Food Network Star Power Rankings: Week 3, ‘Trendy Dinner’

The race for the next Food Network Star continued this week, without last week‘s eliminated contestant, Matthew, the Obnoxious Twink Who Loved #Hashtags. Which must’ve been a real bummer for him, since this week’s opening challenge would’ve fit right into his #FoodForMilennials POV. This week’s theme was “food trends,” and for the first challenge, the contestants had to make a dish and take a picture of it, and the judges would decide which dishes to eat (and judge) based on the picture.

The contestants all gushed about how much they love to take pictures of their food, and not a single joke was made about the kind of A-holes who love taking pictures of their food. Which was downright shocking to anyone who spends a decent amount of time at comedy open mics like me, where “what’s up wit people takin’ pictures of their food?” is right up there with “have you ever noticed Whole Foods is expensive?” in terms of popular joke premises (both subcategories of “Doncha hate hipsters?!”, incidentally).

Meanwhile, I think I may start each week’s Power Ranking with Thing That Makes Me Ashamed To Be Watching The Food Network. As I said last week, this is a compulsion, not an endorsement. This week’s Thing: constant promos for Cutthroat Kitchen. A new episode immediately followed Food Network Star this week, and pne promo featured Alton Brown talking directly to the camera, saying: “This week on Cutthroat Kitchen, someone will have to make a dish using this!” At which point he held up, I kid you not, A SAXOPHONE.

Can we talk about how this is one of the most idiotic premises for a food program ever conceived? Imagine the HGTV version of Cutthroat Kitchen. “Today, someone will have to grout these kitchen tiles with this!” (*host holds up two snow tires and an old ukelele*). I hope that someday Alton Brown goes in for major surgery and someone has replaced the surgeon’s tools with a shrimp fork and some typewriter ribbon. Basically, the only way to like Cutthroat Kitchen is if you hate food and your idea of entertainment is a medieval court jester. “Haha, make the dwarf joust with a pie!”

Anyway, to the rankings!

1. Arnold (even)
The Mary Poppins of drag queen chefs had a terrible week this week and still came out okay, which only served to highlight that he’s all but a lock to win this. He toned down the flamboyance to keep from freaking out Middle America, and may have overcorrected a bit, coming out flat and bored for both challenges. The elimination challenge this week was “trendy dinner.” “One hot new trend is the opposite of comfort foods,” Giada described it, probably in post. The contestants were tasked with making a dish to represent “Burnt, slimy, stinky, incendiary, and raw,” respectively.

Arnold made scorched bananas (his “incendiary” dessert) and gave two of the roughly eight confessional shots where a contestant hilariously couldn’t remember/pronounce the word “incendiary.” This is how you know TV people are all unfathomably stupid, by the way, that not being able to say “incendiary” is held up as a plot point to make the contestants seem relatable. “Eh oh, I’m just a regulah guy ovah heah. I can’t be pronouncin’ no polysyllabic woids!”

Nonetheless, even in a lackluster effort, Arnold’s dish was still called “beautiful, classy, food” by the judges, and he seems like the odds-on favorite. The kind of guy Ina Garten would call to cater one of her Hamptons dinner parties so she could concentrate on pre-chewing Jeffrey’s food. Have we ever seen Jeffrey, by the way? I picture him alternately as the Wizard of Oz and Norman Bates’ mother.

2. Jay (+4)
You can never bet against fat and likable on this show. Jay got second in the preliminary challenge with his steak and purple potato concoction. Then the judges called his presentation “perfect” during the elimination challenge, where he introduced a gumbo (“slimy,” because of the okra) inspired by his mee-maw. Privately, he called this same, chunky gumbo “borderline atrocious” in a confessional. Amazingly, not one judge dinged him for the fact that the basis of the challenge was “the opposite of comfort food” and the dude made GUMBO. Yes, very opposite of comfort food, guy. Maybe on Opposite World. Gumbo is the only thing more anti-anti-comfort food than grilled cheese sandwiches or mac and cheese. I interpreted the fact that he still finished well as a strong Jay endorsement.

3. Michelle (-1)
Like Jolly Fat Guy, you can never discount Bland Mom. Michelle won this week, and she still doesn’t make number one in my rankings, because her food looks amazingly dull. She made a “deconstructed ratatouille” in the opening round, and Jesus, the only way to make a ratatouille even more dull is to deconstruct it. Ooh, tell me more about this mildly spiced squash. For her “slimy” challenge, she made a spinach soup with octopus. A task she began with the thought “When I hear ‘slimy,’ I think sexy and slithering.”

Uh, gross. Because the only thing grosser than calling food “sexy” is to add in “slimy and slithering.” That doesn’t make me think of food, it makes me think of my dad’s dog rubbing her vagina on the carpet. Anyway, the main reason she won was because of the octopus, which wasn’t even Michelle’s idea. She threw it in at the last minute, and shockingly, “last-minute octopus” didn’t become synonymous with disaster.

4. Eddie (-3)
Johnny Football Hero has a winning shtick that fell right in his lap, but seems just a touch too dumb to capitalize on it. Everyone was going on and on about him being the favorite at the beginning of the show (which you know was just the producers setting him up to make his mediocre episode seem more dramatic), and his scallop mojo was the first pick in the photo challenge. But then he made a burnt citrus salad that bored everyone to tears and a presentation in which he kept saying “um” and looked confused. On the plus side, he didn’t once mention “Cheat Day.” He’ll be dangerous if he figures out a decent show pitch, but I wouldn’t hold your breath.

5. Dom (+2)
The way they edit this, they’ve bent over backwards setting up Dom as the sentimental favorite, the shy guy who cooks good food but runs from the camera. He actually won the opening challenge with his mini eggplant parmigiana with roasted cherry tomato and pesto thing. He’s decently likable and cooks food they seem to love, but it also seems like exactly the kind of food every other Italian chef cooks on the Food Network. Modern twists on Italian classics?! How novel.

If only Dom would’ve rolled in with some crazy schtick, like sleeveless chef’s coats with a bunch of tats on his arms yelling at us like Michael Imperioli in a tequila commercial. He’d be a stone cold lock.

6. Rue (-3)
Rue is still my favorite, but she needs to step it up. She came in dead last in the picture challenge, cooking some kind of Zambian eggplant curry, and then did even worse in the elimination challenge trying to put cold steak tartar (Raw) on top of hot roasted bone marrow. For the love of God, woman, just cook Southern African food and make up some crap about your family. Southern African food is literally the only interesting food POV in the whole competition.

7. Alex (-3)
Alex the Sandwich Hippie keeps making delicious food and boring everyone to death. This week they loved his coconut tuna crudo but said his presentation sounded like “a boring waiter.” Lesson learned, next time say the coconut tuna crudo was inspired by your mee-maw, who died in a tragic falling coconut accident at her timeshare. Be sure to lay on the crocodile tears. Episode winner, guaranteed.

In the picture round, he made a crab cake slider that the judges didn’t even taste because he left the top bun on so no one could tell what it was. I give him two more episodes.

8. Emilia (even)
Emilia (wearing her hugest necklaces) made a huge comeback this week by managing to go a whole show without once shoehorning harissa into something. And by seeming fun for once, referencing her “gal night,” which the judges loved (“see how fun we are?!”). Yeah, I’m sure that’d be a great gal night. Emilia and her bougie pals humble-bragging about their latest boat trip and trading pics of their imaginary boyfriend who is tall and wears a watch. And on the menu? Braised boat shoe over calf’s liver paté. Harissa calf’s liver paté.

This week, Emilia said “I am known for my spicy personality” (she’s clearly not afraid to get a little polo dirt on her pearls) and offered up a spiced mango coulis dessert (“incendiary”) that Jeffrey Zakarian called “flawless.” She said it was inspired by “a vacation to visit my father on the island of Roatan, off the coast of Honduras,” which is just the kind of anecdote sure to endear her to Guy Fieri fans.

9. Rosa (-3)
Rosa this week continued her streak of not cooking a single thing the judges have enjoyed. This week: bland meatballs and badly-cooked fennel. Could we just boot her now? How would that work if she won, by the way? “Come watch our network of expert food advice and this one sassy Italian lady who learned not to cook sub-par food halfway through a reality competition.” “And this week on Rosa Narrowly Doesn’t F*ck Up The Classics, garlic bread!”

People might watch a great cook who was shy at first, but I’m pretty sure you can’t turn a likable novice into a food authority in three episodes. I guess we’ll see.

10. Sita (-1) (Eliminated)
“Mama” Sita, the Italian soul food queen, was half a sentence from being eliminated last week, until Matthew started smirking like a jackass, so it’s no surprise that she got booted this week. Lesson: no one wants to cook fusion food based on your “unique” combination of ethnicities any more than they want to hear a slam poem or a one-man show about it. (“I’m half Italian, half Eskimo, boy are the sled dogs sick of spaghetti!”)

Sita also distinguished herself by never making a dish the judges liked. This week it was dry chicken skewers and a broccoli-crab pasta (for “Stinky”). The judges dinged her because “nothing about this says ‘stinky’ to me,” according to Jeffrey Zakarian. Hmm, broccoli and crab both sound pretty stinky to me. It also sounds like a disgusting combination.

In the end, Sita left as she began, by talking about herself in the third person. “I’m just sad Bobby and Giada will never get a chance to taste what Sita can really do.”

Amazingly, this did not endear her. If only she had talked more about developing her personal brand.

NEXT WEEK: Next week’s episode is “July 4th Cookout,” and since there are already clips of it and it’s now late June, that means this entire season was filmed and in the can an entire calendar year ago. Did they assume we wouldn’t do the math on that? Or maybe they’ll call it a “July 4th Cookout in April” or something. Either way, I hope Guy Fieri wrestles Robert Irvine in a stars and stripes speedo.

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.