Food Network Star turns mentors Alton, Bobby, and Giada into judges, undoing its best change

Food Network Star, one of the network’s few watchable reality TV shows, has announced its ninth season cast and twists, and they do not look good on paper: they include allowing an eliminated contestant to return (sigh), adding focus groups, and turning mentors Alton Brown, Giada De Laurentiis, and Bobby Flay into judges.

Changes to the show last year were the best makeover in the history of reality TV, so I’m fearful that they’re undoing the best changes. Meanwhile, many of the new cast members have previously appeared on reality TV shows, especially ones on Food Network.

Here’s the worst part of the announcement:

“Each episode before the finale features a first-round Mentor Challenge, second-round Star Challenge and an elimination determined by the selection committee, including returning judges Food Network executives Susie Fogelson and Bob Tuschman.”

There’s no mention of the on-camera producer challenge, which was one of the best additions to the show last year, but the trailer suggests a version of it will return. More significantly, the mentors have also become judges; last season, in another strong change, they faced Bob and Susie along with their mentee, arguing why that person should stay in the competition. This season, in at least one clip, they appear to be judging solo, without Bob and Susie.

The announcement also describes other “new twists, [in which] focus groups of Food Network fans will also have their say on contestant performances and one finalist will be brought back after elimination for another chance at victory.” It’s not clear if that person will be brought back as a result of the Redemption Island-style twist so many shows are now adding.

I’m not going to freak out until I see Food Network Star, which debuts June 2, but all this makes me very nervous, especially since the trailer below barely features Bob and Susie.

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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.