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
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
It’s Top Five Week at the Food Network Star. And I’m with Arnold–holy sausage fest. This is the first time in 11 years the Top Five has been all guys. I wonder if that’s why Star Salvation did a 180 last week and now has only women left, after working so hard to rehabilitate Matthew. Not that they’re rejoining the competition yet. We’ll have to live with the sausage fest for at least another week until the production can hopefully reintroduce a woman and course correct this.
Meanwhile, for both our mini challenge and our main one, the goal this week is branding. The show has a branding challenge around this point every season, which is why Dom’s shock at the idea he has to brand himself makes me question if he did his homework before coming here. Everyone else has a good idea towards what their brand is, if not their entire global branding strategy already mapped out in the head ready for editing.
The mini challenge is to make a recipe that would work for one of those on-line recipe clubs that are the latest fad in home cooking. (I should know. I have a Blue Apron invite in my inbox.) Alex, who has been badly struggling, finally nails a challenge with his slogan “A Whole World Between Two Slices of Bread” and a tasty burger. Dom’s “Newest Authority on the Italian Kitchen” slightly offends Giada (check that laugh!), but he finally nailed a presentation for the first time, so she forgives him. Arnold is less clear on his brand and one note on his flavors. Jay and Eddie are actually the worst of the group, with Jay sounding rehearsed for the first time, and Eddie nearly crashing and burning.
Continue reading Food Network Star 11: Holiday Helplessness
It’s Food Truck Week. No one actually likes Food Truck Week, but as long as Food Trucks remain a popular staple of lunch goers in major metropolitan areas (a fad with a slightly longer lifespan than, say, cupcakes), Food Network Star will have Food Truck Week.
But before we get to the food trucks, our top six have to make brunch. They name their favorite brunch dish before learning that they just committed to making it “to-go” style (for Food Trucks!) Well, five of them name a brunch dish. Alex names “chipped beef on toast” which is Diner Breakfast, a totally different category.
Most figure out how to edit their named dish into finger food. Dom is too literal to manage it, and actually poaches an egg, despite the “no utensils” rule. Giada can’t get her mouth around it, and Bobby nearly demands a napkin. Michelle starts a hallmark of this week–she screwed up the basics (no salt), so she just starts whining about how she wants to be home with her kids. Maybe she can bring Alex’s “baby food” version of chipped beef when she goes. In the end the only contenders are Jay and Eddie, and Eddie failed to bring the flavors, so this time Jay takes it. I feel like this may be the story of the two of them for the rest of the season.
Continue reading Food Network Star 11: Food Truck Mow Down
With seven contestants left this week, we’re at the halfway point of the season. It is about this point traditionally where our All-Star mentors began to fail to show up for work in earlier seasons. This wasn’t such a big deal when there were three of them–in fact it allowed nice changes in dynamic as we found ourselves having an Alton and Bobby as Bros episode, or Giada and Alton as tolerating each other episode. But with only two Stars now running the show, if one doesn’t show up for work, that means having to go through a segment hosted by someone solo.
That’s exactly what happens this week, as Giada is forced to host the opening challenge sans Bobby. The producers realize she’s not so good at this, she can’t hide when she doesn’t like a contestant, for instance. So they give her Duff Goldman as a partner who steps up and does the actual hosting duties. (She doesn’t seem to like him much either–that hug was awwk-ward.) The challenge–to make a “kicked up pizza,” in Duff’s words–and then present it to him, Giada and Darin Harris from the terrible pizza place CiCi’s. Apparently CiCi’s will feature the winning pizza.
One would think after six weeks of these sorts of challenges, nailing these one minute presentations would have gotten easier. But Arnold only does so by accident, Dom and Michelle both fail at their time management, and Alex and Emilia both wither under Giada’s fake smile that does not touch the hatred of them in her eyes. This leaves only Jay or Eddie to take it, and Jay’s pizza came out underdone. Eddie will have his dessert pizza served at CiCi’s, and we won’t give too much side eye at Harris who seems to have never heard of the concept before now.
Continue reading Food Network Star 11: Midterm Improvising
We’re running a little late this week with our Food Network Star recap, due to the holiday. I’m not sure this is the worst thing in the world, since we still have quite a bit of chum left in the waters at this point. We’re down to eight contestants left, at least four of which are in various stages of circling the drain. It’s just a matter of what order they go home in.
The opening round for today’s episode feels like a leftover from last week–another “switcheroo” scenario. This time everyone contestant is given one of their favorite ingredients to cook with, only to see it taken away and given to their neighbor. (I suppose that’s no worse than having an entire car full of groceries given away.) The good news is that after going through a more extreme version last week, no one melts down this time, though it’s telling which contestants ask their neighbors for advice about the ingredient they got, and which ones don’t. At presentation, the dishes are then flipped back, and the contestants are asked to taste and critique the dish their neighbor made with the ingredient they know so well.
Some of them pick up right away that the real skill being tested here is describing a dish where they are the authority on the main ingredient. Others aren’t so quick off the mark. Arnold gets so offended that Emilia gives a bad review of his dish (while using fabulous descriptive words) that he insists her dish is also unimpressive, only to receive a double whammy fail that the judges not only disagree with his assessment, but also pan his ability to describe the dish to viewers at home. Meanwhile others, like Alex, fail to be authorities on their own ingredient. (Seriously, if you put five spice on your list of favorite ingredients to cook with, do your homework and know what those five spices are.) Rue takes the win for both cooking one of the best dishes of the day, but more importantly for her eloquent description of Jay’s offering.
Continue reading Food Network Star 11: Conscious Uncoupling