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Television

The Least of The Best of The Next Food Network Star

About three years ago I was forced into a commitment with DirecTV because Frontier no longer wanted to deal with the FIOS system they inherited from Verizon. Or at least they hadn’t any interest in dealing with it in my area, as it was not nearly as profitable as their East and West Coast markets. Now, it seems, Frontier are pleased to be offering the once-anathema FIOS to their customers here in the armpit of America and I immediately took advantage of the offer. I hate DirecTV and could not wait to be finished with them. I don’t care how clever their adverts are. Their system is bloody awful.

The slight downside of switching back – to take place on 17th December – is that I have to clear off my current DirecTV DVR, either burning all the recorded programming to a DVD or sitting and watching them. So far I’ve opted for the latter of the two choices. It’s a brutal task, but one which must be done. Even if it means sitting through the occasionally slightly interesting Sleepy Hollow I’ve let pile up, or the litany of films recorded off SyFy or the odd ‘premium’ channel during free promotional periods.

One of the curious finds I discovered deep in the DVR was The Best of The Next Food Network Star, which I’d evidently recorded on 26 June 2011, just prior to the start of series 7.

My self-imposed moratorium on all things Food Network continues unabated, with the one exception of it being on once whilst I was at a friend’s house nearly a month ago. I felt it rude to storm out of the house or kick in her television screen, so I simply dealt with it as best I could under the circumstances. Which was to talk a lot and make her finally turn the volume down. So there was a moment the other night when I debated over watching the programme or simply deleting it from the DVR and moving on.

Eventually I decided that, considering it had been transmitted more than two years before my moratorium was in place, and because it was created just prior to the complete downward spiral of Food Network, and because it had run on Cooking Channel rather than on Food Network, I would take a look.

As these things go, there was nothing terribly new or exciting about the programme. It was merely a self-congratulatory hour of empty fluff and a cursory look back at the previous years before it all went so fantastically and unwatchably pear shaped.

fall-lisaThere was the silly fun of seeing ‘Nikki’s Big Spill’ from series 3, Commander Lisa’s ‘Sauce Disaster’ from series 4 (a personal favourite of mine), the pretender JAG very nearly setting the studio aflame in series 3 because he’s a fucking twat, having Farmer Alexis’ doughy beignets from series 6 being called ‘unedible’ by the ‘vey egzited’ Wolfgang Puck and almost making him cry, Jeffrey’s shitty risotto from series 5, Tom’s bacon steak from series 5 called ‘the single worst dish’ in the history of The Next Food Network Star, and squirming once more through Aaron’s cringingly unfunny performance at some posh Las Vegas hotel in front of a bunch of female impersonators. Good times… good times.

There were the contentious personal battles between Brianna and Serena in series 6, Teddy and Debbie Lee (whom, I have been lead to understand, is likely Korean) and their unfortunate ‘meatloaf collaboration,’ Alicia and Paul Stanley from series 7 – and, well, Paul Stanley and very nearly everyone from series 7. Cunt.

We got to go through some of the sob stories over wrestling with personal demons, an inescapable part of each series, and enjoyed a look back at some ‘fan favourites’ who didn’t win but who went on to have their own programmes anyway – Adam, Kelsey, Jeffrey, (they missed out on Tom, though), and Commander Lisa who doesn’t have her own programme, thankfully, but who does currently sell some aprons.

And then they talked about the winners, like Amy. Sigh. Oh Amy…

But in keeping with the fine tradition of The Next Food Network Star, there were also a few spit-take moments of unbridled fiction and absurd pronouncements. For example, only just two minutes into the programme, whilst addressing the selection process for new Sith Apprentices for each series, a soft-focus and perky Susie Fogelson explained to someone off screen:

‘So of the thousands of people that enter, we narrow it down to the very best of the best.’

Somehow she’d managed to state this hilarious prevarication with an absolutely straight face, not bothering to explain how this ‘very best of the best’ notion fitted in with having our noses metaphorically rubbed in the culinary pee stains of JAG, Cory, Eddie, Teddy, Farmer Alexis, DAS, Howie, Juba, Vic ‘Vegas,’ Big Chris, Malcolm, Paul Stanley, Whinging Twat Judson, Stupid Hat Guy or whomever your least favourite, most incapable Sith Apprentice might have been. She did admit, though, our Susie, that getting on the programme wasn’t nearly as difficult as living through it.

‘It’s not just about the cooking,’ Susie went on to say. ‘It’s absolutely positively about having a winning personality on camera.’

In response to this, I would again direct the reader to the preceding paragraph.

Shortly thereafter, Bob T added:

‘One place you really see the nerves start to fray and the stress come out is in the kitchen.’

And given that the nature of the competition is, as the name would indicate, a cooking show and, therefore, a prerequisite is that a great deal of it would necessarily take place in a kitchen, young Bob’s observation tends to fall into the category of the blatantly obvious.

Needless to say, of course, they didn’t address the clear fact that, as the years went on, they became more interested in manufacturing drama for the sake of higher ratings by casting and then crashing together some of the worst possible combinations of people, and they also glaringly sidestepped the fact that they often establish and then promptly ignore their own rules of play, allowing them to eliminate such amazing talent –  like Emily Ellyn – in favour of those with more style than substance. And by style I mean those who can whinge the best.

Perhaps the biggest revelation from this snooze-worthy bit of masturbation was discovering just how much I don’t miss Food Network. I haven’t decided when my moratorium will end but, for now, the freedom has been surprisingly glorious.

Pieless Style

Although I have renounced Food Network forever as a result of no longer being able to endure the colossal failure of logic and shallow pandering as exhibited in The New & Improved Over The Last New & Improved The Next Food Network Star, I discovered that Damaris won out over Serial Killer Russell and the thoroughly undeserving Stupid Hat Guy. I know this because, apart from still following Emily Ellyn on Twitter, I also follow Danushka, and she tweeted about it.

Doesn’t mean I’m going to change my mind about Food Network at all, but I’m glad I never have to suffer through some fucking ridiculous ‘Pie Style’ wad of shit.

Wherein My Loathing of Food Network Finally Scrapes Bottom

Sunday night, 28 July, The New & Improved Over The Last New & Improved The Next Food Network Star did exactly what it had been promising to do from the beginning of series 7. It finally struggled to push down its little metaphorical pants and in a sweaty, red-faced moment of heated shame screwed, not to put too fine a point on it, in so many words, the pooch.

Proving that it is, in fact, possible to squeeze everything bad about a series into just one episode, directly after the Obligatory Counting of the Sith Apprentices, the number of the counting being, according to a reasonably confident Sith Master Alton Brown…

FNS9-five

…we were introduced to so many fascinating, heavy-handed product placements, and paid sponsorships in such a ponderous deluge in only just the first 5 minutes I lost count.

Then some cooking happened.

But because of the uneven number of Sith Apprentices – five, I believe, was the number mentioned somewhere – they were split into three groups: Stupid Hat Guy and Damaris, Stacey and Serial Killer Russell, and Nikki. Of course it never would have occurred to anyone that singling one person out whilst everyone else got teamed up might have somehow seemed a bit unfair. But whatever. No matter. What they cooked, how they cooked it, or why they cooked it, is really rather extraneous at this point. Suffice to say that Nikki fared well enough despite adversity.

Also extraneous at this point is the fact that Stacey, in a shocking example of how Food Network appear to be dipping into an increasingly smaller and smaller nepotistic gene pool for talent these days, was someone who once had her restaurant saved by Robert Irvine (and thus by Food Network) on an episode of yet another programme I hate and also do not watch any longer called Restaurant: Impossible. This revelation – about Stacey, not my hatred of Restaurant: Impossible – came about because Robert Irvine was, of course, a guest of the Sith Order on this episode after having successfully done their bidding on the ridiculous waste of four weeks called Last Star Chance Salvation Kitchen.

As one or both of you might recall, I’ve had spent the last year (and very much of the year before – or most of 2012 and 2011, if you need that numerical reinforcement), with a couple of brief exceptions, almost entirely Food Network-free. So I’ve missed out on a lot of things – a lot of vaguely interesting connections. Like how Justin, lip gloss king and winner of last series of Next Food Network Star, had been on – and won – 24 Hour Restaurant Battle (a programme I’ve seen perhaps twice because I find the premise absurd and because the haughty arrogance of Scott Conant grates on my nerves). He was also on – and won – an episode of Chopped shortly before he competed on – and won – The Next Food Network Automaton. Danushka, too, it seems, had once been on 24 Hour Restaurant Battle and Chopped. Again, no matter. It’s extraneous.

The important bit, however, was the Obligatory Judging of The Sith Apprentices, which, as always, came towards the end of the programme. Though I ought to note that of only just slightly less insignificance to the rest of the episode was that, in the second challenge directly preceding the Judging, the Sith Apprentices were tasked by visiting Sith Minion Robert Irvine with revitalising a handful of pathetic and laughably outdated dining options at some ancient place called Phil Trani’s. Once they’d created their fresh new spin on some old rubbish, the Sith Apprentices had to present their dishes to the Sith Order, Sith Minion Robert Irvine, the 1000-year-old Phil, the two twentysomething blonde centrefold girls Phil designated as his ‘Chef’ and ‘Manager,’ and an assortment of specially selected diners whose critiques would be collected and used to determine the outcome of the challenge – which was in favour of Serial Killer Russell.

In that the Sith Order were about to deliver unto the Food Network Empire their four most polished and prepared Sith Apprentices for ultimate ascension, this would be no ordinary Judging. Oh no. The Sith Order (and special guest Sith Minion Robert Irvine) would take into account, they said, a ‘cumulative’ view of each remaining Sith Apprentice – their merits, their failings, their ‘overall performances up to this point in the competition’ – going back to day one. Or, as Sith Master Alton would later explain in a scathingly well-honed impersonation of Joseph Goebbels and his pronouncement of The Big Lie, a process which would be ‘very very fair and going back and really reviewing the competition.’

Long time readers (that’s you two) know I have a habit of practising a bit of critical thinking from time to time, and in applying that process to an examination of this laboured and joyless series it would seem logical, if not perfectly obvious, who ought to have faced the humiliation of the Flat Black Door To Distant Memory. And, of course, your guess would be entirely off the mark. So very far off the mark, in fact, as to not even be in the remote proximity of this planet. Probably not even in this dimension of reality.

And why Sith Minion Robert Irvine was invited into this discussion, having had no real prior knowledge of the facts of the competition or how the competitors had finally got to their respective points in the process, is frankly anybody’s guess and seems as senseless as wasting four weeks of our time on the contrivance of a web-based ‘salvation’ series for no particular reason.

It was determined by the Sith Order, as they levelled their particularly thoughtless criticisms at the Sith Apprentices and during their obligatory private deliberations, that Damaris, apart from a few culinary slips and a number of odd personality quirks often grating to the Sith Order, had always been a reasonably solid performer. Stacey, with her bright personality and acceptable skill set, it was decided ‘as a package has all of the elements,’ though she continued to read as artificial, ‘guarded,’ and ‘disconnected’ to the Sith. Serial Killer Russell, they felt, continued to show growth regardless of his extremely irritating mannerisms of glaring at the camera, darting his eyes nervously to one side, and of searching dramatically for failed words.

Stupid Hat Guy, Darth Giada stated, had occasionally shown ‘glimmers of cooking chops,’ but it was generally agreed upon that he was largely and rather consistently ‘inconsistent.’ And by ‘inconsistent’ I’m fairly certain they meant to say that not only does he fucking suck on camera, regardless of his charisma and big personality, but that he had been chastised time and again for being almost completely incoherent and for making, as Sith Master Alton admitted a few episodes back, one good dish. In 9 weeks.

You might also recall last week Darth Giada pointedly warned Stupid Hat Guy that, ‘Your inability to demonstrate food authority is catching up with you.’ And when a self-professed ‘Pie Guy’ can’t accurately articulate what the fuck his culinary vision of ‘Pie Style’ means – after 9 weeks – or produce anything edible or memorable from the start, or figure out how to seal a basic stuffed pie crust for a successful deep fry only to serve up a car crash of a plate to Phil Trani and his centrefold models, one could say his culinary expertise would also be placed in serious doubt. Even the Sith Minion Robert Irvine scolded him on the execution of his dish for Phil and pronounced it as simply ‘bad.’

And then there was Nikki.

Throughout the challenges over the last 9 weeks she’d shown a strong and comfortable camera presence, a concise Culinary Point of View which had been thought of by the Sith Order as a sorely lacking and much-needed element at Food Network. She proved, notwithstanding the manufactured ‘rivalry’ between her and Stacey to theoretically heighten suspense, that she could be a strong leader and a respected team player. She, like everyone, had the occasional culinary misstep throughout the competition, but maintained a firm standing amongst the other Sith Apprentices as the one to beat. Like Stupid Hat Guy, Nikki’s biggest criticism had been her perceived lack of food authority. I say ‘perceived’ because, unlike Stupid Hat Guy who can’t assemble two coherent sentences about his food, I believe the consensus amongst the Sith was because she looks and sounds very young – much like Kelsey Nixon from series 4 – she doesn’t know what she’s talking about regardless of how well-spoken she is in front of the camera. This is purely a guess, of course, as we are only shown what the Food Network producers want to show us.

Her harshest critic in this regard has always been Sith Master Alton Brown, and during this episode he proved himself to be an extraordinarily caustic prick for whom I have lost all respect. He glared disdainfully at her at one point, clearly embarrassing her with his assessment, and sneered,  ‘I have a theory. I think that your ability with food greatly outstretches your ability to explain what it is you’re doing. I don’t think you know enough to explain what it is you do.’ One might think this same venomous appraisal ought to have been levelled directly at Stupid Hat Guy as well, except for the part where he has only managed to show ‘glimmers of cooking chops.’ In 9 weeks.

Of course had Dark Lord of the Sith Bobby Flay been there he might have suggested that, back in series 4, he had stated he could teach anyone how to be good on camera providing they had the culinary ability. And he proved this by taking Aaron McCargo, who was simply abysmal (often called ‘a deer in headlamps’) on camera, under his cloak and making him into Big Daddy and the winner of series 4 no matter how solid a contender Adam Gertler turned out to be.

It is said that the third time is a charm.

In the summer of 2007, series 3 saw the pretender JAG – a pompous, egomaniacal liar – usurp the rightful place of Amy Finley, who had emerged as a major force throughout the competition. Granted his lies eventually caught up with him and JAG stepped down, gushing with the forced tears and disingenuous apologies of someone who never reckoned they’d be found out, and Amy was not only returned to the series but won the coveted title of The Next Food Network Star. But the damage had already been done and a dangerous precedent was set.

In series 4, as mentioned, though Adam Gertler fitted exactly very nearly every qualification Bob Tuschman claimed he desired in a new star, it was a foregone conclusion that Aaron McCargo, under the protection of Dark Lord Flay, would emerge victorious.

Last year, midway through series 8, the incredibly talented Emily Ellyn had a misstep and was unceremoniously cut from the competition in a breathtakingly contentious decision which left many outraged fans – myself included – questioning the veracity of the programme and the ability of the Sith Order or The Network to be fair and unbiased, or even to follow their own rules as they were so often shoved down our throats in endless repetition. The answer to that is, obviously, No. And it was at that point, I’ve mentioned several times, that I walked away from Food Network for the second time – and what I thought would be the last time.

And although I have no particular interest in the outcome of this ninth series, I do, however, have a particular interest in what is fair and what is right.

When someone demonstrates a spectacular inability to fluently and intelligibly describe what they are doing, how they are doing it, or why they are doing it, exhibits little to no mastery of their professed craft over the course of 9 weeks, and is said to only illustrate ‘glimmers of cooking chops’ no matter how nice and friendly and outgoing they appear to be, what, I enquire, would be the sensible course of action when determining what is ‘very very fair’ in the process of ‘going back and really reviewing the competition?’

In the consistently inconsistent and unimaginably erroneous view of the Sith Order, you shove a crushed and humiliated Nikki Dinki and her concise and much-needed culinary viewpoint through the Flat Black Door of Distant Memory and allow someone with merely ‘glimmers of cooking chops’ to move on and alienate whatever dwindling fan base you once had.

‘You know, I’m sad and all,’ Stupid Hat Guy smiled without humility, lounging back in a comfy chair shortly thereafter. ‘But guess what? This is pretty awesome.’

Can you hear that sound? That deep rasping, heavy grinding sound? That’s the sound of my tolerance for this sort of utterly egregious pile of fucking bollocks magically pulled out by a contemptuous Sith Order who cannot even follow their own stated rules finally scraping bottom.

Cheers, Food Network.

I’m out.

Oh. And fuck you.

Piece of Schtick

The Buitoni, Delta, and Buick programme currently running Sunday nights on Food Network called The New & Improved Over The Last New & Improved The Next Food Network Star continues to baffle me.

I’d thrown in the proverbial towel last week because I can only tolerate so much fucking nonsense and heavy-handed attempts at manipulation before I simply want to kick in the television screen. However, because of the ridiculous ‘cliffhanger’ ending last week in Webisode Four of the shocking rip-off which is Last Star Chance Salvation Kitchen, I decided, much against my better judgement, to subject myself to just enough of the newest episode to see if my prediction about the pre-determined destiny of Connie Lingus Lovely would come to pass.

As both of you know, Webisode One saw our Lovely Connie and my personal favourite Danushka beat out Daniela and Formerly Fat Andres in a two-part challenge highlighting their basic culinary skills and ability to utilise the products they prepared with those skills. Webisode Two saw Danushka and new addition Viet both create elegant and thoughtfully crafted recipes only to lose out in a surprising What The Fuck? moment to Connie Lovely’s wad of breaded mustard meat on a nice purée of cat sick, foreshadowing the fact that she was destined to return to the main programme regardless of what lump of shite she squirted onto a plate. In Webisode Three, the freshly-eliminated Chris brilliantly repurposed a handful of potato crisps – the primary requirement of the task being to make the crisps ‘the star’ – into an amazing-looking bisque, whilst Loafly Connie shoved some crumbled bits of crisps under a tonne of sweets, called it ‘a party in the mouth,’ and emerged victorious for not having followed the rules or the spirit of the challenge.

And finally in Episode Four, Dirty Hairy got the cold and indifferent shoulder from Robert Irvine over his grilled and barbecued egg and bell pepper combination whilst Connie Lovely failed once again to follow directions and deliver on her culinary promise of a ‘mind-blowing experience.’ In the end, Robert Irvine admonished her for making an underwhelming salad and expressed his discontent with her product. Then, to the cacophonous rising of drums and wailing Russian opera singers, Irvine told us the person who won the right to return to The New & Improved Over The Last New & Improved The Next Food Network Star would be…

…revealed in a week.

Thankfully that big reveal was accomplished fairly quickly in the very beginning of Sunday’s episode rather than waste any valuable product endorsements. And, as I predicted, Lovely Connie entered through the Giant Cartoon Doors to take her unrightful place amongst current the Sith Apprentices.

Now the thing is, if you’re going to directly steal from another programme, do it with some dignity. Do it with some honour and integrity. Don’t take a good idea or interesting premise and just piss it away for the sake of ratings or in a feeble attempt to manufacture drama. Food Network lifted their farcical web series in whole from the Bravo TV series Top Chef which, for the past two years, has been offering eliminated chefs a chance at redemption and a return to the main challenge.

But there is a distinct difference which Food Network appear not to have realised.

Redemption and salvation, though considered synonymous, have different definitions. Salvation is being saved from a loss; redemption is, in its truest essence, a buying back of what once rightfully belonged to you and an atonement. In short, one is bestowed, the other is achieved. On the Top Chef web series, Last Chance Kitchen, the eliminated chefs compete one-to-one each week for very nearly the entire duration of the main series, to redeem themselves until a champion emerges. And just when the main series is down to the final two chefs, the champion of the web series arrives to challenge them for the ultimate prize.

Food Network’s laughable forgery ran for four minuscule and contrived webisodes and returned Connie Lovely to the main competition with four weeks and five Sith Apprentices still remaining.

The other difference, though, is that Top Chef concerns itself with just that – the top chef: The person who creates the superior product irrespective of their personality. You can be an insufferable bastard or complete fanny and still arise victorious because you’ve prepared amazing meals time and again under often-times extreme conditions. Food Network, conversely, and as Susie Fogelson so very often insists, want a ‘total package,’ a product and commodity to be prepped and packaged in the finest Stepford fashion. Having someone compete outside the parameters the main programme for a few weeks in a very clearly biased mock competition focussed strictly on cooking skills, only to have them return with another month to go seems as pointless as it does counterintuitive.

So Lovely Connie’s inability to follow directions and her theoretical culinary wizardry with mustard – which she described as cooking her butt off – got salvation bestowed upon her by a fawning Robert Irvine and a return to The New & Improved Over The Last New & Improved The Next Food Network Star just in time for everyone to cook a bunch of pasta sponsored by Buitoni.

The first challenge was the typical train wreck in which the smug and arrogant Connie Lovely’s smarmy spokesmodel performance before the camera was an embarrassing ‘dead zone’ of empty words – delicious, wonderful, beautiful, nice – recited without interest or enthusiasm and a vacant smile. She also said her pasta dish incorrectly included ‘marscapone’ when it did, in fact, have mascarpone. Damaris and Stacey were engaging but failed to complete their camera challenges on time. Stupid Hat Guy said almost nothing of value for thirty seconds, Serial Killer Russell was likewise bereft of talent to the point of hostility, and Nikki essentially scoured the floor with her competitors.

‘She showed a sense of discovery,’ Sith Master Alton said later. ‘Everyone else here read a parts list.’

The second challenge was some 30-odd minutes of mostly rubbish during which I discovered how many trips I could make to the kitchen for beer. It was something about a ‘roadshow’ where the Sith Apprentices had to group into two sets of three and present a ‘remote’ concentrating on a specific culinary landmark in California. The girls – Nikki, Damaris, and Stacey – were pitted against Team Suck of Serial Killer Russell, Stupid Hat Guy, and Largely Connie, and they were judged by the Sith Order and some people from a magazine. I didn’t care enough to find out whom or from where. The end result was that the girls, despite some unnecessarily harsh words from Sith Master Alton, won and Team Suck didn’t.

Stupid Hat Guy was considered ‘the most memorable person’ of the entire debacle but mostly because of his ‘schtick.’ Sith Master Alton leant across the Eye of Sauron table and hissed, ‘Now you don’t actually have a schtick. That’s you.’ And though Darth Giada felt he exhibits ‘undeniable charisma,’ she confessed that ‘your inability to demonstrate food authority is catching up with you.’ Serial Killer Russell was criticised for not being terribly fun or informative, and Connie Lovely was berated again for being mechanical, ‘too polished,’ and for ‘not connecting with anything.’

By ‘not connecting,’ Darth Giada was referring to the segment of their remote (which you can see at approximately the 30-minute mark, for now, at the link here, if you can manage to sit through the same 13-second Buick advert which runs about 70 fucking times) in which Lovely Connie blasts through her segment with almost no pauses and her painted-on smile:

‘Now this is what I call a party on a plate. Smoky cheese, robust tomato sauce, crispy crust – now that’s a well-balanced pizza. I ran into two regalers here today and I’m with Justin and Doctor Kute fellas are you enjoying it as much as me?’

‘Very much,’ said Justin.

‘Fantasti—’ started Dr Kute.

‘Well there you have it. Thank you for joining us on the food network star roadshow…’

During their private deliberations, the Sith Order were forced to answer their own question: Who do you not want to have in here again? And although Stupid Hat Guy continues to make no food worthy of remembrance and is mostly unintelligible when he speaks, and though Serial Killer Russell makes tiny baby steps of little consequence, the lifeless and mechanical Connie Lovely was pushed unceremoniously back through the Giant Cartoon Doors and out the Flat Black Door to Distance Memory which makes me ponder ever more the veracity and point served by Last Star Chance Salvation Kitchen.

It reminded me of the futility of Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of The Shining in which Dick Hallorann struggles to reach the snowed-in Overlook Hotel in the dead of winter to save Danny Torrance only to take an axe to the chest upon arrival and promptly die for no reason, negating the last 30 minutes of our time. Although if I’m honest, regardless of the time-sink and pointlessness of the entire exercise, I’m pretty happy to see Connie take the axe a second time…