Strange Brouhaha

Monday, June 13, 2005

"Next Food Network Star"

The Food Network is holding a contest to see who will be its next "star." I stumbled across the show accidentally last night and became morbidly fascinated.

Food Network has selected eight finalists to attend a kind of Food TV boot camp with elimination rounds. The finalists have to pitch their show idea and cook under pressure (regardless of whether their show is supposed to feature them cooking or not!). Three Food Network executives watch, judge and eliminate.

None of the contestants appeared to have EITHER professional cooking experience OR media experience. The results were cruel. Watching them try to follow their "breakdowns" (cooking scripts), read from the TelePrompTer, keep track of the person with the time cards, wrangle their food, AND act like they were having fun was agonizing. All of them looked panicked, as any sane amateur would who was being asked to do two very difficult and inherently conflicting jobs at the same time. They made massive, boneheaded mistakes. A candidate cut herself seriously--and had to confess this to the hardened professional Mario Batali, who in a sense made the humiliation even worse by NOT chewing her out or laughing at her. A pairs team set their grill on fire. (One partner, who was supposed to be the expert!, made a marinade for some shish kebabs that turned out thick as spaghetti sauce. He ladled it on regardless, then set the sauced-up kebabs on the grill, where they promptly began to smoke up the whole studio. He took them off the grill--leaving the leftover dribs of thick sauce to burst into flame.) One woman was supposed to be making a salad with edamame and grilled corn. She forgot her corn back on the prep grill and hadn't been able to shell her edamame. She covered for the corn, but was unable to disguise the fact that there was no edamame in her edamame salad. It was a full-out train wreck.

To make matters worse, their show ideas were almost all pitifully derivative, impractical or vague. One contestant wanted her show to be about the five senses. (Enough said.) Another proposed a diet show. A third proposed a show where he would travel around finding great and heartwarming food--which is already the premise of "Roker on the Road," "The Secret Life Of...", "FoodNation with Bobby Flay," "Eat America," "Tyler Florence's America" (or whatever it's called), and "The Best Of." The pairs team who set their grill on fire proposed a show about entertaining in the home. One woman wanted to host a variety show with food and live music, which she imagined would attract top-name celebrities as guests. One man imagined that his show would take him to the Andes and the Himalayas and Borneo in search of amazing food experiences. (Had he given any thought whatever to the budget and the taping difficulties such a premise would involve?) One contestant had already been eliminated by the time I started watching. Finally, there was a man who proposed a show about "difficult foods" like squid and tripe and so on--learning to appreciate, cook and enjoy them. At least that one was original, specific and doable, although, as the Food Network marketing person pointed out, its premise was inherently negative ("Now, you're probably grossed out by these tentacles, BUT...").

This, folks, THIS, is why television is inherently evil. Because it does this to people. It beckons forth the unprepared, the amateurish, the unrealistic, the people who have never cooked professionally or done media and who have no idea what a food show really involves or how to think of one that the Food Network hasn't done to death already, yet who sail blithely forth to international humiliation anyhow. The worst part is when they all tell the camera that they know, they just KNOW, that they're doing fantastic or that they deserve their own show.

And the people who made up this contest knew that this would happen.


  • (Josh) I saw an episode of "Hell's Kitchen" tonight. I had the sound off, but it seemed quite horrible. The star chef dude has two kitchens full of contestants, most of whom aren't professionals, trying to win their own restaurant. Basically he's a huge asshole who yells and swears at everybody all the time. When one contestant quits, we get "confessionals" of other people talking about how they lost respect for the guy who gave up just because someone was constantly screaming at him. Gee, when I think of how I want to live my life, that's not really in my top 5,000 or so. No one stops to think that maybe the person with the problem is the asshole doing all the yelling.

    And in a stranger twist, I just found out yesterday that one of my soccer teammates is a contestant on the WB's Beauty and the Geek. Haven't seen the show yet, but basically a "geek" and a dumb bimbo get paired up and go through challenges that humiliate them (Shawn's partner could not identify more than one state that started with "New" - to be fair, though, he said it was pretty nerve-wracking with a giant studio audience staring at you). We missed the first two of six episodes, but I expect we'll try and see the rest. He can't tell us how it turns out or he has to pay 5 million bucks or something insane like that.

    I also knew a guy who was on Elimidate . . . so sad.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:01 PM  

  • "Hell's Kitchen" is the one with Gordon Ramsey, right? Ugh, I can't stand that guy. He was on some other show, and he's just a dick. Your assessment of him is absolutely correct. He's a former soccer player, and all I can think of when I see him is that SNL sketch about Scottish Soccer Hooligans.

    By Blogger Robert, at 7:37 AM  

  • Josh, with all due respect, I think you need to make some new friends. Or refer your current ones to a competent and caring therapist. Or just knock some sense into them. It depends on if they entered the contests because they were deluded narcissists, *needy* deluded narcissists, or just dumb enough to think it would be fun.

    Amen on the Gordon Ramsay hate. Fellow chef Anthony Bourdain defended him ("He's got standards!"), but then Anthony Bourdain has always openly accepted the sadism of professional cooking. So you need to consider the source.

    I remember the other show of Gordon Ramsay's. He had to hire an intern for his restaurant. They filmed the interviews, and he totally hired the wrong person for the wrong reasons. You could see it. Then he started verbally abusing the person minute by minute by minute, and drove the person right out of the profession. Yay, Gordon! (not)

    I think chefs enjoy humiliating people. It must come from having to cut and sear things all day.

    By Blogger Savannah, at 12:09 PM  

  • BUT, the producers of the show got what they wanted - you watched it.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:26 AM  

  • (Ham) Yeah, it was watched, once, but my guess is what the producers want is repeat viewers, not just one view. Everybody watched Anna Nicole once, I would guess, and that was enough for just about everybody. So, it was a ratings, and, one would guess, advertising disaster, even though there was quite a brief buzz about it. This is not what the advertisers or producers wanted.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:33 AM  

  • (Josh) I have to give Shawn a little credit. He actually got "recruited" for the show. Someone who knew him and knew he was staffing the MENSA booth at the State Fair (uh-oh) called the producers and said they should interview him. He went in just to see what would happen. They never told him what the premise of the show was, just that he'd been selected to have several weeks of vacation in California. To an unemployed twenty-something, that's a pretty good deal. I would chalk it up to "unique life experience" more than narcissistic self-exploitation. Of course, I haven't watched the show yet (tonight, WB, 7 CDT).

    I read Kitchen Confidential and found Bourdain to be annoying, also. The book read like Ernest Hemingway with no skills.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:43 AM  

  • They never told him what the premise of the show was!? Just that it was a 'vacation'!? My God, that's like Ice-T being recruited for human prey in that movie with the rotting corpse of Rutger Hauer! (wait, lemme check the imdb..."Surviving the Game") If someone vaguely promises you an all-expenses-paid vacation and you don't know why, say *no*! God, that should be right up there with "don't get in a car with three strange men in Aruba at midnight"!

    Your poor friend. Yikes. "Interesting life experience" indeed.

    I have to say, I got a big kick out of "Kitchen Confidential." I like Anthony Bourdain. I didn't notice any warmed-over Hemingway in him. I just thought the peek at kitchen lore and attitude was fun.

    By Blogger Savannah, at 10:26 AM  

  • To clarify: I said I liked Anthony Bourdain's books, not that I agree with his attitude about the profession. (What redeems it for me is that he's willing to take it as well as dish it out--something that Gordon Ramsay, at least from what I saw in the distorting lens of that TV show where he appeared highly offended by any job applicant with an opinion, is not.)

    By Blogger Savannah, at 10:31 AM  

  • (Josh) I wouldn't say it's as bad as that - he knew it would be a reality show, and for a network. I also wouldn't be surprised if a lot of people think they'll be able to game the show or at least be the one to come off not looking like a total idiot. I'll see how he fares tonight (actually, probably not til next week because I have to tape it).

    Surviving The Game was an awful, awful movie. Not so awful it's good, like They Live, but just awful. I think the whole reason Ice T did it was so he could put a song on the soundtrack. Busey did it because he's Busey. And I don't know why Charles Dutton or F. Murray Abraham did it (although the scene where Dutton gets blown in half and his torso is flopping around on the ground is completely awesome).

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 12:20 PM  

  • Yeah, the flopping torso was killer. I remember that too. (We actually saw "Surviving the Game" *in the theater.* In the late-night, three-quarters-empty *theater.* Where we saw other classics like "PCU" and "Boiling Point" and "Hackers" and "The Scout." It all seems like a dream now.)

    Good point about people thinking they'll be able to beat the system. Attention all reality show "it won't happen to me" dreamers: The People With The Cameras Are In Charge. It Does Not Matter What You Do. You Will Look How They Want You To Look, And They Have Already Decided What That Will Be. You Are Meat.

    By Blogger Savannah, at 2:24 PM  

  • (Josh) Incidentally, you can read Shawn's blog here

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:45 AM  

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