Why You Should Be Watching The Next Food Network Star

Meet the contestants

We're not ashamed to admit that we'll be watching The Next Food Network Star (season five premieres Sunday night at 9pm/8c). Yes, the premise of the show is laughable — the main goal is to promote the Food Network and its current cast — but hey, if it works out as planned, then FN will have a "star" on their hands. But more critically, we truly believe that The Next Food Network Star is one of the most important American reality programs out there. Here's why:

It exposes the underbelly of Food Network: It pulls back the curtain on the glossy TV kitchens, showing the sets, the pre-show prep, and what really goes into talking cheerfully at the camera. If you're at all interested in television, media, or (better yet) food media, NFNS showcases the sometimes not-so-glamorous side of things: the technical details, the endless takes, the pressure to perform.

It makes you appreciate the immense natural skills of Food Network hosts like Paula Deen and Rachael Ray: On NFNS, they're putting noobs in front of a camera, many of whom have never performed before. Of course they're going to flub it. Stand-and-stir shows might seem easy, but they require a talented, charismatic person behind the stove. You can only truly appreciate the true craft of FN hosts once you see someone try to do it and fail miserably. (Which, okay, is in and of itself terribly amusing.)

There's little artifice: The heavy-handed editing that muddies shows like Top Chef is nowhere to be found here — NFNS is bare-bones, low-budget reality tv, the way it should be. Refreshingly, the cult of celebrity is non-existent, or at least limited to the confines of the Food Network: guest judges are, unsurprisingly, from the FN universe, and as such it's endearingly wholesome. There's no Padma or boobs or fancy dresses or drunken hookups. In a lot of ways, NFNS feels more honest.

The contestants cry. A lot: If last season was any indicator, this show will generate more waterworks than any other show out there. Is it simply the pressure? Being emotionally drained from having to perform in front of camera? Being rejected by the father figure that is Bobby Flay? The realization that America won't ever get to know the real them? Because the judges always tell the contestants that they "want to see more of them," but then kick them off the show when they don't like what they see? It is a little cruel to enjoy watching people's dreams get shattered, but it's also such delicious fun.

The contestants have to define themselves: Part of NFNS's setup is that the contestants are their own "brand manager." To that end, they all try to make themselves generically lovable to a fictional "average American" — everyone is nicely groomed and there are a lot of pastels being worn. At the same time, the contestants need to have a twist and a unique "culinary point of view" that makes them stand out. But not too much. Not too off-base. A lot of the challenges rely on the contestants' ability to share interesting stories with the camera, which turns out to be surprisingly difficult. Why? Because most of the contestants really aren't that interesting to begin with. It's cringe-worthy.

The stakes are high: Really high. As the LA Times pointed out, the winner of Top Chef gets $100,000 (a pittance in opening a restaurant — why so cheap Bravo?) and the winner of Hell's Kitchen gets a $250,000/year job as a chef at one of Gordon Ramsay's restaurants. The winner of NFNS gets their own show, typically a 9:30 AM Sunday deal, but there's huge potential for riches, both for Food Network and the winner. Think speaking engagements, cookbook deals, endorsements, housewares. Which leads us to the exceptional case of Guy Fieri.

Someone could be the next Guy Fieri: Fieri was the winner of season two, and while don't care much for his shtick, look what the man has accomplished: books on the New York Times best-sellers list, spokesman for TGI Friday's, his very own impostor, and three shows on the Food Network. One of those shows, Diners, Drive-ins and Dives, now in in its sixth season, is as a whole arguably one of the greatest documents and celebrations of regional American cuisine ever recorded. Without NFNS "discovering" Fieri and his ebullient personality, none of this would have happened.

The level of Guy Fieri's celebrity — which will only get bigger (barring some insane scandal) — is completely unmatched by any of the contestants from Top Chef. With the full weight of Food Network behind the winner, and a little bit of luck, NFNS is in some ways, sort of like American Idol — an incredibly powerful celebrity-making engine. If Guy Fieri can be a product of The Next Food Network Star, it's possible that the next Rachael Ray or Emeril Lagasse could come out of there as well. And for that it's worth watching.

More

Next Food Network Star site [Food Network]
7 Questions for the Next Food Network Star Contestants [Food Network Addict]
Photoshoot with the Contestants [FN Dish]
The blog of Bob Tuschman, Senior Vice President, Programming and Production at the Food Network [Bob's Blog]

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