NFNS 5: Why Should I Watch?

June 7, 2009 at 9:06 am 1 comment

On June 7th, the Food Network kicks off it’s fifth season of the Next Food Network Star.  My question to the Food Network is Why should I watch?  I mean, your track record is dubious to say the least.

Season one was historical in a couple of ways.  It was the first such contest of it’s kind.  Second, the winners were a gay couple which, too, made it ground breaking.  Dan Smith and Steve McDonagh are bright and talented caterers from Chicago.  Their winning show, Party Line with the Hearty Boys, was not very entertaining but that wasn’t as important as the standards set by that first season.

Season two yielded the only Next Food Network Star winner to ever actually become a Food Network star, Guy Fieri.  And a star he has become.  Those TGIFriday’s commercials speak to the California culinarians mass appeal.  He has hosted Guy’s Big Bite, Guy Off the Hook, Ultimate Recipe Showdown and another show you may have heard of, Diner’s Drive-ins and Dives.

Season three is where things started getting – what’s the word? -oh, yeah, suspicious.  JAG would have won, should have won, but for the last minute revelation that he had exagerated his resumé.  This resulted in an 11th hour return of recently booted Amy Finley who, given a second chance, ended up winning the contest (just like in a Hollywood script).

Why is this suspicious?  Having been through the NFNS process I know how thorough their background checks are.  Honestly, it’s easier to slip something past the FBI than it is The Food Network.  With that in mind the idea that FN hadn’t bothered to check the accuracy of resumés just doesn’t wash.  I do know this, the inncident was huge for the ratings.

Season four the shinannigans were even more outlandish.  A stand-up comedian who was so unfunny it was actually painful, a boorish elitest who described anyone who has ever eaten boxed macaroni and cheese as “white trash” and a chef who was scared of fish and stayed weeks too long because she was pretty and satisfied a missing demographic at TFN, Indian cuisine.

There were two contestants who blew away the competition every single week.  Shane Lyons and Kelsey Nixon were both perfect packages, however the judges (Bob Tuschman in particular) kept harping on their youth.  It didn’t matter how well they performed, they were too young to take seriously.  That of course begs the question, why let them into the contest at all?  Nixon, by the way, won TFN’s fan poll on their own web site in a land slide.

After eliminating the two best contestants, in succesive weeks no less, we were left with the trio of Liza Garza, Aaron McCargo Jr. and Adam Gertler.  Garza arrived as a foppish diva with serious cooking chops who, more than anyone else on the show, listened to the judges and turned herself into exactly what they alleged they were looking for.  Gertler was good on camera but had limited culinary skills.  McCargo was a passable cook but was terrible on camera; still is.

In an episode designed to whittle it down to two ccontestants McCargo, who had been a model of mediocrecy, bombed.  He bombed hard.  In fact, it was without a doubt the single worst performance in the history of the show.  Adam was okay and Garza blew the doors off the studio.  Easy choice right?  Boot the guy who bombed, right?  Nope, the judges decided to change the rules and bring all three back for the finale.  Aaron should have been gone but given a second chance brought home victory (just like in a Hollywood script).

Then there was the slip on the web site.  Apparently, some web geek accidentally revealed the outcome of the show days before the final episode was to premiere.  The web fiasco turned into a boon as fans who had tuned out because of the questionable antics (the elimination of Kelcey Nixon, especially) tuned back in to see if the web screw-up was a deception.

Rumors swirled about the controversial outcome.  Many allege that recent complaints about the snow white line-up of the Food Network had led them to tilt the board in favor of a person of color.  Others suggested that McCargo’s personality was so amiable that FN brass just fell in love with the big man with the even bigger heart.  One thing seems certain, the judges had decided the winner weeks before the contest actually ended.  Why else manipulate the rules to keep McCargo in the contest?

The past two seasons have proven that regardless of the show’s title it’s goal is anything but finding the Next Food Network Star.  The casting calls for this season were only done on the west coast and the east coast therefore it should not suprise anyone that all of the contestants save one are from major cities from those regions; more than half are from LA or New York.  Hmm.  So again I ask, Food Network, why should I watch?

Recap of past winners:

  1. Hearty Boys – back in Chicago running their catering business and using their six episodes of experience to teach others how to cook on TV.
  2. Guy Fieri – a bona fide star, host of four shows (and counting), and expanding his brand.
  3. Amy Finley – did her six shows and was rumored to have been offered a second season.  Now lives in France and has written for Fodor’s travel guides.
  4. Aaron McCargo Jr. – despite mediocre ratings and less than steller critical reviews of Big Daddy’s House he received a second season then was tucked away in a time slot that pits him against regular church services and the NFL.
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Winner of 2009 Best Teen Chef NFNS 5: Episode 1

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Stuart Reb Donald

Stuart is a celebrity chef and award winning food writer. Donald performs live cooking demonstrations and penned the cookbook Amigeauxs - Mexican/Creole Fusion Cuisine. He hosts two Internet cooking shows "Everyday Gourmet" and "Little Grill Big Flavor."

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