The penultimate episode of Food Network Star‘s ninth season was like one of those defective loaves of Italian bread you sometimes get at the supermarket: Everything looks fine when you throw it in your cart, but you get it home, slice into it, and discover there’s a giant, hollowed-out air bubble in the middle.
Likewise, the final four contestants’ pilot pitches to Food Network execs Bob Tuschman and Susie Fogelson — I’ve missed those two! — felt oddly rushed and insubstantial. Stacey, Russell, Damaris and (UGH) Rodney each had around 30 seconds to present their best TV show idea, but the lack of tough followup questions and genuine discussion of the various contestants’ strengths and weaknesses made it seem like Bob, Susie and our three judges (Giada, Alton and Bobby) had made up their minds before a word was spoken.
For example, I might’ve asked Rodney — who pitched a competitive series in which he’ll visit a restaurants and accept a challenge to try to outdo a signature dish by transforming it into a pie — “How are you going to handle situations in which pie-style will result in something disugusting or unappetizing? Isn’t pie-style a little limiting? What are you doing to improve your poor diction? And given your repeated failures in the kitchen, what gives you the authority to have your own Food Network Series?” Instead, we had Bob lauding the dude’s relatability and sense of fun, and Giada giggling, “I would follow him anywhere!”
I mean, so what if Stacey came off as slightly dour while pitching her idea to help everyone from home cooks to restaurant chefs update lackluster traditional recipes into something modern and magical? The fact of the matter is, she’s repeatedly proven over the last couple of months that she can outcook Rodney and Russell, while maintaining at least a baseline competency in front of the camera. Shouldn’t those skills have counted in the end? At least enough to let her be one of the three contestants to film a test pilot? Apparently not, as she was summarily dismissed midway through the hour, leaving the other three finalists to work under guest mentor Guy Fieri while shooting test pilots that will be screened by and voted on by the viewing public. (Voting is open now through Wednesday; click here to do your duty!)
To me, Damaris is the only viable option for the win. Her pilot Eat, Date, Love — in which she’ll teach bros how to win over their women through southern cooking — sounded a little convoluted on paper, but the execution was both charming (“Work it with your big man paws!” she giggled to her guest as he made sweet potato bisquets) and instructive (that pork loin looked absolutely mouth-watering). With Paula Deen in the pop-cultural penalty box, there seems to be room for a Kentucky gal whose P.O.V. runs a little more sophisticated than “smother it in butter, y’all!” And I think Darmaris could be that woman.
Russell, for his part, has managed to whip up a few decent dishes during his Food Network Star tenure, but there’s something a little off-putting about his drably titled Guilty Pleasures. For his pilot, Russell went to an L.A. farmer’s market to check out a caberbet sauvignon sorbet. But after raving about the flavor, he didn’t delve into the recipe; instead, he was like, “Can I make something in your kitchen that you can think about putting on your menu?” And don’t even get me started on that tagline — “Sometimes it’s good to be bad” — accompanied by a not-at-all-sexy smooch. (Side note: Is anyone else bothered by the fact that A. Russell’s briefcase of sins isn’t refrigerated, and therefore will cause his ice cream to melt; and B. That Russell’s sins — sugar, fat, salt, liquor, bacon, ice cream and offal — have a great deal of overlap? I mean, ice cream has sugar and fat, so how exactly is it also its own sin, not just a product of two other sins? But I digress…)
Pie Style, meanwhile, has simply got to be the kaboose in this three-horse race, right? RIGHT? Sorry for the mixed metaphor, but man, Rodney’s pilot pie looked like a dried-out crust covering a mound of hard-to-identify meat-and-cheese slop. Add to the fact that the goofy fella shouted the entire intro like he’d recorded the audio from the mosh pit of a rock concert, and I just can’t fathom Mumbly McComedyface taking home the sash and tiara.
What did you think of this week’s Food Network Star? Which pilot do you think deserves to be ordered to series? And should Stacey have been in the final three? (If so, then who should’ve been cut?) Sound off in the comments!