I think tonight’s unfortunately bland “Bus Tour” episode of Food Network Star can be summed up by the amount of times the participants gave each other the “swirly finger.”
You know the “swirly finger,” right? You put your index finger up in the air and swirl it around as a silent way of saying to someone else, “Yo dude… wrap it up. It’s officially boring now.”
Television producers crouching behind cameras often give the “swirly finger” to their red carpet host who’s about to go one question too many with Jim Belushi. Mommies give it to the mall Santa when their kid moves away from Legos and skateboards and starts asking for live panda bears and a career like P. Diddy’s.
As for me, I was giving the “swirly” to my television about 25 minutes into this episode.
This new format of dividing the competitors into three smaller teams, each led by a celebrity mentor has proven itself, in only two episodes, to be a critical mis-step for the show. Here’s why:
1.) I said it last week, and I’ll say it again… I DON’T CARE OF GIADA BEATS BOBBY, OR IF BOBBY BEATS ALTON. They each make more money at a Saturday Barnes and Noble signing than I do all year. Short of threatening to give their kids Mike Tyson face tattoos if they lose, I will never believe any of them care anything about “the win.”
2.) Breaking the 15 competitors into smaller teams of five, I feel, has taken out a great chunk of the intimidation factor. Think about it… what would make you sweat more… going up against a gang of 4, or a gang of 14?
Watching these competitors scream obscenities at one another as they fight over the meager amounts of ingredients on hand in what has got to be the worst stocked kitchen in all of television is a huge part of the fun. I like seeing the challenges bring out the worst in these players.
But because of this new format, each team is separated from one another for almost the entire episode, so they don’t even get to lay eyes on the very people they’re told to compete against, much less insult them, trip them as they’re running across the kitchen, or over-salt their bouillabaisse when no one’s looking.
Even worse, within the teams there seems to be a slowly blossoming “support mentality” taking hold. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to watch these contestants help one another and offer consoling shoulders when they under-perform. I want to see the 1950s telephone operator push a carving knife up against Rock and Roller’s throat for swiping the last parsnip off her work station. I want to see Pucker Lips Justin rip that irritating nose ring out of Michele’s face. I want raised voices and words like “backstabber” and “manipulator” tossed about freely. I don’t need to watch a group of people suppress their petty jealousies and pretend to get along with each other for two full hours. I’ve got family holidays for that.
3.) Where’s our villain? Last season, we had that fabulous “Bitch on Wheels” Penny. I can’t say I ever once wanted her to win, but I relished hating her for enough episodes so that I could ultimately take great satisfaction when the judges finally knocked her legs out from under her. We have no one even approaching that spot so far this season. I got the impression last week either Nikki or Martita might be heading for the “love to hate” title, but everyone is so isolated from one another, there’s no opportunity for them to even work up enough venom to spit.
In short, there’s an appalling lack of drama on this season’s Food Network Star, and the blame can be pointed squarely at the decision to copy the “celebrity mentor” format of NBC’s The Voice. Hopefully, it will be rectified soon and the remaning competitors will be merged back into one giant dysfunctional ball… competing in a space that’s just a little too small for them, with the heat turned up just a little too high, and the kitchen floors greased just enough with an invisible layer of Crisco. Otherwise, it’s going to be a long, painful season for all of us.
Challenge #1 – Each team is assigned a different New York neighborhood known for a specific type of cuisine. After visiting each neighborhood, each contestant must return to the kitchen and create a dish inspired by it, then present it to the judges and a group of guinea pig “test-eaters” on a local bus tour.
Here are the highlights:
Justin has pretty lips, but no personality and likes to dress like a 1970’s wedding DJ.
1950s Phone Operator Emily forgets to eat and nearly throws up on everyone during her bus presentation.
Martie still likes to party.
Michele goes on and on about how much she hates “bottom-feeding” catfish, then makes a bunch of it and pretends to like it to trick other people into eating it.
Judson gets assigned pickles as his dish’s main ingredient. Alton tells him to “embrace the pickle.” Everyone purses their lips and looks down at their feet.
Kara gets nervous while presenting and refers to “African Americans” as “blacks,” which makes Judge Susie Fogelson wince. Also, her chicken and waffles dish tasted like she got it out of the frozen food section at the Piggly Wiggly.
Linkie is afraid to make cannolis.
Yvan makes a mozzarella anitpasti that has no flavor.
Josh plans to “rock and roll” his Italian sausage story, but instead presents a meandering 15 minute narrative that has something to do with how Robert DeNiro and Joe Pesci first met. Everyone is bored, and Giada promises never again to pick someone for the show because of his cute butt and super-cool sideburns.
Judge Bob announces that Martita is “just so likable!” Everyone purses their lips and looks down at their feet.
In the end, the members of Team Giada won the Bus Challenge and were all saved from elimination. Heading to the Producer’s Challenge Elimination Cook-off were Kara and Judson. Their final challenge was to create an interesting dish with – I kid you not – potatoes. Not sweet potatoes, not Himalayan Wombat Potatoes, not Mr. Potato Head dolls. Just plain old potatoes. And there was still thirty minutes to go.
Kara made twice-baked potatoes “with a twist!” What was the grand mysterious M. Night Shyamalan element to her meal, you may ask? Was it that they were creamy? Was it that she added bacon? Was it that her mommy makes them for her every year on her birthday?
It was never made clear.
Regardless, Judge Bob loved it, though Susie pointed out that when Kara presents her food, she uses hollow words like “fantastic” and “great” way too much.
Meanwhile, Judson made potatoes encrusted with salmon and mascarpone and goat cheese. The title alone should have secured him the win over Kara right then and there.
Bob said that the meal wasn’t memorable because the salmon was really the star instead of the potato. Susie said that it was layered and soulful, but that Judson lacks authenticity when he’s presenting his food, and comes off as if he’s talking to a room full of thousands.
Judson cried. Susie was not having it. That woman is made of stone, I tell ya! I love her!
In the end, “Don’t Say Blacks” Kara was the one who took the long walk of shame through the darkened Food Network Star kitchen… the one that never has any butter on hand when the challenge that week is “Make Something Spectacular with Butter!”
Poor Kara didn’t seem too surprised that the axe fell on her neck. Though the judges saw potential, they couldn’t find anything “unique” that would make them want to watch any more. When they said that, I pursed my lips, looked down at my feet, and prayed for a reversal of fortune on next week’s Food Network Star.