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Spoilers are below, obviously.
Rarely do I take the time to complain about reality shows, because I’m usually not bothered by how things turn out. But that wasn’t the case for tonight’s finale of Food Network Star, in which the wrong man won. At least, to me. Former NFL player Eddie Jackson was declared the winner by the judges, outshining both Italian stallion Dom Tesoriero (whom I assume no one expected to win, despite his culinary skills) and Southern boy Jay Ducote.
How Jay got passed over is entirely beyond me, and I’m still dumbfounded over it. (And also kind of hungry, even though nothing was cooked during the episode.) I’m no heartless bastard, mind you, as I found Eddie to be one of the more personable people that ever strolled through the Food Network studios, and I’ll definitely be watching his series when it airs. However, he was only the second most personable contestant in the final three, and there are two main reasons why Jay should have taken the top honor.
Consistency. Throughout the entire run of Season 11 of Food Network Star, there was very rarely a moment when Jay wasn’t an obvious standout, whether it was for his culinary expertise or his on-screen presentation. The main times where he faltered were for his slimy okra gumbo early in the season and for his overly simplistic after-school snacks a few weeks ago. That’s it. He was complimented and championed on a weekly basis for his warm personality, his excellent stage presence, and the way in which he always incorporated his background into each challenge.
On the other hand, Eddie wasn’t nearly as dependable, either in the kitchen or in front of the camera. While there’s no denying the power for his smile is enough to hold a TV show on its own, he had a few misses in his presentations – pork chops on Halloween! – and didn’t always nail his meals either aesthetically or flavor-wise. I still get shudders thinking about his gray shrimp, and there were a few weeks where he was lucky to move forward to the next week.
Concept. All it takes is five seconds of watching and listening to Jay to realize that this is a guy who lives and dies by his Louisiana heritage. (I’ll admit to having some bias where this is concerned, as I’m also a born and bred Cajun.) Nearly every meal he cooked had its roots in his past, and though it would have been nice if his Rachael Ray-directed pilot had put emphasis on Cajun cooking in some way, it wasn’t much of a stretch to see him focus on fried foods, particularly when he was praised in several challenges for how well he worked a fryer. And he did get that Cajun chicken and waffles dish added, so more kudos to him.
Eddie, meanwhile, started the competition off with a concept that tied into his work as a personal trainer, and he cooked non-healthy “Cheat Day” meals. Nobody really got that approach, so he just kind of floated listlessly through the rest of the season without a clear picture of what kind of show and/or star he wanted to be. He did cling to barbecue and his Texas upbringing for several challenges, so it made sense that his pilot (and now eventual series) would be about barbecue, but it’s about finding good Southern-style barbecue in places outside of the South. It’s not a terrible idea, I guess, but I’m pretty sure we already watched a “best BBQ” show on Food Network in the past, hosted by Bobby Flay, one of the judges who crowned Eddie champion. Coincidence, or char-grilled conspiracy?
So, as it’s happened in the past, you got it wrong this time, Food Network Star. I won’t hold a brisket-sized grudge against you for very long, but my disappointment will never go away. Congrats, Eddie Jackson.