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Is Alex vs. America rigged? Does Alex Guarnaschelli ever lose?

Is Alex vs. America rigged? Does Alex Guarnaschelli ever lose?
Alex Guarnaschelli cooks on season three of Alex vs. America, on which she's won so much some people think she's cheating or the producers have rigged the show in her favor. (Photo by Food Network)

Food Network’s Alex vs. America is one of my favorite food competitions, in part because it borrows heavily from Tournament of Champions, and in part because it’s such an excellent showcase for Alex Guarnaschelli’s considerable talent and her competitiveness.

Like its predecessor Beat Bobby Flay, the reality TV cooking competition’s star, Alex Guarnaschelli, wins a lot. As much as I like Alex as a personality, I often find myself rooting for her competitors just because they’re the clear underdogs.

Her win record prompts people to ask: Is Alex vs. America rigged? Does Alex Guarnaschelli ever lose? Let’s discuss both.

Alex Guarnaschelli, star of Alex vs. America on Food Network
Alex Guarnaschelli, star of Alex vs. America on Food Network (Photo by Sean Rosenthal/Food Network)

The answer to the second question is: Yes, absolutely, Alex loses on Alex vs. America!

While Alex could be eliminated in the first round, her first-round dish has yet to place fourth when ranked by the judges, who taste blind. She does frequently win that first round.

However, in the “Alex vs James Beard Winners” episode, which aired April 16, 2023, Alex placed third in the second round, behind chef Jonathan Sawyer and chef Nate Appleman—the first time both round-two competitors have won money.

I think it’s notable that the only time she placed third was to two people who are not just outstanding chefs (James Beard-award winners, after all), but also people who’ve competed on reality TV cooking competitions. Nate Appleman placed third on the season of Next Iron Chef that Alex won; Jonathan Sawyer was recently a challenger on Bobby’s Triple Threat.

Alex has placed second before, too, more than once. In the show’s second episode, “Alex vs Beef,” Alex lost to Chef Kevin Lee.

Alex Guarnaschelli plates a Sunday Italian dinner during Alex vs. America season 2
Alex Guarnaschelli plates a Sunday Italian dinner during Alex vs. America season 2 (Photo by Food Network)

Alex is, of course, very competitive. This is something she admits openly, both on the show and off. When I interviewed her last year, Alex told me,

“Everybody’s like: Let’s have a fun, friendly competition. And I’m like, You know what, don’t call me. I get immersed in the room; I get obsessed with the results. I have a high expectation for myself. I just do. It doesn’t mean anybody else has to be that way. It’s my process. And I think it’s my best and absolute worst quality at the same time.”

What contributes most, I think, to Alex Guarnaschelli’s outstanding record on her own show is that she’s had a lot of practice!

Alex has been competing on Food Network reality TV shows for years. After losing on a season of The Next Iron Chef, she won its fifth season in 2012, becoming an Iron Chef. She then competed on Iron Chef America, never mind other shows such as Tournament of Champions season 1.

Meanwhile, Alex has judged hundreds of episodes of Chopped and other shows such as Beat Bobby Flay and Guy’s Grocery Games.

Alex knows not only what makes for winning dishes and mistakes people make, but how judging works and what judges tend to look for.

All of that absolutely tips the scales to her favor, but certainly does not qualify as fixing or rigging the show for her.

Alex vs. America is even structured to give Alex’s competitors more of an advantage: Episodes are themed to the competitors’ expertise, and the three of them together choose the ingredients, style, and cooking time in the first round. (The winner of round one selects those things for round two.)

Ultimate Thanksgiving Challenge, Food Network
Ultimate Thanksgiving Challenge host Giada De Laurentiis (standing) with judges Alex Guarnaschelli, Christian Petroni, and Carla Hall. (Photo by Food Network)

Unlike the blind judging on Tournament of Champions, who have no idea who’s even competing that season, the judges on Alex vs. America do know that one of the dishes belongs to Alex.

But Alex’s dish is one of four (or, in the second round, three) that the judges try.

I think that makes Alex vs. America more fair than Beat Bobby Flay, where the judges taste blind, but also know one dish is Bobby’s and the other is not, so it might be easier for them to—even subconsciously—identify Bobby’s cooking. (Bobby Flay has won 61.9 percent of the time across 409 competitions, according to Wikipedia’s math.)

Alex has competed far less on her own show: Season 1 had five episodes, season 2 had eight episodes, and season three has eight episodes scheduled so far.

Can Alex vs. America’s judges tell immediately which dish is hers because of her French training? It’s possible, but Alex told me that very question occurs to her while she’s cooking:

“Should I lean into my distinctive style, or should I try to hide behind something else? What if the judges don’t want to pick my dish? Or what if they do, and they’re looking for it? That’s a guess I can’t afford to make.”

In other words, it’s easy to second-guess herself, so it’s better to just focus on the dish at hand rather than trying to send signals to the judges, who may also second-guess themselves.

Alex also told me that it’s really not that easy to figure out who cooked what. “As someone who has blind judged and tasted on a lot of shows, you second-guess yourself and you’re often wrong,” she said. “I know it may seem obvious, but it truly isn’t.”

It may also seem obvious that Alex Guarnaschelli is a talented, experienced chef, which explains her wins. But to some people, it’s not, which is why they accuse her or the show of rigging the outcome. Why is it easier for some viewers to imagine a behind-the-scenes conspiracy rather than celebrate appreciate Alex’s impressive track record? That’s a question I don’t have an answer to.

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Happy discussing!

Sue

Thursday 25th of January 2024

I don't understand why people judge her. She is a very dedicated chef who has passion for her work. I admire her. She always has something positive to say when she judges. If all of you have nothing nice to say then don't watch her show.

Sandi L

Sunday 11th of June 2023

I really enjoy the show but it has been cutting off before the winner is announced. They need to shorten something so we can see the end. If this doesn’t happen, I hate to think I will have to eliminate it from my shows I watch. It’s disgusting to watch a whole show and be disappointed at the end.

Melissa

Monday 12th of June 2023

@Sandi L, Do you watch via DVR? I learned the hard way with an episode of Chopped once, that I have to set Food Network shows to record 1 minute past their scheduled end time.

Vicky

Saturday 13th of May 2023

I remember her first show on Food Network years ago - it was a regular informational cooking show and I thought she was fun and charming. I like when she judges because of the way she talks about the food; she has a good way of describing what she likes and doesn't like. On Alex vs America I have wondered if her friends are familiar enough with her cooking style that they would recognize which dish is hers. As you wrote, though, does that advantage or disadvantage her? And she doesn't know who the judges are ahead of time. You said it, Andy - she's just really good at quick thinking and competitive cooking!

Rando Smithithson

Friday 12th of May 2023

Alex -vs- some random chumps, Alex watching people cook in a parking lot, Alex watching wannabe reality stars cook in Italy. I seriously doubt any of those shows are rigged but maybe they should be to make them more interesting. She is an excellent chef but watching these shows is painful and her presence does not improve them. Maybe Food Network will find a good vehicle for her one of these days.

Didi D'Errico

Saturday 24th of June 2023

@Rando Smithithson, Giving cooks a full year of groceries is so lame. What a cheap prize for sweating in a parking lot with nonsense on how to buy your own groceries. I would take the money and buy very little..get voted out and go home with the rest instead of sweating all day in a parking lot with gas fumes for nothing if you don"t win.. Who comes up with this stuff? Bozo the clown? I feel sorry for the cooks while Alex is barking at them to "hurry up" in her shrilly fish monger voice. She seems more like a warden. Yucks!

JellyCrunch

Monday 8th of May 2023

I don't understand why Food Network is trying to make Alex a big star. She simply doesn't have the it factor. She is grumpy and her recipes are not unique. She has a strong disdain for cooking anything remotely healthy (which she thinks is cute and quirky but it's actually sad and damaging), and her greasy artery clogging recipes are last thing we need during an obesity epidemic. Also, her latest flop show, Ciao House, is a complete disaster.

Didi D'Errico

Saturday 24th of June 2023

@JellyCrunch, I so agree with you. Her grumpy personality is a turn off, and Eric is always glowing over her..making me think he signals to the judges which dish is hers. They should type what they cook as the judges know her handwriting by now..they are all friends. Why do they have to tell the judges what is in the dish? Can't they taste it once Eric tells them the chosen star ingredients like other cooking shows? Last night 6/23/23 (Friday) I watched the dessert round. Her dessert was the same I used to order at TAVERN ON THE GREEN, here in NYC for years. It is an ugly dish to look at, but light in taste. Totally uncreative! I was shocked that the other chef who made a dessert in a glass that was stunning got passed by. (needed more salt????).REALLY???? That did it for me. I see other chefs cooking better dishes who get by passed on her show. Or maybe the judges are her friends as they all seem to know each other and she probably picks them, since she is the "Star"..gross! Then she struts around looking at other dishes trying to be non-judgemental so we see that she's ok with winning over them. It's a one way competition.. her way. I also question Bobby Flay. He makes facial expressions while the judges taste.. so they know it is his dish.he and the competing chef should not be standing over the judges while they are tasting their food. That is what is so great about FIRE MASTERS..very honest..the judges get out of the room and don't come back until all the plates are judged with one of them in the competition. That is my favorite cooking show and my friends and I would like to see more of it. It is honest and has great creative dishes far better than Alex or Bobby Flay...Flay gets boring after a while with his Calabria chiles..not much creativity there. Guy Fieri is more of an "entertainment" type chef..and fun to watch..his food is secondary, his personality is great..I like his family road trips.