Food Network’s Great Food Truck Race was an impressive show its first season, with echoes of a fantastic series that aired 11 years ago, Cannonball Run 2001, and early Amazing Race. Since then, it’s devolved into an increasing mess, from the bullshit last season to this season’s change of concept, which has given wannabe food truck owners their own trucks rather than inviting established trucks to participate.
Competitions are, of course, heavily controlled situations in which organic reality should thrive, but the production and the boundaries it creates has to walk a fine line: construct the reality and define the constraints, but be mostly invisible to viewers. You don’t need to know that there are 350 to 500 crew members working on Survivor, or that the Dream Team rehearsed the challenge until it was perfect, you just need to see a perfect challenge.
And challenges. Oh, the challenges. Like too many shows (Top Chef, ahem), The Great Food Truck Race has fallen into the “we have to get crazier with each subsequent challenge!” trap. It’s so frustrating since, at its core, it’s a fantastic show. I think it’d be a strong show with no challenges and no twists: just seed money and the challenge of promoting, preparing, and selling in a new city. Unnecessarily fucking with the contestants just signals a lack of confidence (network? producers?) in a format really has everything built into the premise.
While watching Sunday’s episode, I thought to myself, “Self, I can’t imagine what this show will be like a few seasons from now. They’re just throwing everything against the wall and it’s not working.” But then I realized I could imagine it, and here’s what my imagination came up with, part of a future (fictional, duh) episode:
Establishing shots of a city. Footage of trucks driving down a road.
Contestant, Taco Tamale Triage truck: “Now that we have our food, I think we should look for a location near water. And let’s not park near another truck, for no real reason I can articulate.”
Contestant, Sally’s String Cheese food truck: “It is very important that today we explain rules and guidelines that the producers have given us and make it sound like we’ve decided those things for ourselves, even though it’d be really easy to just say that these are the rules we’ve been given.”
Trucks pull up in a choreographed formation, honking obnoxiously. Everyone runs out screaming, having clearly been coached to act even more crazy than they did the first time they shot this.
Tyler Florence, to cast: “Welcome to Springfield. This. Is the home of great food and Americans. Who make light bulbs. And like to eat. I have a notebook in my hands. Now you need to make something delicious. In these Easy Bake Ovens. While you’re tied together. You. Have no idea how important this Truck Stop Challenge is. You’ll find out more. Later. You have 30 minutes. Go!”
Teams frantically cook, falling over because they’re tied together. Cut in interviews of them explaining what they’re making even though we can clearly see that.
Guest judge no one has ever heard of: “I can’t wait to taste what you have created.”
Guest judge samples food and offers weak comments, such as, “There wasn’t much flavor.”
Tyler Florence: “So, have you made a decision?”
Guest judge: “This was a hard one. But the winner is the Blue Berry Balls truck.”
Tyler Florence: “Congratulations guys. You’ve won. An advantage. You get $5 million in Monopoly money that you can count toward your earnings, minus Monopoly money adjusted for inflation.”
Blue Berry Balls truck contestants, clearly confused: “Oh wow! Awesome!”
Tyler Florence: “But that’s not all. Are you ready? This is good. You also get to pick any of your competitors. And shoot them all in the face. Here. Is your handgun. Go ahead, shoot someone now.”
Blue Berry Balls truck contestants, clearly thrilled: “Oh wow! Awesome!”
Other contestants run away frantically but can’t escape because the food trucks are forming a fence.
Later that same episode:
Tyler Florence, to viewers: “I’m in the middle of the city. And I can’t wait to screw with these teams. It kinda turns me on. Watch this. You might get hard, too.”
Footage of people lining up at food trucks, with contestants asking them to be patient. Cell phones ring and we see multiple people answer, because it’s critical to understand that every team knows how to answer a cell phone and pretend they are talking directly to Tyler personally.
Tyler Florence, talking on cell phone: “Guys. This is Tyler. Here’s your Speed Bump, which is different from The Amazing Race’s because that’s a different show. For the rest of the weekend, you need to cook. With no food. That’s right, we’ve poisoned all your food with fertilizer and rat feces.”
Shot of contestants on the phone telling the other people on the truck.
Blue Berry Balls truck member: “We have to cook with no food.”
Delicious Duck truck: “He poisoned our food.”
Customer with blueberry all over their face: “This tastes terrible. Wait, what did she just say?” starts vomiting
Tyler Florence: “Every person that got sick? Yeah, you have to pay for their medical bills. Even if it means selling your plasma. And it’ll come out of your till.”
Voiceover: “Next week on The Great Food Truck Race: The remaining teams enact a real-life cock fight. And just wait until you see what I’ve done with their loved ones back home during the Soylent Green Truck Stop challenge.”