[Photographs: Leah Douglas]

In this week's ever-thrilling episode of The Next Food Network Star, ten eager finalists grinned to the camera in hopes of achieving the "prize" of their own Food Network show. Last week, we said goodbye to crazy-eyed Doreen Fang (more on last week's episode here). Bobby Flay was absent from the proceedings this week, and I never thought I'd miss his smug mug until it was replaced by the visage of guest judge Guy Fieri. Oh, boy. This episode was gonna be rockin'!!!!


Camera Challenge


Put on that smile, BB! [Photograph: Leah Douglas]

For their first challenge, the contestants had to make a dish based off of a movie genre, and present it before the camera. Few competitors really hit it out of the park with this one, but there were several humorous missteps. Darrell 'Das' Smith got "Foreign" as his genre, and chose to make Mexican tacos "because Mexican is foreign." Ever-insightful, Das. Brianna Jenkins pulled "Comedy," and explained that she prepped a seafood dish because "when I shop for seafood, I giggle a little!" Oh, okay! Got it!

Honestly, I didn't get any pictures of this part of the episode because, well, it was snooze-worthy. Das and Paul Young ended up at the bottom, and Aarti Sequeira topped the group on the basis of a strong camera presentation. Because none of this gripping drama was worthy of grainy television snapshots, here's a smiley picture of "Beret Brad" Sorenson to keep you motivated.

Alright, contestants, don't rest on your laurels—there's real cookin' to get done.

Star Challenge


The "red carpet." [Photograph: Leah Douglas]

Alright, here comes the most inexplicable part of any NFNS challenge I've seen yet. To start off their Star Challenge, the contestants dressed up in "their best" and strutted their stuff down a (fake) red carpet, answering to (fake) reporters and (fake) adoring fans. The idea, I gathered, was that the judges wanted to see how the contestants would deal with the inevitable onslaught of media adoration that would accompany a victory in the competition. And they're so right. I mean, how does Amy Finley cope with it all??

OK, sorry, low blow. Moving on.

There was some quality diva action on Brianna's part, as well as some ace insanity from Dzintra Dzenis. She squirmed and spun her way down the carpet, arms all a-kimbo, later explaining that "Dzintra likes to dance. Dzintra loves to twirl!" Ah, third person narrative—always quotable.


Way to rock that dress, girl. [Photograph: Leah Douglas]

So, for the real challenge (not that dealing with all that red carpet stuff isn't trying, especially for us viewers!), the contestants were partnered up and instructed to cater a party for Grammy-award-winning singer Colbie Caillat. Cool beans. Each competitor got a "swag bag" with an ingredient inside, and the cooks had to produce solo dishes based around their own ingredient, as well as a collaborative dish incorporating both ingredients. Phew. Let's get cookin'.

It was easy to tell right off the bat that Paul and Serena Palumbo were going to have issues. In the continuing saga entitled "Paul is Kind of a Jackass," he dismissed Serena because "she's a home cook, and I come from a professional background." Then he tried to show off his cooking chops by taking off a soy sauce bottle cap with a giant knife, leading to pieces of glass in his soon-to-be-trashed coleslaw. So professional!


Ouch, my foot! [Photograph: Leah Douglas]

Brianna and Herb Mesa declared themselves "Team Sexy," while Das and Tom Pizzica bro-ed out in a kind of cute, kind of stupid way. Beret Brad and Aarti seemed like a force to be reckoned with, but as soon as I saw chocolate sauce and cheese sauce combined on their collaborative dish, I felt a letdown in the air. The drama climax during the cooking time was when Brianna accidentally stomped on Serena's foot, causing much Italian-accented whimpering and complaints of broken bones for the rest of the episode. Is another ER visit imminent??

The party seemed to go off without a hitch, though the food was hit or miss. Paul and Serena definitely had some tension, and Dzintra and Aria Kagan had their own power struggle going on. Aria couldn't help but shine, and Dzintra resented her sane, likable personality. Let's see what the judges had to say.

Judgment Time

Herb and Brianna's food was very well-received, though Brianna's cold personality was off-putting to many party guests. Attendees loved Tom and Das' outgoing natures, but their collaborative dish was "inedible" to the judges. The ever-lovable Bob Tuschman actually said, "How they could get that many unpleasant flavors into one tiny bite is beyond me!" Damn. Beret Brad and Aarti also struggled, but only due to BB's lack of proof of his alleged culinary chops. But at the end of the day, all six were safe, with Herb and Brianna taking the top slot. Well done, Team Sexy.

Saying Goodbye

So who left the judges wanting more this week?

Well, it was pretty much destined that Paul and Serena's overt hatred for each other wouldn't get them to the top of the pack, and their disappointing food didn't help either. (Side-note: Serena's foot was not, in fact, broken—just unattractively bandaged by the time judging commenced. Phew.) The judges rode Paul for being, again, blatantly condescending to Serena, whose puppy-eyed sad face is hard to ignore (see above).

Also at the bottom were Dzintra and Aria, mostly on the basis of Dzintra's crappy food and attitude. Aria's dish for the party was delicious, so her fate wasn't quite in question - although Susie Fogelson did say that she's edging "towards the middle." Uh-oh, Aria. You were the one to beat—don't fall behind now!

Ultimately, we said goodbye to Dzintra Dzenis this week. I have to say, I just knew she couldn't win from the start—who could ever have a TV show with that name?! That being said, she does have a fun, quotable, "quirky" personality (or, as my mother said, "She needs psychiatric help." Tomatoes, to-mah-toes.)

So, did you catch this week's episode? Whaddya think?


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