Food Network’s Great Food Truck Race screwed up its second season, while Top Shot keeps getting better

Last summer brought the debut of two new surprising competition series: Food Network’s Great Food Truck Race and History’s Top Shot. Both returned this summer, although Top Shot is now in its third season. Both were throwbacks to earlier, simpler competition series yet were very compelling. Watching food trucks race across the country and stop in cities to sell food reminded me of the great Cannonball Run 2001, and Top Shot had a lot of Survivor in it, and not just because it’s hosted by Colby Donaldson.

Top Shot has excelled by just doing what it does best, only better. It has outstanding cinematography (the slow-motion footage is stunning, although I wish they wouldn’t use the same shot multiple times), a strong cast of talented people who have television-ready personalities, a host who is getting better each episode at introducing and narrating, and challenges that test their skills in entertaining ways. In its third season, that’s ranged from rocks to a freaking cannon.

As I’ve said before, I’m not at all interested in guns or shooting, but the show’s challenges are compelling and the Survivor component—voting and eliminations—adds organic drama that makes it have broader appeal. Just look at self-appointed blue team captain Jake, who’s a quintessential reality TV villain and is super-frustrating to watch, although, but who can back up his talk with talent. Voted into the elimination challenge last week, he destroyed the challenge with a perfect run through the course; the preview shows that he’ll make good on his promise to move into the back yard away from his team. What a talented baby—and what great TV.

On the other hand, Food Network has taken Great Food Truck Race in the wrong direction. Sending trucks to strange cities of varying sizes and populations with few resources is a great challenge on its own, and the trucks are staffed with strong personalities. This season, there have been rivalries and collaborations, and all of that makes for watchable TV.

It’s a strong format and one that really does work. But the show is getting in its own way with its challenges, which have actually hurt it. Earlier in the season, for two weeks in a row, the winners of the Pit Stop challenge were eliminated because their prize actually seemed to have penalized them. For example, the vegan truck Seabird was the only one allowed to serve in a place that didn’t look like it had all that many people compared to the place everyone else went. Separately, Lime Truck got to be interviewed on TV, but based on what we saw, that didn’t do anything except delay them.

Some of the Speedbump challenges are inspired, but the execution seems to be about creating conflict and a crazy moment rather than truly challenging them. Having the trucks go vegetarian is a great challenge, but why do that after they’ve purchased meat? Why not let them plan vegetarian menus? That’s difficult on its own. Last night’s removal of each truck’s head chef was okay, but as Tyler Florence admitted in a voice-over, it gave Lime Truck an unfair advantage because they have two chefs. What’s next, asking them to cook in their underwear with their hands tied behind their back and Barry Manilow music being blasted at them while Tyler throws glitter in their eyes?

These handicaps are often just absurd and prove very little. Let them cook and sell and you’ll still have an interesting show. I am glad that, after giving the trucks little to no money, the producers stopped doing that, because it proved to be no handicap at all, just a little hiccup.

Meanwhile, Tyler Florence has taken his hosting in the exact opposite direction that it needs to go, adopting a dickish, cocky persona. He usually delivers bad news while sitting in a restaurant, eating and grinning like he’s masturbating excitedly under the table over whatever news he’s delivering. It’s not appealing. Last week, both he and the show itself dripped with glee over Korilla’s disqualification for cheating, an incident that ironically damaged the show’s credibility. Eliminating a team for cheating is fine, and that the show did not flinch from the accusation was notable and impressive. But it did not give the accused truck’s members a chance to respond, and the elimination was edited suspiciously. The network’s subsequent muzzling of the truck just makes it look like they’re hiding something, which is unfortunate.

I’m still watching The Great Food Truck Race, but it’s more disappointing than exciting, while Top Shot is the exact opposite. That’s because Top Shot embraced what it does well and has improved upon that, while The Great Food Truck Race is struggling with its identity. Both will be back, I’m sure; I just hope Food Network can let its show make a U-turn.

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