The latest season of Food Network Star is underway and the latest round of wannabe TV chefs have begun their quest. We’ve seen first impressions and heard what the judges think but what the world really wants to know is what I think. Let’s do this.
If you haven’t seen tonight’s episode STOP! Watch it HERE first and then come back. It’s a frickin recap, yo!
Pitch Perfect: The four finalists get their chance to pitch a show to Food Network. Executives Bob Tuschman and Susie Fogelson are back to choose the final three: Based on the finalists’ presentations, Bob and Susie will greenlight three concepts, which will be made into pilots directed by season two Food Network Star winner Guy Fieri.
Last week’s aw the ouster of the only real competition Stacey had. But you can’t blame the judges, she had a terrible week. Still, I’d watch a show hosted by Nikki. Stacey is the clear winner of the contest. The only that could keep her from bring the next Food Network Star is if this is yet another rigged season.
Now for my take on each:
I give up.
We know that Jeff Mauro won the only poll that counts but that doesn’t mean we still can’t have a little meaningless fun. Here are the results of the Wannabe TV Chef Fan Polls.
The Debbie Lee – contestant you love to hate.
Penny Davidi 56.87%
Chris Nirschel 13.25%
No one else was close.
The Lisa Garza – most improved from day one.
Vic Moea 40.1%
Jeff Mauro 8.32%
No one else was close.
The Kelsey Nixon – should’ve won but got cheated.
Whitney Chen 38.78%
Orchid Paulmeier 25.03%
No one else was close.
The Nathan Lyon – didn’t win but will be a star regardless.
Whitney Chen 29.85%
Orchid Paulmeier 22.39%
Jyll Everman 11.94%
Vic “Vegas” Moea 11.94%
The Serena Palumbo – reminds you of a current star.
Whitney Chen 51.56%
Orchid Paulmeier 17.19%
Vic “Vegas” Moea 15.63%
Be sure to my interview with the newest Food Network Star, Jeff Mauro HERE.
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Well now that the dust has settled and we know that the newest winner of Food Network Star is Jeff Mauro it’s time to take a look back at the best and worst we saw. Be forewarned – there wasn’t much “best” but there was a whole crap load of “worst.”
This was easily the most talented group that Food Network has put together. This was also, by far, the worst season of Food Network Star ever. I don’t know that Jeff stands much of a chance of being a genuine star – at least not in the Guy Fieri sense. I would like nothing more than for my first meal prepared for me by Jeff to be my own words, or more accurately my own words between two buns.
You could make the argument that Jeff should have been eliminated in the first week or two but you can say the same for Vic and Susie. Vic failed to plate any food in the first two challenges and three different times Susie had the worst performance of an episode but wasn’t sent home. Jeff was only on the bottom once. He won and I hope him a happy and successful career. He may be the next Guy or the next Amy. Who knows?
I do have to say that I love Jeff’s POV, the Sandwich King. The sandwich is one of the great inventions of humanity – a complete meal that fits neatly between two slices of bread, no sides needed. Hmm, that sounds like a great title for a cookbook. And though it may be true that the best sandwiches are probably being conceived by high-end chefs you certainly don’t have to be a high-end chef to make a great sandwich. Jeff can make this show interesting.
If I might make one suggestion however, the name of Jeff’s show should be the Earl of Sandwiches as a tribute to John Montague. The English lord is credited with inventing the modern sandwich and it’s name comes from his title. Lord Montague was the Fourth Earl of Sandwich. BOOM! Food knowledge!
Now, Food Network, why would you ever think anyone would want to watch Chris or Penny? The schtick with those two brought Star to the seediest levels of TV, like VH1 sleazy, The View sleazy, Operation Repo sleazy. It was obvious that neither was ever going to get their own show but were there simply because you wanted people to tune in just to hate them. That’s disgusting.
In the post-elimination e-mail that Chris sent out (he ditched the press conference) he said that we would see him again. Judging from the multitude of negative reviews of his restaurant Cafe Naploi he could be right. It looks like he is a prime candidate for Restaurant: Impossible. Even though it has been revealed that Penny was actually an actress at least she could cook, albeit her range was quite limited.
Of all the contestants only Juba, Justin B. and Whitney were truly great chefs. From a professional standpoint the others were all fair cooks with Susie and Vic being better than average. From a cooking standpoint Justin B. was most likely the best but it would be close between him and Whitney with Juba right in the mix. As far as personality goes Jyll was clearly the best. She walked on set TV-ready and showed more professionalism than anyone. Whitney and Orchid were the contestants who had the most genuine promise in both categories. Whitney was a slam dunk. Whitney should have won just as Kelsey Nixon should have won season four.
I get the feeling that Food Network has washed its hands of integrity in regards to Star. In past seasons cast members were kept muzzled, unable to speak their minds or make deals for future jobs until the finale aired. Not so this year. I knew Howie wouldn’t win before the season ever started because he was already shooting another show. I knew Whitney didn’t win because she had taken a position with Ruth Reichl’s new venture Gilt Taste. Then there was Penny boldly announcing her newest acting gig during her exit interview.
Weeks ago the Wall Street Journal summized that Jeff had won saying, “… it’s starting to feel less like a competition and more like a showcase for Mauro to test some of his ideas before he hosts his own Food Network program.” I’m guessing a press photo (right) released by the network’s parent company Scripps on June 17th was part of their deduction process. In the picture Scripps’ Senior Vice President Tammy Franklin is being honored for an award and she is surrounded by her boss Scripps President John Lansing (left), lobbyist David Porter (far right) and the last two winners of Food Network Star. It’s like Food Network doesn’t even care, like they are taking the viewer for granted.
This is also the second year in a row that the Rachael Ray footage was published online and uncut leaving little doubt that the judges were disingenuous in their assessments of the RaRay Challenge. If you watch Jyll’s performance on the Rachael Ray Show you’ll see that she was great. That coupled with winning the first challenge of that episode (which somehow escaped the final edit) made it clear that she, not Jeff, had the best performance that day, though it was pretty close. It was also obvious that Susie had the worst performance that day.
There were other indicators of how things would pan out that made the ending to this season even less climactic than season four – the year the Food Network web site “accidentally” announced Aaron as the winner four days before the finale or last year when Aarti was added to the list of chefs on the web site a week early. Just like in season four I think the winner of this season was determined before the first challenge and that is why rules kept changing and the judges critiques seemed so disconnected. I get it, Jeff is a born entertainer.
There were some great moments this season like when Alicia was breaking down in episode one and Alton Brown turned her around and as a result she had a great performance. Whitney nailing a croque en bouche in the dessert challenge was possibly the greatest accomplishment the series has ever produced. I’m still wowed by that. Jyll’s handling of Wolfgate was the very embodiment of grace under pressure. Jeff’s impressions were a cold stone hoot. Vic’s improvement from episode one through about episode eight was a fun ride. However, after episode nine there really wasn’t much of a reason to watch the show as it was glaringly obvious that Jeff had been anointed the winner.
Food Network Star must undergo an overhaul to be considered “reality TV” since this season read more like a cheap work of fiction. This show needs help to remain relevant. Here are a few suggestions:
- Only accept applicants who have cooked professionally.
- Rather than taking someone because they have personality and hoping they can cook try getting a bunch of cooks and find the best personality.
- Have challenges that are actually relevant to the job. Making something savory out of cereal has never been a big part of a Food Network show other than Star.
- Psychological profiles!
- Never, ever accept someone who has applied for a non-food reality show.
- Stop the editing BS – show what actually happens.
- No more 2 hour episodes. That’s just too much back-biting for one night.
- Stop revealing the winner. Gosh.
- Please, please, please let this show be about finding a new star and not solely about ratings.
- Dare to be better.
Finally, if Food Network wants to renew viewers’ faith in the show then they’ll put me on next year’s season – not as a contestant, but as a judge. Oh, and without a gag order. I get to speak my mind without the seven figure penalty they strap contestants with. Don’t do that and there really isn’t any reason to watch this show ever again. I mean, I will; I just won’t have a reason to.
If you agree drop by the Food Network contact page and send them this message, “Make Stuart Reb Donald a judge on Food Network Star.”
Be sure to check my exclusive interview with the newest Food Network star, Jeff Mauro HERE. Now check out the season finale poll question. Vote your conscience.
The Sandwich King premieres this Sunday at 11:30AM on the Food Network.
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The Iron Chef showdown returns to the competition, along with the pressure it brings to bear on the finalists. Alton Brown will provide criticism from his usual commentator’s spot, and Michael Symon will join the judging panel.
Last week we saw:
. . . the elimination of the only remaining contestant I was confident can be credible hosting a cooking show, Whitney. That’s the second week in a row that the person with the best performance was booted. Don’t worry Jyll and Whitney, it worked out alright for Kelsey Nixon.
At this point it’s two pretty good cooks with descent personalities against two average cooks – one with an iffy personality and the other who is nothing but personality. I believe this to be the weakest final four in the show’s history.
Personality is important but I don’t care how friendly you are on camera if you cannot cook no one will watch the show. To me Mary Beth’s POV is a little to much like Sunny Anderson’s. Susie and Vic can cook pretty good but of the two Vic is the only one who brings anything new. There are at any time a half dozen shows on with Susie’s exact POV. Of the four Jeff has the freshest POV – I love the king of sandwiches I just wish I had more confidence in his cooking.
I saw a bit on the Wall Street Journal where they summized that Food Network had chosen Jeff Mauro as the winner early on and then had to make it happen. This was a good line from them, “After this week, it’s starting to feel less like a competition and more like a showcase for Mauro to test some of his ideas before he hosts his own Food Network program.” I don’t know if that is the case but I do know this, they’ve done it before.
One thing is for sure, they had to get rid of the real cooking talent before this week’s Iron Chef challenge because there is no way Mary Beth, Jeff or even Susie would have stood a chance against Whitney, Juba or Justin B. in Kitchen Stadium. It’s the one place remaining on Food Network where you actually have to be a serious cook. I hate that we are being robbed of a chance of watching a truly exceptional cook in this challenge. Vic, I think is the only one left who has the chops for Iron Chef although I wouldn’t put it past Susie to make me eat my words.
With all viable contestants removed from the contest all that’s left in season 7 is trying to figure out which of the remaining four will be the next Aaron McCargo Jr. That means their name will one day be inserted into this conversation:
PERSON1 Whatever happened to _____ who won Food Network Star?
PERSON2 Their show’s still on the air.
PERSON1 I’ve never seen it.
PERSON2 No one has.
Let’s get this over with.
Battle Iron Chef – need I say more?
After 10 episodes here are my thoughts on each remaining contestant:
Alicia Sanchez – Eliminated week 3.
Chris Nirschel – Eliminated week 7.
Howie Drummond – Eliminated week 1.
Jeff Mauro – It’s a good thing he’s likable. Jeff, by virtue of last week’s wins(?) got to chose his opponent. He chose Susie. In a fair fight, he’s a goner but he also got to choose Whitney as his sous chef. Jeff’s commentary was pretty good – more personality than substances but still good. Theme ingredient was lobster. Jeff made three sandwiches. I know he’s the king of sandwiches but three sandwiches for Iron Chef. I’ve got to take off majorly for that and the judges concurred. They also banged him for not making his own mayo.
Juba Kali – Eliminated week 2.
Justin Balmes – Eliminated week 4.
Justin Davis – Eliminated week 5.
Jyll Everman – Eliminated week 8.
Katy Clark – Eliminated week 2.
Mary Beth Albright – I’m convinced this is her last week. She doesn’t inspire confidence with her cooking and her personality is starting to let her down. How lucky was Mary Beth to have gotten Penny as one of her sous chefs? I wonder if there was any other name in the hat. Theme ingredient was lamb, her opponent was Vic. This is a battle between arguably the weakest cook left against arguably the best cook left. Penny sabotaging Mary Beth didn’t help. Honestly Food Network – that was just a little too obvious. It looks more and more like Mary Beth’s ouster was just in the script cards. In judging Vic’s food her critiques were not in harmony with the judges at least according to what we saw. The overwhelming judgement from each judge on her food was, “not bad.” Her commentary was like her whole season – up and down.
Orchid Paulmeier – Eliminated week 6.
Penny Davidi – Eliminated week 7.
Susie Jimenez – She’s cute and her food is pretty good but her POV is not very original. Susie got a bad break in having Chris as her sous chef but it could have been worse; it could have been Penny. Her commentary was not very good. Theme ingredient was lobster. As it turns out, Chris was more interested in showing off for the cameras than helping Susie. That’s curious – Chris and Penny both hindering their chefs. Her judging was not great but her food was amazing. I can’t see her losing to three sandwiches not matter how good they were.
Vic “Vegas” Moea – The best of what remains. Vic drew the weakest cook of the four for his opponent, Mary Beth. Jyll was his sous chef in battle lamb. His menu was inventive. The judges seemed to like it at all. When judging Vic sounded like he’d been there before. His commentary was similar to Jeff’s in that he used humor to bail out of sticky situation. Vic was the clear winner but he should win – he had all the break and he took advantage of them. Vic was, in my opinion, clearly the best tonight – the past two weeks that got you booted.
Whitney Chen – Eliminated week 9.
Be sure to check out the WTVC Food Network Star Polls – six categories for contestants who best embody the spirit of former Food Network Star competitors HERE. Don’t forget to follow the live Tweeting there you’ll get to chat with people who know this season has been a waste of time.
“In it to Win it” type quotes – 0.
Number of people crying – 1.
Number of WTF moments – Mary Beth getting Penny as her sous chef. Really?!?!? I’m supposed to believe that wasn’t rigged?
Who should have won: Whitney
Who will win based on what we’ve seen in the past: Jeff or Susie
Winner(s) first week: Lobster challenge: Susie. Lamb challenge: Vic.
The finalist(s) who will be going home is . . .
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