out for season one. While I made it to the semi-finals, I wasn’t picked for the actual show. I thanked them for the opportunity and asked them to keep me in mind if there was ever a season two, and they did. I was very hesitant to submit my application again, but everyone said I had nothing to lose so I went for it.
And you won! How has life changed for you since the show?
I’m not saying I’m a celebrity, but I am in the spotlight now so I have to be more careful about what I’m doing in general. I’m a Jersey girl, but I’m not on Jersey Shore so I will still go out and be myself. I just don’t want to end up on TMZ.
You said school was never your forte, but clearly you have found your niche. If you could go back in time knowing what you know now, what advice would you give to the high school version of Marissa Lopez?
I almost didn’t graduate high school, so I would say, ‘You can do something else with your life. Things will work out. With struggle comes success. Every up and down makes you a better person. Stop worrying about the boys!’
You have certainly found your calling and are obviously very talented. However, you told Buddy you aren’t used to being good at something. How has this experience made you more confident about yourself and your skill?
It’s helped me say to myself, ‘Breathe. You are good at what you do. You do have talent.’ I’m the worst over-thinker and I’ve learned a lot through this whole process.
You made many mentions about your love for being a Jersey girl (I understand first hand!). Do you think that helped you relate during the Miss USA challenge, and do you feel it gave you an advantage during the competition?
Yes and no. On the Miss USA cake, I only spotlighted NJ on one tier. She was a client, and one of the first things she said was she was a Jersey girl. I could relate to her, and that worked for me. As for the competition, Buddy is smart enough to know what he wants for his bakery, and he won’t just pick someone because they’re a loud mouth from Jersey. He knows the real me, he saw my audition tapes, and he saw me succeed during multiple challenges.
What was your favorite challenge on the show?
The finale because it was all the challenges mixed into one. I loved that cake the most because it was the only cake we got to do ourselves to represent ourselves as a cake decorator.
Your finale cake showed you progressively climbing a mountain to success, as your depiction of the American dream. Now that you’ve made it to your top tier as The Next Great Baker, how would you design a cake for the next stage of your life?
My cake might look something like Nadine’s finale cake with the different levels representing dreams. I would have tiers to showcase my family, my relationship with my boyfriend, my job at Carlo’s Bakery, and my company, Delicious Treats. Winning was my next step on my finale cake, so now it would be moving forwards with Buddy, and with my own business.
The finale was your favorite challenge, yet it was also the most grueling. How did you stay focused..and awake..on such little sleep, while working on the most crucial cake of your career?
Staying up for 36 hours didn’t bother me. I told myself it was the one time in life I was ever going to do this. As a baker, I’m used to long hours of being on my feet with no sleep. Half-way through the finale we were delusional, but we made it happen. I was working with Buddy’s team from the bakery, and we bounced off each other perfectly.
We only see a small portion of the judging on the show, although I can imagine how intense it felt. What was that like?
It was hot from all the glaring red lights and cameras. There were overhead cameras, plus one for each individual, along with three people staring at us the whole time. The process lasted about an hour and a half. I would start to get tunnel vision and forget what they would say. My heart would sink wondering if they would grill me, or compliment me, or if I would have to say who the weakest link was. I will say, Buddy gave credit when credit was due, and let us have it when we deserved it. I was never in the bottom two to fight my fate, so I felt really good about that. Even so, that room was horrific.
You and Nadine formed a close friendship during the competition. What was it like going head to head against her during the finale?
It was extremely hard. Even if I didn’t win, I would’ve been genuinely happy to see her win. What you didn’t see on camera was that we were talking nonstop during the judging of the first episode. Buddy actually screamed at us asking if we were the class clowns not taking things seriously. For the two of us to be the ones standing there at the end together was amazing. Nadine, Ryan and I were together during the first challenge and were the last three at the finale. It was a great feeling.
Speaking of Ryan, you two had a few flare-ups and were very competitive, yet always seemed supportive when you each made it through another round. Why do you think you got on each other’s nerves so much?
I think the pressure and stress of the competition got to both of us. In the beginning, we hit it off and wanted to learn from each other. However, we had similar traits and personalities so we were always trying to one-up each other because we knew the other’s talents. Ryan tries to be funny, but I make it look like he’s being a jerk. We both wanted to win and shared the same passion. At the end of the day, we were happy for each other to make it to another round. During the finale, even though I was happy it wasn’t me leaving, I was upset to see him go. He tried hard and got further than a lot of people in the competition, especially without having a lot of experience.
And what about Minerva?
She’s a nice, smart, funny lady who knows what she’s talking about, but I had never worked with anyone as difficult as Minerva. She didn’t seem to understand this is a competition and needed to move fast. In a bakery that’s okay, but in a competition, it’s stressful. That’s when my frustration starts to come out on the show.
You got riled up during some team challenges. Did the show reflect your true personality?
I did get stressed. I did yell and scream. I take full responsibility for freaking out, but people didn’t see the other side of me. I’m an outgoing person who says what’s on my mind. I love to make people laugh and make sure everyone is getting along and on the same page. During an episode, you’re only viewing 42 minutes of a three-day process, so of course they’re going to air me getting worked up. They won’t use a video of me laughing and twiddling my thumbs.
How has the public reacted to you?
I’ve had people twittering me saying I’m such a b*tch. Then, there are other people who stick up for me saying I was determined and focused, which is the person you need to be in the cake world and in a competition. It obviously worked for me! It’s TV. I signed up for it, but at the same time, I watch reality shows and would never say that to anyone. I’ve actually talked to some of the people who put me down, and after a while they change their minds about me to see I’m a nice person.
Buddy often pulled pranks on all of you, and destroyed your hard work on the cakes you created. What was your least favorite challenge on the show?
The engineer cakes. You know that spinning carousal on my team’s creation? That was my ice cream maker turned upside down. I was happy Buddy trashed the cake because it was a disgrace, but I was pretty sad about my ice cream maker getting sawed in half!
Were you upset when you found out the Bridezilla challenge was a joke?
I wasn’t as much as everyone else was. We were on a show. If it was fake or not, we had to make a cake. I was only upset when she harped on all of us because we turned on each other due to stress. I think that was everyone’s breaking point. It was beneficial at that time though, because we were all too close and needed to stop being such best friends. Someone had to say, ‘Wake up, it’s a competition.’
Do you still keep in touch with each other?
Yes, mostly everyone keeps in touch. We became a big family. I definitely talk to Nadine, Ryan, Mellow and Tony. Everyone other than Minerva.
It was a big shock to viewers when Heather G. announced she was pregnant. Were you all equally surprised?
We all had our thoughts, but nobody wanted to say. Buddy and the producers knew, but we didn’t find out until she announced it on the episode.
What was the most difficult challenge on the show?
The life-size cakes [of Buddy's sisters] because I don’t know how to use power tools! Before the show, we got to bring things with us from home that we thought might be beneficial. I brought hundreds of dollars of chocolate with me, which I melted down to make the legs stay up on that cake. I was disappointed at the time because I thought I wasted all that money, but to spend $200 and end up winning $100,000, it all worked out.
What will you do with your winnings?
I’m going to save it for sure. My ultimate goal in life, whether or not I got on the show, was to establish my own business. I have some debt from starting my company Delicious Treats. I had rented a kitchen at a warehouse to make specialty cakes, cupcakes and cookies to order. If it’s now, or five years from now, that will be up and running. I want to pay everything off to make sure I’m on the right track to grow a successful business. Right now, I want to work with Buddy, continue making money, and then invest and save it all.
How did you feel being a leader?
Being a leader on this show is your time to shine as a baker and as a decorator, but it can really hurt you if someone doesn’t listen to you and your cake fails, because then it’s your fault.
What was it like being part of a team?
Sometimes, during the longer challenges, we would stop in between to go back and sleep until the next day. At that point, that’s when I started over thinking and wanted to change things. I would bring it up when we returned. If they didn’t agree, it was hard. When you felt something was wrong and you didn’t say it, you would get in trouble during judging. Even if we were on the same team, we were all there for ourselves. You had to play the game and do what was best for you. It’s not that I wasn’t a team player, but I was trying to make a better cake, and there were people there with different ranges of experience so it was hard to get everyone together. In a competition, it’s impossible.
What was it like being away from your family and friends for five weeks while you taped the show?
It felt like longer than it was, but I wasn’t focused on missing people because it would’ve made it worse. We actually had to hand over our cell phones. When I would get a letter, it would be hard. I had never been away from home because I commuted to the Art Institute of New York for culinary school. It was a relief to get out and be away to deal with things on my own, even though I was leaving for a stressful situation.
How long ago was the finale taped and how hard was it to hide your win from the world? Did you share the great news with your family and friends?
The finale was taped in September and everyone signed a contract not to reveal the answer. We actually filmed two endings: one with me winning and one with Nadine winning, to throw the audience off. We knew the truth, but they didn’t.
Ouch! That must have been hard for her!
Yes, it was very emotional. As I said on the show, she’s one of my best friends, and I wish I could split it with her.
How were you able to give such a genuine reaction?
They told us they were going to announce the true winner first. When he said my name, that was real.
How did it feel to put on that official Carlos Bakery shirt for the first time?
People look at Buddy as a cake icon and an idol. He’s known for what he does, and I’m there beside him working for him. Learning from him directly is so awesome. Whether he’s complimenting me or telling me what I’m doing wrong, that’s how you learn. It’s such a privilege. He’s the cake boss.
On your first episode of Cake Boss, the guys were joking around with you, and pretending to give you a hard time. Has everyone welcomed you into their big Italian family?
There’s a lot of joking on the show, but I was trying to stay focused for fear of looking like I wasn’t taking it seriously. I’ll find where I belong and what they think of me. Everyone was pretty cool letting me know what you have to do. Buddy was upfront with me. He’s just like a regular boss.
Is season one winner, Dana still at the bakery? If so, how has he helped make you feel comfortable having already been in your shoes?
I haven’t seen him yet, but he’s very busy with his family and his business in Delaware. I’m sure I will see him around when I’m there more. I’ve only worked there a few days because I had to lay low before the finale. I actually had to walk in covered by my hoodie so no one could see me!
Now that you’ve gotten a dream job, what is it like working at Carlo’s bakery so far? How is it different from the competition?
Day one was more of a relief than going to a typical new job because I knew everybody. However, in another way, it was more nerve-racking than the competition because I wanted to make sure I was doing the right things and proving myself. I do feel like I fit right in because I’m a loud mouth. I feel like they’re friends already because I’ve known them for five weeks now. It’s a good feeling.
Where do you want to go from here?
This is the kind of exposure you dream of having in this world. I don’t know what’s going to happen next. You never know. This is my next step in life. I got thrown into it and I have to figure it out. I’m ready. It’s an endless road of possibilities from here on out.
And what a sweet road it is. Watch Marissa Lopez on the next season of Cake Boss this May, and look out for her spread in the summer issue of Bride’s Magazine. Be sure to follow Marissa on Twitter and Facebook.