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'The Next Food Network Star': Serving up a backstabber

June 21, 2009 | 11:19 pm

Whoa, whoa, whoa. Can someone explain this decision to me? How does Los Angeles' Eddie Gilbert get eliminated from "The Next Food Network Star" for a bad watermelon salad and Teddy gets to stick around for another week after proving himself to be a conniving backstabber?

Quick rewind. Last week, Teddy tried to throw Melissa under the bus and weasel some credit for her successful dishes. This week, he tried to do the same with Debbie, with whom he was partnered for a budget catering challenge hosted at Ina Garten's house. Teddy claimed all the credit for the successful meatloaf dish and he tried to make Debbie shoulder some of the blame for the disasterous dessert. "The meatloaf was mine and the dessert was the collaborative part," he said.

Just one problem. This is a reality TV show which means that there are cameras rolling at all times. And those cameras captured Teddy during the challenge claiming all the credit for the dessert, and acknowledging the meatloaf was a collaboration. In other words, he was caught lying.

Now, it seems to me that if you're just comparing Eddie and Teddy solely on their food, Eddie has the edge in that category.(After all, even though the judges didn't like Eddie's salad, Food Network exec and judge Susie Fogelson called Teddy's dessert "an abomination." That's pretty darn bad, right?)

If you judge them on personality, it seems like Eddie wins in that category as well, and I'm not just saying that because he's a hometown kid. Teddy comes off like a lunatic. Tyler Florence had to slap him in the chops during an on-camera presentation for coming off "cartoonish" and hollering like he was a carnival barker. I'm not saying Eddie was perfect -- he wasn't -- but if anything he came across as over eager and over rehearsed -- certainly not insincere.

But even if you declare personality a draw, that still leaves integrity -- something that cannot be taught, something that cannot be coached. Network exec and judge Bob Tuschman said as much: "I don't feel like [Teddy's] got the character that people are going to feel like, 'Yeah, he belongs with Bobby and Giada and Rachael.' "

Bob said he was voting to boot Teddy, but fellow judge Bobby Flay said he was voting to out Eddie, which means it came down to Susie. She told Eddie he was going home because "we're not seeing the progress week to week that we really want to see."

Which sounds like a perfectly good reason. But when compared to Teddy? I dunno. Is it me? Is this just a bid for good television? ('Cause you know all the other competitors have it in for Teddy.) Or did Susie make the right call?

Some random observations:

  • Did Ina actually usher the competitors into her drop-dead gorgeous home by uttering the words, "Welcome to my barn"????

  • Tyler Florence was surprising -- tough, entertaining, just the right touch of snark. (Like when he smacked down Jamika for her inane and possibly deadly advice to reuse marinade after it's been used to flavor raw meat.) It was nice to see another dimension. Made me wonder whether the network is underusing him.

  • Jeffrey had another great week: He won the individual challenge, and then he and Michael won the team challenge. But Jeffrey's efforts to start bringing in some personal elements backfired when he used the same personal anecdote twice.

  • What Melissa may lack in cooking chops, she seems to be making up in presentation. "Melissa glows in the dark," Ina said of the competitor's ultra wattage. (Although, once again, another guest said Melissa makes her nervous. I wonder if Melissa can remind folks of their moms, and not in a good way.)

  • It was not a good week for Michael to be off his game. I hope he turns out to be the real deal and not just someone who makes a sassy first impression.

  • Katie was so close, so close! She stopped over-thinking things and pulled together a great on-camera tip with Florence, but was soon back to her own tricks, chirping about the health benefits of chicken sausage. Ugh.

And just to prove that I am not being boosterish on Eddie because he's a local, I will say this: He did not do himself any favors by being caught rolling his eyes at Melissa behind her back, and he basically blamed Paula Deen for his flop of a watermelon salad. (He said it was her recipe.) "A little chivalry in the kitchen goes a long way," Flay said to Eddie.

I guess this week's lesson is this:  You can stab a competitor in the back. But don't you dare take on Paula Deen.

-- Rene Lynch