Film and TV

The Great Food Truck Race: Finale

Well, here we are--at the end of the food truck race, where the truth will be decided and destinies met and justice will fall down like rain...okay, maybe not, but still. It's been kind of fun getting a glimpse into what makes a good food truck run, even if every episode has made me hungrier than a bear and slightly annoyed with the Nom Noms for dominating every week. But I do feel some sort of geeky Asian-kid pride. Go Asians! To quote a My Name is Earl episode, we're the new Jews.

The recap of previous episodes begins. "We started with seven trucks, " Tyler's voice so astutely reminds us. The Nom Nom truck has won back to back in five straight cities, while the Grill 'Em All truck has almost been eliminated several times --Tyler calls them "determined," but they come across more like whiny.

"Only one will win 50,000 dollars," says the voice from above. "Let's get rollin'."

We watch the trucks drive into the great, bustling mess that is New York City. The Nom Noms refer to it as "completely new terrain," well aware that they'll only be a "small blip" on the radar of everything that's going on. Grill 'Em All, to their credit, gets smart and calls in some PR (taking a page from Nom Nom's book) and they also, fascinatingly enough, get an assist from Spencer on the Go, who hooks them up with a product supplier. The Burger Guys tell the Frenchies: "For you and Cory [of Austin Daily Press], we're going to beat those Nom Nom kids."

That's what tends to happen to us geeky Asians. We break the curve and then we get beaten up in the parking lot. Sigh.

The race starts in the Flatiron District. Tyler tells the teams that they'll be traveling through all five boroughs in a kind of relay race--starting in the Bronx, they have to make $500 before they can move to Queens, then to Brooklyn, then Staten Island, and finally Manhattan, where they have to earn $1,000 and then race to the top of the Flatiron Building to claim their $50,000 prize.

It's a battle of book smarts versus street smarts, banh mi versus burgers. Each team gets $500 for ingredients and supplies, but it doesn't count toward their total. What's cool about this set-up is that there's no time restriction--it could take a week, it could take a day--and the trucks will alternate advantages depending on the demographic of the borough. I would say that the Burger Guys have it in the bag, what with burgers being universal and all, but remember how well the Banh Mi kids did in Jonesborough, Tennessee?

Both teams supply up and head to Yankee Stadium, hoping to catch hungry fans leaving the game. Grill 'Em All parks in front of a sports bar and starts selling the shit out of burgers. Nom Nom also heads near the stadium, but they're not a good fit; no traffic is stopping. "Wrong place at the wrong time," says Misa. Seems that they'll be stuck in the Bronx forever.

The next day, Grill 'Em All is outside a street food festival in Queens and the Nom Noms are still in the Bronx. The latter are incredibly frustrated, making very few sales, but then they are rescued by the owner of Stan's, the sports bar where Grill 'Em All parked the day before. With the sales they make there, they put themselves over the $500 mark and get to Queens.

Grill 'Em All guys spell "gourmet" wrong on their sign--"gormet?" but they do catch it. That's pretty funny. Nom Nom's having better luck in Queens, with tons of foot traffic. They sell fast and get to Brooklyn, where Grill 'Em All is already stationed outside Brooklyn Brewery, with folks gobbling down giant burgers of deliciousness (I am so hungry right now I can't stand it).

Now it's time for Staten Island, which one of the Burger Guys calls a "working man's San Diego." Dude, I've been to Staten Island, and I've been to San Diego. I ain't buying it. Neither is Misa, who's dreading their time there. "We just don't exactly know what to do there." Well, even the Burger Guys, with their working man's fare, are having a slow time of it until a bunch of metal heads show up out of nowhere, feeling kinship for the head-banging Burger Guys and buying up enough product to send them to the East Village. "We're unstoppable," they brag. Well, they are until Tyler calls.

Mama Tyler has booked everyone hotel rooms--he wants them to stop what they're doing and go get some sleep. The last Truck Stop Challenge ever will be tomorrow morning.

And when it arrives, I am thrilled to see that Tyler is not wearing a tie with his checkered shirt and aviator sunglasses. Will wonders never cease! He announces that this incredibly simple challenge could help decide who wins--because the winning team gets $500 toward their total. "It will be burger v. banh mi," Tyler says. One of New York's best chefs will come to judge. But there's a twist, of course; Nom Nom has to make the burger, and Grill 'Em All the banh mi.

Oooooooh curveball! This is actually a pretty cool idea--gives both teams an idea of what the other does every day. As the teams go out to shop, Grill 'Em All thinks they've got this one in the bag: "we have the upper hand because banh mis aren't that difficult to make." Misa, on the other hand, contends that "We have the advantage," given that they've made burgers before, while banh mis are not a feature of most kitchens.

Jen's Nom Nom burger concept includes sriracha mayo, arugula, sake-soaked onions, and cheese. Ryan leads the Burger Guys to a banh mi supplier, where they buy pre-marinated meats, bread, and all the fixings. "This is the easiest sandwich in the universe to assemble," he crows. Oh how the reality show braggarts fall! Be careful, dude.

Nate Appleman is the guest judge. I've heard he's kind of a diva, but he sure is cute, and dude can cook, so who cares? The food comes down, and Nate doesn't talk. Just chews. Finally he offers some comments. He likes that Nom Nom went out of the box--could have done without the arugula, though, and found the patty too small for its bun.

Grill 'Em All's banh mi is well rounded if little greasy. Do we have a winner? Appleman says one was a clear home run--and that he was surprised by which one he liked more. Nom Nom's well-seasoned, spicy and juicy burger wins! "We're back in the game," says Misa. They get to skip Staten Island altogether, which is great, because they probably never would have left.

Nom Nom needs to make $1,000 in about two hours; Grill 'Em All needs $800. Both are parked in Union Square, and this is going to go down to the wire. Both teams sell, sell, sell--the Burger Guys seem to finish first, but when they drive by, the Nom Nom truck is gone! Did they change location? Or are they already done?

Burger guys start climbing up stairs--if this comes down to who can climb faster, that's ridiculous. Up the ladder, and there's Tyler--"You've made it to the finish line." They can't tell if they've won or not! Tyler hands them an envelope, which will either contain "$50,000 or nothing at all." Oh, the drama. They tear open that puppy's a check! They won! They beat the Asians! Heavy metal rips in the background (nice touch, Food Network producers).

The Nom Nom kids show up and hug the victors. "You won every single city except the one you needed most," Tyler tells them. Way to rub salt in the wound, dude! Jeez. Still, they don't seem too broken up. "We have five free vacations!" Misa reminds us.

Was this show rigged? Or are burgers and fries just better than banh mis? Is this a victory for scruffy-haired ragamuffins everywhere?

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Nishta Mehra