Jaw on the floor.
I can’t believe what I just saw.
The last minute of this episode wasn’t supposed to be a nail biter. Dom was condescending to Michelle throughout the challenge, rude during the presentation, and the food he prepared was bad. Done. No brainer. Especially after last week, if not every week since the first episode of this season, the writing has been on the wall. It was Dom’s turn to go home.
So… here’s how that did not happen.
The final eight contestants were lined up at the start of the episode and stood before an ingredient they’d earlier chosen as one of their favorites. Immediately, they were instructed to trade those ingredients with a neighbor. Rue traded her fish for Jay’s venison. Emilia traded her harissa for Arnold’s turnips. For this initial challenge, then, we saw:
Emilia – halibut with turnip puree (Arnold’s turnip)
Arnold – scallops with harissa tapenade (Emilia’s harissa)
Eddie – grape leaf and sausage soup (Michelle’s grape leaf)
Michelle – habanero pepper shrimp (Edddie’s habanero)
Rue – deconstructed venison pot roast (Jay’s venison)
Jay – grilled branzino with Brussels sprouts (Rue’s branzino)
Dom – beef noodles in five spice broth (Alex’s five spices)
Alex – smoked salmon and ricotta sandwich (Dom’s ricotta)
In these pairs, the competitors were then tasked to switch plates, taste the food the other had prepared and, in true Food Network host style, describe and critique it. They would be judged, in the end, based upon both their presentation of the food as well as their preparation of their own dish.
Emilia summed this portion of the challenge perfectly. “If I’m not honest, the mentors are gonna call me out,” she said. “If I am honest, I offend Arnold.” It’s a Catch 22, though only if the partner’s food is substandard, and unfortunately for Arnold that was the case. His scallops needed more texture and the tapenade was grainy.
The interesting thing about this is that the mentors met with only the two partnered competitors alone, so in each case the first person got to basically set the stage for the style of critique they would each use. Had Emilia chosen to let the judges “call me out” for being too soft on Arnold, then he wouldn’t have felt compelled to identify a flaw with her dish. It’s human nature, I’d have done the same thing. Unfortunately, again, her dish was unworthy of a negative critique.
The winner of this first mini challenge was Rue.
In the next challenge of the episode, the competitors were divided into pairs and asked to prepare a dish that would complement the unique cooking style of each. The Food Network host Ann Burrell was guest judge, and the pairs were to prepare forty servings of their dish for a group of Match.com dates. They had 60 minutes. Rue’s advantage from having won the mini challenge was to switch out Arnold for her initial partner, Dom. In the end, the teams looked like this:
Jay and Emilia – Cajun pork loin, polenta, and Brussels sprouts
Arnold and Rue – African Asian surf ‘n turf
Alex and Eddie – Jerk Chicken Banh Mi sandwich
Dom and Michelle – lemon risotto with Mediterranean shrimp
Arnold and Rue made a strategic decision to cook their food as closely as possible to the moment of their presentation, and it came back to bite them bad. Jay and Emilia, as well as Alex and Eddie, quickly agreed on their dish and blissfully got to work.
Dom and Michelle = turmoil. It was clear from the beginning that neither was interested in taking the lead. She asked what flavors he was using so she could complement them, but he had already decided that he was making risotto, which by definition was intended to complement whatever she was planning. When there’s conflict, as a viewer you never know if it’s due to creative editing or if what you’re watching is straight-up what happened. In these scenes, Dom was dismissive of Michelle and she seemed flummoxed by it. Strangely, she concluded “it’s the Dom Show, and Michelle is the dumb sidekick,” when – even though they’d agreed on a dish – neither had assumed a leadership role.
In the next segment, each pair presented their dishes to the guests as well as the judges. They were given two minutes. Jay and Emilia, as well as Alex and Eddie, hit it out of the park as though they were long-time friends and this was just another day at the office. Jay and Emilia’s presentation, though, overshadowed their less-than-fabulous food. Alex and Eddie’s sandwich was delicious, according to the judges.
Other end of the spectrum: neither Rue and Arnold, nor Dom and Michelle, had prepared any comments for their presentation. Arnold relied on Rue to describe the food, and she did not. Judges found the plate beautiful to look at, but the flavors were completely missing. Dom seemed to believe that each would describe their unique contribution to the dish so when Michelle, in her initial minute, described everything, he was left (in his opinion) with nothing to say and opened with this cringeworthy line: “Like a true marriage, the husband can’t get a word in edgewise.”
To make matters worse, his risotto was “30 minutes overcooked.” They enjoyed Michelle’s shrimp.
Then in the back, where all the contestants sat after their presentations, Dom and Michelle argued in a way that could best be described as cordial.
Dom: “there was not a team scenario out there.”
Michelle: “Dom, it was never a team scenario from the beginning, my dear.”
Dom: “you took all the descriptive words that—”
Michelle: “I’m sorry that your vocabulary isn’t that excelled [sic] — [and also LOL!] — that you can’t make up your own things.”
Dom: “You couldn’t even appropriately cook chicken last week.”
Michelle: “You were on the bottom last week, too, my friend.”
And then Michelle said she quit and walked out of the building, proving two things: if this is the extent of a Food Network reality show fight, then viewers will never, ever, EVER tune in to watch The Real Housewives of Food Network; and, despite even that, there was no reason to walk out.
This is the part of the season where the competitors talk about all the stress they’ve been under and how as viewers we’ll never know what it’s like to constantly be in competition mode for weeks and week and weeks, though by now I think we’re all aware that these shows tapes in something like 15 days.
The following day, everyone congregates at the studio where the judges share their criticism:
Rue and Arnold: “the presentation on the plate was stunning, but beyond the presentation on the plate there was no South African, no Thai, no… cooking.”
Jay and Emilia: “You really did a nice job telling us about your dish. I like the polenta but the pork was really inconsistently cooked.”
Alex and Eddie: we love you with all of our hearts and souls. (No quotes because that’s my interpretation.)
Dom and Michelle: this section was severely edited. Dom explained his idea about how they’d present their dish and then the judges seemed to be spanking Michelle down for some reason. No mention of the walk-out, which is a huge miss in the reality TV world.
The two teams that were safe:
Eddie and Alex
Jay and Emilia
On the bottom:
So the writing, as I’ve mentioned already, was on the wall. All just formalities from here on out. The judges deliberate alone, discussing each contestant, then detail those deliberations to the four contestants when they return. Moment of truth time:
First, host Bobby Flay says to Arnold, “we’d like to see you back next week.”
Okay, makes sense. And then:
Bobby: “Dom… we’d like to see you back next week as well, but you need to kill it next week.”
So now I’m thinking to myself, ‘if it’s all down to Rue and Michelle, then Michelle’s gotta go.’ I even said to myself, out loud, “Oh… it’s Michelle, no doubt.”
Bobby: “Michelle and Rue, it’s been great getting to know both of you but somebody has to go home. And that person is… Rue.”
And then, to the camera, she said the sweetest thing that I’ve EVER heard a discarded contestant say on their way out the door. “I can’t wait for the day that I turn around and say, ‘thank you for everything you taught me, but that day you made a big mistake.’”
So if you ever see me on Dance Moms, watch for it.
FOOD NETWORK STAR recap: "4th of July Cookout" (season 11 episode 4)
FOOD NETWORK STAR recap: "The Perfect Match" (season 11 episode 5)
FOOD NETWORK STAR recap: "Improv" (season 11 episode 6)
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