[Photographs: Leah Douglas]

I can't say I was particularly sad to see that this week's installment of The Next Food Network Star was only an hour long, as opposed to the epic 1.5-hour long episode we enjoyed last week. But as contestants drop like unentertaining flies, things are getting a little more interesting in the Food Network kitchens. And as my mom said as we plopped down to commentate together: "Alright. I'm ready to snark."



Check out those knife skills.

You could immediately tell what kind of week this was going to be when almost the entire intro segment was dedicated to Brad Sorenson talking about how awesome he is, how his food is heavenly, why he loves fashion headwear. But he is adorable, so this is permissible—and I especially appreciated when he launched into an aimless story about how he used to use a play kitchen when he was a wee plaid-wearing, baby beret-sporting lad. Awww.

But stop goofing around, guys. It's time for...

Camera Challenge

For this week's mini challenge, the theme was expertise in entertaining. The contestants had to create a "unique party bite" for a themed party, consisting of three generally disparate ingredients from a secret basket. Generally the dishes were run-of-the-mill and the presentations were decent, with a few necessary exceptions.

Briana Jenkins got "a 5-year-old's birthday party" as her theme, so as my mom put it, "she got shafted." I'm fairly certain there's no way to make a kid-friendly party snack with chorizo (one of her given ingredients). Herb Masa also stumbled, losing his energy before the camera—and to add insult to injury, Bobby Flay says his food "just does not taste good." Brutal.

But Bob "Tushy" Tuschman appreciated Tom Pizzica's ease and enthusiasm, despite his "shaggy, slacker look." And Brad lived up to his nearly impossibly large amount of self-confidence, really delivering in the presentation—which basically means he smiled a few times and everyone's knees went weak. Well played, BB. Tom and Brad got the win, taking us into the really tough stuff.

Star Challenge

When the contestants entered the competition room and saw a table full of classic all-American dishes, like Tuna Noodle Casserole and Chicken Cordon Bleu, they were all just stumped as to what this challenge could possibly entail.

When they learned that they would be deconstructing and updating a chosen dish (surprise!) there were mixed reactions. Personally, I always find these challenges a little dry, just like the mediocre food that usually hits the plates. But I'm willing to suspend disbelief for these contestants! So let's see what they've got.

Side note: For some generally unexplained reason, this challenge was themed around Frank Sinatra. The contestants' dishes were to be appropriate for the singer, and the tasting went down at Ole Blue Eyes' old Palm Springs home. Alrighty then. Carry on.


Bobby responds to Tom's aimless blabbering. Whaaaaaat?

Tom's lobster dish became something of a "lobster massacre," when he forgot to oil the grill and butchered beautiful lobster claws into something of a hot mess. But then he really nailed the discomfort factor by blabbering on in his presentation, at one point making the slip of saying that he likes "to play with myself" in the kitchen. Bobby's face pretty much summed up the nation's emotions as Tom shuffled away.

Meanwhile, Briana made it pretty damn clear that she really, really hates tuna noodle casserole, and her negative sentiment during her presentation didn't wow the judges. Aarti Sequeira was out of her element, fumbling through the presentation and providing less-than-stellar food for the first challenge ever.

And Herb made a sub-par rendition of beef stroganoff. It seemed like a week of one misstep after another. Who could redeem the group?

Well, Brad certainly built us up before his presentation. Saying he is no longer doubting himself, and that his risotto and chicken were just freakin' awesome, he strutted his stuff and nailed the presentation and tasting. Tushy even went so far as to say, "He was magic." I see that little glimmer in your eye, Tushy.

So, we're pretty sure who won (Tushy's heart) this week. But what about the losers?

Judgment Time

Brad takes the win, which at least meant his absurd cockiness had some foundation. Unsurprisingly, Herb and Briana are in the bottom, joined by an emotional Aarti. Herb began talking, once again, about his long-standing emotional issues with food and weight. So to tune him out, my mom and I created a new show concept for him - "Crazy for Food," which combines guilt-free recipes with a side of therapy-style self-reflection. I think it could really work.

In any event, Briana was sent home this week. I don't particularly agree with this choice—her food has been so consistent, and Herb is really starting to wear on me. Eventually he has to stop apologizing and start delivering. But hey, it's a cutthroat world over there at the Food Network. There's no crying in the kitchen.

So, what did you make of this week's episode? Were you happy to see Briana back her bags?


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