A few years ago, back when David and I were still dating, we were hanging out at his mom’s house on a summer night, watching TV. We were channel surfing with his sister Terese, who liked the Food Network. As it turns out the Food Network was showing a marathon re-airing of its recent show, “The Next Food Network Star,” an American Idol-type reality show where finalists compete for their own cooking show on Food Network.
This should not have been interesting.
BUT IT WAS!
We watched for about 5 hours, before it was done. We saw almost the entire series. Neither of us liked reality shows, typically, (Thought I’ve since learned to like the cooking ones, at least!) and so we were shocked at how interested we were in this strange show. It was cool though. They put the finalists through all kinds of weird tests and challenges, like Mario Batali came out and made them all make a weird pizza, and then demo (show it like they would on a cooking show) it for the judges. Then, after each challenge, they’d eliminate somebody.
We were way to into it, though we felt much stronger about who we hated more than who we liked. After hours of watching, we got to the final episode. The two finalists recorded a pilot for their show idea, and then there was a party to announce the winner. Just as Emeril (the “ultimate Food Network Star”) was about to announce the winner…literally the SECOND he was about to announce the winner: *BONG* the patented TiVo “show’s over!” noise. Something was off on the timing, and because we’d gotten behind on the show and had to tape part of it, the stupid episode was cut off, just at the moment we cared most. Ugh!
Of course, we looked up the winner(s) online (in this case Dan and Steve–The Hearty Boys) and that was that. As frustrating as it was, we got over the ruined “reveal” and moved on with our lives. Except that while David remains indifferent to almost all reality shows, I continue to watch The Next Food Network Star season after season. (I also love Top Chef, as you may have noticed).
Top Chef continues to delight, but I have to admit, The Next Food Network Star may be growing a little stale for me. For one, the show seems to be a springboard to nothing. Other than Guy, who admittedly has become the Next Food Network SUPERStar, most of the contestants on the show don’t go anywhere. If The Hardy Boys are still on TV, I haven’t seen them. Of course, Guy’s everywhere, but in the seasons following Guy, the winners have been Amy Finley (who?) and Aaron McCargo, Jr. (okay, but hardly a STAR). That makes The Next Food Network Star only 1 for 4.
This season, I think the producers are trying to improve the show by stepping up the challenges a little bit, at least. I don’t think it’s an accident that most episodes are now following a format much closer to the Top Chef layout of a quick challenge that somehow leads to an advantage in the main challenge. I’ll also say that this group of contestants don’t seem quite as clueless, on the whole, as last year’s crew–but I’m still not seeing very many people whose show I’d want to watch on a regular basis. For the most part, the best cooks (Michael, Jeffery) don’t have the kind of personality I’d tune in for, at all. Others have personality, but no food chops. It’s hard for me to even pick a front-runner at this point. I just hope that whoever gets the chance to be The Next Food Network Star, they actually make it happen. More like Guy, and less like those other guys.