'Food Network Star' Recap: A Shocking Elimination Before the Finale
'Food Network Star' Recap: A Shocking Elimination Before the Finale
Jenn Lee
Jenn Lee
Staff Writer, BuddyTV
The time has come for the culmination of Food Network Star: the pilots. After weeks of grueling challenges, personal revelations and mentorship by Food Network hotshots Bobby, Giada and Alton, the remaining six finalists have one final stretch to make their cooking show dreams come true.

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Star Challenge: Promo for the Food Network Panel
The three FNS producers tell the contestants that only half of them will be shooting their own show pilots for consideration in the finale. In order to decide which three will go home, they'll each be shooting a 30-second promo (with only three takes) to be screened by the network and "a very special panel of Food Network All-Stars" (think Anne Burrell, Robert Irvine and Jeff Mauro the Sandwich King, the winner from last season).

Everyone takes turns shooting their promos in a neon pink and green truck, and I can't help but notice the difference between Bobby's two contenders and Team Alton. Nikki comments on how it's either her or Michele, so she has to best her teammate, while Justin and Martie both warmly describe their unexpected bond (Justin calls her his "BFF"). The only standout moment from the shoots is Yvan, who gets so lost that he forgets the name of his show and randomly calls it "Family Table" (instead of "Family Style"). Is this guy ready to be a FNS?

Promo Screening: Bringing in the Experts
The network and the special panel all sit in folding chairs to watch the promos on a large outdoor screen, while the contestants and their mentors watch from the sidelines, so as to be "out of earshot" of the judging process.

Nikki ("The Grill Next Door"): Anne Burrell thinks girl grilling is a hot perspective and Aaron Sanchez feels Nikki has "stature" and "presence." Susie agrees the take is "fresh enough" to get her intrigued.

Michele ("My New England"): Melissa (of Ten Dollar Meals; season 5 winner) found Michele "inviting and welcoming," but Sunny Anderson thought her body language was "scary." Robert Irvine thinks Michele has got what it takes.

Ippy ("Ippy's Voyage to Paradise"): Jeff Mauro finds Ippy's POV compelling (I have a feeling these two would get along) and Melissa agrees. Bob comments on Ippy's genuine conviction and passion.

Yvan ("Family Style"): One panelist says they have no idea what Yvan will be teaching on his show, but the rest of the panel seems won over by his sweetness and warmth. Again, Robert gives his FNS approval.

Justin ("Rebel with a Culinary Cause"): Sanchez likes that Justin has different interests outside the kitchen and Sunny can't offer enough praise ("I love him; his likability is off the charts"). Bob, as usual, effusively compliments Justin's brainy, unexpected take.

Martie ("Martie with a Party"): Robert says his first critical comment when he asks if Martie can back up her all-things-entertaining claim, but Bob and Susie clearly love her, which makes me fear for Justin, even though it's clear Justin needs to make his own pilot.

The Biggest Elimination in FNS History
While this title sounds pretty lofty, Bob says it with a straight face. With all the sneak peeks of this episode, we know the results will bring more than a few shed tears. But the painful cuts must be made. From Team Bobby the finalist to make a pilot is Michele, who is gracious in her acceptance, while Nikki walks away with a tight lip and frosty "It's OK." Next is Team Giada (the network is clearly going from most to least predictable). Between Yvan and Ippy, it's... Yvan!! Wow. Possibly the biggest surprise of the season. Giada's crying, and I might be too if I weren't in such shock. Guess the whole promo freakout was a major misdirection.

Lastly, it's the one we've all been waiting for--Team Alton. The network really wants to stress how difficult this decision was (again, "in the history of this entire show") and Martie's already crying, with Alton on the verge. After the crazy suspense, Susie says "it's torture," and... it's a commercial break! Worst/best timing ever. But then we're back and Alton's about to lose it again. Finally, the network calls out Justin's name and the trio are overcome with that strange mixture of happiness and sadness--until Susie adds, "Martie, we'd like to see a pilot from you, too." For the first time ever, Martie is at a loss for words. That was a pretty nice twist, Bob and Susie! It almost makes up for letting Ippy go.

Pilot Time
The last part of the episode involves the four finalists flying back to New York to shoot their pilots with their mentors' help. Perhaps it's the fact that they actually have time to breathe while shooting a pilot (versus their typically rapid 1-minute segments), but everyone seems to be at ease and nailing their pilot shoots.

After watching all four pilots, I'm surprised and impressed by Yvan and Michele. Yvan has managed to find a sweet spot for his energy level and pacing (something he struggled with all season) and Michele's pilot really made me excited about her food in a way that had been lacking since perhaps the first episode. Martie was the only one who didn't seem 100% comfortable in her own skin (at least compared with the Martie we know from the show outside of the challenges). Lastly, of course, Justin nailed his pilot with his characteristic quirk and unusual allure--truly the Alton of our generation.

Go watch the pilots yourselves and vote for your favorite! Then tune in next Sunday for the FNS finale to see who won the most votes and will get their own show on Food Network.

(Image courtesy of Food Network)