I’ve written here before about the “junioring” phenomenon of reality TV competitions that’s taken over in the last few years. It’s part and parcel of the slow move from reality TV that’s cruel to the contestants, and involves audiences watching shows like Survivor, where people are forced to do things like eat worms, to the kinder, gentler reality competitions embodied by the runaway hit, Great British Bake Off. The kids, being young and innocent, simply aren’t as cut throat or Machiavellian. The judges, faced with children who are remarkable merely for having the poise to show up, let alone create things on deadline, are just not going to give the same sort of ripping to shreds that they would to adults.
The problem is that some reality shows don’t seem to understand when it’s appropriate to go “junior.” Project Runway was very smart about it, running a test series Project Runway: Threads, which had a different set of kids doing challenges every week. They wanted to be sure that the kids could handle the challenges and the pressure before committing to bringing in one group who would do the entire season. So You Think You Can Dance, on the other hand, were utterly idiotic about it, and blundered directly into having kids without any sort of test run, winding up with a season that’s been utterly unwatchable and well-nigh pointless. Next time, Nigel Lythgoe, just let them cancel you.
Food Network has embraced kid versions of their shows with gusto, and with good reason. The first “junioring” success was the US version of Master Chef, MasterChef: Junior. It took Gordon Ramsay down a peg so that audiences didn’t get tired of his over the top rage schtick, while simultaneously showing that teenagers could be trained to cook well enough to sustain several seasons of the series, with surprisingly high-end dishes produced at the end of each episode. But sadly now, it looks like Food Network has gone overboard, with the reveal of their next series: Food Network Star: Kids.
Continue reading Food Network Goes Overboard with Food Network Star: Kids
My Sunday nights are now way more full than they used to be, which means I didn’t get caught up on Food Network Star until yesterday afternoon. One of the few long running and very successful reality TV competitions, Food Network Star has, during its run, brought the network some seriously successful talent, or at least successful network staples, including (but not limited to!) Guy Fieri, Melissa d’Arabian, Aarti Sequeira, Jeff Mauro and Damaris Phillips.
But a funny thing happened in the last couple of years. I think it probably started in Season 8, when the production, noting the rise of The Voice, and the fall of Idol, decided to retool into a mentor based competition. It only lasted two seasons before reverting into the old format. But somewhere along the line, the show lost the grip on what was important–that is, turning out talent that could be used to populate both Food Network itself and the stand and stir focused spin-off Cooking Channel. Perhaps it was the foolish choice to allow cowboy clown personality Lenny McNabb to win in Season 10. Certainly Alton’s abandonment of the ship last year for Season 11, leaving Bobby Flay’s terrible jerk personality and Giada’s narcissistic one to cope without him did not help anything. Not to say that they didn’t succeed better last year–Eddie Jackson may yet become a network staple in a couple of year’s time. Unlike Lenny, he had the potential, and the network is actively using him in prime time shows.
But tuning in this year, it was a bit of a shock to discover that the network, which until now had stuck to bringing aboard unknown chef personalities scouted via the internet and guest stints on traveling food shows, had allowed a full-time reality show personality to infiltrate the proceedings. Now, I don’t watch any of the Real Housewives series, so I am unfamiliar with Ana Quincoces (who the show’s bio calls “a cookbook writer” as if the audience will be fooled, or the contestant herself wouldn’t let us all know she’s already been doing this on other channels.) But in allowing a contestant on who is personality first, cooking second, the show seems to have accepted that perhaps what they are looking for is not someone who will bring you a new recipe at all.
Continue reading Food Network Star: Season 12 “Reality Sets In”
Tonight’s “live” finale, though clearly taped live, has the polished sheen of a cooking utensil infomercial. Pretaped live then, since the truth is there’s no need to do it live once the audience voting segment is removed.
While the episode recaps the last ten weeks of episodes, it should be noted that this Top Three is a first in eleven seasons. We’ve never had an all male Top Three. We’ve had a couple of all guy finales before, back in earlier seasons when the audience at home only voted for a Top Two. Back in Season 2, Guy Fieri went against Reggie Southerland, and in Season 4 Aaron McCargo went against Adam Gertler. But post Season 7, when there have been three or four finalists to vote for, and audience voting was re-introduced, there has always been at least one woman who made it to the end.
Speaking of women, the one who probably would have found herself pushed along to the Top Three tonight had she not quit, Michelle, is actually back for the finale. Funny that, since she wasn’t allowed to participate in Star Salvation, and the show even rather cruelly made light of her decision by using a completely out of context quote to represent her leaving last week. But of course, she’s there, to explain her decision and leave everyone with a good feeling about her time on the show. Because when it comes down to it, Food Network Star is about peddling everyone on the network as lovable people who you want to spend your time hanging out with in your living room.
Continue reading Food Network Star 11: Finale
Tonight’s episode of Food Network Star saw the winner of Star Salvation rejoin the competition. But, unlike the last two years, where the show merely referenced that there was this other competition going on at FoodNetwork.com, the channel decided, prior to tonight’s episode of the main program, to do a special one hour presentation of all six episodes back to back. Interesting, as this is also the first year that Star Salvation was lengthened to the point that six episodes could not fit within an hour without massive edits. Not to mention that the entire point of webisodes is that they don’t air on TV. They are supposed to lure the audience to the website. Airing them on TV like this not only rendered making them webisodes slightly pointless, but was a bit like admitting defeat.
But seeing them re-edited for TV was instructive, since each 15+ minute episode had to be reduced back down to seven in order to fit. The overall effect was rushed, certainly. But it was also telling what was cut. All the editing in the early rounds to rehabilitate Matthew’s image, for instance? Gone. (Which also had the unintended effect of making his tears upon being eliminated a second time really jarring.) The best part was the choice to use Michelle’s hysterical yelling of “I Quit!” at Dom completely out of context to represent her quitting the program. Someone at Food Network seems determined to make her image pay for that. Meanwhile, Dom was the only one who got extra time to remind us of why he was eliminated, suggesting that my reasoning was correct, and he would be the finalist to return tonight.
And so it was. Dom rejoined the competition. But this was no second round of a Top 4, like Lovely’s return was a Top 5 redux, or Luca’s return a Top Seven repeat. Instead, Dom simply had to make it through one thirty minute camera competition and then we were on to the taping of the pilots for next week’s finale.
Continue reading Food Network Star 11: Good Chefs Have Bad Days
Before we get into this final episode of Star Salvation, it occurs to me that there is only one good option for Food Network to send back into the competition. As much as it pisses me off, that answer is Dom.
In this finale, Alex will join Dom (who joined last week) and Rue (who joined way back in episode 2.) Alex should have, by rights, been on Star Salvation at least two weeks ago, but lucked out when Michelle quit. He may be charming and cute, but he’s boring on camera, and to send him back right after eliminating him last week will feel pointless. Dom is a walking disaster on camera who literally can’t handle the stage fright unless Giada is smiling at him just off to the side. But Rue has been here *since the second episode.* That means she has effectively missed half the competition. She has been off the main show for as long as she was on it.
Now, to be fair, Luca was also off the show for four weeks before returning. But he returned just after midterms, with another four weeks to go in the competition itself. He earned his way back into the competition, and then had time to earn his way into the finals. Rue not only missed midterms, she’s missed everything from the branding lesson to the live show lesson. Even if she can earn her way back into the competition, she has no time to earn her way into the finale, which means returning her to FNS on Sunday would also be pointless.
Let’s see if Alex and Jeff are at all on the same page with this. Perhaps instead they will presume this is a program where it’s ok to function in a vacuum, without thought to how their returnee will fit in with only an episode to go before pilot time.
Continue reading Food Network Star 11: Star Salvation Finale
With only a couple of weeks to go before it’s time for the finalists to record their pilots for judgement, the show cannot put off the live television challenge any longer. For many seasons this challenge was always the same–it came around Top Five or Top Four Week. Once Rachael Ray had her own network-carried, Oprah-backed show, it was a trip to her studios, where she graciously hosted the contestants as a reminder of where she came from.
But not this week. Instead the Live Show challenge is divvied into two rounds–a Mentor Challenge one, where Giada does not bother show up, and Bobby is left to watch their practice go, done with former model, mommy blogger and host Catherine McCord, alone. The practice rounds are indicative of what’s to come–Arnold and Alex are the weaker links, with the former talking too fast and the latter having zero time management. This is another moment where the loss of Alton is keenly felt. He used to host the “live productions” and his directors background always meant he would give actionable advice to those who struggle in this area. Bobby, on the other hand, just looks at them irritably, like he can’t figure out why they just aren’t doing it right the first time.
Eddie and Jay are already the clear frontrunners, even without Arnold and Alex’s failures. But Jay’s ill-thought out choice to demo, of all things, pigs in a blanket and ants on a log, is so borderline insulting to the at home audience, the win defaults to Eddie. (I mean, seriously. If you’re demoing food that the kids on Rachael Vs. Guy wouldn’t deign to make, you might be not ready for this jelly.)
Continue reading Food Network Star 11: Bitchin’ Kitchen
With a sausage fest happening on the main show, Star Salvation looks to be attempting to restore the gender balance with two women waiting to take down the next competitor. I have made no secret I think Dom should have gone home weeks before he did, and that I blame Giada’s soft spot for his type (and a lack of Alton Brown to refuse to cater to it) for him making it this far. I’m curious to see today how he fares when having to present to Alex and Jeff.
He certainly walks in all swagger and “I’m back, baby,” and both Emilia and Jeff make sure to tell us at home who cannot taste his food that he was certainly the best chef in the competition (which would explain why Bobby was ok with keeping him around so long, since Bobby prizes the ability to chef over on camera skills almost to a point of insanity.) Let us hope that Emilia and Rue eat him for lunch anyway.
All three get bags full of a “culinary curveball.” I guess with Iron Chef America all but defunct, that phrase was going free, and in desperate need of reusing. The challenge–to cook their mystery ingredient, and then present it (along with an “expert tip” in the form of a one minute “video blog entry.” (Bless them all for refusing to say “vlog.”)
Continue reading Food Network Star 11: Star Salvation Part 5