Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Food Network Star: Do this, don't do that, can't you read the signs?

Summer is kick-back time. Because I'm home during the summer, on the one hand, I have lots of time to study the things that interest me, but on the other, I can watch silly reality tv and not worry that I'm wasting too much time.

My current guilty pleasures are Design Star on HGTV, Food Network Star on Food Network, and Hell's Kitchen and Masterchef on Fox. I noticed something interesting on Food Network Star program. In that show, contestants jump through a series of cuisine-related tests which they either pass or fail. One contestant left at the end will be given their own show and become absorbed into Food Network as one of The Network's a celebrity chefs.

I capitalized The Network because that is what Bob Tuschman and Susie Fogelson are called. Mr Tuschman is General Manager/Senior Vice President for Food Network. Ms Fogelson is Food Network and Cooking Channel Senior Vice President Marketing & Brand Strategy. They are the two top executives who sample the food, give feedback to the contestants, and eventually make the ultimate decision: which contestant stays and which one goes.

They make these decisions based not only on the quality of the food they cook, but the contestant's ability to be a star on camera, an entirely different set of skills that apparently few people possess. They are looking for people who have the special something to capture and hold an audience, carving out a niche in the crowded world of cooking and reality tv in general. The ultimate goal of course, is for The Network to invest in someone who will make them money. Paula Deen and Guy Fieri come to mind. The Network also wants someone with a 'culinary point of view", that when you say their name you immediately identify with the style of things they cook. Southern? Oh that's Paula Deen. Grilling? Bobby Flay. Giada? Italian. Jeff? He's the sandwich king.

However at the end of each testing session when the contestants receive feedback, The Network bosses' feedback is often conflicting, unclear, and contradictory.

If you haven't been following this season's show then this won't be as compelling to you, but here I go:

Justin Warner is a contestant whose Culinary POV is "Rebel with a Culinary Cause." He looks the part, a young James Dean crossed with early Elvis and the attitude to match. He is brilliant with his food and with his tongue, witty but with an overlay of barely restrained snark. He's a rebel after all. The Network has been praising his unique POV for many weeks of the show now.

Well, on the latest episode, he was doing a live demonstration, and they planted a heckler to see how he would respond. He did good for the first three heckles from the same guy but by the fourth he made a slightly snarky remark out if frustration. (It was the 4th heckle after all from the same guy after all...) Afterward, they told him to watch the snark. But after all, he is a rebel with a culinary cause. I guess you can say you're a rebel but don't you dare act like it...

Ippy is a laid back young guy from Hawaii. Hawaiians have a POV of whatever man, manana, everything is OK, hang ten. Every week they tell him to not be so laid back. Show us some energy! That in itself is a contradiction, he repeatedly states that he is laid back and that IS his personality as well as his POV. So this week, he showed a flash of emotion, fiery suppressed irritation, and they told him not to be so fiery. Don't be laid back, but that was TOO much energy. Oy.

Nikki is a contestant I don't enjoy. Her POV is grilling, which I don't do because I don't eat meat and I rarely grill, and she herself seems mechanical when she doesn't come across as downright evil. Children cry and run away from her. I am not making that up. Even The Network remarked on how fierce she comes across on camera. Pull it back, don't be so fierce, be nicer, they say. So she is nicer the next week and they say, what's with this flower on the plate, and why are you being so nice? That's not you, Nikki, more than most contestants got more contradictory messages than anyone and finally she said 'I quit listening". She was just going to do her thing, because she just couldn't please The Network. Ironically, that week, they liked her best of all.

When your boss gives you conflicting directions on what is expected it is disorienting. You want to please your boss and when you go forward based on the directions you're given but the rug is pulled out from under you it gets old fast. One of the things I've least enjoyed about this season's Food Network Star is that one aspect alone. I have enjoyed the team approach with the contestants divided into groups with one mentor. I can keep track of the contestants easier and I am also getting to know the mentors. They are Alton Brown, Giada De Laurentiis and Bobby Flay, each a long-time star on the network themselves). I like the wholesome quality of the show in that there is no bitterness (aired) between contestants (unlike Hell's Kitchen which is so bad I had to turn it off). I like the food tests and I learn more about different dishes. But The Network, Bob and Susie, give conflicting advice every week. It is becoming insufferable.

If you have a boss who communicates clear expectations and is consistent with his or her follow through (as I do) then you know that it is a blessing. It is good in two ways, it reduces the general stress, and it makes it easier to do a good job.

Ultimately that is why I watch reality tv. I'll never cook any of the things I see on the show and I will never watch any of the show winner's programs. But I like to see how people act. Watching real folks on tv react to a situation where I'm am not personally invested, it's not happening to me or around me, and so I can watch more objectively. I can see clearly how humility shows through (Christine Ha on Masterchef). How unattractive abrasiveness is (Monti Carlo on MasterChef). How ugly profanity is (everyone on Hell's Kitchen). How beautiful self-sacrifice can be (Felix giving blind Christine the salmon, "Because I love her".) And how ultimately self-defeating and inefficient bosses are who give constantly conflicting expectations. I with Bob and Susie would go on a show ... I'd vote them off.

1 comment:

Christie said...

I can only watch the shows online as our t.v. is no longer hooked up so I haven't seen all of them but MasterChef is a favorite. If there was ever a season for me to be on, this was it. I make risotto, apple pie, and tiramisu all the time! Although, that offal would have thrown me for a loop. I used to love Iron Chef (original, not the American version). I'll have to watch more closely as I hadn't pegged Monti as abrasive. (We might have different tolerances for that, though.) I've heard that the British version of Hell's Kitchen is much better because Ramsey actually helps them learn how to run a kitchen instead of getting annoyed all the time and throwing everyone out of the kitchen.