FOOD NETWORK STAR recap: “We Have a Winner”

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It’s the finale!!!

Some heretofore unheard narrator showed up at the beginning of this episode to tell us what’s going on. The final three are made up of…

Eddie – a former NHL player who loves America’s favorite food, barbeque.

Dom – the food truck owner who has a passion for traditional Italian flavors and cooking.

Jay – the Louisiana native who has a love for Cajun cooking and deep fried delights.

For the final episode we have the return, fittingly, of Food Network execs Bob and Susie, who join Giada and Bobby in determining who is the next “Food Network star.”

Lots of video packages in this episode. There is no studio audience so producers had to pull an entire hour together based on clips from previous episodes, open chat sessions with contestants who are not in the final three – all of whom were present, including Michelle who bailed on the entire contest a few weeks back – and, of course, review the pilot episodes that Eddie, Dom, and Jay produced in New York City with Rachael Ray.

The way I see it, this competition comes down to Jay and Eddie. Visually, they’re both uncommon. Even guests of the show have commented on how strapping they find Eddie. He’s also handsome, energetic, and I’ll imagine there are endless opportunities for a show that stars him to include references to fitness, eating well, but also indulging within reason. There is also a Caribbean element to many of the dishes he’s created this season so, in a way, there is a show somewhere just waiting for him to host it. Jay’s size is unusual for TV; in fact, one could argue it’s a reason he shouldn’t have a show. But he is the entire package, as well. With Jay, it’s all about geography. It’s all Louisiana Cajun, all the time. The instinct is to say “that’s too specific,” but in a 500 channel universe (literally), specificity wins. He has a history of working in broadcasting, which has been a huge advantage for him this entire season.

But let’s not forget Dom. The producers, and the hosts, clearly love him, and I’m completely confounded as to why. The strange thing about Dom is that, while he freezes on camera, stumbles and clearly struggles with it in general, when he does his quickie cut-takes to the camera during the episode he’s fine. I suppose that’s because anyone can toss a one-liner out flawlessly, and where he struggles is regarding anything beyond a quick one-liner. I dunno. I’m still trying to come to terms with why he’s still here.

A quick video set reviews Jay’s journey through this competition, including the initial presentation segments where his competitors realized how comfortable he was on camera, Food Network exec Bob telling him how great he is on camera, as well as the pigs-in-a-blanket, ants-on-a-log mistake he made an few episodes ago.

So we began with a review of Jay’s pilot. It’s called Deep Fried America, and first thing he says is, “I’m Jay Ducote from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and I’m on the hunt for the most amazing fried food around the country.” Um… what?! For the past ten episodes, it was all about Louisiana and Cajun food and now his pilot is about eating deep fried foods? The presentation, of course, was brilliant but I’m confused.

Next up is Dom’s video package and, to intro it, this is what Bobby had to say: “As you guys know I’ve been a mentor on Food Network Star for many years and I’ve met a lot of finalists, but I have to say, one of the most dramatic journeys I’ve ever seen came this year courtesy of one finalist, Dom.”  And the love-fest continues. His video set of course shows all of the times he’s frozen in front of the camera as well as in front of a crowd. It was revealed, very quickly, you had to have your eyes open, that the finalists in the Star Salvation show that brought Dom back into this competition was Rue, Alex, and him. As for being in the final three he told Giada, just before the reveal of his pilot, that “this is, like, as big a twist for me as it is for everybody else!”

Dom’s pilot was called “Big Flavor, Little Italy.” It was awesome. As with every other video presentation this season, and I’ve complained about this before, we just get to see a small clip from the whole but from what we saw, this show really looked great. He had a familiarity with the food, with the environment (the location in the city), and appeared to be comfortable sitting with patrons of the restaurant. A slam dunk for Dom.

Eddie’s video package showed just how up-and-down his experience was this season. He would routinely go from one week being nearly crowned the winner, weeks in advance, to being accused of resting on his laurels, faltering and not meeting the challenge. For him, it seems the bar was raised so high that, even when he didn’t do so well, he was never really in danger of being eliminated. It seemed like everyone just assumed his off weeks were a stumble in the journey to a larger goal. Even though Jay performed consistently throughout the season (both in presentations and food preparation), it was Eddie who received the compliments from guest judges, co-finalists, and the host/judges more often than anyone.

Eddie’s pilot is called “BBQ Blitz.” There was a recurring reference to Southern food and Eddie’s roots in Texas, the irony of course being that he’s found quality barbeque in New York City. Of course, his pilot was flawless.

After the finalists were sequestered in a green room somewhere, Bob acknowledged this was “as conflicted as I’ve ever been in eleven seasons of Food Network Star,” that Jay is perhaps the most camera-ready contestant they’ve ever had. Jay did the best job of combining the information in the pilot. As for Dom, Bobby said, “I think genuine, I think authenticity,” and they all agreed. Susie said to Bobby and Giada, “I’m so glad that you guys stuck to your guns and I’m so glad that he’s here and he has a chance.” Hmm. Okay. As for Eddie, Bob said, “Eddie is the definition of charisma,” and that “you feel like someone can enjoy food so much and still end up looking like him.” Giada: “Bingo!” With that, it’s not looking good for Jay.

After a commercial break, Bob, Susie, Bobby and Giada bring out Food Network President Brooke Johnson who straight-up looks like Shirley MacLaine. She stands beside them all, thanks the judges/mentors for their contribution, offers some super-quick formal words about how great it is to welcome someone to the Food Network family and then:

“It’s my job to say that the next Food Network Star will be…” she points to a screen on the set that, after a short moment reveals a photo of…

Eddie Jackson.

Check this interview where he reveals neither he, Dom, nor Jay had any hand in the concept of the pilots they filmed. Dom’s, of course, made sense, but Eddie and Jay with the barbeque and the “deep fried” tour of America… why?

 

 

 

See also:

FOOD NETWORK STAR recap: "Live TV" (season 11, episode 9)

FOOD NETWORK STAR recap: "Dish of a Lifetime and Pilots" (season 11, episode 10)

FOOD NETWORK STAR recap: "We Have a Winner" (season 11, episode 11, finale)