This is the fifth summer that I have spent my Sunday evenings watching the Next Food Network Star, and during that time I have seen the show change a great deal. The basic premise is for the contestants to be able to cook on camera and engage an audience. The "game show" aspect of it involves team challenges that focus on cooperation skills as well as on cooking skills.
As an audience member, and as a person who thrives in a cooperative environment, I really enjoy the fact that this season seems to have a handful of competent and humble people who pride themselves on being good cooks and good people. Some of the more humble people tend to get criticized for what I consider their better personal qualities, and there are some that don't get criticized for having those qualities.
We have Orchid Paulmeier, who always pleases the judges. I like her too. She's probably going to be the "nice" finalist. Then we have Penny Davidi, the anti-Orchid. Penny seems to regard Orchid as her greatest threat--the person who she sees as being directly in the way of her success. Orchid could be angry at Penny, but she doesn't show it. Penny seems to be a very good cook. She grew up with Middle Eastern cooking, and what's better than Middle Eastern food?.
I imagine that Penny and Orchid will be two of the final four, because viewers always love conflict between what they perceive as good and evil. It makes for a good food fight.
The third spot will probably be between these three:
Justin Balmes' problem, according to the judges, is that he doesn't talk about his food in grandiose terms. He is apparently a great cook, but the judges don't seem to think he has what it takes to transmit that fact to people who don't have his food on their plates. He is calm and cool, but the judges already have him stereotyped as a "nerd," and they seem to fear he might bore viewers.
Jyll Everman is a total team player. It seems that the greatest moment of the competition for her was being able to work as a team with some of the women contestants (OK all the women except Penny, who was happy to be on a team with the men--and Jyll got to choose the configurations of the teams). The judges don't seem to like this aspect of Jyll. They want her to be more like Penny (who thinks strategically at every turn). They want her to be competitive.
Then we have Whitney Chen who, besides being a great cook and a kind person, is clearly very smart. Like Justin (above) she doesn't do much in the way of horn tooting. The judges are probably wondering how viewers might respond to the fact that she is very smart. Smart women can be marginalized in the real world, and they can be marginalized in the TV world too. We'll see. I like her. I like her because she's a good cook, she's kind, and she's smart.
The fourth place in the finals, if he doesn't screw up AGAIN, will probably go to Vic Vegas Moea, if he gets his exuberant personality to work for him in front of a camera, when he's trying to perform. The judges probably want him to get to the finals because of the contrast between his somewhat offputting outside (with all those tattoos) and his soft and sentimental personality. If Vic doesn't make it, they can have the "look" with Justin Balmes IF he "opens up" (code for transforms himself into an entertainer). There's also another Justin, but I don't see him going anywhere.
These are my public predictions, and now it's time for lunch.