This week on Food Network Star, it was down to the final three contestants. Haha, psych! You didn’t think they were going to pass up an opportunity to bring someone back from the loser’s bracket, did you? The winner of Food Network Star‘s ripoff of Top Chef‘s Last Chance Kitchen (yes, I watch too many cooking shows), “Star Salvation,” turns out to be, surprise, Dom. I knew they wouldn’t work so hard to turn that guy into sentimental favorite if they weren’t going to bring him back (are reality show-editing conspiracy theories the lowest form of conspiracy theory? discuss.).
That means it’s down to four, or more accurately back up to four: Jay (Fat, Cajun), Eddie (Muscular, Sports), Arnold (Drag Queen, Decorating), and Dom (Sensitive, Staten Island). Only three contestants get to make pilots, meaning someone’s getting eliminated in the first half of the show. Giada tells the contestants that they’ll have 45 minutes to cook something in line with their point of view, “but you’ll have some help.”
It’s at this point that the producers bring out all the eliminated contestants, and the final four feign surprise. That must be the first question on the potential reality competition questionnaire, by the way: can you pretend to be surprised when we bring back the eliminated contestants for the last challenge like they do on every reality show ever?
Each of the contestants has to pick an eliminated contestant to be their sous chef. Eddie chooses Too-Sweet-For-This-World Alex (makes sense, dude can cook), Jay picks Emilia, aka the Harissabot 5000, Arnold chooses Rue, and Dom chooses Matthew The Obnoxious Twink. Sita, Rosa, and the other one whose name I don’t remember just stand there sad after not getting picked and have to leave. I really hope the show flew them out to New York just to stand there for two minutes and look sad about not getting picked. That should be a montage.
Dom probably deserves to lose this solely for giving Matthew five more minutes of screen time. I feel like the guy complaining about the pro wrestling heel being mean when I hate this kid, so I tell myself that what I’m really mad about is the reality show convention that requires every show to have a transparent heel. If this reality show was a pro wrestling competition, I’d in the front row with a giant sign that said “HE’S NOT HERE TO MAKE FRIENDS.”
Arnold’s lamb sausage turns out dry and has a lackluster presentation, and he ends up getting eliminated. Wait, so Arnold and Dom both beat each other one time, but Dom gets to stay and Arnold is out? How does that bracket work? Shouldn’t they have to have a rubber match? Sports fans would never stand for this crap.
This Week’s Thing That Makes Me Ashamed To Be Watching The Food Network
Sorry, it’s Bob Tuschman and Susie Fogelson again. I just love to hate these dorkbots. Have you noticed that Bob Tuschman talks only out of the bottom right of his mouth (3-5 o’clock, say) and Susie Fogelson talks only out of the bottom (6 o’clock)? Couldn’t they find anyone at Food Net corporate who actually speaks out of the front of their face to put on TV? To be fair, there wasn’t much of them this episode, but Bob Tuschman did drop possibly his most Bob Tuschman line: “Arnold so often lights up the stage with his joy, and today his light was dimmed!”
This guy’s such a neutered mannequin he actually reminds me of the way people talk in Demolition Man, where swearing is banned and the only restaurant is Taco Bell. “Arnold’s light was extinguished during the Big One of 2015.”
1. Jay (+1)
Jay is running away with this competition and it almost feels like he’s been taking my advice – cook Cajun food, preferably greasy, season liberally with anecdotes about your meemaw, repeat. He wins the opening challenge with fried catfish, crawfish etouffee, and cornbread (good dish!). “This is very good,” says Bobby Flay. “Jay-yoncé is in it to win it,” says Arnold.
For his pilot, Jay’s concept is “Fried Food Nation,” where he goes around the country eating fried foods, and inventing Cajun versions of the dishes to cook there. Sort of a mix of Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives and Beat Bobby Flay, though without a winner and loser at the end (Bobby Flay is goddamn brilliant at coming up with show concepts where he ropes people into rigged competitions that he always wins).
Bottom line, Jay’s concept is right out of the Food Network‘s wheelhouse. After 800 shows about burgers, the next logical step (and a more interesting step, frankly) is fried food. And as an added benefit, they’d get a Cajun food authority who isn’t from Massachusetts. Jay has to be a -500 favorite at this point. I checked Sportsbook, but they don’t offer odds. That’s strange, it’s almost as if no one cares about this but me.
2. Dom (+3)
Back from the dead! In the opening challenge, Dom tells his Obnoxious Twink sous chef to only use half an onion, at which point OT says “Yo, bro, I’m not a prep cook. I create flavor. If you don’t have a strong base of at least four onions? It’s not gonna be as good as it could be.”
At this point, the stage was set for a #sabotage plot to bring Dom down, the most likable guy vs. the villain. But, surely to the producers’ chagrin, everyone loved the oniony Bolognese (aka the Bolo).
I hate to side with the world’s most grating human here, but my meemaw always taught me to onion the f*ck out of the Sunday gravy. You see people put sugar or honey in their tomato sauce to sweeten it up, which is entirely unnecessary (and not as good) if you just use a bunch of onions and cook them down to their sugary essence. I’m a double-the-onions-and-garlic-of-any-recipe kind of guy, but that’s just me. They never taste harsh if you cook them right.
Anyway, Dom’s pilot concept is “Big Flavor, Little Italy,” which involves profiling restaurants “that are family owned and have a lot of history.”
Mehhh. That’s a cute name, but at this point, does anyone not know how to cook red sauce Italo-American food? Dom’s strength was that he cooked that style of food with a bit of a flair, which we don’t get from a show where he goes to Uncle Carmine’s Clam House and extols the virtues of San Marzano tomatoes. Dear God, not another f*cking San Marzano tomato lecture. Time to pack it in, every other place that grows tomatoes in the world, the ankle of Italy has this one all figured out.
Dom is probably +500 right now. Still, it’s not too late to greenlight that Dom and Arnold travel show I pitched.
3. Eddie (-2)
Eddie chose Too-Sweet-For-This-World Alex in the opening challenge, and made Caribbean-spiced meatballs with carrot-ginger puree. But Bobby doesn’t taste enough habanero. Rookie move, bro. You gotta make it hot for Bobby. It’s a little known fact that Bobby Flay’s eyebrows are actually drawn on in achiote paste.
Anyway, I put Eddie below Dom for two reasons:
1. He’s bad whenever he has to think about something, which makes him particularly poorly suited to coming up with a scripted program and doing a bunch of takes.
2. His concept sucks.
Apparently his pilot idea is to “go to places where you wouldn’t normally think you could find some good Southern BBQ and show how good they are.”
This is only slightly better than “Cheat Day.” To break this down, first, he’s going to tell us how to find good Southern BBQ in non-Southern cities (which is what I always do when I visit non-Southern cities. Going to Boston? Try the KC-style pork ribs.). And if that doesn’t already sound convoluted enough, wait until he starts trying to shoehorn the fact that he’s also personal trainer (who teaches people to eat healthy but also enjoys brisket), who grew up in Texas, and played professional football in Miami, where he developed a love of Caribbean flavors. This is going to be a nightmare. Expect to see a lot of Giada’s confused face:
4. Arnold (-1) ((Eliminated))
Nothing I can say here will outdo “Arnold so often lights up the stage with his joy, and today his light was dimmed!”
Arnold overthought his presentation (you have to think about your #brand before the presentation, not during) once again, and was done in for good when Bobby complained about his dry sausage (amazingly, no one seemed impressed that Arnold made home-made lamb sausage in 45 minutes).
It was probably for the best though. The network that’s currently in the midst of a programming push to turn their foremost food authorities into burger experts and glorified Double Dare hosts probably wasn’t ready for a fabulous gay man creating immaculate tablescapes. Their loss. Expect Arnold to show up on HGTV or the Travel Channel.
Vince Mancini is a writer and comedian living in San Francisco. A graduate of Columbia’s non-fiction MFA program, his work has appeared on FilmDrunk, the UPROXX network, the Portland Mercury, the East Bay Express, and all over his mom’s refrigerator. Fan FilmDrunk on Facebook, find the latest movie reviews here.