Either one or perhaps both long-time readers will no doubt recall I’ve had a deep, long-standing crush on Amy Finley from her very first appearance on series three of The Next Food Network Star back in June of 2007. Sagittarians, I think, have an uncanny knack of recognising each other. And the fact that we share a reasonably similar birth date is even better. The tumultuous third series has, at least for me, been the hallmark against which all subsequent versions of The Next Food Network Star have been measured, and Amy’s victory over the pretender Jag still strikes me as one of my favourite moments in the increasingly bleak and spreading world of reality television. As such, I was completely gutted when Amy’s programme, The Gourmet Next Door, was relegated to the darkest corners of Sunday morning broadcasts, given almost no support or backing by Food Network, and disappeared without a trace in the final days of 2007.
So one can well imagine that, like seeing an old love again after many years apart, my small and icy heart grew nearly three sizes after I’d grudgingly switched on the DVR to finally subject myself to Sunday night’s Chopped: All Ratings Grab Edition only to find Amy on it. Despite my elation at seeing her again, I was sad in some way that she had consented to do this particular episode. Not because she didn’t win, which, of course, she didn’t, but because I had to wonder what sort of offer was made by Food Network to entice her into performing – after a nearly five-year absence – in such an obvious plot to hype the pandering and joyless finale of Not Necessarily The Next Food Network Star for which this was a lead-in? Surely they couldn’t have sold it to her that way. She – as I think anyone smart enough would do – would’ve seen through that ploy in a moment.
My instinct, and my years of studying media and its manipulation, tells me that Food Network likely presented the idea as the opportunity to win money for charity which, in Amy’s case was the Lois Merrill Foundation. Except that in all previous Chopped charity-related events, the prize has always been $50,000 and is generally awarded after a special five-episode series – just exactly like the special five-episode series called Chopped: Grill Masters which broadcast its first episode only an hour later. And not that $10,000 is nothing, but where’s the great allure if it’s just the very same $10,000 any winner of Chopped gets for being on any other episode? What was the selling point for being on this episode at this time?
Certainly it wasn’t just for the excitement of being trotted out as a curio to compete against other previous Next Food Network Star winners in a so-called ‘extraordinary Chopped event’, in this case Melissa d’Arabian, Jeff Mauro, The Sammich Thing, and Aarti Sequeira – who appeared again, for her second time in 4 months, after having only just lost her shot at $50,000 in April’s special five-episode All Star Snoredown. Nor could it have been the for the sentimentality of facing the ‘special panel of judges,’ Dark Lord of The Sith, Bobby Flay, Darth Giada, and Sith Master Alton Brown, because neither of them seemed particularly fond of seeing her again and tended to appear rather detached and almost hostile towards her at a few points.
Food Network, I think, don’t appear to understand the term ‘over-saturation,’ and by conveniently having this particular set of ‘judges’ at this particular time was a sad and laughable attempt at hoping viewers would somehow believe that this year’s New & Improved Not Necessarily The Next Food Network Star wasn’t just a festering pile of poo gracelessly smeared over a series of flagrant product endorsements for Discover card. So in many ways I wish Amy hadn’t have been on this episode. Though I adore her enormously, I also quite adore fair, thoughtful, impartial, and perhaps even more importantly, consistent judging – which I saw very little of.
The Sammich Thing, Jeff Mauro, despite being so tightly bound to his culinary niche, had rather unexpectedly produced a sandwich for the starter round and was the first for the chop because he’d left completely inedible bones in his treatment of the given ingredient of smoked kipper. In the second round, the mains, though Amy produced a Malaysian black chicken ‘noodle bowl’ which may have lacked the full flavour it could have developed if there had been more than 30 minutes, she was chopped in favour of bland, muddled, underdone chicken cooked for almost 11 minutes from Aarti – who shackled herself unwaveringly to her Indian cuisine – and Melissa’s attempted coq au vin which was sloppy and riddled with the completely inedible seeds of guava, called ‘none too good to eat’ by Sith Master Alton.
There seemed little sense in any of it, and after the ‘powerhouse panel’ had absolutely pointlessly eliminated Amy after praising her dish for both its aromatics and ‘visual sophistication,’ I switched the whole thing off. It reminded me quite a lot of the very equally and absolutely pointless elimination of Emily Ellyn.
There also seemed little sense to me in the big finale of Not Necessarily The Next Food Network Star – which I’d apparently recorded between episodes of Chopped – when, just ten minutes in, Martie With The Party was abruptly, if not slightly viciously, given the axe from the competition. Bob T and Susie Fogelson announced quite giddily and effervescently that she didn’t get enough votes to win, which conveniently and a bit suspiciously left one Sith Apprentice remaining for each of the Sith Mentors. Almost as if it had been planned that way. It seemed very harsh to me, though. And I noticed whilst I fast-forwarded through to the end, that no other Sith Apprentice got the early boot. Just Martie. Of course it was clear from her fairly dull ‘pilot,’ produced by Sith Master Alton, that her Mentor’s heart wasn’t in it. He was far more invested in Justin, whom, by the way, was the winner. If you care.
But at least on the much brighter side of what was otherwise a particularly dire week of lame reality programming, the amazing Avery Pursell won Around the World in 80 Plates last Wednesday, so I can be perfectly content with that until Amy and Emily both resurface somehow, somewhere, on something that isn’t Food Network…