Food Network Star is in Miami for the South Beach Food and Wine Festival and we can feel the weeks ticking down to the finale, with only two members left for Teams Alton and Bobby, and three for Team Giada (which will most likely change after tonight’s episode).

Star Challenge: Live Cooking Demos Gone Awry
The seven hopefuls receive an invitation to their Star Challenge that signs off with a mysterious “where anything can happen.” Once at the festival, they’re told they will be presenting a 3-minute live cooking demonstration of their signature dish. The crowd is big, they’re outdoors and they only get one take. As everyone gets to work on their signature dish, their mentors walk around reminding their pupils of their potential weak spots. Giada tells Martita to share a personal story about cooking with her girlfriends; Yvan needs to watch his cadence; and Ippy needs to pick up the energy! Nikki needs to let go of the script and “just be you,” while Michele should be wary of her timing issues. Justin’s goal is to not come across as a smart aleck and Martie needs to say her piece without going over time.

When it’s finally show time, the producers let the network in on a little “secret” (as if they didn’t already know): they’ve thrown in a surprise hurdle for each contestant based on their past struggles to see how they cope in this type of on-the-spot situation. This definitely makes this challenge tougher, but more intriguing.

Justin Gets Heckled: During Justin’s wanton nacho demo, an annoying (planted) heckler pesters him with questions, from his hair gel usage to his intelligence (“Why are you so smart?”; “Because I went to college.”) Though Justin smartly responds in the beginning, by the third question he’s ticked, which the network picks up on. But his food is, as always, very thoughtful and delicious.

Nikki’s Blender: To throw her off her game, Bobby made sure her blender would malfunction during Nikki’s demo. This does cause her to pause mid-sentence, but it’s not a total blunder. At the same time, the network notes she probably has the least challenging issue and she didn’t seem to be having fun on stage, though her grilled lamb chops and veggies show she’s “a master of grilling.”

Yvan’s Audio Problem: During Yvan’s demo, his mic goes out, but he swiftly rolls with it, claiming he doesn’t need it and his projecting (at times near-shouting-level) voice finally becomes an advantage. Giada is so proud she can’t contain herself! Bob calls the presentation “flawless” and Yvan’s “love bites” fried oyster dish is noted as one his most elegant dishes served.

Ippy’s Disruptive Crowd: The laid-back Hawaiian gets thrown a real curveball when audience members begin talking loudly and then leaving during his presentation. Honestly, I think this is the hardest obstacle and I don’t blame Ippy for getting a little bit annoyed (it seems his chill attitude can be thrown). His miso scallop and spaghetti vodka dish, however, is “really, really unique.”

Martita’s Missing: The chiles for Martita’s sweet pork dish are missing, replaced by small red peppers she’s unfamiliar with. She’s noticeably thrown off course and you can see Giada’s increasing disappointment as the segment continues. Martita even forgets to tell the story of her girlfriends, leaving the network as lost as she was, “as far as charisma is concerned.”

Martie’s Misplaced Items: To mess with her “control issues,” Alton has misplaced Martie’s ingredients for her fish-in-parchment dish. Though everything is missing, the endearing Martie manages to turn the situation into a fun, lighthearted experience for the audience. Bob calls her “unflappable” and her moist, beautiful fish seals the deal.

Michele’s Confusing Time Cues: Bobby has the AD give Michele all the wrong time cues, giving her one of the toughest situations, right up there with Ippy’s unruly crowd. The cues go from 5:30 minutes left to a 5-second countdown to an inexplicable stretching motion, which means to extend her demo. She’s understandably confused, but at one point she stops caring about the cues and relaxes a little while discussing digging for clams. The network seems to think the mess-up helped bring forth the real Michele.

Producers Challenge: Unknown Ingredient Presentation
The network announces the two standouts from the Star Challenge: Yvan and Martie (definitely not the ones I would have pegged as the frontrunners earlier on this season, but it goes to show, anything can happen). The other safe contestants are Justin, Michele and… Nikki! I would have guessed Ippy instead of Nikki, but that means the Hawaiian hopeful and Martita (obviously) are going head to head. Did Ippy really do that poorly? His challenge was so much greater than Nikki’s; had their surprise hurdles been switched, I think he would have clearly come up top. Nevertheless, the decision has been made, and Giada’s two teammates are told they will be revealed a surprise ingredient, which they will have to talk about for 60 seconds (no cooking).

Ippy lifts the dome to find oranges and he immediately goes into a story of “bug juice,” a creation he used to make after stealing tangerines from his neighbors as a kid. Martita is next and she starts off by listing the different ways she uses oranges in dishes, finishing on aguas frescas, a refreshing orange drink.

The Pitch Garden
The Pitch Room is actually a garden with an uber fancy table. Bob and Susie ask Ippy what bug juice is and he discovers he omitted the fact that it’s actually a dip. Martita shares a personal connection between oranges and her father, which gives Susie the chills and causes her to feel frustrated that Martita can’t bring that personal touch to her presentations. As the network discusses the two, Susie says she hasn’t seen the star potential consistently enough in Martita, while Bob worries about Ippy’s energy level (again).

It seems pretty obvious that Martita is the one to go home. She’s had a good run on the show, but her natural warmth in person just wasn’t coming through on camera or on stage. In next week’s preview, it’s revealed half of the remaining six are being cut (!) for the three final pilot spots. What did you all think of this week’s episode? Was it Martita’s time to leave?

(Image courtesy of Food Network)

Jenn Lee

Staff Writer, BuddyTV

Jenn grew up in Ohio before moving to Seoul, Korea, where she attended international school and failed to learn Korean. From there she went on to earn a BA in Psychology from the University of Pennsylvania before settling in Seattle, where she now spends too much time pondering the power of narrative in TV shows and novels. While she loves a good smart comedy (a la Community or Parks and Recreation), her favorite current show is Breaking Bad; all-time mentions include Arrested DevelopmentLost and Friends. When she’s not consuming television or literature, she’s savoring pastries and searching for the city’s ultimate sandwich.