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Liveblogging The Next Food Network Star 7.11

FNS7-eliminatedBecause we already know, thanks to a lack of due diligence on the part of the editorial staff at Food Network, that Vic is eliminated after the first challenge where they often have to present ‘to camera’ (industry-speak for ‘to the camera’) some sort of dish they have just made in some indeterminate time period, it certainly spoils the shock of knowing  that we may have to wait a few months before Mamma’s Boy begins its run on The Cooking Channel.

At the Flatotel, the Final Two and Vic wake to face the last day of competition. Susie is aware that she needs to ‘work really hard to make my father proud, my family proud’ and Jeff says he pops ‘out of bed with one thought in mind.’ So after he’s had a nice pee he then asks rhetorically, ‘Am I gonna be the winner today?’ Given the sudden family photos tossed up on the screen to be lingered over lovingly whilst a gentle New Age piano, bass, and synth drum  number marks time, I am obliged to say ‘Yes, Jeff. Yes you will. Because these cues could be seen from space.’

This, kids, is what is known in film and television production as ‘telegraphing,’ wherein small clues and visual references inform the viewer in subtle ways as to the outcome of a plot. Unfortunately there is no deft hand at Food Network and the telegraphing of events is done in typically inept fashion. Meantime, the very soon to be eliminated Vic, goes about brushing his teeth, combing his head, and says he ‘don’t wanna wake up from this dream – because it feels like one.’ And being aware that one is dreaming is a state typically defined as a ‘lucid dream’ over which one can exercise nearly complete control, including making oneself the winner of some type of cooking competition from which one never wants to wake. ‘The finish line is like right here,’ he says whilst illustrating ‘right here’ by holding up one hand like a finish line and making a little running figure with two fingers on his other hand and then tells us, ‘And I’m so close I can taste it.’

Whisked hurriedly away to the Chelsea Market, home of The Food Network, the Final Two Padawans and Vic enter the strangely vacant Food Network Kitchen to find Darth Giada waiting for them. Having not seen the teaser trailer showing that Vic will be the one who is soon to be eliminated, Darth Giada congratulates the three Padawans on being the Top Three Padawans and explains that ‘the next step is making pilots’ for the Jedi Council (and of course the eventual ‘Focus Group’ of former Padawans) to watch. ‘But this time,’ she smiles slyly, ‘we’re changing it up!’ Only two of the Padawans will be making pilots and Vic, as we have seen, will not.

‘Whoa,’ Jeff asks from the sanctuary of the BNR, ‘what just happened?’ Because he’s been busy thinking of amusing quips for Craig Ferguson and hasn’t been paying a bit of attention.

There will be one last camera thing for them – ‘To present the best dish of your life,’ Darth Giada tells them. ‘Make us the one thing that brings all of your skills together and that proves to us that your cooking is the best of the best.’ And then Vic will be eliminated. They will have two hours and presumably the run of the strangely void Food Network Kitchen.

‘The challenge is,’ Jeff suddenly explains to us in case the instructions just given to them by Darth Giada were somehow vague and uncertain, ‘we have to make the best dish of our lives and present it to camera.’ He means ‘to the camera’ but fame has got to his head. He will make ‘a very light and texturally complex bite’ in the form of an eggplant parmesan sandwich.

Vic, ‘getting in the cooking zone’ so he can be eliminated soon, makes the ‘Italian Seven Fish Tradition’ and Susie, rightly estimating that this series began ‘a thousand years ago,’ is preparing carnitas in honour of her father. With a Project Runway-like gentle guitar riff playing in the background, Susie explains that ‘it’s gonna be sad’ that she, Jeff, and Vic will only have this last time together in the kitchen and, whilst Vic makes a mess with a blender, Jeff (actually imitating Alica as we discovered in the useless Reunion Special) runs into the fridge and falls down because he is, after all, a comedian at heart.

When it is his turn to present his sandwich, Jeff tells an endearing tale of his father, ‘Big Gus,’ and how his eggplant parmesan sandwich is a tribute to the sorts of things Big Gus would make and, in a bizarre lack of continuity, we first see Susie Fogelson (in her end-of-series cameo) nearly devouring half her sandwich in one not quite dainty bite and then, in the very next shot, see her sitting with an untouched and uneaten sandwich on the plate before her whilst she smiles and doesn’t twirl her hair as Jeff is speaking.

Susie’s Spice It Up segment is an ‘inspiration’ from both her parents and features pork carnitas with a grilled cactus salad and a big cold pitcher of citrus margaritas. Her presentation is just bang on, garnering praise from Lord Flay and Bob T and causing Darth Giada to sip on the cocktail whilst Susie Fogelson shouts ‘Woo’ and claps her hands. ‘It was the day and the time to bring the best,’ Susie Fogelson says when she calms down and says she is please that Susie ‘seized this opportunity.’

The soon to be eliminated Vic offers his zuppa de pesce and a heart-warming tale of family and friends and very little about the actual dish itself. Bob T loved ‘the heart and soul’ Vic brought to what was arguably his best performance before the camera to date, but Dark Lord Flay expresses concern that he said almost nothing about the preparation of or ingredients in the Italian Seven Fish Tradition.

The Council deliberate privately over the relative merits of each performance and the state of readiness exhibited by the two remaining Padawans and Vic, and then they call the Padawans back so that Lord Flay, in rather a shocking and unexpected twist, can tell them that their challenge was simply to ‘make the best dish you could possibly make and present it to camera.’ He means ‘to the camera,’ of course, but stars of more than ten programmes have no need for such trivialities as the definite article.

Throwing yet another spanner into the works, Bob T explains that only two of them will be moving ahead to make their actual pilots and then starts to say ‘The person who’s going to be leaving us now…’ but he has to wait for the synthetic drums to bang dramatically for a bit before he finishes his sentence, ‘is Vic.’ FNS7-no-pilotDarth Giada offers a tasteful ‘golf clap’ as Susie is told that she is not eliminated and then gives Mamma’s Boy a big hug before he exits to join the Focus Group we will be seeing shortly.

Moments later, suddenly standing alone again in the once more strangely deserted Food Network Kitchen, Darth Giada congratulates the final two Padawans on being the Final Two and tells them that ‘in the morning’ (because they’ve had an exhausting two hours in the last 18 minutes), they will ‘report to Food Network’s Studio A, where a very special guest will be there to direct you.’ She means they will be directed in their pilots by not-so-very-special-guest, Guy Fieri as we have also seen ad nauseam in the  not-very-teasing teaser trailers which have the rather annoying habit of taking the ‘surprise’ out of anything surprising.

In ‘the morning,’ Susie is reading over the shooting script for her pilot entitled ‘Susie Jimenez Pilot Script, “Sopes with Chorizo Refried Beans and Tangy Slaw”’ whilst Jeff, stating once more that he’s doing this for his son, The Sandwich Prince, pores over ‘Jeff demos’ (or ‘demonstrates’). These scripts have, it seems, been left for them in the night by some unseen force. Perhaps the Food Network Magic Pixies who bang out scripts whilst everyone is sleeping.

Arriving at Studio A, ever curious as to whom their Very Special Guest Director will be and hoping it isn’t Andy Fickman, they are surprised to discover that their Very Special Guest Director is none other than winner of The Next Food Network Star Series Two, Guy Fieri, which they didn’t know anything about as they haven’t seen the teasers that spoil everything.

‘This is it!’ Guy happily announces and then tells them that ‘It’s a little trippy for me, because I come walkin in here, and this is Studio A, and this is where it all went down.’ What ‘went down,’ of course, is that in 2006 Emeril Lagasse, tightly bundled inside a black t-shirt and black suit coat, announced that Reggie Southerland had not won the title of The Next Food Network Star at the end of the second series. This is shown in a brief, de-saturated video clip (because the past is always lacking the vibrant colours of today). He does not explain, however, just why it is he has since avoided Studio A for the duration of his Food Network career.

What he does do is to explain that, with Vic eliminated, the final two Padawans will be making pilots for their potential programmes and he will be directing them because when Jeff and Susie were told this information just a short while ago by Darth Giada it was perhaps unclear and imprecise as she only said ‘a very special guest.’ They appear surprised by this new information they’ve only just heard from Guy and they smile anxiously. It seems clear to them now why they were given scripts to read.

When the pilots are completed they will be shown to the Jedi Council – news which appears to shock the Padawans even more as they seem to not understand just why they are making pilots – ‘and,’ Guy tells them, ‘they will determine who’s got the best pilot. But,’ he says, because there’s always a but, ‘we’re also gonna show it to a focus group of Food Network viewers,’ He does not tell them that, as seen in the teasers, the ‘focus group’ is made up of the former Padawans – including recently-eliminated Vic Moea – all with personal biases and weighty axes to grind.

‘And imonna tell ya this,’ Guy ominously confides. ‘For one of you… your life will never… ever be the same. In a FANTASTIC WAY!’ he then shrieks, laughing at how richly he gets rewarded for wearing bowling shirts.

For his pilot, Jeff exhibits the Softer Side of Sears by wearing a dark blue Mr Rogers Sweater instead of his Magic Mike Reno Good Luck Headband but it doesn’t save him from the sudden stage fright and the realisation of, as he says, ‘what’s at stake here.’ He botches the first take in less than four seconds and spends most of the second take badly mimicking Emeril by saying ‘boom’ (but not ‘bam’) a lot until Guy can’t take it any longer and calls ‘Cut!’

‘Am I in trouble?’ Jeff asks.

‘Do you think you’re in trouble?’ Guy retorts and then launches into him for using boom as an irritating crutch-word. Calming down he then asks ‘What got you here?’ and then it’s family and the Little Sandwich Prince time again as Jeff recalls that in the heat of the season finale last year, a troubled Herb Mesa taped pictures of his family to the camera for inspiration. Jeff then tapes a picture of his family to the fridge and, as if no-one could have guessed, he emerges like Rocky Balboa at the end of Rocky II and gets ‘in a zone’ during which Guy supposedly ‘forgot we were even doin this’ because he was so enraptured.

When Susie steps up, Guy wants to have her walked through her mise en place with the ‘culinary team’ and then he tells her to ‘stick to task’ as she confesses to feeling a bit ‘scattered.’  Like Jeff, Susie blows the first take because she is not ‘connecting with the camera.’ Her second and third takes, though better, still tend to lack focus – and it is something Guy reminds her of. For the fourth take, Susie begins to think about her father – her inspiration – and his memory, not taped to the fridge, carries her through an almost flawless final performance after which Guy mumbles, in reference to the Jedi Council, ‘Wow, they got a tough job on their hands.’

Fortunately it’s not going to be as tough as Guy believes. The telegraphing of Jeff’s victory is becoming more apparent as the hour winds down – obvious in the way he is talking about how it feels to win (not how it will or could or might feel to win) and the amount of camera time he is getting clearly outweighs Susie’s. At the Flatotel the next morning, whilst Susie is awake and ready to go, Jeff finds that he once more pops out of bed with one thought in mind. Perhaps he ought to cut back on all the champagne before bed.

For the last time a Black Ops SUV jettisons through traffic to deliver the Final Two to the Chelsea Market, home of the Food Network, where the Padawans find the formerly barren Food Network Kitchen now full of the complete Jedi Council, fifteen empty seats, a massive television screen, and that the walls are bejewelled with enormous posters of various Food Network Stars and Food Artist Duff Goldman.

Dark Lord Flay congratulates the Final Two for having made it to the Final Two and helpfully explains that ‘One of you will be the newest member of the Food Network family’ because attention spans run short at the Food Network.

‘I’ll take it,’ Jeff nods in agreement, telegraphing again.

Bob Tuschman leaps in to fill the awkward silence after Jeff’s acceptance of his new duties and says that, ‘We like to watch porn pilots with focus groups to find out what the average viewer thinks.’ Not that they were just talking about focus groups. ‘So now it’s time to meet your focus group…’

And, as if it wasn’t already painfully obvious because of the number of available seats (which was 15 – yes, count ‘em, 15) in the studio or the fact that we have already seen in the teasers that the ‘focus group’ are the previously eliminated Padawans, all of the previously eliminated and biased Padawans emerge from the darkness to take their seats.

‘Oh surprise!’ Susie smiles at the Jedi Council in a knowing fashion, clearly having put the puzzle together well before Jeff had done.

‘I couldn’t think of a better focus group!’ Jeff says, taking a page from the Jeffrey Saad book of How to Ingratiate Yourself to an Audience and Act Like You’re Giving an Acceptance Speech Before You’ve Actually Won Anything. ‘Be honest, be brutal,’ he instructs them. ‘I don’t care. I trust you guys more than other people on the planet – obviously besides you four!’ and he gives the Jedi Council a winning nod.

‘So anything they come back with,’ Susie Fogelson suggests, ‘you think will be fair game?’

‘Yeah,’ says Susie. ‘I mean—’

‘Yeah,’ Jeff cuts in. ‘As long as it’s positive.’ And everyone laughs. Because he is, after all, a rude comedian at heart.

Susie’s pilot for Spice It Up is shown first and, from the comfort of the BNR, Jeff says he is suddenly ‘more nervous than I am confident’ at seeing how well Susie performs. After it is finished, Bob T seems impressed and he says, ‘Excellent job, Susie! But now it’s time to find out what the Focus Group thinks about your pilot.’

He turns to the previously eliminated Padawans and explains, ‘So, focus group, we are looking for your very honest feedback here. And then we’ll take it into consideration when we do our deliberation. So let it all out!’

Paul Stanley, naturally, felt Susie was ‘not as engaging’ as she could have been. Big Chris disagrees and thought Susie was ‘energetic’ and kept his attention. Jyll felt she was ‘fabulous’ especially in light of the difficulty Susie often had before the camera in other challenges. When asked, Jeff says ‘I thought you were great. It was really great. It’s hard. I wanted you not to be great, I’ll be honest.’

Thankfully, Juba says nothing.

Jeff’s pilot for The Sandwich King is, from what is shown of it, loud and somewhat hectic but causes Susie to admit to us from the depths of the BNR that ‘the nerves are starting to kick in.’ When the attention is turned to the focus group, Vic begins by telling Jeff, ‘I got one word for you – Wow, brother!’ which is, as you can clearly see, two words. Howie Drummond – a distant memory from the first episode way back when – correctly felt that ‘it seemed to be a little bit too much schtick for me’ and Paul Stanley (ever the contrarian) disagrees and babbles about how she felt she could have made so many things with the meat other than a sandwich and that it was ‘absolutely inspirational, very entertaining. Watch out Guy,’ she adds, as if auditioning. ‘Watch out Emeril, he’s awesome.’

Dark Lord Flay asks Susie what her thoughts are and she says, ‘I think he did fantastic. He’s a funny guy. He did a wonderful job.’

Thankfully, Juba still says nothing.

Lord Flay thanks the Focus Group for their time and biased opinions and banishes them from the Council Chambers, no doubt causing many of them to wonder why it was they were called back if only five of them were ever asked their opinions. Once they are gone, Bob T reminds the Final Two that ‘Starting next week, one of you will have your own show on Food Network’ because in all of the confusion they probably have forgotten what it was they were doing there, and tells them that they will also be headlining a book tour for a book they didn’t write.

Susie Fogelson reminds Jeff that his challenge from the start was to balance his sense of humour with his warmth, and she feels he has finally achieved that goal. A gushing  Bob T tells Susie (not Fogelson) that she has an abundance of joie de vivre – ‘ it’s not Mexican,’ he explains on the outside chance that there could be a misunderstanding either linguistically or geographically – and that she tends to shed ‘this radiant light everywhere you go and I thought you lit up the screen.’

Presuming that there needs to be a moment of clarification, Lord Flay tells the Final Two that, ‘only one of you can win your own show on Food Network.’ He pauses to let this startling fact sink in and then suggests that the Padawans avail themselves of the exit door of the Council Chambers whilst the Jedi deliberate one last time over just how long it will be before Spice It Up will go into production and whether it will be on Food Network or The Cooking Channel.

When the decision has been reached, the Jedi call the Padawans back into the Council Chambers and tell them that a decision has been reached. Bob T feels it necessary to remind the Final Two that ‘Over the last eleven weeks, you’ve both proved to us that you have what it takes to be a Food Star’ and Lord Flay prolongs the inevitable even more by mentioning that only one of them will soon be working for ‘The Greatest Boss in the World, President of Food Network, Brooke Johnson’ – and so Brooke Johnson stalks out into the harsh glare of the spotlights to congratulate the Final Two on their having made it to the Final Two and that one of them – just one of them – will begin, the next day, their new job as The Next Food Network Star and reminds them ‘Don’t be late.’ And finally Dr Rumack steps into the cockpit to mention, ‘I just want to tell you both good luck. We’re all counting on you.’

‘The person we’ve chosen,’ Lord Flay says at last, ‘to be The Next Food Network Star is…’

boom-boom… cha… boom-boom…

Dramatic shot of Susie.

ticka-cha… boom-boom… cha…

Dramatic shot of Jeff.

boom-boom… ticka-cha… boom-boom…

Dramatic shot of both of them.

cha… boom-boom… ticka-cha… 

Dramatic shot of Jeff.

boom-boom… cha… boom-boom…

Dramatic shot of Susie.

ticka-cha… boom-boom…

Dramatic antelope sweeping majestically across the plain.

cha… boom-boom… ticka-cha…

‘Jeff,’ finishes Lord Flay after such a long time I can hardly remember what the first part of the sentence was.

But, as he is suddenly being congratulated, it is obvious that, to the surprise of no-one at all, Jeff Mauro has made it to the Final One to become The Next Food Network Star, and his programme will be broadcast on Sundays at 11.30 am – the same place where all the new Food Network Stars go to tough it out against the Brazilian Butt or Justin Bieber is Proactiv infomercials.

‘One little thing wrong,’ an eliminated Vic was seen to explain from the BNR in a clip we never saw outside the teasers, ‘and you won’t be the Next Food Star,’ meaning, of course, The Next Food Network Star.  But it won’t stop Mamma’s Boy from cropping up somewhere along the line. And Susie, also in a clip we only saw in the teasers, was quite adamant that ‘I know now, more than ever, that I’m meant to be The Next Food Network Star.’

And I imagine that will happen, because, in the background, whilst Jeff is receiving hugs from his family and telling us how happy and blessed he is, Susie can be seen in the background having a nice chat with Brooke Johnson and Susie Fogelson and one can only imagine they’re already discussing salary, marketing strategy, and the subtle deployment of the Susie Jimenez juggernaut and how she will soon follow in the path of other former Padawans who have successfully circumvented the official and meaningless elimination process to become Almost But Not Quite The Next Food Network Star Anyway.

And now, until the next time, back to your regularly scheduled blog…

2 Responses to Liveblogging The Next Food Network Star 7.11

  1. Bob says:

    Great recap as usual, funny and entertaining.
    Can’t wait to see which show, if any, you tackle next.

  2. Geo says:

    Thanks, Bob. Although I haven’t yet decided what to take on next, rest assured that so long as there is bloody awful television there will always be something to ridicule!