Monday, July 20, 2009

This Week’s The Next Food Network Star – Offensive Or Amusing?

Without knowing anything about this week’s challenge, I decided to do something I have never done before. I decided to watch the entire episode without writing about it at the same time. Usually, I never know the outcome AS I’m writing. It was lucky that I chose to do that last night, because I would have thrown my hands up in despair long before the end.

I am going to warn you in advance that this week’s post will probably sound more schoolmarmy than snarky.

Iron Chef Symon was on hand this week. He introduced the first challenge, which was a cooking segment on a morning Miami television show. What he didn’t tell the final four was that the greaseball host would be screwing with them in some way and fouling up their dem. The “test” was to see how they would do under that kind of pressure.

Debbie was okay. She didn’t care that she had to use a microplaner to beat her egg or that they swapped out her catfish for chicken. But none of that was personal. It was in the category of “stuff happens”.

Plus, the other reason that Debbie, the faker, did fine, was because nothing about her is true, including her reactions to the situation being put in front of her. She lies when she has to, says what she needs to, to get and stay ahead…so this was all good to her.

With Melissa, the jerky host kept getting her name wrong on purpose and then he sabotaged her tapenade by adding tons of hot sauce and anything he wanted, while Bob and Susie giggled furiously. Melissa got nervous and talked kinda fast and crazy. Yeah, that was really funny, watching Melissa’s hopes and dreams get messed up by a putz.

They told Jeffrey his microphone had malfunctioned and that he had to talk into a big overhead one. Then he had to actually HOLD the microphone at the same time as he cooked, often with a big knife in his hand. Wow, how clever a cooking challenge! Yeah, that’ll show what he’s made of. NO and NOT!

Jamika’s persecution started off with the crew person giving her the wrong signals for time. They told her she had too little time and then too much time. She actually was ok, but they said she looked at bit too serious even before they started screwing with her. Whatever.

This entire episode continued with them tricking the contestants. It wasn’t about testing their skills or seeing how they are on camera. It was the equivalent of sticking a foot out as they walked by and then laughing when they tripped. Not funny and not a test of much of anything except the nastiness of human nature…the part that loves to laugh at people when they’re down. I hate Punk'd. I hate practical jokes.

In the larger challenge of the week, they had to cook seafood on a grill. AFTER they got all their stuff and had actually started cooking, the Powers That Be thought it would be amusing to take away ingredients that were integral to the dishes and substitute others.

Did I mind when they made fun of Jeffrey’s “cooking without borders”, because it really is all bull and he uses the same things over and over again? No, I didn’t mind, because they were appealing to my basest instincts, that being mean is fun and that it’s entertaining to watch people squirm.

Except that it isn’t. It’s mean and mean-spirited. And baby-faced Bob should be ashamed of himself that he participated. Chef Symon looked as if he had not only participated fully, but actually THOUGHT UP the whole thing in the first place. He was completely delighted with it.

Bobby wasn’t quite as gleeful as he suggested taking away Debbie’s Asian stuff. That’s fine to make them cook different things and not rely on their same old, same olds, but NOT AFTER the challenge had already begun. That’s just nasty.

Jamika did not initially handle the situation well, when they took away her island ingredients and gave her celeriac. When Bob peppered her with questions as she was trying to decide what the heck to do, she couldn’t hide her irritation. Where did this irritation come from? NOT from her being an unpleasant and difficult person! It came from trying to perform a task well and having a wrench thrown in it AND having Bob yack at her for no good reason.

Jamika sounded fed up and I don’t blame her. I was too.

They definitely seemed to aim the most jabs at poor Jamika. In the first challenge, there was a big difference between not having the right utensil and having a camera jab you in the face. They weren’t nice to Jeffrey or Melissa either, but that didn’t bother me so much. I was obviously succumbing to the brutality of the school yard in not caring if someone I didn’t like got hurt. Who would have thought that The Food Network would be teaching the lesson of survival of the toughest?

Jeffrey won the challenge and got his dish, whatever it ended up being, on the menu at Red Lobster. There was so much other stuff going on that the food got lost.

The judges claimed they had a hard decision, but they sent Jamika home. The only thing I could think of was that she was probably grateful to go home after all of that.

My major regret – that Jamika hadn’t been eliminated the week before, so she wouldn’t have had to go through this. But I like Michael too much to wish that he had either.

This entire episode made no sense. One week they’re blasting Debbie for her lack of ethics and the next week they’re HAZING their contestants. I’d turn on the Sotomayor hearings, if I wanted to see that.

The main point is that this nonsense didn’t prove even a tiny bit what the four of them can or can’t do in the kitchen OR in front of the camera. It reminded me of Oprah’s ghastly practical joke shows. She thought it was incredibly funny to give someone a makeover and make it intentionally awful and then watch the target squirm when she sees it. There’s no other word but mean for that. I really, really hate it. I don’t like bullying on the playground; I don’t like it in my neighborhood; I don’t like it in Congress; I don’t like it anywhere in the world. And I certainly don’t like or even remotely EXPECT it on the Food Network.


Just DARE to disagree with me on this! Actually, PLEASE do! Am I SO off base here? Did ANYONE find this episode fun or entertaining?


DebCarol said...

Wish I could disagree with you on this but this episode was in a word - awful. If it had been a movie I would have left the theater. It wasn't about food, personality or presentation. I am disgusted with the whole thing - it isn't even fun trash-talking it anymore.

Sheila said...

I so agree with you. This episode was soooo bad. I wasn't entertained at all. LAME!

Sue said...

I'm so glad you don't think I'm a fuddyduddy. It really was a stinker of an episode.

Hi Sheila,
Yeah! AND I feel sorry for Jamika that that was her swan song.

loretta said...

I wasn't real fond of the whole sabotage live tv thing either. It really was kind of mean, even if it was funny. And they only seemed to be unkind as each contestant came up. Debbie was first and her challenges were the lightest... it got worse as it went on.

The Red Lobster challenge I thought switching up the ingredients was okay, but I think they should have told them sooner! They were pretty far into their prep time with cutting and chopping etc... Jamika had a whole pineapple prepped and they came and took it away for goodness sake.

The Short (dis)Order Cook said...

Yet again, the show has NOTHING to do with how well one can cook and then present the recipes or techniques on camera. The only challenge that seemed even remotely likely was Debbie's morning show thing. That seemed like a possibility. The rest of this had nothing to do with running a cooking show.

I think it's a great idea to have these cooks go outside their comfort zones. After all, I have seen many FN cooks do shows that don't focus on their specialty cuisines (Paula Deen and Bobby Flay both come to mind on this), but this was just wrong.

After the nastiness of that swap-out-the-ingredients challenge, all I could imagine was how nice it would be if the contestants had scooped up the judged and tossed them into the swimming pool behind them.

It's still anyone's game though. I'm impressed that Jeffrey's cooking redeemed itself. He seems to have toned down the arrogant douchebag thing a bit. I guess they decided to move the drama thing on to someone else (Debbie). Of course it's the cameras, editors and producers who create this drama.

This show pissed me off for a completely different reason. Melissa started talking about how she can create a "brand". I realized if that's true, she'll win. The Food Network has shows like this because they want their cooks to be homegrown "brands". They are creating personalities that they can have complete control over and force these people to endorse their own line of products that FN can profit off of. It's not about cooking. It's not about entertainment. It's not even about ratings. It's about who can sell the most pots and pans.

Nandini Vishwanath said...

No, it wasn't entertaining or fun, yes. I agree. I was very very upset with the first challenge. Whoever faces those things in a FN kitchen, really?

Second event, I wasn't as upset. They do something like this EVERYTIME. And I like the idea of swapping ingredients, wish there was a method to it though.

G in Ga. said...

Okay, the crazy thing is, I made a point not to watch this show anymore. After last season I was done, I hated the way that the judges or panel or demiGods made those poor wannabes feel.

My daughter Kate was over Sunday and she wanted to watch it. So this is the only episode of the series that I've watched, hated every second of it. I agree with all these posters, what happened on that show is nothing at all what could happen during a "taping" of a Food Network program.

I was surprised though, to see Jamika go, you can't tell me that the Neelys or Bobby Flay or even Guy doesn't cop an attitude once in a while. I live in the Atlanta area and hear that Alton Brown is no fun to be around while taping, so it happens to everybody.

Anyway, of all episodes to watch, at least it convinced me to stay away further!

bc said...

I didn't find it particularly entertaining, and I can see why Bob et al.'s laughter would be irritating, for it's mean-spiritedness/obliviousness.

*However*... I do disagree with you on the legitimacy of the challenges--I think a lot of being a FN personality has to do with being personable (even if it's a bit fake) *whenever* people are around.

So while I could understand perfectly Jamika's reaction--it's how any sane person would react--TV personalities are not supposed to act like sane people, they're supposed to be super-humanly personable. (Um, don't mean to hit below the belt, but Michael Chiarello's performance at the cocktail party on TC: Masters is perhaps a good example of this.)

Of course, it shouldn't come off as fake, which is why I think Debbie won't win--she's an extraordinarily good faker, btw--but would FN really show us all this dirt if they were to hire her?

(Personally, I'm hoping to hell that she doesn't win, b/c as an Asian-American, I don't want her to be the token A-A FN personality. What was wrong with Ming Tsai?)

Jeff Timberwolf said...

First challenge definitely got worse as it went along and the other stuff was ridiculous.

Second challenge: I liked that they mixed it up, but I agree, not after they had already prepared their ideas and started prepping.

Sidenote: not a big deal to anyone but me, it's spelled Sotomayor--that was my maiden name, so only reason I say anything--totally my anal side coming out.

Sue said...

You’re so right, Loretta. Debbie got off easy! And I hated the same thing you did about the second challenge. Fine to tell them not to use anything they had previously used and to use only new ingredients, but NOT AFTER THEY HAD ALREADY PREPPED. That was just mean.

Good point. This could have been ANY reality show, since it had so little to do with cooking, on OR off camera.

The judges being thrown into the pool would have been the clip of the season. Please could you sign up for the next season.

That Melissa/brand thing was kind of disgusting. I was so po’ed about everything else that I didn’t even go there.

And, to me, the only thing that Jeffrey proved is that his insincere, sycophantic slogan “cooking without borders” is a complete fake.

Hi Nandini,
They really blew it this week, didn’t they? Swapping ingredients is fine at the beginning of the challenge, not during.

Gee, G, what we do for our daughters!

That’s what was so annoying about these challenges – that they were just ways to aggravate the contestants and didn’t have anything to do with anything!

I don’t blame you for not watching, but please stop by every once in awhile and say hi.

Hiya BC,
I was actually thinking of my precious MC, before you even mentioned him. Yeah, you could call his type of personable-ness (is that a word?) slightly fake, except that it seems like he really charms the people around him. I think he’s just one of those folks who loves a crowd and loves to entertain – hence tv chefing was perfect for him, but he’s such a darn good chef that it’s great that he’s back behind a stove.

I get that these folks have to be friendly and nice to fans, but shouldn’t the very first qualification be the ability to cook? The second one should be some ease in front of a camera. But NOT in a punk’d type situation, in a COOKING situation.

Hi Jeff,
PLEASE always tell me if you see a spelling or any other kind of mistake! Thank you for spotting that. And…if Jeff stands for Jeffrey, I’d love to hear about you having a maiden name.

It seems to be the general consensus that the actual changing up of ingredients wasn’t a bad idea, just the way they did it was. I agree. I just hope the remaining weeks contain decent challenges and not all this other random stuff.

Emily said...

I love your comments.

This was only the second episode I've seen, so I didn't really know what was going on. I do really feel sorry for the contestants. I think they all handled the challenges well. I would have freaked out, I'm sure.

I need to email you about something. Don't let me forget!

Tom said...

I guess what it comes down to is that most of us who read your blog watch FN because we like cooking. There are a different bunch of people who watch mostly for the entertainment value -- and they got their undies in a twist over Mark Bittman's criticism of the over-production and lack of real cooking skills teaching.

TNFNS seems to fall more into the entertainment category -- plus it's a reality show in the way Project Runway and other contests that don't involve surviving or physical strength are: the shows' producers play an outsized role that we don't get to see. They're edited to be purposefully provocative too. I've been interviewed and seen the final edited TV results enough to know that you can end up "saying" something you never intended by the way it comes out in the end.

There is a middle ground that could be challenges that would test their personalities and skills under pressure in an interesting way without the offensiveness and dramaturgy. But that would take creativity and probably more money than they're willing to spend. So instead, we have TNFNS.

Sue said...

Thanks, Em.

Hi Tom,
Right you are. The fact that this show is so NOT about cooking is probably why I'm enjoying Top Chef Masters so much more.

The editing is definitely the thing, but, as that wise sage Bethenny Frankel (The Real Housewives NY - c'mon, Tom get with it!) is always saying, if it's on tape, it DID happen. If the contestants regret how they're coming off, maybe they should regret what they said in the first place.

BTW, I only believe that as it relates to crappy reality television. I know that 60 Minutes could edit Santa Claus to look like Saddam, or Nixon to look like Santa Claus.

Tom said...

I have to say I have a little more sympathy for the "contestants" on the editing front. (And I'll have to admit I've never heard of Bethany). Yes, it's true, if it's on the tape you said it. But what you don't know is what really precipitated it, what they were really asked, and what the true circumstances were. I once did a 45-minute taped CNN interview on toxic chemical spills -- according to my boyfriend who was watching the taping, I did a good job answering all the questions (and no, I wouldn't have kicked him out of bed if he'd said I hadn't!). The finished piece used about 10 seconds of it, and in a context that made a slightly different point. And I've had plenty of media training. I was upset about it, but what I learned was to do the live appearances because at least you're not going to have that problem.

Anonymous said...

i have purposely avoided TNFNS for years.

In fact, the last series I saw was the one with what's-her-face who won a couple of years ago, and did country French cooking or whatever, got her show, and was gone off the FN after one season. so forgetable.

anyway, so I figured "I'll watch this episode just to see what's going on this season."

bad idea.

i watched and wondered if the FN really has professional chefs on its staff. 'cause none of these numbskulls (Michael and Bobby) were getting anything constructive done.

this episode is all about...what?...the ratings? making people in a serious competition get pissed?...looking foolish themselves (Michael and Bobby)?

no wonder I don't watch reality TV.

it sucks.

Sue said...

That's an excellent point about edited interviews, as opposed to live ones. Hopefully, they can't edit the live ones (while you're actually on anyway), but "they" can certainly choose which parts to show and reshow.

You know, you may be right about the whole editing thing. It's all baloney and I suppose they sensationalize what they can. For all we know, Debbie is a tireless do-gooder, Melissa is a hardbitten career woman (which she claimed she was this week) and Jeffrey? He's still a jerk, no matter how you edit the tape.

Yeah, THIS show is pretty bad. And there's a lot to hate, hence so much to write (and read) about. The two women who work with Bobby on Throwdown are awesome and seem to be VERY accomplished cooks, so the FN has a few decent people on its payroll.