It’s the finale for The Next Food Network Star. America voted and who did they choose? Were they big into Russell’s Sins in a Briefcase? Did they catch in the nasty yeast infection that is Pie Style? Or did they do the sensible thing and put Damaris in the Paula Deen sized slot sitting open on the schedule?
This week it was time to pitch pilots to the network. The four contestants take their ideas to the mentors first.
- Stacey was bizarrely steered away from “My Bullshit Buzzword Kitchen” and into “Ingratiatingly Condescending Carrpetbagger,” which is a play on these “restaurant rescue” shows. (But the restaurant owner HATED her last week.)
- Russell has had three concepts in ten weeks. Both his pitches focus on the second one “Sin” idea. The mentors greenlight the “sinful twist” on food idea, since it’s the only one that includes him actually cooking. Note to Potential Stars–you don’t start out with Diner Drive-ins and Dives, unless you’re a runner up.
- Rodney has this idea of “Throwdown with Bobby Flay” except he turns people’s food into pies. The mentors love it because competition shows get ratings, and he can visit celebrity chefs who they’re trying to build into semi-network regulars.
- Damaris first idea of Modern Southern Cooking is too PBS. Her second idea is essentially the exact same idea Andres had of “teaching guys to cook” except she’ll be the one teaching them. Alton points out that it has nothing to do with her “Modern Southern POV.” Yet it’s what they tell her to go for.
Let’s go before the long awaited Susie and Bob and see which three we’ll be voting for.
Just once I would like Alton Brown to come out and start reciting Foo Fighters: “Done, Done, On to the next one!” Not to be. We’re back to forward momentum and it’s time to give the five remaining contestants camera practice. (Remember when they got that every week? Good times.) This Mentor’s Challenge is brought to you by the Letter K:
Damaris and Rodney’s breakfast dishes includes pie and french toast. Stacey’s dinner dish is chicken, while Russell’s is steak. The best part of this segment is watching Nikki weep over Kellogg’s lack of veggie offerings for her lunch dish and then burn her food to a crisp in hot oil. Alton holds it up to the camera and tells us not to do this at home.
After sneering at Chopped contestants for doing crap things with forced ingredients like crumbling them on top of salad, Nikki ends up crumbling Kellogg’s cereal on top of salad for her dish.
So in the episode I missed recapping, Star Salvation sent back Lovely into the competition, where she immediately proved she was still not ready for prime time, and was sent back home again. Show Treading Water for an Episode: 1; Star Salvation: 0.
I almost feel bad for the person who came up with the concept of Star Salvation here. On paper, the idea of an internet tie in and someone earning their way back into the competition was a good one. There was just one fatal flaw in it–it required the show to cast decent contestants.
We’re down to six contestants, and have entered the stage where all the chaff has been cut away. Everyone who is left has a clear vision of what their angle is, and how they’re trying to sell themselves. Now it’s a matter of which ones are the most ready.
This week, the Mentor’s Challenge is to watch Bobby Flay cook? Actually it’s a play on “The Best Thing I Ever Ate” challenge. Bobby has made a salmon dish with black bean sauce and a tomatillo garnish. Everyone gets to taste it and then describe the taste to us at home. The generic buzzwords like “wonderful” or “sexy” aren’t allowed. Bobby calls them crutch words, and rightfully observes they don’t describe how anything tastes.
Rodney fails this test hard, since he is nothing but verbal garbage when he talks. Chad doesn’t do much better, and in fact “takes another bite” halfway through to cover. Russell also fails, because he can’t improvise. Damaris turns into a robot. She doesn’t get buzzed for generic words, but she’s dull. Stacey fills her minute with adding personal story details, which is cheating, but it’s the sort of cheating that the Network loves. Nikki is the only one who passes the test without filler. But apparently the story was not only legal, it’s what they were looking for. Stacey wins the advantage.
On to the main challenge: An Auction. Each contestant prepares one dish that represents their POV. They then have to sell it to The Gastronauts, who bid. The winner of each auction gets to join the tasting panel. (Real money is involved too. All proceeds go to FN’s charity partner, Share Our Strength.) Stacey’s advantage is she’ll get an extra $10 added to her winning total.
Cooking happens. No surprise that Chad’s doing BBQ, or Nikki’s got a veggie dish and Rodney’s doing a pie. Damaris is doing something “southern.” Russell is doing something that’s causing him to be like a mad scientist. Stacey is making cheesecake.
Let’s get to their food.
This week the contestants need prove they don’t just bring star power to TV. Everyone knows the real money is in merchandising. (Food Network: the Flame Thrower!) What does your brand bring to the supermarket where Food Network can rake in a cut?
The challenge is to make two sample items that the contestant can “bring to the marketplace.” The mentors walk around and decide which has a better chance with the focus group. Then it’s on to packaging before presenting themselves to companies the network works with: Kelloggs, Kraft and Target.
Some have thought about this. Chad’s offerings tie back to his brand of “The BBQ Guy.” Damaris knows whatever she does needs to be “south.” Nikki’s offering are all veggie. Rodney’s making pie kits. Stacey and Russell are doing desserts. But Chris douches on about “bottling a love for sharing food.” Does Chris have a point of view? I should not be asking that this late in the game. But what is he offering? DudeBro in the Kitchen?
Let’s get to the “brutally honest feedback.”
It’s an episode on a Holiday Week! Holiday Weeks are Big Deals for the Food Network. Holidays are when families and friends get together and have parties full of food and FN wants to be your go-to. The programming is all tied to the theme of the holiday, in hopes you’ll be tuning in looking for ideas, with a live show with the FN Stars taking questions> The hope is you’ll leave the channel on all day, because they’re fun, topical and–most importantly–non controversial. (Hear that Paula Deen?)
But before we get to the Live Holiday Challenge, first we have a Mentor Challenge: a one-take live camera presentation, hosted by Terrence Jenkins of E! News, (because Food Network doesn’t have Ryan Seacrest money.) Everyone will present a “sausage and pepper sandwich.” Giada and Terrance will throw a curveball at each contestant to see how they handle it.
- Viet has his ingredients taken away. He nearly loses it, wandering about going “where are the peppers?” live on camera, and stepping in front of the host. Disaster.
- Chad thinks Terrance is really having a heart attack off stage when he leaves coughing. He thinks they’re going to start over. ONE TAKE CHAD!
- Nikki gets the fire alarm, so of course she thinks they’re supposed to evacuate, and this is not part of the challenge and stops cooking. ONE TAKE NIKKI!
- They turned off the lights on Russell, who doesn’t stop or let it bother him. He gets this is One Take.
- Stacey is missing a whisk. That’s bullshit. They took away Viet’s ingredients.
- For Damaris they knock something off a shelf. This is also bullshit. Nikki had the fire alarm go off.
- Rodney is just rushed along. This might ruin someone else, but he rolls ok, and even manages to be intelligible.
- Chris just has an olive oil spill to deal with. The interesting thing is Terrance has to tell him to stop yelling–which is not a curveball, it’s a real complaint.
Rodney is given the win, which I’ll take as fair, since his time crunch was actually hard and he managed it well. His advantage is he gets to assign each contestant to the station they’ll work at for the Faux Fourth Of July Live Show. To wit:
- Rodney: Desserts
- Nikki: Fried Chicken
- Russell: Potato Salad
- Chris: Coleslaw
- Viet: Chips&Dips
- Damaris: Hosting Mixologist Marcos Tello
- Chad: Hosting Farmer Lee Jones
- Stacey: Hosting Butchers Lindy&Grundy
Bob Tuschman shows up, since this is the midterms. He announces that he, Giada and Bobby will be offstage grading. This makes sense, since Alton hosts the live call in shows in real life when the network does them. Everyone has fifteen minutes to prep, and then we go live to Alton!
“And then there were nine” intones Alton as he and Giada enter the studio. No Bobby? No Bobby.
Our contestants are standing in front of envelopes, but this is no “Mentor’s Challenge” to give away immunity. Not today, thank you kindly. Today’s challenge is to make high end meals for movies goers. There aren’t any movies–just movie trailers filmed by our contestants. The audience will choose which meal they want based on the trailers. Each envelope has a theme. There are only three themes. Surprise! Team Challenge!
- Team Romance: Chad, Viet, Damaris
- Team Western: Russell, Nikki, Stacey
- Team Musical: Rodney, Chris, Lovely
Chris, after last week’s moment of likability, has gone back to Super Douchebag. Lovely doesn’t like him? He’s going to go get in her personal space and pull a Bush rubbing Angela Merkel and say he’s “killing them with kindness.” No, you’re killing me with clueless white male privilege. He’ll make high end mac and cheese. Rodney will do a entree pie and Lovely makes a donut for dessert. Why a donut? Because it doesn’t challenge her, and she’s afraid of screwing up yet another dish. Chris decides she should be making a beignet. For their trailer, it becomes clear they plan to sing. Over on Romance, the meal sounds good–Chad is going for wings, and Viet will do a berry dessert. Damaris wants to do grits. (As this was recorded months ago, trying to be the Next Paula Deen would have still seemed like a smart idea.) The problem is with their trailer plan–Chad wants to be sexy. I thought this man has done his homework? Over on the Western front, Russell has this great idea for “Spaghetti Western” but when asked to explain what that is, it turns out he has no idea what he’s talking about. Furthermore, Russell is very bad at bullshitting, so Nikki and Stacey end up walking over him. Nikki will, of course, do veggie chili and Stacey gets stuck on s’mores for dessert.
The trailers: On Team Musical, Chris and Lovely can’t sing. Rodney–the musician–is unintelligible. Team Romance does a Dating Game knock off filled with double entendres. It would be cute, but all I can think of is Jeff from two seasons ago doing “Balls on a Roll.” Rule #1: Never Bring Up Sex At The Food Network. South Park spelled out why. As for Team Western, Russell should be really glad he’s paired with Nikki and Stacey because they are fine (even if Stacey is a bit stiff.) He’s a disaster.
In the kitchen, Lovely is going to make her donuts out of premade pizza dough. So she’s making a cop out donut out of pre-prepared ingredients, and a terrible choice of pre-prepared ingredients at that. Chad plays with champagne because apparently that makes everything romantic. Russell is condescending to Nikki because she has no kitchen experience. He should concentrate on his own food.
We’re down to eleven contestants rolling up in a badly done car commercial to The Culver Studios mansion. Alton calls this “Food Network’s version of Burger Bash.” There’s a table of ground meat and stabs of beef, plus burger buns. There’s also a stage set up on lawn where the contestants will be doing a live presentation of their burger to an audience of 100, who they will also be feeding. No, all 11 will not be feeding all 100 guests. Instead each guest gets a token to try one burger, based on the live pitches. Giada, Alton and Bobby on the other hand will try all eleven and being “ever so judgmental.”
Did you know Bobby Flay won this year’s Burger Bash? is that relevant to the proceedings? No, but Giada has to mention it anyway, since it would be gauche for Bobby to say it himself and Alton isn’t about to stoop to shill for Mr. Flay. Can i also remark what a dapper hat Mr. Brown has on this evening?
Welcome Back to The Next Food Network Star. Now in its ninth season, the show continues its endless quest to dig up new
grist talent for the mill from people looking to shortcut their way onto television. We have some good news this season, the biggest of which is that there are less contestants to start with (12 down from the usual 15-16.) Also, the interminable and filler filled two-hour premieres and 90 minute episodes we’ve seen in the last couple of seasons has been mercifully dropped. We once again find ourselves with a tight 60 minute time frame, as all good reality shows should run.