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Monday, August 3, 2009

Commercial Interruption: "Next Food Network Star" finale

Sometimes there's just too much television for one Channel Surfing blogger to handle. That's when we need a break to sit back, relax and indulge in some friendly back-and-forth (via email, of course — we don't actually like to speak to one another in person). In a sadly predictable ending -- and more evidence that Bobby Flay is not the badass he claims to be -- the judges of "The Next Food Network Star" made Melissa d'Arabian the winner of the show on last night's finale. Before we impale her on a stick of mom-friendly foods, Channel Surfing bloggers Malavika Jagannathan, Sara Boyd and Thomas Rozwadowski would like to acknowledge that Melissa was a dark horse who improved consistently through the show's 10-week course. But this isn't a "Most Improved" show. It's "The Next Food Network Star," right, and shouldn't that mean the chef with the most talent and the most potential ought to win?

Malavika: First of all, let me apologize to anyone who lives in Bellevue or any of the surrounding areas. The piercing scream and stream of curses you heard at 8:59 p.m. last night was not in fact someone being murdered. It was just me reacting to the news that Evil Mommy Melissa was crowned the Next Food Network Star.

Now, granted, I've been biased against Melissa from the start. Perhaps it was from reading her bio on the Food Network Web site where she declares both her hatred for goat cheese and her love for "American Idol." But mostly it was her grating personality, her obsession with the word "mom" and her bland, untinteresting food.

I will admit, Melissa surprised and wowed even me -- her worst critic -- in the last few episodes. She deserved to be in the finale, but did not deserve to win. Compare the pilots that she and sure front-runner Jeffrey created. Both did a superb job in terms of presentation and theme, but while Melissa's show was basically Rachael Ray for Moms, Jeffrey's pilot really brought something unique to the table. I honestly can't believe the judges couldn't see past their weird obsession with Melissa's homecooked food to pick someone who combines talent, personality and an interesting point of view. (Seriously, potatoes au gratin baked in a muffin tin is NOT special -- I could be the next star of Food Network with that stuff). As an avid watcher of Food Network shows -- I worship at the altar of the Barefoot Contessa -- I can tell you that Melissa's show is nothing I'd ever watch because I could get the same thing by watching Rachael Ray or Ellie Krieger.

Sara: I think you raise a perfect point, Malavika. And it was no doubt one I was screaming at the television around the same time you were cursing and scaring your neighbors. The thing is, Melissa kept boasting of this new, never-been-seen point of view that was going to be marketable up the wazoo. But seriously, what show on the Food Network DOESN'T already do this? Ellie's a mom and actually eats the final meal she makes with her family over the dinner table. Rachael's whole bit is about making a quick and easy meal for moms on the go. Even the Barefoot Contessa and Paula Deen are targeting this 40-year-old stay-at-home mom with their comfort cooking and meals to please any family. So where, I beg you, is this complete originality that Melissa has? I think they should call this win what it truly was -- the judges saw more dollar signs with Melissa. They look at it not as a more talented chef, but the fact they could create cookbooks, cookware and even "Evil Mommy" Melissa aprons with this Kitchen Survival crap on it. Cha-friggin'-ching.

I will admit, though, it took most of the season for Jeffrey to really express this marketable show of his and in the end, perhaps it was too little, too late. But the idea was good and unique and most importantly, I was able to watch it! Everytime Melissa emphasizes something, she goes all bug-eyed and intense. Jeffrey's whole thing is that he's a calm personality and he soothes his audience. At the end of the day, isn't that what you watch TV for? If not, then we'd all be begging for a full channel of those car dealership commercials where people talk fast and yell at you.

Thomas: I was really disappointed in the finale as a whole, not just the finish. Last year's showdown was much more difficult for the three finalists -- three, not two, which was another switch they made this year -- because it put the contestants in public situations to have to shoot Food Network promos. Needless to say, the blooper reel was pretty awesome. That was in addition to shooting the pilot, which is certainly a heady task and should be the determining factor in choosing the network's next star. But the whole finale was super flat and felt like a huge time drain -- like they were trying to capitalize on personal relationships that were rarely presented to the viewer. Do I really care about Katie's dancing? Did I really need to see the douchebag brothers, Teddy and Eddie, hug it out? Um, no. I would have rather watched another challenge or a curveball for the finalists, not a bunch of cheap sentimentality with contestants I frankly, hated.

In some ways, I hope Jeffrey gets a show still (and by Bob Tuschman's assessment that last night was the closest competition yet, he should since last year's runner-up, Adam Gertler, nabbed one), but I also think it's ridiculous to cheapen Melissa's win since the title is supposed to mean something. Oh, well. I loved Jeffrey's show idea, but its fatal flaw was that not all his smuggled ingredients can probably be found in local grocery stores. So then what? Melissa is apparently doing "$10 Dinners," so with the economy the way it is, (as Boyd pointed out) her marketability made sense. Plus, it would appear real estate guru Jeffrey already has a really nice house with a swimming pool, so I don't feel too bad for him.

Catch Melissa's new show, "Ten Dollar Dinners with Melissa d'Arabian," Sunday at 11:30 a.m.

Disgaree with us? Leave us a comment and prepare for a food fight!

--Malavika Jagannathan,, Sara Boyd, and Thomas Rozwadowski,



In the end, Melissa was easier to like. Jeffrey was arrogant and self-centered. Times are challenging with budgets, etc., and yes, many things she has done are things I do. Very nice to be reminded of how well they worked in the past. A majority of the viewers are women and we have to like her. I think she's likeable, sellable and will bond with the others.

By Anonymous Anonymous, At August 4, 2009 at 1:10 PM  

Thanks for the comment. Despite my personal aversion to Melissa, I can see how she appeals to people, especially women. It'll be interesting to see if her new show takes off (it's a pretty good idea for our recession era. Will you watch her show?


By Blogger Press-Gazette blogger, At August 4, 2009 at 1:51 PM  

Good points on the sellability of Miss Melissa. However, I have to completely disagree that Jeffrey was arrogant and self-centered. As you may recall, it was Melissa who told judges and former contestants that she was the most marketable out of everyone and that she should win because she had something no one else had. On the flip side, it was Jeffrey who said it was his passion for food that fueled him, not how he was better than everyone else. Just sayin'.

-- Sara

By Blogger Press-Gazette blogger, At August 6, 2009 at 11:30 AM  

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