Bob and Susie are still awesome judges, but Food Network Star has become too familiar

Food Network Star dropped the word “Next” from its title this year, but it needs to rethink more than its title to stay fresh. The show’s seventh season concluded last night, and while judges and Food Network executives Bob Tuschman and Susie Fogelson remain among the best judges on reality TV, the show feels too familiar now.

Part of the show’s problem is that to have a TV show, it has to have villains and show its heroes growing and changing. But that’s tended to make the finalists obvious from the early episodes–you can just tell who’s cannon fodder and who’s not–or it gives us finalists that don’t seem all that attractive.

This season, the two finalists were kind of bland, so it didn’t matter if Susie or Jeff won. However, I never really warmed to the ultimate winner, Jeff, because he was such a twit earlier in the season, though he did have a good hook in a sandwich-focused show. I was mostly rooting for Vic, if only because he was different from the others and the network’s existing stars. The judges, as always, do an excellent and very entertaining job of judging, though Bob and Susie outshine their actual stars, Bobby Flay and Giada De Laurentiis.

The other big problem is that it feels like we’ve seen the same show for the past few seasons. People always struggle with the same thing, and it’s increasingly challenging for me to buy into the fact that they freeze in the camera challenges but are perfectly comfortable explaining how they froze in front of the camera challenges. Obviously, they’re crumbling under the pressure, but the show keeps casting people who fail in the same areas: they’re not comfortable on camera, they have no point of view, and they don’t bring enough of themselves to their food and descriptions.

As much as I’ve loved the show in the past, I just wasn’t as enthusiastic this season, and I think it’s time for a change-up. There’s now a glut of food-related reality competitions, and even if this was the original reality TV food competition, it needs to find a new path. Perhaps its next season should be one that brings back people who’ve already learned and grew throughout their respective seasons, so their skills can really be tested?

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about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.