Behind The Scenes of “The Next Food Network Star” Finale

The manufactured excitement of a reality show finale is both exhilarating and depressing. Exhilarating because, in the world of this show, one person will rise above the rest and have themselves declared the winner. Depressing because, in a few hours, the whole set will be swept away, memories of all the other contestants will vanish, and the winner will have a few weeks to sink or swim and if they sink, they’ll vanish too.

Mostly, I was exhilarated to be there behind the scenes of “The Next Food Network Star” finale. The atmosphere was both tense and spirited; family members nervously awaited the results. I met Adam’s parents, who reminded me much of mine; I met Aaron’s wife and sister (who you see in the video) and I met Lisa’s husband and son. Barbara Fairchild from Bon Apetit was there, as was a large cluster of Food Network executives standing anxiously behind a large black curtain. It was there, in fact, that I finally met the president of the Food Network herself, Brooke Johnson, who, after being introduced to me, said–with a tiny bit of threat in her voice: “You’re not going to blog about this, are you?”

She meant that I wouldn’t reveal the winner on my blog before the winner was revealed on-air. (Maybe she should’ve gotten that message through to her own web team!)

The depressing part came in the green room, where the eliminated contestants clustered around sad platters of cupcakes and supermarket fruit. What becomes of an eliminated reality show star? Each had a plan of action–Kevin has a cookbook and a radio show; Shane may join the peace corps; Corey has her stand-up–while others, like Kelsey, truly seemed wounded. In fact, later, when they were lined up to go on camera one last time, many in the group were consoling Kelsey because she was having a really hard time of it. Maybe because she’s friends with my friend Kirk’s sister, my heart went out to her. But something tells me she’s going to be ok.

When the big moment came, and Aaron won, you could tell his was the best story: his wife and sister were ecstatic, as were the executives. Aaron himself was deliriously happy–look how happy he is to greet me!–and yet it’s a testament to the soul-crushing power of TV production that just a few weeks later, on the set of his new show, Aaron was so much less jolly, so much less jovial. It’s like a kid with a brand new toy the day he gets the toy and then seeing him with it a few weeks later:

Still, I think Aaron was the right pick. I haven’t seen his new show yet, but there’s something about him that’s instantly likable, instantly relatable. Plus his food always looks fantastic. So congrats to Aaron and all the other finalists; it was fun to meet you all.

And what about you, readers? Did you think Aaron was the right pick? Who did you think would go all the way?

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