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Beat Bobby Flay: Holiday Throwdown is the best Beat Bobby Flay

Beat Bobby Flay: Holiday Throwdown is the best Beat Bobby Flay
Bobby Flay and Carson Kressley on Beat Bobby Flay: Holiday Throwdown (Photo by Food Network)

Food Network has recently aired a trio of new shows that echo Beat Bobby Flay and its predecessor, Throwdown! with Bobby Flay:

  1. Alex vs. America, a terrific competition on which Alex Guarnaschelli competes against three chefs in their specialty, in a challenge chosen by them
  2. Bobby’s Triple Threat, on which three Top Chef alum individually take on a challenger over three rounds
  3. Outchef’d, which surprises (sure, Jan) people who think they’re auditioning for a Food Network show by having them compete against a Food Network personality
Gabrielle faces off against Scott Conant on Outchef'd
Gabrielle faces off against Scott Conant on Outchef’d (Photo by Food Network)

On each of those shows, a Food Network celebrity chef faces off against a (relatively) unknown challenger. I’ve watched and enjoyed all three.

Alas, their predecessor, Beat Bobby Flay, has never been my favorite, nor a show I’d really watch, even in the background. Perhaps because it’s been on so long—almost 10 years, and 32 seasons now—it just lacks a spark. I’m never really invested in seeing Bobby win or lose.

When Bobby Flay almost left Food Network last year, I wasn’t devastated over the loss of his marquee show.

But another new competition, Beat Bobby Flay: Holiday Throwdown, surprised me by being a fresh serving of a stale show. That’s thanks in no small part to how much the Food Network family, competing in a new format, warms everything up.

A better Beat Bobby Flay format

A promotional image for Beat Bobby Flay Holiday Throwdown with multiple images from the show

Beat Bobby Flay: Holiday Throwdown (Food Network, Tuesdays at 9) takes place on the same set, but seems like an entirely different show.

While Bobby Flay says “this holiday season is my biggest nightmare yet,” and adds, “bottom line: everyone’s still out to beat me,” it’s not that serious or dramatic.

For this special series of six episodes, the show has expanded to a full hour, and the producers made smart changes that not only doubled-down on the best parts of the original, but added elements that bring more energy and joy to the format.

There are no unknown challengers here, just people we’ve seen on Food Network, some of whom compete all the time, while others who we rarely see behind a station.

One serves as defacto host (so far: Scott Conant, Eddie Jackson, Giada De Laurentiis, and Carla Hall, with Carson Kressley and Geoffrey Zakarian up next).

The other three battle: two chefs face off, the winner faces a third chef, and then that winner faces off against Bobby.

But there’s more: the first round’s loser joins the episode’s host to judge the second round.

And the best decision is having the two losing chefs join Bobby and the champion, meaning it’s not Bobby Flay versus someone else, but two teams of two, each collaborating and combining their strengths.

Everyone sticks around, and everyone gets to cook at least twice.

Zac Young and Alex Guarnaschelli stand in the Beat Bobby Flay Holiday Throwdown kitchen
Zac Young and Alex Guarnaschelli competed as challengers on Beat Bobby Flay: Holiday Throwdown (Photo by Food Network)

So far—and spoiler alert for this paragraph and the next one, if you haven’t seen the first four episodes—the format has reunited Zac Young with the person who gave him his first pastry chef job, Alex Guarnaschelli, and resulted in teams like Brooke Williamson & Michael Voltaggio, and Bobby Flay & Damaris Phillips.

Somehow, Bobby Flay and his teammate have won each of their four battles to date, though not always with unanimous votes from the three-judge panel. Maybe he’s just the best, or, like Alex Guarnaschelli, has so much experience competing that it’s really his expertise.

While I’m a huge fan of blind judging on food competitions, I’ve found Beat Bobby Flay’s version to be weird, because the judges know Bobby Flay is one of the contestants (and very likely know his style), and he and the challenger stand there and make faces while the judges taste and decide. That hasn’t changed in Beat Bobby Flay: Holiday Throwdown.

For me, though, the reveal of the winner is the least-interesting part of Beat Bobby Flay: Holiday Throwdown; after all, there’s no money on the line, and I’ve already seen these chefs win and lose competitions.

Mostly, it works because it’s friendly but fierce competition between Food Network personalities. That makes it a spiritual cousin to the now-annual Tournament of Champions, Food Network’s best competition.

Besides the collaborations that take place, there’s a lot of playfulness between the chefs, whether it’s gentle trash-talking or just the fact that most everyone just

Bobby himself seems to be enjoying himself a lot more, whether with the ridiculous secret ingredient reveals (for example, a massive gift box with a tiny dish of escargot inside) or during his time cooking alongside one of the losers.

Even thought it filmed last spring, Beat Bobby Flay: Holiday Throwdown really has the flavors and warmth of the holidays, between the set decorations, ingredient selections (egg nog, sour cream, onions) and final challenges (stuffed turkey, yule log cake).

Best of all, it has friends and (work) family gathering around a kitchen and table to cook and eat and play together. That’s a great gift.

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About the author

  • Andy Dehnart

    Andy Dehnart is the creator of reality blurred and a writer and teacher who obsessively and critically covers reality TV and unscripted entertainment, focusing on how it’s made and what it means.

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Tuesday 6th of December 2022

So true! I'm enjoying this show more than I anticipated. The chefs are just having fun, while gently roasting Bobby. It's fun to watch!