As a rule, I detest reality TV. It seems to have as its sole objective either pitting people against each other or making people behave like fools, always in a preposterously forced situation. It's a mindless, moronic form of entertainment, an opiate for the masses. The one and only notable exception has been Queer Eye, which at least has a heart and some very good intentions.
But I must confess, I've found a second exception in the third season of The Next Food Network Star. I blame my nephew. And maybe Guy Fieri. But somehow, I'm hooked. And I must confess, it has a lot going for it, including the participation of Duff Goldman, Guy Fieri, Robert Irvine and Alton Brown, all of whom outweigh its three main demerits: the stiff-as-a-board Susie Fogelson (lighten up, woman!), Giada's over-exposed girls, and the participation of Bobby Flay in any capacity.
The contestants are a nice mix of personalities and aside from the phoney Nikki and the obnoxious Jag, a likeable group, with Tommy and Paul best in small doses. One strength: the show is blessedly free of the usual sniping and back-biting that is generally the substance of a reality show. Oh, there's a bit of witchy talk, and the occasional conflict, but no more than we would expect in a high-stress, high stakes situation such as this. And at the end of the day, they go home and await the outcome of the latest round as a team.
But the fun really comes from the guest judges and the challenges they present: Duff's wedding cakes, Robert's catering for 100, Paula's home cookin' at Ft. Dix and soon, Alton with the camera. Its these that lift this show above the ordinary, using the individuality of the Food Network's ensemble. I could do with a bit less Giada, but hey, can't win 'em all.
But the burning question remains: do they have a Food Network Star among the contestants? I'm not so sure, especially now there are only five left. We've got some great cooks, some winning personalities, but do they have the one with the combination to strike lightning in a bottle? That remains to be seen.