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Saturday, 31 of October of 2020

The Next Food Network Star – “Retro Palm Springs”

Scariest 5-year old party ever.”

While Karen is encouraging you watch Hell’s Kitchen instead of Top Chef, I’d kind of nudge to marathon The Next Food Network Star, and this is something I really didn’t think I would ever say. Part of this is just how boring Top Chef has been this season (painfully so), but another part is now that FNS has a smaller group of competitors, well, the show has a chance to actually breathe and be interesting, as opposed to a mad dash to cover every dish and contestant.

This week’s episode, while not as entertaining as last week’s lunch truck challenge, is still considerably better than any of the earlier episodes. In those episodes, both the contestants and the show seemed fairly lost in exactly what needed to be done for a successful program, whereas now, with a smaller group, the show can actually focus on developing ideas and personalities, and I think it’s a format the show should consider for its future seasons.

The core of this show is that, kind of like American Idol, we’re watching a prolonged audition process, with judges and voters slowly chipping away at potentials. Unlike with Idol though, FNS does itself a disservice by eliminating contestants each week. If the show were serious about nurturing potential new talent, they should consider starting with a smaller field, one that can get more focus attention from a mentor from the network, and not do eliminations each week but every other week. This gives people time to try new ideas, shift focus, and develop a new brand in a less chaotic fashion (see: Paul).

It’s just a recommendation, one I doubt anyone will take seriously, but since this competition is about developing a brand personality, it makes sense to allow some time to make that idea a reality. Having a CPOV from the on-set is a must, but a brand by week two seems a bit much to expect from some people. Yes, some people have an idea pretty quickly (Aria and Aarti), but we’ve seen what happens when that idea isn’t given the space to grow: Aria has gone from the one to beat to having plateaued, leaving room for Tom, Aarti, and Brad to suddenly appear to be the frontrunners, and they can be frontrunners because they had time to grow into a brand instead of having it to start with.

Last week I talked about the lack of self-confidence narratives for Aria and Brad, but Brad got one with the Frank Sinatra challenge. He found a looseness in the camera challenge and the star challenge, winning both (Tom also won the camera challenge). He’s found his mojo, but he’s also got to rebrand himself. His desire to do a show about a pro chef isn’t working, and Bobby told him he needed a new idea. Brad now needs a new concept, and he needs one in a hurry.

Brianna’s departure, like Paul’s last week, has been a long time coming, and I’m glad she’s gone. Her concept of a high-scale party show was never going to work since her personality isn’t there. I may not care for Ina Garten’s Barefood Contessa, but she exudes confidence, expertise, and smart party planning chops. I never once got that from Brianna, despite her food being a hit with the judges.

Instead of final thoughts, with the field smaller now, I’m going to rank everyone’s chances of winning.

  1. Aarti: I still think she’s got the concept, the food, and the personality the execs want to sell. Indian food is an untapped market on the network, and I think they want Aarti to succeed more than anyone.
  2. Brad: Provided he can come up with a new concept quickly and continue his looseness in front of the camera, he can challenge Aarti, but I think it’ll also come down to demographics.
  3. Tom: He may not get a cooking show, but I think Tom’s a lock for a hosting gig on the network, a la Guy Fieri and Adam Gertler.
  4. Aria: While she’s toned down her smiley time look, she’s struggling to get a personal narrative working into the cooking.
  5. Serena: She’s done a solid job of making her CPOV clear, but I don’t know what her show would be, other than a rustic version of Giada’s Everyday Italian, and I’m not sure the network needs that.
  6. Herb: I like Herb, but he’s been suffering a lot lately, and that the committee wants him to shift to Cuban cuisine from his healthy/energy chef seems to have him at a loss. Unless he gets the self-confidence narrative next week, he’s gone.

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