Monday, July 12, 2010

The Next Food Network Star - Reality Cooking Show Or Intense Psychiatric Drama?

The Next Food Network Star - Lunch Trucks With Paula

The problem with the beginning episodes of TNFNS is that there are just too many folks to keep track of. I wrote about this season’s first episode when there seemed to be hundreds of them, and, luckily, they've whittled them down somewhat since then.

I have been watching, though, and I’m finding the show to be less and less about cooking and more and more about drama. I have other places to go, frankly, if I want that in my life.

Last night’s episode was a case in point. Herb, the fitness guy, apparently had a traumatic childhood from which he’s only recently recovered. He weeps at every challenge and Susie put it well when she said we see pain from you and that doesn’t exactly make for an entertaining food show. I think we all like to see someone triumph AFTER they’ve recovered, but watching someone make a sandwich with a big dose of tears may not fly on the Food Network.

The problem is that the judges WANT them to reveal things about themselves. They want personal stories that the viewers can relate to. These contestants (they are, in the main, not CHEFtestants) seem to have personal stories either too mundane or too painful to share.

The judges say week after week that Brianna isn’t giving them part of herself, yet her food is mostly imaginative and well-done.

I can’t think of one reason that Paul was chosen initially. He can’t cook; he can’t tell interesting stories; and he actually offends people with his less than winning personality. Plus he has red hair, which, let’s be honest, is always a hard sell on a guy.

They want them to be real and yet when they reveal themselves to be kind of boring or ordinary or just plain jerky, the judges criticize them.

And, actually, sometimes it feels like it is getting TOO personal. Aria, who had been “ahead” through much of the competition, was basically told last night that they were tired of her bubbly, friendly personality, which they loved at the beginning. That hurt MY feelings and I don’t even particularly like Aria. NOW Susie thinks she’s too “one-note”. Aria did what they wanted and now they’ve decided that’s not good enough.

I understand the need for personal stories. I LOVE it when Ina includes her “friends”. But, frankly, I don’t really care if she picked them up from the K-Mart parking lot just before the show. They are simply a vehicle for Ina showing us what a grand hostess she is. Whether it’s real or not, doesn’t matter.

A lot of folks blast the Cake Boss, because the situations are so unlikely and obviously set up. I couldn’t care less. I just love to see Mama yelling at him and his sisters harassing him. The main thing is that IT IS BUDDY DECORATING THOSE CAKES LIKE A MASTER, so if the drama part is a bit fake, oh well.

So what are these potential Food Network Stars to do, in order to stay in the judges’ good graces?

I think they should just say whatever it takes to sound friendly and identifiable with their audience. If they have to make up a pretend family, then ok. Who would ever find out?

Obviously, they can’t say they’ve been knighted by the Queen, but if they tell family tales more from their imagination than their actual photo albums, it’ll keep the judges happy and the audience entertained. AND I suppose it’s human nature to prefer pretend delightful stories to real wrenching ones…on the Food Network anyway.

At this point - last night was episode 5 and they’re halfway through -only one or two stand out to me. Food blogger, Aarti, is my favorite. (Bloggers Unite!) But I wonder when Bob and Susie will realize that this may not be the best way to audition talent for new shows. Plus their therapy bills after this rigorous process may exceed the food budget.


The Short (dis)Order Cook said...

I haven't been watching this season. I kept up all last season and found that after weeks of drama, we get another mediocre show.

How about someone who can cook. Someone who has decent knife skills, knows his or her terminology, can clearly explain the main methods for cooking, can identify cuts of meat and know the best ways to cook each one, and can convey that to an audience in a way they can understand and learn something? That person wouldn't have to have star quality. All I want is an engaging personality that isn't flat on camera, nor is it over-the-top annoying.

That would never fly on FN though. Heaven forbid the cook in question wasn't good looking. The audience, whom FN execs think is just incredibly dumb, would be too intimidated.

/rant. Sorry for getting carried away.

Cajun Chef Ryan said...

We watched a few episodes this season, in particular the one where they had to prepare two or three appetizer portions for some glitzy Hollywood group. And one guy breaks a bottle of soy sauce while prepping his Cole slaw, had to throw it out.
And I agree, the judges seem to be all over the place with their comments, almost snooty in some instances.
As far as some of the winners from previous years, we watch Big Daddy's show, the winner from two seasons ago, and he has some decent recipes, but we really enjoy Drive-In's, Diners and Dive with Guy Ferarri (sp), he is too cool for himself!


Sue said...

Hey Rach,
I couldn't have said it better myself. That's what I was hoping the Cooking Channel was going to be like. Oh well.

Hi CC Ryan,

Yup, the judges are being as inconsistent as the contestants’ food.

I liked Aaron McCargo when he was on TNFNS, but I haven’t watched his show much. I think he’s good, though.

I hate to say this, but Adam Gertler, who was one of the worst contestants ever, actually does a pretty good job hosting whatever that crazy show is where he eats weird desserts. As long as they keep him out of the kitchen, I’m fine.

And no matter what anyone thinks about Guy Fieri (pronounced Fee-Et-Tee, for some reason) he, at least, can cook…for real.

Anonymous said...

I have only watched this show once and so am no expert, but I am amazed at how unprepared the contestants are. I mean, really -- if it were me, the moment I was selected I would have started practicing my presentation skills, come up with my backstory and hired some media trainer to get me to think more quickly on my feet. In my former life I had to do live TV interviews and you can be trained to get your message across in a compelling, entertaining way even under hostile questioning.

Of course, Bobby Flay and Giada didn't spring fully formed from Zeus either. A friend of a friend who worked for Bobby for years has great stories about his media training and acting lessons. And if you look back at some of Giada's first shows, her narration was almost unbearable (no doubt her family connections have helped in the practice department).

A good example of personality evolution is Everyday Food on PBS. It used to put me to sleep, but evidently the hosts got the message and they're a lot more animated than they used to be. And the food is good too.

Jenn AKA The Leftover Queen said...

Hey Sue! I know I can always count on you to let us know what is going on on FN!

Cynthia said...

Oh gosh Sue, I agree with everything you have said in this post! It is for the exact reasons you point out that I had promised myself that I was not going to watch the show this season but when Aarti's mom (with whom I communicate), told me that Aarti was going to be on the show, I knew I had to watch.

I am sick and tired of the judges asking people to do stuff and when they do, a couple of weeks later they turn and criticize them for the exact things they asked them to do! It is sickening.

To be fair to Aria, who has suddenly gotten boring for them, we could say the same for Aarti and others - each week they have been telling Aarti about "owning it" and about "being confident" - that can become tiring too. As a matter of fact the judges have complained before and often about having to repeat themselves each week to particular contestants. Fair is Fair. Don't get me wrong, I am rooting for Aarti too but I think that their comment to Aria was unfair.

The other thing that really ticked me off in the evaluation was when Bobby infantilized Aarti telling her that she is an adult and needs to step up! I could not believe that he did that to a woman, a woman of colour no less in this enlightened times!

As for Briana, I feel sorry for her. It is clear that she can cook. It is clear that she is a strong confident woman but this competition is asking her to be someone she is not.

Honestly, TFN really needs to decide what the show is about and what it is that they really want from the contestants.

Babka1 said...

When I saw the promos for this weeks before it's premiere, I had a feeling it would be more about the drama and less about the food. I was right. I had to choose, it would be either Aarti or Ari.They seem to be the only ones that care about the food and less about the acting. It is acting. I mean, no offense to Giada, but seriously, NO ONE can smile as much as she does and mean it ALL the time!

Sue said...

Hiya Tom,
Well, judging from what I’ve seen so far this season, many of these contestants could really have used someone like you to advise them before they appeared on-camera the first time. Some seem so ill at ease, you have to wonder if they knew this was a television show they were competing to be on.

That’s interesting that Bobby had media training, but when he started on the Food Network in 1994 (wow, that was a long time ago), he didn’t HAVE to be as polished and media savvy as folks do now.

I do remember Giada’s first shows. She totally didn’t smile, which is practically her hallmark now, and she just looked ill at ease. I think it’s completely normal that people improve the more they’re on the air.

Thanks Jenn,
I appreciate the shoutout.

That’s so exciting that you know Aarti’s mom. Tell her she’s my favorite too!

You’re right. The judges are among the most annoying things about this show, aside from contestants that can’t cook. Of course we don’t know if they can cook, because they do so precious little of it on the show! What is it that the judges want? They ask for one thing and then they HAVE to find something negative to say, so they change their deal.

The whole Aria thing was weird. Okay, she did have a problem getting her food out in a timely fashion, but is that really a requirement for having her own show on the Food Network? Does she really need to be efficient at working with a slow partner on a food truck?

Bobby’s comment about Aarti WAS ridiculous, but I really truly don’t think it had anything to do with either of their races. I think a producer probably whispered in his ear to be tougher.

I did not like Brianna at first, but her food is always interesting and she IS lovely. I dunno, maybe it’s good that the show is annoying because at least there’s always something to talk about.

Hi Babka1,

It does seem to be Aarti or Aria doing the best. I think they just wanted to shake things up a bit this week and that’s why they were so hard on Aria. TNFNS is definitely less about the food and more about shilling merchandise, having some personal story or other that helps to shill merchandise and smiling your way through shilling merchandise.

Call me naïve, but I think Giada is genuine and that she does smile all the time.