Well, we’ve been with this season’s batch of Food Network Star contestants now for more than a month. And it seems so much longer, doesn’t it? At this point, it’s a bit of a chore to slog through these 90-minute episodes, when it’s so clear who won’t be winning the competition. It’s like, why waste time? Maybe starting out with 15 finalists is too many. Maybe 90 minutes is too long. Maybe Jyll is too vapid, Penny is too dramatic, Susie is too forgettable and Chris is too annoying. Whatever it is, this season has officially hit a wall, and has started to drag on and on. And on.

But I’m legitimately excited about the frontrunners this season. Orchid, Whitney and Jeff, in particular, really appeal to me as people and chefs. And if seeing them as chefs on Food Network means trudging through an entire season of nonsense, well … I hope it’s worth it.

Now, on with the recap!

The episode begins with Whitney in the middle of a clearly-staged phone call with her mom. After a little motivation, Whitney is rearing to go this week.

Getting Down with Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives

The finalists meet Guy Fieri at Mel’s Drive-In in Hollywood. Now, I’m well aware that Guy Fieri is totally awesome and everyone loves him, but I personally can’t stand him. He just always seems like he’s overdoing it. But hey, he’s actually acting pretty subdued right now in front of the finalists. But why did he have to drive up in the car? I just imagine him parked up the street, with a producer going, “OK, Guy, start driving … now!”

Anyway, today’s Camera Challenge is going to play out a little differently. Our finalists are going to be filming segments for an episode of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. There’s an intro, a show close and three different interviews to film.

Susie and Vic are filming the intro. Susie gets really nervous and starts making up words, and then runs into the camera. Have we had an episode yet where Susie hasn’t tripped, run into something or fallen? Vic doesn’t fare much better. Guy Fiei seems to have a problem with the fact that Vic is so buff that he can’t lower his arms to his side, so he ends up like walking like Randy from A Christmas Story.

Chris and Whitney are interviewing the executive chef at Mel’s Drive-In. Chris rocks back and forth and flails his arms around like one of those inflatable guys they put out during used car sales. Whitney totally rocks it, on the other hand.

Jeff and Penny are interviewing a grumpy server. Jeff does really well, I think, and cracks some funny jokes with Piper, the server. Guy still has some critiques for him, but I think Jeff did an awesome job. And then Penny steps up, ensuring that the camera is getting her best side, and interrupts the server while the poor woman tries to answer her questions. As we all know, it’s all about Penny Davidi. Then Guy tries to give her some advice and it just sails right over her head.

Mary Beth and Orchid are interviewing the owner of the drive-in. Did anyone else notice the giant cowlick that Mary Beth had? It was like flopping back and forth and everything. Anyway, hair aside, Mary Beth is a little too “food blogger” with the interview, and Guy tells her to loosen up. Orchid’s up, but she treats it more like a conversation, rather than an interview.

Jyll and Justin (I don’t have to include his last initial anymore!) are doing the close. Guy’s critique for Justin seems to be “wave your arms around and yell at the camera.” Hey, I guess if it works for Guy. Jyll is a little too rigid for Guy, so Guy makes her play with an imaginary dog. It doesn’t even really make sense in context, so I won’t even try.

Fourth Food Fest

We’ve got a Fourth of July Star Challenge this week. Our finalists are going to be cooking all-American dishes, reinvented, for 150 people.

Vic gets assigned the lobster roll. Mary Beth is doing barbeque chicken and potato salad.  Penny gets sausage with peppers and macaroni salad (refraining from making sausage joke, refraining from making sausage joke). Jeff gets beer and pretzels (WTF? What the hell is he supposed to do with that?). Jyll gets carne asada and pica de gallo. Hot dog and baked beans goes to Whitney. Hamburger and watermelon goes to Justin. Pork ribs and cole slaw goes to Susie. Orchid gets brisket and mac-and-cheese (oh man, how is she going to cook that in two hours?). Shrimp and corn-on-the-cob goes to Chris.

Our contestants head to the store, and we get a great scene of Chris attempting to do math. Probably the highlight of the episode for me.

They head back to the kitchen. Penny calls Jyll and Mary Beth Cheech and Chong, and I don’t know why. Do they smoke pot? Do they get themselves into wacky situations? Jyll is struggling with her carne asada, so she goes, “Hey Susie, you’re Mexican. Tell me if this tastes right.” OK, she doesn’t actually say that, but honestly. Not cool, Jyll.

The epic choral music starts playing, which means time is up. They head back to the house and the drama begins! This is so weird to me to see this sort of thing on a cooking competition. Penny and Jyll start arguing in the kitchen, and Penny goes, “This is more drama than I want! This is more drama than I need!” I hope I’m not the only one that finds the humor in this. If you didn’t want it, Penny, maybe you shouldn’t have started it.

The finalists head to the site of the food festival. Guy Fieri meets them there and promises food, fun and entertainment. And then he drops a bomb, and reveals that the finalists themselves are the entertainment. And, dear God, they have props.

Why. Why, Food Network?

And, for the first time this episode, there’s Bobby Flay, Bob Tuschman and Susie Fogelson. Aren’t they supposed to be judges? Wait, who won the Camera Challenge? Oh, whatever. Clearly the show doesn’t care either.

Chris gives his presentation first, and it’s what you’d expect. He flails around and yells a lot. Jyll is up next, and it’s more of the same from her as well. I feel like so many of these contestants are just done progressing. Susie takes to the stage, and she actually does … well. Is Susie the Ninja finally getting noticed? Jeff has a cape and a hat, and he goes, “Nobody’s gone over the top yet.” I’m scared.

But hey, you know what, Jeff was awesome. He’s funny, and he’s obviously able to laugh at himself. I like Jeff.

Orchid is up next, and, for once, she doesn’t quite pull it off. Bob Tuschman says she seemed low energy, and I agree. I don’t think going after the energetic Jeff helped. Vic is up next and gives a damn good presentation. You know, Vic was on the fast-track to elimination in week one and two, but he’s really been progressing. Could he win this thing? Jeff was right when said Vic was the “sleeper” in this competition.

Penny takes to the stage and tries to unsuccessfully pump up the audience. They keep cutting back to the judges, who are making squint-eyed tired faces. And Bob Tuschman yawns. Penny starts crying and Whitney tells her to buck up. Then Whitney presents, and insinuates that she might want to see Bobby Flay without his pants on (funny, but ew, Whitney). It’s cool, though. I’m still crushing on Whitney.

Justin adopts a new personality for his presentation. Huh.

Mary Beth is up. She makes ANOTHER veiled penis joke! This woman is on fire! Wiener jokes will take you far in this competition.

And now it’s feeding time. All these hungry people have sat through a torturous hour of presentations, and they’re ready for food. Penny, Susie, Whitney and Jeff seem to be doing really well. Jyll and Justin aren’t faring so well, though. Justin doesn’t even have food out to serve, and people aren’t digging on Jyll’s Wisconsin-style carne asada.

Justin’s in serious trouble this week. The judges don’t like his burger, and they’re just confused by his rapidly shifting personality.

Oh, hey, Chris. I forgot about him. The judges are sort of “meh” about his shrimp. They’re equally meh about Mary Beth’s chicken.

I love how they’re trying to sell this as a Fourth of July episode even though it was clearly filmed like five months ago.

The judges are loving Jeff’s pretzel chicken sliders. Susie Fogelson says he’s ascended from Sandwich Prince to Sandwich King.

A Tale of Two Justins

At this point, I’m sort of iffy on the bottom contestants. But Justin and Jyll are definite lows. Surprises for me this week were Susie and Vic. I didn’t know they had it in them, particularly Susie.

I’m worried about Orchid. She was such a strong contender, but she’s been faltering.

Vic’s lobster rolls were the crowd’s favorites from the food festival.  

Uh-oh. This is it, people! Penny the Destroyer is breaking down, and the drama of the past four weeks is finally coming to a head. Jyll goes off on Penny, and Penny starts whining about how she’s the only one who does dishes, like they’re colleged-aged roommates or something. Oh man, that fizzled out quick. I thought it was going to be more intense. What a let-down.

Vic, Susie and Jeff are our top contenders this week, and the winner of the challenge is Susie.

Mary Beth, Whitney and Chris are all safe. And hey, GUESS WHAT. Penny is safe. Again.
Which means that Jyll, Justin and Orchid are the bottom three. At this point, I’m thinking Justin is going home. I can’t imagine Orchid going home this week.

Jyll is safe. Orchid is safe. Which means for the second week in a row, we’re losing a Justin.

Oh hey, where was Giada this episode? Too busy over-pronouncing ingredients?

Next week, we have Tyler Florence (ugh, I hate that guy) and a food truck face-off. And more Penny drama. WHEN WILL THE MADNESS END?

Join me next week for another Food Network Star recap. Check out our Facebook insider page, and have a happy Fourth!

(Image courtesy of Food Network)

Matt Click

Staff Writer, BuddyTV