I do not watch many reality shows, but I do like Project Runway, Top Chef, and Chopped. And I was an Iron Chef fan from back when it only showed on local channel 26 in Japanese with English subtitles. Though I had caught bits of previous seasons of the Food Network’s The Next Food Network Star show, it didn’t grab me. This year, with season 3 of Top Chef Masters completed, it was time to pick up another food-based competition show and I thought I’d give Food Network Star (“The Next” inexplicably missing) a shot.
Compared to “pure” cooking competitions like Top Chef, FNS is an odd duck. Yes, they want the competitors to be good cooks, but they also want them to be personalities. A contestant is just as likely to fall for failing a camera test than making a bad dish. On Chopped, the judges might give a pass to a chef who makes an interesting, if flawed, dish. On FNS, it is the chef themselves who need to be interesting.
More so than any of these other shows, FNS is a popularity contest. On Top Chef, the winner can be a complete douche as long as the flavor is there. FNS‘s focus on camera work and personality makes complete sense because the winner will be getting a television show, rather than a fat check and a spread in Food & Wine magazine. Being the best cook is simply not going to cut it.
One of the difficulties of food competitions is that we can’t taste the food. On Project Runway, we can at least see the designs and judge for ourselves. With food, you just have to trust the judges’ palates. And this is where FNS works–we can be on equal footing with the judges because there is a criteria beyond the food. In other shows, my wife and I will root for or against competitors based on their on-camera personae and comments anyway.
The irony is that I’m unlikely to watch the show that comes out of this competition, unless the winner is the second coming of Alton Brown or host their own competition show.
Extra: I caught the first(?) episode of Extreme Chef. I liked the premise, which seemed to mix the most horrifying Quickfires from Top Chef with a Chopped-like format. However, it was trying so hard to be eXtreme(!) that it fell flat. Reality shows are known for their melodramatic, artificial tension-building, they took it too far.
In the first challenge of the episode, the main ingredient was rattlesnake. So far, so good. To keep it eXtreme(!), they had the chefs fetch their rattlesnakes from wooden crates filled with snakes. All this was very eXtreme until I quickly realized that the snakes were constrictors with rattle sound effects added in post-production. The actual rattlesnake carcasses where in burlap sacks. Lame.
Competitions shows are made by their judges, in my opinion. I would much rather hear their comments on the food than most anything the competitors have to say. Here again, Extreme Chef fails because the one or two judges were simply dull. The focus on eXtreme(!) physical challenges and X-factors (trademarked Marvel comics) is not enough to keep this show interesting.