Welcome to week two of Food Network Star! Last week, tensions rose between Penny and Alicia, Vic submitted two empty plates to the judges, and inexperienced Howie was sent home after he cost his team the challenge (and tried to pass the blame). Based on the poll last week, most everyone agreed with the judges, with 92% of voters echoing the sentiment that Howie needed to get booted.

If you missed last week’s episode, you can check out my recap. And don’t forget to read up on the contestants!

Without further or do, let’s dive into this week’s 90-minute episode of Food Network Star.

The episode opens with Vic and Mary Beth promising comebacks. Seeing as how they were both in serious danger last week, that’s probably a good idea.

When the Moon Hits Your Eye…

The contestants head to Food Network kitchens to find pizza and Giada De Laurentiis waiting for them. It’s a pizza Camera Challenge! The winner gets their pizza featured in Food Network Magazine.

And then comes the bad news.

DOUBLE ELIMINATION! After this challenge, somebody is immediately going home. The challenge begins, and Chris immediately drops a big sausage on Mary Beth’s head. No, that’s not a euphemism, he actually dropped a sausage on her head.

Everyone is running around frantically, except for Juba, who is very calmly chopping up some tomatoes. He’s making a from-scratch sauce. Ooh, ambitious, Juba. And then he drops his dough. Step it up, Juba!

And just like that, the pizza challenge is done.

Juba is up first for camera time, and true to form, he completely blows it. Juba, dude, you need to get comfortable in front of the camera. And his pizza dough is undercooked. Bobby goes, “That’s too bad,” like a disappointed father. Juba looks scared.

And here comes Katy. She tells a really uncomfortable story about having a Chinese worker stay with her over the weekend. Without context, that story is just creepy and weird.

Alicia does great! She tells a funny story about a horrible first date, and it totally ties in with the pizza (no, seriously). She gets the judges laughing, and they like the pizza too. I’m starting to like Alicia, so sue me. Her voice isn’t bugging me so much anymore. She just needs to buck up, though. There’s no crying baseball (or cooking).

Justin B. comes swaggering out and then proceeds to mumble and stutter for a minute. His collar is popped, you guys. His collar is popped. Can anyone really imagine watching a show hosted by this guy? He’s mind-numbingly unlikable. The judges like his pizza, though.

Jyll, Orchid, and Jeff do great in front of the camera, and everyone loves their pizzas.

Mary Beth and Chris both do fairly well, and seem to have taken the judge’s critiques from last week to heart. Mary Beth is stepping it up, Chris is reigning it in, and they’re both more likable for it. I made quite a few jokes at Chris’ expense a couple of weeks ago, but the guy means well. He’s not my favorite contestant, but he’s definitely more likable than Justin B., Katy, or Penny.

Speak of the devil, here comes Penny. And she’s completely ditched her “sexy” routine, instead going for … Middle Eastern mama. I definitely prefer this Penny, and her pizza looks awesome. But I still don’t trust her.

Susie trips over a camera cord and then tells the judges to make a pizza next time they go to a football game. What the hell? Football pizza? Has she lost her mind?

Vic comes out, starts out totally strong, and then just … stops talking. For 30 seconds. But he got food on the plate! He says he’s “sittin’ on a raft with holes in it.”

Penny wins the challenge! And then she starts crying, which she criticized Alicia for last week. Damn, maybe she isn’t going home this week! I did not see this coming.

It’s time to eliminate somebody! Juba, Justin B. and Vic are in the bottom three. Juba is heading home! WHAT. No way! Everyone is totally shocked that Juba is heading home. I’ll admit, he sucked in front of the camera, but his food looked awesome. I don’t agree with this elimination. It should have been Justin B.

Bobby Flay is waiting to give the contestants their next challenge immediately. It’s this week’s Star Challenge!

Penny the Destroyer

This week’s Star Challenge requires our contestants to take three restaurant quality meals and simplify them so a home cook can make them. There’s a time consuming meal (red wine-braised short ribs with a parsnip puree), a meal with expensive ingredients (abalone with a caviar beurre blanc) and a technically difficult meal (sweet soy-glazed pork belly with scallion pancakes).

The contestants are going to be split up into groups, but they’re not working together. Each member of a group will be competing against one another to prepare one of the dishes. Because Penny won the Camera Challenge, she gets to assign the groups.

Oh no.

Penny puts Orchid in the abalone group with Justin B., Vic and Chris (the three contestants that will undoubtedly know how to prepare such a dish), in the hopes that Orchid will fail and be eliminated.

Cunning, conniving, smart. I have to hand it to Penny here. She might be the best villain we’ve ever had on FNS. I love to hate her.

She puts Whitney, Jeff, Jyll, Justin D. and Alicia on the pork belly, and herself, Mary Beth, Susie and Katy on the short ribs. She’s hoping Alicia will fall short with all of the steps required for pork belly, and that Katy’s lack of professional experience will be her undoing with the short ribs.

Everyone heads to the store and gets a basket of ingredients (except for Katy, who gets three baskets of ingredients). They’ll be preparing their meals the next day.

That night, Penny tells Alicia and Justin D. that her goal right now it to knock out Orchid, the frontrunner.

Reinventing the Restaurant

The contestants arrive at the kitchen the next day. And, holy crap, there’s Anne Burrell, Scott Conant, Pat Neely, Gena Neely, Bobby, Giada, Bob Tuschman and Susie Fogelson, all sitting at a mile-long table. The contestants are all a little starstruck to find out they’re standing in Scott Conant’s kitchen.

I’m excited. Scott and Anne are going to be brutal judges.

The first group required to cook is the short rib group: Mary Beth, Katy, Susie and Mastermind Penny. Mary Beth takes the station nearest to the judges table, hoping that she gets noticed by the panel. Smart move, I think (as long as she’s OK with the judges asking her a million questions while she’s trying to cook).

Anne likes Mary Beth a lot. The judges are concerned about the amount of ingredients that Katy has. Scott warns Katy that the burners are really hot, but she doesn’t listen and almost catches Scott’s kitchen on fire when her red wine reduction bursts into flames. It cuts to Mastermind Penny and she goes, “Mission accomplished.”

Penny presents her food to the judges. They like the food, while Susie says it’s “just OK.” Mary Beth is up next, and the judges are pleased. Anne is just in love with Mary Beth. Susie presents next, and everyone likes the flavor of her stew. The judges call Katy out on the amount of steps and ingredients in her meal, and Anne is clearly not a Katy fan (neither am I, Anne).

The pork belly group is up: Jeff, Justin D., Alicia, Whitney and Jyll.

Jeff starts cracking jokes and gets Scott to laugh, which I don’t think I’ve ever seen before. Anne flirts with Justin D. Jeff is making a twist on the BLT. Have I mentioned how much I love Jeff? He’s sweaty, though, and Giada asks him to wipe himself off before he starts dripping in his bacon spring rolls. Alicia is once again freaking out, running around, talking to herself. She’s making Anne uncomfortable.

The judges are so-so on Jeff’s food, but love his personality. They like Jyll’s beer brats, and they love Whitney’s biscuits and gravy (but ask her to be a little more friendly). Justin D.’s meatballs go over well, but the judges would like him to be a little more confident. The judges tell Alicia that her frantic nature is not cool, and that her scallop is overcooked.

Cut to Alicia bawling in the waiting room.

Group abalone is up: Orchid, Justin B,, Vic and Chris.

Chris sets a pan on fire and tells the judges there’s no technical reason to do it. Huh, cool … I guess?

Orchid is using canned oysters and Bobby Flay does not approve. Chris is using pernot instead of vermouth. Bobby asks him to describe pernot to the judges, which he fails really hard at (“It, uh … goes well with seafood?”).

The judge’s like Vic’s plating, but his scallop is overcooked. They love Justin B.’s food, but remind him that he’s being way too cerebral. Orchid gets flack for her canned oyster, but the judges love her personality. Orchid sees right through Penny’s strategy, as do the judges. Chris takes some abuse from Anne over his performance in the kitchen.

Second (Third) Elimination

For the second time this episode, it’s elimination time. Penny reveals her plans to the judges, and in the waiting room, the women confront her about her scheming. “Did you put us on your team because you knew you could beat us?” Mary Beth asks. “No, I knew I could beat Katy,” Penny answers without missing a beat. Ouch!

Alicia, Jeff, Justin D., Whitney, and Jyll are up first for judgment. Whitney is the top contestant from her group. Justin D., Jyll and Jeff are all safe, which means Alicia is up for elimination.

Penny, Susie, Mary Beth and Katy are up next. At this point, it’s fairly obvious that Katy will be up for elimination. Mary Beth is the top contestant of the short rib group. I have to admit, she’s really stepped it up this week, and I’m finding her more likable. Susie and Penny are also safe. Katy is up for elimination.

Orchid, Chris, Justin B. and Vic are next.  Justin B. gets top contestant of the group (not because he excelled, but because his food was awesome). Vic is safe (that guys just keeps skating by). And Orchid is safe! Which means Chris is up for elimination.

Penny’s devious plan has been foiled! Orchid is safe. Thanks the Food Network gods!

So Chris, Alicia and Katy. One of them is going home. I wouldn’t be sorry to see anyone go, honestly. Alicia has been growing on me, but she’s also way too sensitive and frantic. If I had my little way, Katy would be sent packing.

Alicia is safe. Chris is safe.

Which means Katy is eliminated!

Unlike Penny, all of my schemes and machinations go according to plan.

Katy goes out with that fake, superficial smile plastered on her face. Good riddance.

So, what the hell happened to the animosity between Penny and Alicia? They didn’t argue once, and last week they were two seconds away from tackling each other in the middle of a grocery store.

Next week, we get Duff Goldman and Robert Irvine, and a lot of dropping of plates! Tune in next Sunday at 9pm for another 90-minute episode. And look for my recap!

Until next week!

(Image courtesy of Food Network)

Matt Click

Staff Writer, BuddyTV