One thing’s certain about Season 9 of Food Network Star: Danushka — the snarling, eastern European model whose initial dish was a deep-fried potato puff with a gloppy, raw center — definitely won’t be the last cook standing.
Yet even though Danushka’s not “in it to win it,” she’s still got a role to play — and in the next week or two, we’ll discover if that’s:
A. inspiring hilarious critiques like Food Network exec Susie Fogelson’s “You have got to find your own version of warmth” (translated from New Age-ese, that’s “You’re an ice-cold beyotch, so maybe try and work with that?”)
B. playing the role of supporting character in a sitcom who sits at the bar, sipping her martini and offering a smorgasbord of cruel witticisms and put-downs (as judge Bob Tuschman implied)
C. imitating a pretty, pretty piñata that will be thwacked weekly until candy rains down following her inevitable ouster
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D. all of the above
Whatever the case may be, Danushka survived being the first evictee after Daniella, the self-proclaimed “Peruvian Princess,” was reduced to the brink of tears for her first on-camera presentation. (Apparently, “crippling insecurity” isn’t the best garnish for one’s papas a la huancaina.)
And so — under the premise that Danushka is marked for eventual elimination — I’m taking my first impressions from the season premiere to boldly separate the pretenders from the contenders.
* Chad: The camera loves this gray-haired hunk of grilling expertise as much as he loved the Easy-Bake oven he got at age five (though is his concept too narrow/similar to Bobby Flay’s?)
* Viet: Anyone who’s beaten Mr. Flay on Iron Chef must be taken seriously, even if his milquetoast on-camera performance needs a lot of seasoning
* Stacey: Gorgeous, warm and skilled in the kitchen, though her “reinvented classics” concept is as fresh as a month-old loaf of Wonder Bread
* Nikki: “Meat on the side,” pro-vegetable stance is intriguing, but as Susie noted, her cutesiness undermines her authority
* Damaris: Quirky southern chick might be too offbeat to win it all, but her potato-salad bite looked absolutely delish
* Russell: Anyone who spends this much time telling you he’s “unconventional” is probably stupefyingly mundane at heart, no? In other words, his “culinary anarchist” concept didn’t really seem to have any practical application.
* Lovely: Bob was right that the contestant with the self-chosen moniker will need more than poses and empty words to succeed; that said, her potato hash was rather pretty to behold
* Chris: “Chef with a cause”? What? An hour after watching the premiere, I don’t think I could pick him out of a lineup.
* Andres: Focus group perked up when he mentioned he used to weigh 330 lbs, but he doesn’t give off the slightest aroma of culinary authority
* Rodney: This show crowned a “sandwich king” just two seasons back; methinks “pie guy” will have a tough road ahead with a less-accessible person, to boot
What did you think of the Food Network Star Season 9 premiere? Who’d make your list of pretenders/contenders? How does the field stack up to seasons past? Sound off below, and for all my summer reality recaps and interviews, follow me on Twitter @MichaelSlezakTV!