I don't watch any of the "reality show," programs that have as much to do with reality as a Twinkie has to do with haute cuisine. They're just written, structured game shows. A show like The Amazing Race is the old Beat the Clock, only on a bigger scale.
I do watch a few shows under the same reality umbrella, but they are more like documentaries -- filming something that might conceivably happen anyway, except that it's being filmed, and has a real-world result. One of those is The Next Food Network Star -- yes, I admit it's a bit of a stretch that it would done that way if there was no TV show, but at heart it's a job interview where the winner actually does get a very real TV show on the Food Network. So, I accept it on that level.
I've generally enjoyed it in the past. Sometimes, I've intentionally skipped the first couple of episodes so that I don't have to watch the most-lame entrants, and can focus more on the chefs who actually have a serious chance of getting hired by the network. But that's up to my whim at the moment.
This year though, the show has been sadly weak. Not that it hasn't been entertaining. It's fine, even if not up to standards. The difference this year is that, for my taste, there isn't anyone on the show who I would remotely watch if he or she got her own program. That hasn't been true in the past, even if the winners usually haven't succeeded, other that Guy Fieri, whose success has justified the continuation of the show. In the past, there have at least been contestants with a certain gravitas or style or expertise that made them worthwhile applicants.
But this year? Yipers. Mind you, they've all been quite pleasant people, albeit with one exception -- a former model who lived down to every cliche of a model you could think of, beautiful but so annoying and pouting it made your teeth hurt. But the only chef with any real substance (a guy who actually beat co-host Bobby Flay on Iron Chef America) simply had no TV presence and couldn't improve.
To me, for anyone to get a food show on the Food Network, you really should be a well-regarded expert in your field, a highly talented chef, and someone with a great personality on television. At the very least, you need one of those qualities, and ideally two. Merely winning a contest is not enough. But when the winner does have those qualities, it's worth it.
This year they simply don't have those qualities. Owning a food truck or a diner being a personal chef is an admirable talent. But none are reasons for me to watch you teach the nation about food. Only a couple of them even can manage "acceptable personality on television." By the way, a common complaint of participants on this series has always been, "Oh, I get so nervous when I have an on-camera test challenge." Well, gee, y'know, that's one of the job requirements when you sign up to be a TV HOST (!), most especially on a national TV network. I have sympathy with them as a human, but as an audience member? Nah, no sympathy. That's the job. TV host. If you can't handle it, don't waste our time, no matter how much "This has always been my dream." Hey, you know what they say, "If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen...literally. Do what most people do in life -- get experience on a small level and then apply for the major leagues. It would be like someone walking into Random House and saying, "I would like you to publish a book I'd like to write -- it's just that I get so nervous when I start to type."
Of course, another oddity is that I'm not really sure where there would be a slot for any new host on the Food Network schedule, which is always an issue with this particular show. Mainly, I think they do it as a sort of "minor leagues," to find someone who might be able to be developed. (That's what has happened with a couple participants, including oddly, some who lost.) And also because it's turned out that the series itself is simply popular.
I'll keep watching. They're down to six participants. The people are pleasant, the Food Network hosts are very good, and I like food. But whoever wins...watch closely, because you might not see them much after.
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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