It’s summer time, which means we’re already three episodes deep into one of my favorite reality shows ever, Food Network Star (née The Next Food Network Star). So far this seventh (!) season has been pretty excellent, but could we really expect anything less from something involving the inimitable Susie Fogelson? The cast is wide and varied, and with any luck, we’ll actually wind up with a winner we’ll want to watch — something the show has yet to achieve for me. Sure, Melissa D’Arabian is aiight, and Aarti Paarti is genial enough, but I’ve yet to set a season pass on my DVR for a winner’s program (certainly not for anything involving Aaron McCargo Jr.).
With the season still young, let’s take a look at the cast — both those remaining and eliminated — and see who we want to win, who will win, and who just full on are terrible. Analysis after the jump
Poor Alicia (pronounced “All-ISH-ah”). The girl is pretty but between her nerves and her strange voice (she sounds like a Valley girl who just burned her tongue), she never had a chance. Save for one stellar moment in the second episode when she delivered a fun story about a date, Alicia just never got the hang of the competition. She also wilted under the fire of rival / resident dragon bitch Penny. Ultimately, a dry, cornbready cupcake was Alicia’s undoing. I wouldn’t trust her in the kitchen, but she might be a decent hostess for some inane food travel show.
Chris has been a disaster in his attempt to show star power. He’s often overly energetic, usually chaotic, and always fratty in the worst way. There’s good fratty, and there’s bad fratty, and he’s the latter. I did feel bad for him when on the first episode, everyone accused him of rapping after he said “Whattup” three times (I didn’t understand why that was considered rapping nor why rapping was considered a bad thing), but since then Chris has done nothing to prove us wrong. Last we saw, he dropped a tray of pies in a kitchen while trying to open a door (just put the tray down on the ground FIRST). He’s oddly affable, but honestly, I would never trust a show with him. He’s clearly on for entertainment value at this point.
Ugh. Howie was the worst. He dragged his team down on the first episode, admitted to having little cooking experience, and then acted like a dick to poor Jyll after she had bailed his ass out multiple times. Even worse, his alleged strength — being good on camera — seemed to be a total bust. He flubbed his lines in a promo challenge and quite frankly, he quite frankly, he just came off as gross. I do think there’s room for an amateur on the Food Network, but I wouldn’t want Howie to represent us. Thank God he got the axe on the first episode.
Usually I hate comedians on reality shows, but Jeff isn’t so bad. He’s not hilarious, but he is likable. Plus, I dig his concept of being a sandwich man. I do wonder how many sandwiches he can make, but for now, I’m down with it. I’m looking forward to see how he develops; although, quite honestly, I have a hard time seeing him making it all the way to the final two or three.
One of the great joys of Food Network Star is that we get to see awkward people completely crumble in front of cameras. This season’s biggest disaster on that front was Juba. Right off the bat we knew he’d be horrific when the first thing he told us was that all his friends had claimed he just had to be on camera. Clearly Juba’s friends were playing an elaborate prank on him because Juba was about as adept at presenting to camera as me playing in the NFL (not a match). Apparently his food was very good; so perhaps Jubes belongs on Chopped or Top Chef instead. Food Network Star, however, was not his calling. Unsurprisingly, he was eliminated in episode two.
Perhaps it was my friend Sly or maybe jash who anointed Justin B. “Lizard Man.” I don’t remember. Either way, the nickname fits because, let’s face it, Justin looks like a lizard. That could be a totally cool thing if he had any personality. But Justin doesn’t have personality. He’s like an… I don’t know… an OAR: long, wooden, and totally unsuitable to host a cooking show. The one caveat is that Justin is a very INTENSE oar. An oar who makes you want to turn away from the TV when he’s looking at you. I swear, lasers are going to shoot out of his eyeballs soon enough. Sure, he might be a great chef, but he’s not the most pleasant of prospects. He probably has only two or three episodes left before Bob Tuschman gives him the heave ho.
I like Justin D., and I like that he represents the world of food blogging, but here’s the problem with Justin D.: I keep forgetting about him. It doesn’t help that he looks different every week, and it also doesn’t help that he’s not terribly explosive personality-wise. Plus, ever week, he seems heavier. I don’t get it. There’s potential with Justin D. though, and I like the geeky angle he’s going for. Not everyone likes food bloggers, but they’re increasingly becoming an important part of the foodie scene. It would be nice to have something reflecting that on the Food Network. But if Justin D. does an episode about a Food Blogger prom, so help me God…
Here’s the good and the bad about Jyll [sic]. The good: Jyll [sic] seems to have a solid taste level; she knows how to cook; she’s solid on camera; and she took down Howie. The bad: I can’t stand how her name is spelled (not her fault, but if she’s going into showbiz, she can change it), she’s a little bland, she lacks star power (I guess that goes with the whole bland thing), and OMG I hate her show name — JYLLICIOUS. It’s ten times worse than Aarti Paarti, which has always irked me with its cutesy whimsey. Jyll [sic] will probably go far in the competition, but I can see her getting eliminated for lack of growth or personality.
I can’t. I can’t.
Just know that she’s gone and the long national nightmare is over.
And the winner for worst Food Network glamour photo is… Mary Beth! In a weird way, Mary Beth is my favorite. I like that she’s a food writer, which means she can bring braininess or an academic quality to her food without being annoying (see food blogger, above). I also innately believe that her taste level will be sophisticated, and I certainly appreciate her intense fear of being called mediocre. We need more Food Network personalities who aspire to be more than just the next Sandra Lee. Unfortunately, I don’t know if Mary Beth has the chops to go all the way. Yes, she has a wicked sense of humor, as Bob says, and yes, she has the dreaded mom haircut that I loathe (but the Food Network loves), but Mary Beth’s personality seems to flicker in and out. Some days she’s on, others she’s off. I don’t think we’ll have her for the long haul, which is truly a shame.
Orchid has become a frontrunner because of her sweet personality and strong cooking skills. I personally love her name, ORCHID PAULMEIER, which sounds like it comes either from an Antebellum romance novel or Arrested Development. Here’s the problem with Orchid. We’ve seen her type a million times on this show: she’s sweet, bubbly, proficient, and totally a shoe-in for the job. But that sweetness turns annoying, and by the end of the season, we’re okaaaay with her winning but not totally embracing it. Next thing we know, she has a show on Food Network, and we just can’t bear to even watch it anymore. It happened with Melissa; it happened with Aarti. I want someone who’s less perky and more urbane. But we know Bob Tuschman. He LOVES perky!
Speaking of perky, here’s Penny! Middle-Eastern women have a reputation for being pushy, brash, and unapologetic. I’m glad to announce that Penny happily bolsters the stereotypes with her ruthless gameplay that is both totally entertaining to watch and hilarious. Let’s get something out of the way: there is no way this woman can earn herself a spot on the Food Network. She is unlikable in so many different ways. First, she has the bitch problem going her way, and for those of you who don’t follow, that means she’s a bitch. Second, she actually thinks she’s sexy. Hey, I’m all for empowered women of a certain age feeling sexual and sensual, but I regret to inform Penny that she simply is not sexy. And she doesn’t look any sexier grabbing an apple and then slowly turning away from the camera as she did on the first episode. Thankfully, Penny has since shied away from her sexytime antics; although, I’m not sure what her angle is nowadays. Stilettos in the Kitchen morphed into the “I’m a working mom!” angle, and then it morphed again, sort of, I think, I don’t know, into something else. Doesn’t matter. She’s not someone I’d want to watch on the regular, but she makes for great TV. (And I do trust that she makes some kickass food. Hmmm… maybe give her a spot on the Cooking Channel. Anything has to be better than that wretched Bitchin Kitchen monstrosity).
Every year, there’s a person that the selection panel inexplicably calls “the life of the party!” Remember Jameka? Of course you don’t, but Bob LURRRVED her. You would have thought she had a disco ball and confetti following her everywhere she went. Instead, she had about has much personality as the throw pillow next to me: pleasant, useful, but generally unimportant. Susie isn’t THAT bad, but I don’t get why she’s so awesome. If she advanced far in the competition, it wouldn’t bother me, but here’s the thing: doesn’t the Food Network already have its share of peppy ladies serving up Latin fare? My problem with Susie is merely that she doesn’t bring anything new to the table.
Vic. VIIIIIC. There’s something so likable about Vic. Maybe it’s his teddybear personality, maybe it’s his Vin Diesel-ishness, or maybe it’s his manboobs, but there’s something about Vic that’s very appealing. He didn’t even plate anything his first week, and I was still rooting for him. The good news is that I trust he’s a solid chef. I don’t really get his whole “Vegas” angle (in my mind, turning things “Vegas” is not an ideal enhancement), but I think Susie will eventually advise him to drop his current gimmick and go for something more personal and catchy like “Big Man, Little Time” or “Hungry Man, Little Boy” or maybe “The Teddybear Gourmet.” I sense Bob will be happy if Vic just hugs him once in a while. Nevertheless, I hope Vic sharpens his on-air presence and becomes a bit more consistent with his food because I would definitely like to see him reach the finals.
Every season needs a robot, and this time we have one in Whitney, who is technically stellar and emotionally cold. She’s not bad on camera… just inaccessible. We all know Susie and Bob are just DYING to break down her walls. Clearly we’ll have a moment when Susie says, “That emotion right there that you showed is what we want to see more of,” followed by Bob saying, “That was so incredibly appealing that side you just revealed. I want to see THAT Whitney.” Bobby Flay, of course, will just grunt. If Whitney can come out of her shell, she’ll be a contender. But for now, she’s just boring. I don’t see her having great success on Food Network. But again, she might be perfect for Cooking Channel.
Who are your favorites? Who do you want to win? Who do you think will win? Who should go home?