Sunday night’s episode of Food Network Star concluded with a line that would spell doom for most reality shows: “All the drama is gone.” But Jeff’s observation about the ouster of overgrown frat boy Chris and wicked witch of the kitchen Penny was missing a critical adjective: All the unneccessary drama is gone — unless, of course, the show’s producers invite Wolfgang Puck back for another round of pitbull-style guest-judging.
In all seriousness, though, Food Network Star was beginning to lose credibility with every week Chris and Penny outlasted more viable competitors, and so it wasn’t really a surprise that the selection committee finally dropped the blade of the guillotine on the duo during Season 7′s “midterm” evaluations. To her credit, Penny seemed to be experiencing a budding realization that she’d been projecting about as much on-screen charm as the Kraken, which is perhaps why her final hour on the show didn’t involve her hunched over a bubbling cauldron, cackling as she tossed screaming woodland creatures into a stew. The fascinatingly awful Chris, on the other hand, remained unapologetically doltish to the bitter end.
You knew the dude was in trouble only seconds into the Star Challenge, in which the remaining finalists were asked to prepare an over-the-top, eight-course dinner party for Wolfgang Puck using only the ingredients in their pantry. Chris announced he’d be happy with any course except dessert — and so, naturally, Whitney (who got to assign the menu order after winning the Camera Challenge) picked Chris to go last, and naturally, Chris chose to make the very same chocolate ganache cake that he’d wisely hurled into the trash during a dessert-themed challenge in Week 3. The sound of sirens filled the air and red lights began flashing when Chris proudly boasted he wasn’t bothering to measure out his cake ingredients, then started accusing his opponents of sabotage when his 350-degree oven got turned down to 300, then up to 450. Dude tried to gussy up his confection with a fancy name – chocolate cake with Tahitian vanilla creme anglaise and caramel candy — but his repeated apologies about not being a dessert expert prompted this zinger from Mr. Puck: “I’ll get to the bad comments after.” Harsh, but at least old Wolfie didn’t drag Chris back to the kitchen for a mandatory cooking lesson.
That was the cruel fate that awaited Jyll, whose lukewarm, gloppy dish so offended the five-star chef that he leapt from the table and headed to the kitchen while gleefully asking, “Can I come and show you how to make a risotto?” Look, I understand that if Jyll is going to present herself as a culinary expert worthy of her own half-hour programming block on Food Network, she’s going to have to raise her cuisine game. But on the flip side, the woman was forced to work in a cramped home kitchen with limited ingredients and a two-hour deadline, so huffing about the unacceptable temperature of her plate seemed a tad egregious. I almost felt like Wolfgang’s teaching moment was designed by the producers to crack Jyll’s perky veneer and produce some delicious tears. (Note Susie Fogelson’s remarks: “I want to see realness, not just ‘Bummer!’”) Still, the most ironic moment of Jyll’s critique came when Giada De Laurentiis, whose on-air personality is as tightly controlled as a Russian gymnast’s training schedule, had the gall to tell Jyll that in order to have a successful career as an on-camera personality, “you’re gonna have to let go a little bit.” I don’t really see how Jyll can possibly recover from this takedown, especially when her idea of offering an on-camera surprise involves maniacally screaming into the camera “No, no, no! Don’t change the channel!” Maybe next week she can make toast, to represent the state of her Food Network Star ambitions.
A few other observations from this week:
* Did anyone else die a little over the judges talking about the importance of decor at the dinner party, which turned out to be a thinly veiled excuse for a sponsorship from Target and a crossover with HGTV Design Star Sabrina Soto?
* Why did Whitney need to roast four chickens for a dinner party of six, especially seeing how that left Mary Beth and Chris battling over a tiny warming oven to deal with their own dishes?
* If I hadn’t already been rooting for Chris’ exit, I certainly would have after he tried to turn Jyll’s embarrassment into his own opportunity by creepily telling Wolfgang, “I would die to make you a risoto!” Sorry, dude, nothing was going to divert the judges’ attention from your ghastly cake! Not even your lobster and cream cheese “wrap.”
* Most unintentionally funny moment? Whitney calling her boyfriend to lament the judges’ impression that she’s uptight, and having him respond, “You kind of are uptight.” Also, on the subject of Whitney, while she does seem to be a little less robotic on camera lately, I’m not convinced that a vague reference to her sorority sisters represents the type of unique and interesting storytelling around which Food Network can build an entire show.
* For the love of guacamole, if Susie wins this thing, please don’t let her show be titled “Spice It Up.”
* Every time the producers showed a clip of Jeff’s humor “going too far” — i.e. the bran joke, or the “balls” reference — I found myself chuckling. Are the judges making a mountain out of a panini just to divert us from the fact that the Chicago funnyman is an obvious front-runner for the Season 7 crown?
* Tell me I wasn’t the only one who found it disconcerting when Susie Fogelson pretty much demanded contestant Susie share every intimate detail of her hardscrabble upbringing if she wanted to have a chance at victory. Suddenly, I could picture my favorite Food Network Star judge seated at Satan’s right hand, her sensational hair accessorized with a crown of flames, ready to feast on poor Susie’s soul.
* I wish Penny no ill will, and heck, I’m guessing her restaurant serves up delicious food. But after she taught the selection committee how to say bon appetit in Farsi, I was praying Bobby Flay would ask, “And how do you say ‘good riddance’ in your native tongue?”
What did you think of this week’s FNS? Did the judges send home the right contestants, or did Jyll or Mary Beth deserve to get cut this week? Which contestant are you most likely to watch should their FNS run yield an actual series? Sound off below, and for all my reality recaps, follow me on Twitter @MichaelSlezakTV!