Food Network Star Season 9 Finale Recap: And -- After Much Rehashing -- the Winner Is...

Food-Network-Star-Season-9-Finale-RecapI’m not gonna lie to you: I approached the Season 9 finale of Food Network Star with a glass of sauvignon blanc in hand, and a gurgling well of nameless dread in my stomach.

After all, with our esteemed judges’ panel — Bobby Flay, Alton Brown and Giada De Laurentiis — operating the last few weeks as if someone had replaced their brains with goose liver pate, we were stuck with a Final 3 that contained only one remotely reasonable option to score his or her own show on Food Network this fall.

Surely, the winner couldn’t be Russell Jackson, a dude who always seemed to be trying way too hard to convince us he was both sexy and chefly. And miraculously enough, halfway into an hour-long finale that was nothing more than a Season 9 highlight reel interspersed with awkward viewer Skype calls, Russell got the bad news that his “Seven Culinary Sins” concept had placed third with viewers.

And that made the final decision a coin toss between pretty awesome and totally unpalatable. On one hand, we had Damaris Phillips, a Kentucky-bred culinary instructor whose food has looked consistently excellent and who for the past 10 weeks has showcased a winning mix of humor, enthusiasm for Southern cuisine and the ability to convey real, actionable tips.

On the flip side, there was Rodney Henry, the answer to the question, “What do those adult characters on the Peanuts cartoons look like?” I mean, with his “mraww mraww mraww mraww mraww” articulation, poorly defined “PI STY!” (aka “Pie Style) point of view and 10-week run that included far more culinary misses than hits, he seemed as likely a subject for a Food Network series pickup as The Real Meat-Rendering Plants of Orange County.

My anxiety only got worse over the course of the hour, as Giada praised Rodney for “never failing to entertain,” almost no mention was made of anyone’s culinary chops, and Rodney dropped verbal bombs like, “I’m a rocker man and I’m a pie man, so that’s what I got.”

As the hour came to a close, and Giada asked once and for all that Rodney define “Pie Style,” I knew an unhappy ending was nigh. (For the record, the answer was something about a way of life that brings people together via good food, good music and art — though with no mention of PIE!)

And then, just like a choking restaurant patron receiving a last-minute Heimlich, the judges revealed the Season 9 champ. And the winner turned out to be…Damaris! There wasn’t really much time for a victory lap — other than Damaris offering profuse “thank yous” to the public, and Bobby admitting he’d stolen a tip from Damaris about how to use melted pimento cheese in grilling — but I’ll be curious to see if Susie Fogelson and Bob Tuschman go with her final pilot idea — the hapless-guys-cooking-Southern-food-for-chicks Eat, Date, Love — or if a more general theme will win out.

Until then, I turn things over to you. What did you think of the outcome of Season 9? Are you happy with Damaris’ win? Were you as scared as me that the show was setting up a victory for Rodney? What’s your take on the season overall? Sound off in the comments!

Comments are monitored, so don’t go off topic, don’t frakkin’ curse and don’t bore us with how much your coworker’s sister-in-law makes per hour. Talk smart about TV!

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  1. Diana says:

    Thank goodness Damaris won. I couldn’t stand the other two.

    • Jay says:

      I was so glad Damaris won! She was the only one who seemed both genuine/comfortable with herself (even when she screwed up) AND talented in the kitchen with food ideas. She was funny and sassy and entertaining. The other two finalists did their one-note schtick and ran it in the ground. I think Damaris deserves a better, more general-appeal show than the Eat, Date, Love idea–which isn’t terrible but does feel limited. But I’m a fan and will watch her–congrats, Damaris!

  2. Ella says:

    So glad she won. Like you I was dreading “Pie Style is a way of life because that is all I can come up” Rodney. Really hope Food Network goes with Damaris’s pitch; it would be something unique and fresh

    • Jono says:

      The real winner was anyone with a DVR. Like me, they could fast forward through the Russell and Rodney segments. I could not stand to look at them or hear them mumble through their ridiculous cooking concepts. I never want to hear about pie style again. What a joke. What amazes me is how the FN gurus fawned over these two no talent yo yo’s. Giada made herself look like a fool. And the Suzie and Bob show got old quickly. Really, if they are making the decisions, I can see FN fading into the reality series sunset. The whole thing was a disaster.

  3. Chablis says:

    There is no way this show can or will be picked up next season. Glad Damarus won but this season was atrocious.

    • seattlejohn449 says:

      this season was the Food Network’s version of Sharknado pie style…liked Damaris but her pilot was the pits…couldn’t even watch the finale though I have been a fan since season 1

    • Jerry says:

      I agree, Chablis. This was the worst season ever….the judges were awful. Damaris is weak, but by far the best of the “finalists.” If one of those two guys made it, I would have had a coronary. Personally I thought Hodgson was eliminated way too early. Anyway, really none of the winners of this series have become famous except for Fieri, so it’s kind of irrelevant to even watch.

  4. ka says:

    Just what we need. Another southern girl to win..who cares..I would watch rodney over her. .she like that Melisa chick who constantly takes about her dead mother. ..they are boring. ..and furthermore it was no surprise either

    • will says:

      You had a chance to vote. And heaven forbid someone with better booking ability wins. Maybe, just maybe we’ll actually start getting tips again versus just seeing idiots ramble on and try to be funny. You are also in the minority of who would watch Rodney over her, so thank goodness there are more people out there with better sense.

    • Mark says:

      The only way Rodney’s show could work would be if he went around solving crimes by touching dead people and bringing them back to life for sixty seconds so they could tell him who the killer was, and he had a cute little blonde girl back in the shop baking pies for him. I would watch that show.

  5. Sienna says:

    I have been thinking everything you said the entire season . Russell try’s way to hard and is not as cool as he thinks. While as fun as Rodney may look, he’s had many negotiable responses on his food through out the season. But damaris on the other hand I loved from the beginning . She is so genuine , humble , and her personality is one I would watch every week on food network ! I’m so excited she won !!!

  6. Jen Thurston says:

    In the very beginning the judges should just say what the network needs as far as a new show and go from there, Example: we will be looking for a southern woman, or we need a quirky chef to attract younger viewers . This is a business after all and usually the winners are never seen again!

  7. Barb Mann says:

    I am still in shock that the 2 with the least cooking chops “the Pie Man” and “Mr Sin….I don’t know what I am talking about ” were even in the finals. Damarus could cook and she was a hoot to watch. This year was boring for me. Maybe some new judges would help too!!
    There is enough Food Network chefs hanging out around !

  8. Lindy says:

    If this is the direction in which food network chooses to go, I will head in a different direction. None of the finalists offered much in terms of apparent expertise or creativity, much less cooking ability. I looked to FN for new ideas in cooking, not goofy shtick or shimmy capability. Too bad, they had me as a viewer for years. Maybe Bourdain was right after all. Time to look elsewhere.

    • Brenda butterfield says:


    • AmbidextrousAspie says:

      FN hasn’t had an original idea since the first year of the network. It caters exclusively to the harried housewife which as a single urban person bores me to tears.

      • McAmster says:

        Are there really any real chefs on there anymore? I’ll stick to wherever Bourdain and Ramsay are Thanks!

        A bunch of hacks on FN now. I’m a chef. Not a harried housewife who can’t cook. And Rachael Ray can kiss my arse! I can’t watch it anymore. There’s nothing said on The Food Network I don’t already know or has been something A MILLION TIMES OVER on that channel!

  9. enyst says:

    i also thought they were grooming Rodney to win, though i cringed every time I saw him smash his pie crust together. Can only imagine how it tasted. Arrogant jerk who thought he was the greatest. Actually didn’t watch because I was afraid of the outcome. Glad Damaris won. She should do well.

  10. sd says:

    Anybody but the pie man. I found it crazy that week after week he was still around. I think FN was thinking about him as another Guy who really doesn’t cook much just goes around to restaurants and chats up the chef. I wouldn’t be surprised if he lands somewhere on FN. They seem to love him. As a group, this season’s contestants have been the weakest since the show started IMO.

    • dan says:

      I agree that Rodney will have some type of show on FN in the future. The Network just loves him (which baffles me).

  11. Sam says:

    Thank god Rodney didn’t win! He wasn’t a very good cook and I can’t imagine a greater torture than having to try to understand what he was saying. I don’t know what the judges were thinking when they picked him over Stacy, who had proven several times that she could really cook!

  12. Name That Tune says:

    This is a dumb show.

  13. newinkpop says:

    I’m happy the woman won’t it’s been what…three years since a woman won it’s WAY BETTER than the other two

  14. Mary Ann Hughes says:

    This year’s show was so awful. The contestants were all terrible. No comparison to Guy, Artie, Melissa and the Sandwich King. Also, new judges for next show. Producers please chose more real cooks to compete.

  15. G. Anderson says:

    Actually, I thought that Gavin was the best chef. He had a great sincerity and smile. With a little more coaching, he’d have been the one to win. Remember he beat Bobby Flay on an
    Iron Chef show. I want to watch someone who is a great chef…Gavin is.

    • ninalouise says:

      It wasn’t Gavin who beat Bobby, it was Viet

      • Jono says:

        Yes, it was Viet who beat Bobby Flay. Too bad he could not improve his communication skills. Wait a minute, what about Rodney and Russell. They could not get out a complete sentence or thought. Oh right, they had no cooking skills, unlike Viet who could cook. Makes sense to me.

  16. Evie says:

    UGH DAMARIS! Oh, how original. Yet another ditzy, flirty blonde. Russell is an original and deserved his own show. Of the final 4, he’s the ONLY one I would watch. Good luck another YAWN blonde chick. zzzzzzzzzz

    • will says:

      So if I were to say another “black” won, I’d be deemed racist. Yet people like you write “Distsy Blonde” and it’s okay? I don’t think so, take her for her merits of cooking and not her looks. She will blow you and the majority of America out of the kitchen any day of the week regardless of her looks or hair color.

      • AmbidextrousAspie says:

        Ah, yes, pity the poor oppressed blondes of the world!

        Just what FN needs, more fat Southern food.

      • will says:

        @ambidextrousAspie…ah yes another closet racist who thinks no one else should be offended by stereotypes and idiotic comments.

      • Evie says:

        Yep, that would be incredibly racist and stupid. You’re honestly trying to compare my comment to hundreds of years of racial struggles and suppression. Wow. Reality TV is not only filled with ditzy blondes, but they’re promoted (and sometimes SELF-promoted) as such. So, you’re saying she’s NOT ditzy and flirty when she had to be told time and time again that nobody would take her seriously if she didn’t stop shaking her ta-tas. Ok, yeah right. My point is, it’s BORING and Russel is FRESH AND UNIQUE. Not enough of THAT on TV. Ok, get it now?

  17. Debbie M says:

    Thank God Rodney didn’t win. Sometimes I thought they needed subtitles to translate what he was trying to say! “?????pie-style!????”

  18. Babybop says:

    My mom and I felt a sense of doom when they were going to call the name. We screamed with glee when it was Damaris! Thank the Lord. I couldn’t stand the other two and really don’t understand how the hell they made it to the top three.

    And also, I’m happy for 6 months pregnant Nikki! It’s a good thing she didn’t win so she can rest for a little while before the baby comes. :)

  19. So glad that Mumbles The Pie Man didn’t win!
    I still thought that Nikki had the best overall concept going into the season – Meat On The Side – for a Food Network Show, and was sad she was eliminated right before she could pitch it as a pilot. Happy for Damaris, even though her pilot was weak. I’d rather see her update Southern classics than win over clueless straight dudes with a pork loin.

  20. Saabgirlatx says:

    I thought pie style was catchy (not tonight’s definition tho) but I am glad Damaris won! Hopefully they will let her be modern southern and skip the whole dating thing. Also glad I dvr’d the ep. What a snoozer

  21. cj bacci says:

    Boring last show. I’m glad Demaris won, however.

  22. Mike w says:

    I’d have preferred Nikki but since Giada was all tingly over something that made no sense (pie style), Nikki did not make it. Damaris was the best of the bunch. She is at least likeable. Overall, kind of a boring season.

  23. teresa hita says:

    I love this show but sad to say it was a very boring season. i am a big fan of Bobby Flay…… big crush on him but i have to say that he looked bored this season and didnt care to be there either. I think Damaris, Nikki and Stacey should have been the finalist. I would have loved to see what Nikki’s ” meat on the side” could have offered. The network needs something like that for people that do not care too much for meat.

    overall …….. the season was very boring and did not have much talented contestants.

    WHAT HAPPENED!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Kim R says:

      I totally agree with your final 3. I think they all had something to offer and I am still so confused how the 2 men ended up in the final group. I’m glad Damaris won but I would have enjoyed Stacey’s show or Nikki’s. They had something to say. The “sins” and the “pies” said nothing.

    • Sue Hodge says:

      I agree with your top three. Meat on the side was a great concept and Stacey was not only a great cook, but had great camera presence. Couldn’t for the life of me figure out Rodney’s appeal to the judges. Seems that, while Giada was able to have a few years’ grace period to become relaxed in front of the camera, these contestants were supposed to be the whole package without having experience! I would be surprised if some of today’s FN stars could have made it through the challenges season 9 contestants faced.

      • Pat says:

        I did not enjoy the show this year.The men were not great cooks. Rodney was not understandable and Russell made “fatty” or unhealthy foods. Stacie and Nikki were good. I think Stacie had the most wins. Stacie was also pleasasnt to watch. The judging was poor. Maybe there was a set-up for somebody who would be really “different”.

  24. TC says:

    Food Network stacked the deck in Damaris’ favor when they eliminated her real competition early in Nikki and Stacey, giving the voters only one real choice.

    • Brenda says:

      When Paula Deen got into trouble, I figured it was Damaris’ show to lose. She gives them a younger blonde Southern woman chef without the baggage.

      Also, this season was TERRIBLE. FN resorted to outright copying Top Chef’s Last Chance Kitchen. Think hard about whether you really want this to limp along, FN, or whether it’s time for a major overhaul.

    • You have a peculiar conception of the word if you think Nikki and Stacey were eliminated early; they left in weeks 9 and 10 (of eleven) respectively.

  25. Atlanta Girl says:

    Wow what a terrible season of FNS. I stopped watching a few weeks ago when they got rid of Nikki and realized that we were all captives to Giada and her unreasonable support of the Pie-Guy who could neither cook nor speak a coherent sentence. I just didn’t get it at all. Thankfully America decided to end the madness and pick someone who was at least palatable – though I am not sure her concept will work for a show. Hopefully Bob and Susie will inject some sanity into this mess now. Next year new judges PLEASE.

  26. TJ says:

    Was it just me or were Stacey and Nikki wearing the exact same dress last night? Overall, not a great season, although it was better than the awful team approach from last season. Maybe Damaris will only get one episode like the guy from last year.

  27. Smithy says:

    Well, she was the best of a bad lot. How many hours of my life did I waste this season? When will I learn? When will Food Network go back to teaching me how to cook superbly? Because I have a feeling I can cook better than this season’s final three. They really need a great Asian food chef. Why couldn’t they take Viet who is a great cook and teach him how to be on TV? Or maybe a great gluten free chef who could show me how to cook for my aunts who are celiac? Or maybe a Paleo/Primal chef who can show us interesting ways to cook meat and veg without grains? They even had someone this season with a somewhat interesting “culinary viewpoint” — Nikki. Her food looked much better than the pie man or Russell. But she didn’t know what rice pilaf was. Did any of the final three?

    • liz says:

      Yes to this entire comment. TFN needs to listen to their own mantra and become food authories on as many avenues of food as possible. Young families are not the only people out there watching.

  28. Walter says:

    I never watch Food Network anymore. There a dozens of interesting and enjoyable people putting up recipes on YouTube.

  29. Maria says:

    I thought Rodney was trying to hard to be “Guy Fieri junior.” I like Damaris and I’d probably watch her show now and then.

  30. Matuse says:

    Glad a bad season of the show came to an end. Did not watch the finale because we did not like anyone who was on the show. They were either bland, boring, annoying or just plain icky. The Dixie Chick won’t make it and she will fade away like the rest of the ‘winners’ have done since Guy won the first show. No more ‘stars’ please! BTW what happened to last years winner? I think it was Rebel with a Culinary Cause or something like that.Never even saw the show on the air, just some sort of one show special.

    • Beth T says:

      Actually Guy won the second season. Steve Smith and Dan McDonagh won the first season. Their show (Party Line with the Hearty Boys) ran on FN a couple seasons, and they have had other shows and TV appearances, opened a restaurant and published several books since then.

      Rebel Justin’s fate has been addressed by commenters several times over the course of the season. In the end Alton did not produce his “Rebel With a Culinary Cause” concept. Justin had a special called “Rebel Eats” in March.

  31. Deanne says:

    I actually like Damaris and willwatch her show at least a couple of times. My hope is that they do not go with the hokey theme she came up with but actually let her cook a la Rachal Ray. She seems to have the chops for that and I think that would be a good show.

  32. Shaun Ed says:

    Wow, I’m glad that Damaris won. I have only watched a few episode of the series since in Canada, the show is behind. Its good that Stacey didn’t even make it to the top 3. Russel seems like a nice guy but his look just looks way too bad. I mean who wears a mohawk at that age? I love pies but Rodney talks incoherently sometimes. I just hope Damaris’ show is a success because winners don’t necessarily become successful after this show because their show flops.

  33. Lily L says:

    I thought the show was boring this year and the Finale was a snoozer. I don’t think anyone was qualified to get their own show, even Damaris who gets on my nerves. And I seriously think, if there was a problem with Justin, last year’s winner, they still should bring him back and try to compromise because he at least deserved it and had that star quality. Damaris to me doesn’t seem to be working with a complete deck.

  34. Beth T says:

    I was so relieved Demaris won! While I think her pilot concept woud benefit from a few tweaks, I think she has a great personality and would be fun to watch.
    I suspect (as others have stated) Rodney will get some sort of show, but I don’t know how anyone could stand to listen to his unintelligible mumbling. Guy Fieri he is NOT.

  35. This show is now just an extended commercial for touch faucets and cereal/pasta brands. Given how last season’s winner was treated, the odds are against Damaris getting an actual show.

  36. Mary says:

    YES!! You nailed it again! I was totally convinced that they were setting up for a PI STY (Pie Fieri) show and I would be forced to give up all Food Network shows in order to boycott the atrocity. I was ecstatic and completely shocked when Damaris won! What a relief. She’s engaging, entertaining, and 100% sans schtick. Thank god! Now I can go back to watching Chopped, Cupcake Wars, and all my other guilty Food Network pleasures (and looking forward to adding Damaris’s show to that list). Thanks for the entertaining read, by the way. Your synopses made me laugh heartily. Cheers!

  37. courtland says:

    needed more danushka…

  38. Mark says:

    Stacey’s “vintage to modern” show would have been better than any of these. But Damaris’s show will be fine. I can’t imagine watching either of the other two finalists’ shows.

  39. amadeline says:

    All in all it was a really disappointing season. I wouldn’t watch any of them. I think it’s time for the FN to stop this show. Reality hiring competions are soooooo over.

  40. Ed says:

    Neither Rodney nor Russell belonged in the final three…. they are one trick ponies… anything can be turned into a pie…so what? And adding bacon and liquor to otherwise good dishes loses its appeal after, oh the first time he does it. Damaris is a chef…. Rodney and Russell kept people watching to see when they would be thrown off the island.

  41. Mr. Smith says:

    Instead of looking for new “stars,” perhaps Food Network would be better off re-hiring the biggest and brightest Food Network Star of All.. Paula Deen

  42. BeachRick says:

    Damaris is going to be a star – she will open new viewership of the Network with her culinary chops AND her personal “accessibility”! Great article today in the LA Times. Good job, voters!!

  43. syb says:

    I thought it was a stupid idea to have the TV audience choose the winner since we wouldn’t have the benefit of actually tasting the food–that is until the judges all voted Guy Fieri in Hat through to the finale. Good grief. Thank goodness the public had more sense.

    It’s a shame that Russell and Rodney displaced Stacy and Nicki, both of whom had interesting concepts and much better looking food. In particular, Nicki’s “meat on the side” theme is one that the food network could use, and that might appeal to a cross-section of the audience that actually watches the network for those old-fashioned values like cooking tips and menu ideas.

    Congrats to Damaris. She is charming, and her recipes look pretty good. I hope she has success showing her audience some recipes, and that she isn’t relegated to dopey soundbites on some contest show, or a yawn-inducing food travelogue.

  44. Mom Ens says:

    I would,have liked Stacey to win. I think I would have tried and liked her cooking. To the Food Network CEOs I want to say: I am sick and tired of boob exposure and chest shimmying by Demaris, Giada, Rachel, and was surprised and wondering why on Earth The cameras were focusing on even Paula Deen’s chest. No more closeups please as the cameras close in on a pot or pan held right below the Star’s low cut cleavage. ENOUGH YOU GUYS! Women viewers do not need to see, nor are we impressed by, the chef’s boob exposure.

  45. darlene says:

    i am so glad that Damaris won,she will be a great asset to FN. i also think that Stacy and Nicki should have been among the final contestants.they had great persona and concepts for something new in cooking.i thought all in all this season”s show was great!! thanks food network for letting the viewers vote!!! memoree55

  46. Jan says:

    Yes, I was as scared as you, Michael … as was my sister. We were cringing right up to the moment they announced the winner, then breathed BIG sighs of relief.

  47. Nora Barnacle says:

    I think these judges need to recalibrate their talent-detectors. They get so fixated on whether a POV is clear, well-articulated, etc., but forget… the POV has to turn heads as a concept, NOT because it’s clever, unique, or catchy, but because it’s a sound byte offering something people have been looking for. What do people *really* want help with, or inspiration from, in the kitchen? We surely don’t want a pie for every meal, and I doubt we need one million tips on how to infuse this or that with bacon or bourbon. Nikki’s show would have appealed to such a broad audience–vegetarians could ignore the meat aspect of “meat-on-the-side” altogether, while meat-eaters could learn how to de-emphasize meat without forgoing it entirely. And her POV is perfect for the current moment: Documentaries like “Forks Over Knives” and “Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead” have been turning people’s heads toward healthful eating, doctors in New York are *prescribing* vegetables to their patients, and the “obesity epidemic” is a hot-button issue and topic of heated political debate. My friends in the food industry in Chicago, from restaurant owners to “supper-club” organizers to personal chefs, talk constantly about how more and more clients seek not necessarily vegetarian, but healthiER, options–i.e., they still want their bacon-wrapped scallops, but they want a heaping plate of something healthy AND delectable next to it. Nikki’s show would have attracted these hordes of newly-minted healthful eaters–“foodies” who don’t want to go on a raw vegan diet just yet (or ever), but want to begin cutting down their intake of animal products and find new ways to cook satisfying, imaginative home meals using whole and plant-based foods. I can’t tell you how many of my friends can whip up an amazing batch of honey-bourbon fried chicken, but still think a vegetable dish is just veggies sauteed in butter. Zzzzzzz.

    IMO, the only “real deal” contestants this season, those who brought something interesting to the table and who were people we could LEARN from, were Stacy, Nikki, Viet, and, yes, Damaris. I liked Russel and Rodney as humans, but I wouldn’t want them as teachers. Thank gawd voters gave us Damaris, and thank gawd she’s charming and relatable as opposed to the (sorry, y’all) grating, unwatchable, newly-minted racist (who shall remain unnamed) she’s replacing.

  48. well lets see we were left with russell never liked him. and rodney he made it to the finale boggles the mind . and damaris not a fan of hers either. but i had a feeling she was going to win no matter what, you see paula deen is gone and they needed a southern replacement. i loved paula deen and no she can’t be replaced by damaris.

  49. Aaron says:

    Damaris has been my pick to win for awhile, though I expected Stacey and Chris to accompany her in the Final Three from the start, with Stacey in second and Chris in third. I think she’s got what it takes to succeed on the network, and especially compared with the others this season. To be honest, if th producers were trying to ensure a Damaris win, I would have liked to see Danushka make it to the end with Damaris because she at least is hysterical in awkward and painful ways, which means good television! Rodney and Russell are far from that.