The Next Food Network Star

So, the Next Food Network Star has been announced. We'll get to the winner, but first, I'm writing as I watch the reunion show and revisiting some of the contestants eliminated early on: the ones I rooted for and the ones I rolled my eyes at.

The show started off with 14 contestants; by the end of the first episode, my favorites were Susie, Whitney, Orchid and maybe Justin. I could. not. stand. Jyll, Chris and Alicia. I know everyone hated Penny; though I wouldn't want to sit at dinner with her, I would love to eat her food. By her own admission, she was a bitch on wheels.

I really wanted Orchid and Whitney to come out of their shells and kick ass. It is obvious that Whitney, an engineer who jumped into culinary arts, has the cooking chops, she just couldn't summon the TV star qualities necessary to stay on. I couldn't imagine how difficult this elimination process would be. You have to be able to put out amazing food challenge after challenge AND have that X-factor the camera will love.

From hopefuls to stars:

It was fun to see the contestants evolve into star material, some at a better and steadier pace, others not so much. Midway into the competition, Jeff, Vic and Susie really began to blossom.

Jeff Mauro's Sandwich King POV became more refined, and he left his comedian schtick behind. Susie Jimenez embraced her Mexican roots and rocked out dishes that made Chef Michael Symon take notice. I'm sure she was especially pleased with his approval, since she has a serious crush on him, as do I. Vic Moea also came along nicely. He started out as Vic Vegas, but switched from his over-the-top antics into a softer, gentler, cuddlier Mamma's Boy and delivered consistently well both on the plate and camera. Mary Beth Albright made it to the final four, and I truly believe was a stronger candidate than Vic, if only she could cook.

Heading into the finale, I'd been rooting for Susie, no doubts. I like her personality, she seems sincere and knowledgeable. I could see Jeff as a FN star, I just wasn't sure I would be all that interested in his show. As for Vic...I really hope he gets a stylist PRONTO. Those ill-fitting shirts...YIKES.

C'mon, Susie! Onto the finale...

The finale:

In typical FNS fashion, there was a final twist; the last challenge was for all three hopefuls to prepare "the dish of their life" and present it seamlessly. I thought my girl Susie nailed it and Jeff did too.

Judges are deliberating... and the finalists are... *drum roll*

YES! I was right. It was Susie and Jeff. Now, on to watch the pilots. I need more wine.

The pilots:

Jeff went first. He decided to make Braciole, an Italian dish he would help his mother make when he was growing up. It took him a few tries, but by the last spot, he owned the show. I was impressed -- I think I may watch his show after all. He still brought a bit of humor and wiseass to the screen, but it kept me engaged.

Then, Susie. Throughout the competition, she often got called on the mat for lacking focus; she has a bit of a scattered personality. The evil spirits visited tonight; she was all over the place. Finally, Guy Fieri helped her remember how she got to the final two. She thought about her dad and how calming he was. It seems she had a direct connection with him tonight, because she nailed that last take.

And the Next Food Network Star is... Jeff. I'm looking forward to seeing him "turn every meal into a sandwich and every sandwich into a meal." Congratulations, Jeff!

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