The episode kicked off with an extended reminder to watch Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives by sending the 10 remaining contestants to Mel’s Diner in Hollywood, where Fieri gave them pointers in the art of intros, outros, and interview packages that are the hallmark of his signature Food Network series. Penny used her natural charm to berate innocent customers. Orchid turned a simple interview segment into a hyperactive monologue. And Vic nicely summed up his and Susie’s performances on the intro segment: “Susie’s making up words, and I’m walking like Frankenstein.”
Meanwhile, Fieri gave dubious advice to Jyll and Justin D, demanding the former mime playing with her pet dog before the cameras rolled, and insisting the latter “let the tiger come out.” When Justin D finished his segment with four seconds to spare, Guy encouraged him to fill the dead air by throwing peace signs and spitting random words like the world’s whackest white rapper. Suddenly, the mild mannered guy with the nifty spectacles was delivering groaners like, “Justin D! Representing at Mel’s Diner!” I’m surprised he didn’t call in some voluptuous, bikini-clad mamas and start chanting “Popozão! Popozão!”
Oddly enough, no one was declared the winner of the Mel’s Diner challenge, and the judges made no mention of their performances at panel, either. Instead, we dove headlong into the Star Challenge, an All-American Food Festival sponsored by MGD 64 (I can’t believe I just typed that.) “Take this as far off the hook as you want to!” Guy hollered, and before you knew it, Penny had gussied herself up in Betsy Ross drag, Chris was sporting boxing gloves and an Uncle Sam hat, and Jeff was swathed in an American flag cape and his signature red headband. The contestants were each asked to reinvent a particular American classic, perform a three-minute cooking demo for an audience of 150, and then serve their dish to the hungry hordes.
Justin D used the opportunity to dress like a pilgrim and be all “booyahkasha! what-what?,” a move that left the judges panel in a state of total bewilderment. “Does this guy have a new accent?” asked Bobby Flay, as Justin D completed his cooking demo, high-stepped off the stage, gave a ridiculous high kick, then staggered and grasped his thigh in agony from a resultant muscle pull. Honestly, you couldn’t have scripted a more tragi-comic moment. When the selection committee stopped at Justin’s booth to sample his unseasoned burger and pickled watermelon relish, the struggling chef incurred Guy’s ire by acting like a normal human being and abandoning his “mack daddy” stylings. Which raised two important questions: Was Guy purposely trying to sabotage Justin’s chances? And does anyone use the term “mack daddy” anymore? Ultimately, Justin’s lackluster food and ability to deliver the “exact opposite of authenticity” led to his exit. Not that there weren’t several excellent alternatives for elimination this week.
Specifically, Penny and Jyll seemed more interested this week in throwing around reality-show clichés than in landing themselves a hosting gig on Food Netowrk. Penny started the episode yapping about her fellow contestants throwing her under the bus — as if she was on Big Brother or Survivor, instead of a show in which a panel of professionals straightforwardly judge her food and on-air skills. Jyll, meanwhile, huffed and puffed like an seventeenth-place finisher on The Bachelor, insisting some of her competitors weren’t “there for the right reasons.”
Wretched as Penny’s personality is, though, I’ve got to admit I chuckled watching her imitate Jyll as a malfunctioning doll whose battery pack gets pulled, and later, rag on her rival’s rigid P.O.V.: “Do you have anything besides Packers and cheese to go on?” Indeed, Jyll’s abject terror at drawing the “carne asada” card, and her inability to tweak the recipe into an tasteful treat that reflected her own skill set, didn’t display the kind of authority you’d want in a Food Network host. Bobby’s critique of her grim food said it all — “It looks like somebody’s five-year-old made this taco.” — as did Susie Fogelson’s summation of Jyll’s personality: “She has a rigidity and eternal perkiness I can’t relate to.” Ouch.
Back at the house, though, Penny became her own punch line, whining that nobody liked her while boasting that her personality was “dramatic” and “overly confident.” I mean, the woman is one step away from collecting her competitors’ hair and adding it to her giant cauldron; she doesn’t really expect to be toasting marshmallows and singing “Kumbaya” with them after-hours, does she?
Other highlights from the week:
* I love how Chris is trying to erase the selection committee’s impression that he’s just an overgrown frat boy by squawking things like “two hun’j on shrimpies!” (that’s imbecile for “I’d like $200 worth of shrimp”), violently shaking his work station during cooking hours, and making Beavis-style jokes about “nuts” when interacting with the general public. If he lasts another two episodes, I’ll be stunned.
* Orchid’s credibility once again took a hit when she told Bobby she’d normally cook her brisket for 15 hours, but only had two hours to complete the challenge. “So it’s 13 hours undercooked?” asked the superstar chef. Brutal.
* Susie made a major move forward this week, working out her manic energy and giving a heartfelt and funny demo. Plus, her decision to replace mayonnaise with avocado in her cole slaw was the kind of nifty twist on a classic recipe that Food Network audiences adore.
* At the moment, though, I’d say the Season 7 front-runners are Jeff and Vic, but both guys need to fine-tune their senses of humor if they’re going to go the distance. I appreciate Jeff’s wit and his love of sandwiches, but Bob Tuschman was right that he can’t forget to infuse his performances with his natural warmth and relatability. Or, in other words, slamming a knife into a butcher’s block and leaping into the audience probably isn’t the best way to end a demo. And am I the only one who would’ve enjoyed Vic’s demo a lot more if he’d left the pink “Bam Bam” wig on the shelf and simply stuck with his homsepun tales of cooking with grandma and his intriguing-looking recipe for lobster rolls?
What did you think of this week’s Food Network Star? Did the right person go home? If you were in charge, who’d get the boot next: Jyll, Penny, or Chris? Sound off in the comments, and for all my reality recaps, follow me on Twitter @MichaelSlezakTV!