Food Network’s tragically fallen Star

Food Network Star had an incredible season last summer, reinventing and reinvigorating the show with a new format that was reality TV’s best makeover ever.

And then Food Network threw it all away and gave us a season that excised nearly everything good about last season. Genius.

The previews hinted at the problems, but the reality has been worse: A season of Food Network Star without Bob and Susie? Having Giada, Alton, and Bobby give advice to the contestants and then sit in judgement of the product of their advice?

What worked so well last year was having the mentors be invested in their mentees, defending them to Bob and Susie. The three were excellent choices because each has such a different style, and they also selected teams of people who would benefit from their particular brand of advice.

The eliminations were perhaps uncomfortable for all involved, but it made sense and made for good television. (Yes, it was convenient how each mentor ended up with a finalist at the end, but I was willing to forgive that since the finalists were strong and it never seemed like the mentors were faking their investment in their team members.)

This Food Network Star, however, offered very little sense of investment in this cast or their futures on the network. When they did show up, the three chefs and two network reps seemed as bored as I often was. And the focus groups–which kind of disappeared after a while–were no substitute.

With the mentors popping in and out and Bob and Susie essentially absent, this season has relied on its cast to draw us in. All that did was highlight the central problem of the series: its cast members rarely seem competent or interesting enough to carry their own shows. That’s because this is first and foremost a reality competition, on which producers want conflict, drama, and growth, not expertise, flawless poise, and consistency.

Damaris will likely win her own show, at least judging by the way the finalists have been presented, starting with how the other two pilots come off as lame versions of other shows currently on the network. Also, during the pitch and production of Damaris’ pilot, the editing would have been more subtle if the words “VOTE FOR HER UNLESS YOU HATE PUPPIES AND KITTENS” flashed on the screen.

At the start of the season, I was annoyed by the casting, which included a number of people who’d previously been on the network, in addition to casting reality show repeat offender Danushka as cannon fodder.

But watching this best-of-Danushka clip reel, she was the most refreshing and surprising part about it, and I wish she’d stuck around to offer commentary. Maybe she can be a mentor next season.

Food Network Star: C

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Beyond the headline-grabbing premise, the series has turned out to be a stripped-down, authentic exploration of something very interesting. Read the full review.

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.