Welcome to the seventh episode of this season's "Food Network Star," in which Baltimore's own Rodney Henry continues his quest to bring "Pie Style" to a willing nation.
Rodney is turning into a great reality show character, because he provides the show with a classic story arc. Rodney is the contestant who must learn how to accept advice and adapt to the demands of the real world while still maintaining his charm and charisma.
Can Rodney embrace the idea that professionalism is not antithetical to doing one's own thing?
But first, roll call!
Present: Bobby Flay, Alton Brown and Giada De Laurentiis, who were acting again as mentors and judges. This week's "focus group" was a Los Angeles-based eating club called The Gastronauts. Also back was the show's basic mentor (immunity) challenge/star (elimination) challenge format, which has been coming and going this season.
Also in attendance -- six of the original contestants:
Damaris Phillips, who can never seem to convey her natural warmth, humor and charisma on camera without resorting to either corn pone or coquetry.
Russell Jackson, who has shuttled all season between the top and bottom of the pack. When he's on, he's amazing.
Stacey Poon-Kinney, who has been told repeatedly that she's a) too perfect, b) rehearsed and c) needs to do something spontaneous.
Nikki Dinki, who comes across as defensive, apologetic or shrill when she's pitching her vegetarian dishes.
Chad Rosenthal, an early favorite who has been struggling with his on-camera poise.
Rodney Henry, the founder of Baltimore's Dangerously Delicious Pies, who seems resistant to the mentors' advice. Everyone likes Rodney, but he has had trouble harnessing his skills and taking direction.
Absent: The real-people focus group, and the sinister "dials of doom," which they use to deliver real-time impressions on (but not mild electric shocks to) the contestants.
Also absent: Chris Hodgson, who was sent home last week because kept burying his lead.
This week's Mentor Challenge was superintended by Bobby Flay, who told contestants that a Food Network star has to be able to describe food for viewers without resorting to words like "incredible," "awesome" or "sexy," which don't actually say anything about how a food tastes.
One by one, they'd have to describe a dish that Bobby Flay made himself.
Rodney went first, and he neither could stop himself from using Rodney words like "out of sight" or "dynamite," or come up with anything coherent to say about the dish in their place.
He was really bad at this, but so were Chad, Russell and Damaris. Only Nikki and Stacey did well in the mentor challenge, but Stacey's decussation to tell a personal story that related to Bobby Flay's salmon entree got her the victory and a leg-up on the Star Challenge.
For the Star Challenge, the contestants had to make a signature dish to be auctioned off, one by one, to members of the Gastronauts. The contestants would be judged both on their one-minute pitches to the Astronauts and for the quality of their dishes, and the contestant whose dish received the highest high bid from a Gastronaut would be saved from possible elimination.
In order of finish this episode
Stacey was given a $10 bonus for having won the Mentor Challenge, but she didn't need it. Her maple-bacon cheesecake received the highest high bid. Her pitch was smooth and composed, and the judges loved her cheesecake. Still, the judges told her, she needs to show some spontaneity.
Nikki had her best showing in weeks. She finally stopped apologizing for her vegetarian philosophy and made a dish they really enjoyed.
Damaris had a good week, too. The judges liked her green-bean casserole and thought she was showing improvement in her presentation skills.
Rodney chose to make a pie for the Star Challenge, a berry-rhubarb pie. And ... the judges really loved it, every bit of it. It was a good thing they did, because they thought his presentation to the Gastronauts was bonkers. Rodney thought it would be funny to pretend that he mistakenly thought that the Gastronauts were "astronauts," and waste half of his one-minute presentation time with shtick. You can watch Rodney's pitch to the Gastronauts at the top of this post.
That left Chad and Russell at the bottom of the pack.
The judges still think Russell has potential but they have seen no sign of progress from Chad.
Chad was sent home.
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