Tuesday, July 20, 2010

farewell, Brianna

On "The Next Food Network Star," we're down to all the likable candidates, so from here on in, it's going to hurt as another person gets cut each week. Yesterday was Brianna's turn, and she proved to be a very good sport about it. I think she made it as far as she did mainly because of her amazing (and consistent) cooking prowess; alas, her on-camera persona never jelled into anything appealing, which was a shame, because she ended up proving that she was actually quite good at working with others. Her teamwork with Serena made her the co-winner of a major challenge last week, and her teamwork with Herb a couple weeks back was also noteworthy. I liked Brianna, despite her personal flaws, because she was, at heart, an honest person. Unlike Dzintra, who was too insecure to work with others and too stubborn to face reality objectively, Brianna has, I suspect, actually gained a lot from this experience. At the very least, she's had the chance to advertise her cooking skills.

Herb, meanwhile, is beginning to prove a bit too emotionally fragile for the wild ride he's on. I can relate: one reason why I can't envision myself working in the food industry is that I know I don't handle intense, constant pressure well. I give Herb a lot of credit for having entered the competition at all, but as has been made manifest over several seasons of this show, star quality is more than mere looks and cooking skills: an impervious ego and the ability to think fast under pressure are also crucial to success. Herb has cooked some fantastic meals, but when he has failed, his failures have reflected an inability to innovate and/or to improvise. While I hope Herb continues to advance, I have a sinking feeling that his time is now very short. He was, once again, in the bottom three this week.

Big, goofy Tom proved a fairly solid performer, but there's a growing disconnect between his ever-improving on-camera skills and his consistently disappointing food. As Tom himself noted, he often has a lot of great culinary ideas, but he flubs the execution. Serena was, for her part, somewhere in the middle of the pack this time around, but Aarti ended up among the bottom three when she went bizarrely low-rent-- and sloppy-- with her choice of meal to make (transforming deviled eggs into "devilish" eggs). Like Serena, Aria was also safe this week; she deserved credit for taking a risk in her reinterpretation of Pig in a Blanket (she used batter-fried shrimp),

The big surprise was Brad, who finally came into his own, serving up not only a superb meal (an amped-up chicken cordon bleu) but also a lively and authoritative presentation to the judges and the camera. Brad seemed right at home in the posh estate of Frank Sinatra, but I had to wonder whether it wasn't the ambiance that helped him out a bit. Brad has insisted, week after week, that he sees himself as a "pro chef" with much to teach the world, but his performance history on the show has been anything but consistent. If Brad is capable of cooking at a high level only when he finds himself in a high-rent situation, then I think he's doomed. Bobby Flay obliquely referred to this problem in his critique of Brad, and I'm glad the critique was made. At the same time, I agree with the judges that Brad can be a likable fellow when he wants to be, so I'm glad that he finally had a chance to shine and to boost his own confidence level a bit.

I'll finish with something of a meta-comment: because the contestants of "The Next Food Network Star" are, for the most part, fresh-faced tyros, new to the world of TV, it sometimes seems unfair that they have to go through such a trial by fire before they can have a show of their own. I sometimes find myself wondering whether it might not be better for the contestants to win the chance to host shows in which they share the spotlight with each other. Many contestants form bonds of friendship during the competition, and most of them seem more relaxed-- more themselves-- when they're allowed to showcase some playful repartee. Herb is a case in point: he's an extravert who seems a bit lost when his only interlocutor is the camera's unblinking eye, but he comes alive-- and has his wits about him-- when he has the chance to work with others, or even to talk with a contest judge. Herb by himself seems to be a recipe for disaster; Herb with a cooking partner would make for great viewing. Wouldn't it make more sense for these freshmen performers to start their television careers as teams, gaining individual shows only when they've become truly comfortable in front of the camera? They can't all be Guy Fieri, who seems to have been born with enough personality for three people.

So it's curtains for Brianna this week. At this point, I can't predict who'll be leaving us next week, but if I were to guess, I'd say it's going to be either poor Herb or Serena. Aria and Aarti will find themselves again; Tom's on-camera skills will continue to improve (even if his food doesn't); Brad will, at least in theory, be riding high from this week's victory. We'll see.



Elisson said...

Aw, I won't miss Brianna all that much. Her negativity doomed her from the start, despite her mad cooking skillz.

Herb has great potential, but he's very conflicted: the comforting ethnic foods of his childhood carry warm memories but are fraught with fear of returning to his overweight past. I gotta root for him, though - he's a Local Boy.

Gawd, these FN shows are so formulaic... and yet they're so much fun to watch...

Kevin Kim said...

Brianna was surly and irascible, and in all frankness, I never saw her making it to the final stretch. She did indeed shoot herself in the foot with all that negativity. But she went out with a sportsmanlike attitude when she could have gone full diva, and she did have her friendlier moments.

Who do you think is getting the chop next week?