It was a night of switcheroos on last night’s Food Network Star. First, in the preliminary challenge, each contestant brought their signature ingredient, expecting to cook a dish that explained their POV, those gullible bastards. Emilia brought harissa paste, naturally. It’s almost like she’s f*cking with me at this point. Please, educate us on this North African spice blend you picked up on one of your frequent vacations, bougie white woman.
Only, the judges pulled the old SWITCHEROO at the last minute, and instead of cooking their own ingredient, each contestant had to cook with someone else’s. What’s the black southern guy going to do with grape leaves, lol! (Answer: Treat them like collared greens, obviously).
Then when they were about to present, SWITCHEROO again! Rather than presenting their own dish, the contestants had to judge someone else’s. Rue won that challenge with her “deconstructed venison pot roast,” which she made with Jay’s ingredient, venison tenderloin. (This week’s important culinary tip: if you have to cook some lame lean cut of meat, braise it and add a gravy. You can never go wrong with gravy.) BUT LOOK OUT FOR THE SWITCHEROO AGAIN! Because despite her initial triumph, Rue ended up getting eliminated at the end of the show. Phew, I’m dizzy from all these 180s.
But first, there was the elimination event, where the contestants were broken up into teams of two to cook for “an exclusive Match.com stir event.” As Giada put it, “we’ve separated you all into four pairs of compatible cooks.”
Translation: “We have stuck you and a fellow bee into a jar which we will then shake vigorously in the hopes that you sting each other to death.”
Disappointingly, only two competitors (Dom and Michelle) actually fought, and only Michelle threatened to quit the competition out of anger, which must’ve been a real bummer for the producers. “We may not see Michelle ever again,” said Emilia, before the commercial break, which was as long as Michelle’s retirement lasted. The producers seemed to compensate for the relative lack of Drrrrama, however, by giving Giada an especially low-cut top to wear to the judges table. And that really tied the show together, I thought.
This Week’s Thing That Made Me Ashamed To Be Watching The Food Network
This week’s challenge was a blatant product placement tie-in with Match.com, so it’s tempting to pick on that, but honestly, this was one of the more successful of FNS’s sponsor partnerships. It actually fit into the show and didn’t take away from the cooking, unlike some others I can recall. Anyone remember the year they partnered with a cereal company? Gee thanks, guys, I really wanted to learn how to cook Cookie Crisp Crusted Arctic Char, I’m sure that will come in handy someday.
So, at the risk of repeating myself, I once again have to choose Cutthroat Kitchen, Alton Brown’s gleeful paean to the potential viewer who hates food and cooking but loves cruel stunts (“That’s it, give that high-falutin’ chef what fer!”). As soon as Food Network Star ended, there was Alton Brown on my screen, dressed like a circus master, crawling out of a prop cannon. This week’s Cutthroat Kitchen episode was circus themed, I gathered. As if they all aren’t. Also, what’s with that guy and props? He’s the Lady Gaga of the Food Network, only needier.
1. Jay (even)
Jay made undercooked branzino (Rue’s ingredient) in the first challenge and dry pork loin in the second (like I said, a lean meat needs a gravy), and was still in the first group chosen as “safe” at the end of the show. If they like him this much when he screws up, imagine how much they’ll like him when he cooks something good.
2. Eddie (+5)
Johnny Football partnered with Tennessee Alex this week for a Jerk Chicken (because Houston Eddie loves Caribbean food) Banh-Mi (because DC Alex loves Southeast Asian food). Which they introduced in a presentation so dorky I should’ve been wedgied just for watching. Not surprisingly, the judges ate it up. Guest judge Anne Burrell called it “a bromance banh-mi.” Eddie was, of course, the driving force behind that likability, with his gee whiz, “Hey y’all I just like football” aw shuxitude tempering Alex’s tendency to be a smarmy know-it-all. Point is, Eddie seems like he born to pander, which should serve him well.
3. Alex (+3)
Tennessee Alex (who is actually from DC) is a stone cold lock not to win this competition, but he was in the winning group this week and the judges even liked his smoked salmon ricotta tea sandwiches in the first round, so I guess I have to put him here. His food all looks good, and he seems sweet, but his over-the-top attempts to be nice just make his poncey elitism feel that much more patronizing. Tell us, what has the boy prince learned in his travels to the spice isles??
This week, Bobby put Alex on the spot, asking him to name the spices in Five Spice, and he couldn’t. Meanwhile, the show didn’t actually tell us either. I think the lesson here is, if you’re going to be a know-it-all, you can’t pretend to be nice about it. You have to go full Alton Brown, and create some elaborate mystique of food knowledge like you’re the wizard of oz. COME WITH ME, GENTLE DIPSH*T, AS I INSTRUCT YOU IN THE LOST ART OF OIL POACHING.
4. Emilia (even)
Emilia has even less chance of winning this competition than Alex, and the new, pathologically nice, permasmile Emilia is even scarier than ice queen Emilia. But the judges seem to be fooled for now. Emilia opened this week’s episode with a bun so tight it looked like she was growing a geranium on her skull, telling us “I use harissa in everything.”
Yeah, we noticed. But the judges liked her halibut with turnip puree in the first round (the turnips were Arnold’s ingredient) and her creamy polenta in the second round (paired with Jay’s pork loin). They even liked her presentation at the Match.com event, amazingly, which included a line so ridiculous I had to transcribe it word for word:
“I was in the online dating world myself. So I started an online blog and started hashtagging about all these lovely gentleman.”
What a clever idea, Harissabot 5000. Then she told another story involving her brother, since that seemed to work last week (Harissabot 5000 is programmed to recognize patterns!). Maybe get this brother a show? He sounds cool.
5. Arnold (-3)
Arnold was on a roll, what happened? This week, Rue traded for Arnold, sticking Dom with Michelle, which may have worked against Arnold, when Rue presented their African-Thai surf and turf as “combining the land of smiles with the joyful oneness of South Africa.”
Mmm, I can practically taste the oneness through the screen.
While plated beautifully (obvi), Anne Burrell said of the dish, “There was no South African, there was no Thai, there was no cooking.”
Still, Arnold didn’t get eliminated even after two down weeks in a row, which has to count for something. He has a specific talent and point of view (party food plated so elegantly it makes Ina Garten look like a prison guard), which leads me to believe he’s going to be in the finals with Jay and Eddie. That’s giving him the benefit of lots of doubts these past two weeks.
6. Dom (-4)
It felt like the editors/producers have been setting up Dom as the sentimental favorite this entire time, all the way through this week’s first challenge, when Dom cooked five spice beef noodle soup (with Alex’s five spice powder). He had the perfect Dom story to go with it too, about how “Whenevah I visit my grandmutha I go to dis frickin’ Chinese joint in Flushin Queens and eat me some a dose frickin’ noodles.”
Dom has this townie charm that I can’t tell is real or manufactured entirely out of reaction shots. It feels like they’ve been building to it the entire series, but then the worm turned in the final challenge and he was kind of a dick to Michelle the whole time. He immediately alienated the audience by starting with “I guess dis is like a real marriage, da man can’t get a woid in edgewise ova heah,” and proceeding to accuse Michelle of “stealing all the descriptive words.” According to Dom, there are like five descriptive words in the English language, and if you use any of them twice, you go to jail.
All of which is to say, maybe none of Dom’s character arc was a setup at all, and the editors actually care way less about this show than I do. Now that I think about it, it sounds quite plausible.
7. Michelle (+1)
Poor Michelle. This week Michelle got:
- Dissed by Arnold, who didn’t want to work with her.
- Traded by Rue, who didn’t want to work with her either.
- Ignored by Dom, who barely paid attention to her while they were planning their dish.
- Chastised by Dom, for “stealing all of the descriptive words.”
- Dissed by Dom, because she couldn’t even cook chicken last week.
All the while, Dom was the one who screwed up their risotto (the oldest food show plot in the book!), and Michelle’s shrimp was the only good part of the dish. She got a raw deal, and still came out looking like she felt guilty that Rue went home instead of her. There is no guilt in cooking competitions! That’s like the number two rule of reality shows, behind “I’m not here to make friends.”
If only audience pity was a POV.
8. Rue (-5) ((eliminated))
It’s a little silly that they eliminated Rue after she won the preliminary challenge in the same episode, and despite her being the only contestant with an interesting POV. But her badness at presenting herself has been the stuff of legend. She either glosses over Southern Africa completely (“I’m Rue, I’m from Brooklyn”) or goes so over the top that she sounds like a mis-translated tourism video (“South Africa is the land of joyful oneness.”)
Meaning this is all a setup for Rue to rise and be reborn like a Phoenix in Top Chef’s Cutthroat Kitchen– er, Food Network Star‘s Star Salvation. Btw, I watched Cutthroat Kitchen once, not realizing that Bravo was just going to save the climactic part for the actual show. Nice try, complementary web content, I’ll never be making that mistake again.
I mean, not including this column. This is habit-forming internet gold right here. #Content #Branding #SEO
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.