Last year, I made a big deal about how horrible Hell's Kitchen (not this one, this one) was. I said that The Next Food Network Star was far superior with the same basic concept (take a satchelful of unqualified dolts, and winnow it down to the handful who might almost "make it")
Hell's Kitchen is so bad that, well, that My-Sugar-Na is addicted and made me watch it again this season. They started the season with 16 contestants (can't call them all cooks, though many claim that they have been employed as one before) and effectively eliminated two per week until reaching four players a couple of weeks ago. This past Tuesday (July 27th) they had the heart-tugging family reunion show and Gordon Ramsey didn't have the heart to send one home.
The Next Food Network Star started with 12 players and have eliminated one per week until they, too (in an impossible to believe coincidence) also had their reunion show yesterday (August 1st). Those heartless folks at the Food Network, though, still eliminated a player to get down to four remaining contestants.
There is no doubt in my mind that Hell's Kitchen plants at least eight - maybe as many as 10 - people that have no chance of winning, and don't actually belong in public (much less a kitchen). The only real qualification for Hell's Kitchen is that you can swear a lot, and that you don't mind being humiliated by an apparently brilliant chef. The grand prize on Hell's Kitchen is to become the head chef at the Savoy Grill, Gordo's new restaurant in London. Curious, though, that "winner" from the show doesn't appear to actually receive their promised prize.
The Next Food Network Star seems to take more effort to find qualified cookers for their show, although it is apparent early on that some belong and some don't. The winner of this competition gets his or her own show on The Food Network broadcast (unless your name is Guy Fieri) around 9:00 AM on Sundays.
(Side note; Truth in advertising laws should force these shows to admit that some heavy duty editing is done to make some players look good and others, well, as bad as they seem to be. When you have 100 hours of footage each week and 46 minutes to present it, there are lots of opportunities to edit every burned scallop, dropped dish, grease flare-up and knife nick into one hapless chef, destined for elimination.)
Within a couple weeks of each show's beginning this season, I had guessed at who would be the two finalists on each show. Both of my two on Hell's Kitchen, and one of my two on The Next Food Network Star are still in the running. Let's review the finalists....
Hell's Kitchen -
- Autumn Lewis - A chatterbox with apparently marginal cooking skills. Based on the edit early in the season, and the fact that she is voted by her peers as up for elimination every single week, I can't see her in the finals. Early in the season she was over everybody's shoulder (which is probably why nobody wants her around) but in the last few weeks, she has been yelled at the least. However, she doesn't win any individual challenges, and not being yelled at is not necessarily praise.
- Benjamin Knack - Apparently the guy can cook. He has won individuals, as well as having been on the winning side of numerous team challenges. But Gordo really, really wants him to be a leader, and he doesn't talk to anyone. If you hear Benjamin in his confessionals, he is the only one on the show that can lead, but if someone asks him a question in the middle of a service, he clams up. I have this feeling that this guy was inserted to be a finalist, and his continued inability to lead (or even function as part of) a team is going to cost him.
- Jay Santos - One of my two picks to win, and he has done nothing to disappoint. He wins individual and team challenges, has quietly picked up his team when down, and has only rarely been called out for poor cooking. He gets chewed out once in a while, but not nearly as much as other contestants. He has never been voted on for elimination. In my opinion, it is his competition to lose, except for....
- Holli Ugaldi - Possibly the most outwardly horny contestant on either show. She has admitted to having the largest porn collection of any of the contestants, managed to talk a drunk male contestant into taking off his swimsuit in the hot tub, and has been massively flirting with Jay. Oh, yeah, it appears that she can cook, too. The woman's team was not very strong, so she was constantly being dragged down, however she has been shining in the individual challenges. Has also never been considered for elimination. She was my other early favorite. I can't see how it won't come down to Jay and Holli, and they have been edited as being equal, I have no idea who will win.
The Next Food Network Star -
- Aria Kagan - Early in the competition, she wowed the selection panel with her camera presence and her "Family Style" point of view. However over the last few episode she has been inconsistent, and the panel has noted that she isn't growing; she instead started at a level and has been tailing off.
- Herb Mesa - If Aria has been inconsistent, then Herb is really, really inconsistent. He will have a brilliant episode, nailing all of the challenges, making creative and good food and showing his star quality. Then in the next episode he is an emotional wreck, full of self doubt and outwardly missing his family. That issue is going to end up costing him because on his bad days, the quality of his food and camera challenges suffers.
- Aarti Sequeira - She is one that, early on, I thought was a shoo-in for the finals (if not the winner). Rare is her off-the-mark food, and she has regularly been nailing the camera challenges... until the last couple of episodes. She is another one who has too much self doubt and even admits to the panel that she doesn't know if she deserves to be with rest. A star is confident, and she is not. I still think that she will make the final two, but don't know if that doubt will kill her.
- Tom Pizzica - His tag line is "unemployed chef", and he was very lucky to make it out of the first couple of episodes. I don't know what changed, but in the last three or four shows he has exploded up the charts. If we were to win, they would need to take a lot of time with hairstyle and wardrobe (because he looks unemployed) but the panel loves his point of view and is making food that the panel loves. It should come down to Aarti and Tom and the panel will have to consider Mrs. Self-Doubt versus Mr. Schlub.
Now, what happened on Mad Men last night....