'Next Food Network Star': Oh, you did not just say that to Bobby Flay
Paul, as a comedian, you must be familiar with the first rule of comedy: Know your audience. In other words, don't mouth off to the very people who are deciding your fate. And don't mouth off to the very people who are deciding your fate when they are trying to help you!
I was stunned when Paul gave lip to Bobby Flay, who has been actually pulling for Paul, trying to give him a chance, giving him some tips, encouraging him to use his quick comedic timing to connect with the audience instead of repelling them. But Paul was determined to offend to the end. I think Bobby was giving him one last chance to describe his culinary point of view, to finesse the "blue collar on a dollar" theme -- which actually could have legs -- but Paul couldn't do it. When Bobby pressed him to describe what he would cook for a potential audience, Paul amped up the 'tude and responded: "Food." Worse, he acted like it was Bobby who had the problem. I thought Bobby handled it perfectly: The Flay-man was seething, controlled fury. You could feel the blood drain out of Paul as he realized what he had done.
As we got down to the Final 7, I was struck at what a solid group it was -- and just how dramatically fortunes have changed.
Aria, as feared, has plateaued. She came out of the gate strong but hasn't shown much progress, something the judges are desperate to see. Right now, I feel like Aria, Brad and Herb are the next three to go, although Herb and Brad delivered strong(er) performances this week, so maybe they have some more life left in them. It's just amazing how Brad turns off when the cameras turn on. And for a guy who dubs himself "The Pro" ... he ain't acting like one.
This week's challenges were brutal. First, challengers had to come up with their own brand in a jar, and sell it to a live audience at the Grove. Nerve-wracking! Even our Aarti, who is used to being in front of the camera, struggled, but still made such a connection with the audience that she ended up on top. Serena was a scattered disaster (it actually reminded me a bit of wacky Dzintra!). But Tom knocked it out of the park with a clever twist -- convincing people that his citrus marmalade was so good it could make chicken livers and Brussels sprouts taste spectacular. (He was quite the salesman, because he also came out on top, even though the judges turned up their noses at the actual product.) I have completely turned around on him, going from "When is this guy getting the boot?" to "I could totally watch a show starring Tom, and, even better, my husband would watch with me."
The second challenge paired the contestants up in food trucks at Venice Beach. I have a strong suspicion that this setup involved someone, like a producer, saying" "We need to get Brianna and Serena in a hot, tight place together and let the fur fly." Well, that's exactly what happened. But instead of a predictable cat fight, we got something much more pleasing: Great teamwork. Their truck, featuring bites from around the world, charmed the judges, as did their girl power routine. Nicely done, ladies! Thank you for rising above and giving us the unexpected.
Some other random thoughts:
Daaa-yum! Paula Deen comes across as all sweet, but girl can deliver a backhand when the mood strikes: "My grandson could have made that" -- and he's 3! -- she said of Brad and Aria's horrible hot dog.
Same goes for Food Network bigwig Susie Fogelson. She chopped Aria off at the knees with: "I find you sort of forgettable now." Ouch. That had to hurt. (And is it me, or has Susie's fantabulous mane been looking even better of late? New stylist? New product?)
More Giada. That coaching segment was too short. Giada is SO GOOD as mentor, we could have used a little more of that, because it helps the audience know what to look for and underscores just how hard it is to cook, talk, smile, engage, etc., all at the same time. She is the perfect mix of mother hen, looking after her chicks, and tough TV veteran who has been there, done that.
I am softening a bit toward Brianna. Maybe it's because she started crying when she realized how badly she botched the demo. I felt bad for her. I am such a softie.
Message to Aarti: Girlfriend, we are pulling for you. But we cannot want it for you more than you do. Fake it till you make it...
Photo: Paul, in one of his less abrasive moments. Credit: Food Network