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Saturday, 31 of October of 2020

The Next Food Network Star – “Sweet to Savory Carnival”

And then you started brutalizing the spinach.”

We don’t get much of a soft intro here. We dive right in, with the contestants off to the studio. Das comments that being on the chopping block last week was horrible. Das is obviously not aware of which show he’s currently taping. So their first challenge is probably one that might’ve helped them a bit last week: talking while doing things, like preparing a meal. Way to plan ahead, producers.

So Giada gives them one of her veggie lasagna recipes and each contestant has a minute to do a particular step while talking about it before handing it off to the next person. Of course, if someone doesn’t finish their step, that means the entire flow is thrown off, and it could cause the already completed lasagna to get really cold. While a few don’t finish their steps, it doesn’t seem to really matter.

Paul comes out swinging to introduce the dish, trying to be legitimately funny compared to his last camera outing; Aarti has to peel a carrot and then freezes while talking, resulting in lots of dead air; Tom finishes chopping his zucchini too quickly, and must fill his time but does so very poorly; Serena talks like she’s on speed (and I think she is); Dzintra struggles to open and spread a can of tomato sauce while still coming like an actual human being; Brianna makes zero eye contact and comes off as dull; Das again comes in high energy, but kills his spinach with his hands; Doreen collapses again, getting angry and frustrated; Brad uses the word ‘nice’ so many times it loses all meaning; Herb makes a cheesy joke about being the one to layer the cheese; and Aria uses her pre-school teacher voice to talk about the lasagna.

Giada critiques them, but doesn’t offer much guidance in ways to improve their faults. Brief tips, but the contestants don’t seem to have a chance to respond to the tips. And if Giada is here to be a mentor, a Tim Gunn of sorts, they show isn’t deploying her well in that role. She doesn’t show up to give them pointers or weigh-in on their ideas for the Star Challenge, so I’m not sure exactly why she’s here, other than to promote her brand (and be lovely).

That Star Challenge, by the way, is to take popular carnival foods and make them savory dishes for a party of 100 of people. Running the party? Chef Duff from Ace of Cakes! Who doesn’t love Duff? And I thought for sure that Geoff would show up, and finish the episode for Duff (don’t look at me like that, it’s true). So each contest goes up to a Zoltar to get the sweet dish to make savory. With their carnival treat in hand, the contestants get two hours to prep in the kitchen and then another at Santa Monica Pier.

Serena gets an ice cream cone and turns it into this small pastry sitting in marinara sauce (funny story: Serena’s grandma is the patron saint of marinara sauce); Brianna gets a candy apple and decides to make meatball on a stick covered in sauce; Aarti gets a funnel cake (which she’s never eaten before) and makes a pancake with BBQ chicken on top; Aria has a banana split which she turns into a bruschetta-esque dish with meatballs on top; Paul has circus peanuts so he decides to do some peanut shell smoked BBQ pork; Paul has caramel corn and does this weird chicken wing salad garnished with caramel corn, kind of missing the point of the challenge; Dzintra has cotton candy and I have no idea what she made; Doreen turns root beer into root beer pulled pork; Tom mahi and slaw inspired churro; Das has lemonade and makes a lemon and pepper chicken wing (creative, dude); and Herb does a salmon mousse lollipop that actually looks really good.

Within the challenge, the contestants get judged on their food and how well they relate to the party members, which stand in for the camera. This is one of my problems with the show overall: it seems to be want about good cooking and personalities, but cooking matters less than personality, so why should the food taste good? As long as they can cobble something together that looks good or sounds good, that’s what matters. Or, you know, have a decent personality so they can host a show that isn’t about cooking in any way, shape or form.

At the judges’ table, Das and his wings go over well with the partiers, but he’s on notice for his on-camera failures; Brianna’s food is a hit, but the judges tag her for aloofness and uninviting demeanor (what kind of diva is aloof?); Paul’s dish is a “cop out” and the guests hated his rather mean, sexist humor; Doreen still can’t provide the judges a CPOV (“simply complex” is how Susie describes it); Aarti is seriously still lacking confidence with the judges, but she is killing with her food; Aria suffers a bit on her food, but Bobby already has an idea for her show: “Aria’s Family Style Dinners”; Dzintra is scattered, confused, making things harder than they seem (and, really, Dzintra, talking to oneself in front of others only works for homeless people and tenured academics); Herb’s clever dish and healthy CPOV is going over well; Serena was a huge hit, despite talking like an addict; Tom didn’t really get his interpretation off the group, and crowd isn’t jiving with him; and Brad’s flat performance only hurt his oversmoked pork.

In the end, Aria, Serena, Das, and Aarti end up in the top, with Aarti winning the day. I’m a bit surprised by this (figured Serena would walk away with it), but I also think the judges decided to throw Aarti a win so she’d get some confidence and stop being so down on herself. Paul, Doreen, and Dzintra end up in the bottom, with Doreen leaving. Again, this is a bit weird, since no in the bottom has a CPOV either, but I think the judges just called it a day with her, decided to go with the Indian instead of the East Asian.

FINAL THOUGHTS

  • Show’s definitely Aarti’s or Aria’s to lose, though I think Herb is a potential spoiler.
  • Duff is great when he’s talking on his own, but the dude can’t deliver lines to save his life. Thank goodness he doesn’t have to talk to a camera while making things. Only Geoff has to do that.

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