These are what we call the 'YMMV items.' Things that some people find in this work. We call them 'your mileage might vary' because not everyone sees these things in the same way. This starts discussions in the trope lists, a thing we don't want. Please use the discussion page if you'd like to discuss any of these items.
YMMV: The Next Food Network Star
Big Lipped Alligator Moment: In one episode, Penny and Mary Beth are having a verbal catfight in front of the judges, arguing over Penny's behavior. Mary Beth is mid-sentence when out of nowhere Penny literally starts making cat noises, makes her hands into a claw-like shape, and starts pawing at the air in front of Mary Beth's face. Mary Beth and the judges weren't really sure how to respond to that.
Season 6: Dzintra, who already had a reputation as a hot mess and Cloud Cuckoo Lander excitedly informed the Confession Cam that "Dzintra loves to dance! Dzintra loves to twirl!" Even without the Third-Person Person, she still would have come across as a little bit...odd...
In Season 8, the contestants are doing a challenge where they have to present food on a runway at a fashion show. When Nikki of Team Bobby presents her pork chops and then leaves, Giada wonders aloud "Is this runway food?" Bobby retorts, "It doesn't matter," and Giada (seeming offended for some reason) insists "Yes it does!!!". Bobby again says it doesn't matter, and Giada again insists that it does. That being said, mere minutes later they were perfectly fine again and the odd moment was never mentioned again.
Also from S8, during the Chopped challenge, Michelle freaks out because she thinks that Giada is constantly staring at her and insinuates that she feels like Giada is somehow fixated on her; the camera then cuts to Giada, who has the most sedate, bored-looking expression ever, and appears to be just casually viewing all the contestants rather than being the creepy stalker that Michelle is making her out to be. Later during the judging round, Michelle quips that Giada was freaking her out and everyone starts laughing, Giada included.
Elimination Houdini: Many fans view Nikki from Season 8 as this, as she has stayed in the competition despite several lackluster performances and being on the bottom more than anyone else.
The previous season, many felt that Penny was this; although her food was good, she proved pretty quickly to be such an over-the-top Jerkass that it was obvious that she wouldn't be able to ever gain fan support as a FN host. Many concluded that she was spared from elimination specifically to cause drama in the mansion and drive up the ratings.
Despite being the third eliminated, Dunushka from Season 9 managed to be this. It was quite obvious from the first episode that she had zero prospects in the competition, having a haughty, snobbish attitude, zero presentational skills, a dry and emotionless style of speech, and a voice that made most viewers wish that she would just stop talking, yet despite being in the bottom three every time the mentors still decided to eliminate two likable contestants with considerably more promise before her.
Russell from Season 9 is definitely this in some capacity; he winds up on the bottom practically every single week, yet manages to stay into the competition because the mentors claim to see "potential" in him. And though he has fans of his own, this is not helped by the fact that fan favorites such as Viet and Chad were sent home while he was saved.
Ensemble Darkhorse: Season 7: Jeff Mauro. For the first leg of the competition the spotlight was mostly off him, as the show focused more on the drama that Penny was generating. However, he seemed likeable and every so often we got a glimpse of him being the Deadpan Snarker of the group. Gradually, he got to be featured more, as the more over-the-top contenders fell away, and got even more Deadpan Snarker moments (famously included the food truck ad where he tells Susie "You know what you need in your life? Balls!" to sell some ball-shaped food). In general, Jeff seemed like the more down-to-earth but funny contender in the background for most of the competition. And in this case the dark horse won.
Despite not particularly standing out in terms of performance and a relatively early elimination, Viet probably has one of, if not the, largest fanbases of Season 9 due to his proven exceptional culinary skills (having previously defeated Bobby Flay on Iron Chef America), Adorkable tendencies, and having a personality that seemed generally sweet, laid-back, and devoid of a "schtick".
Fridge Logic: During S7's Iron Chef challenge, Vic uses a dollop of mint jelly to help flavor his lamb. Bobby Flay, tasting it, informs him that "Mint jelly has no place in the Iron Chef kitchen." Vic quips to the Confession Cam "Then why was the mint jelly in the Iron Chef kitchen?" When the clip re-aired at the reunion special, at got lots of applause and laughter from the other contestants, and even Bobby laughed and nodded.
Narm: Season 7: During the later rounds, the judges are grilling the introverted Whitney about being more extroverted. The night of the comedy roast was a particularly bad night for Whitney, and the judges are telling her that she should have been funnier. A desperate Whitney, out of nowhere, earnestly says "I'm funny, Giada!" in the most unconvincing way possible. It actually was funny, just unintentionally.
Season 6: During the Iron Chef challenge, Aria—pressed for time—runs through the studio shrieking "POTATOES, POTATOES, POTATOES!!!" (Alton Brown was left hiding his face in his hands and groaning). Doubles as a Big Lipped Alligator Moment, and quite possibly as a Never Live It Down moment that made Aria look like a basket case who couldn't keep her cool under pressure, which is likely why she was eliminated at the end of the episode, unfortunately.
Also from Season 6, Italian immigrant Serena is being pressured by the judges to bring her Italianness Up to Eleven (much like what they did with Susie and her Mexican heritage the following season), and she's currently feeling desperate about her place in the competition. During that weeks' camera challenge, as soon as the camera starts rolling Serena holds her arms up in a V-shape over her head and loudly belts out "OH SOLE ''MIIIIIIIIIIOOOOO!!!"'' while standing over a bowl of pasta she's prepared. It was hilarious, and it ended up being featured heavily in commercials that week purely for the Narm value.
In the season 8 Chopped style episode, there was more and more blatant Product Placement than usual. The judges then solemnly chided several of the contestants by saying "It's like you're trying to sell us something." It's hard not to laugh and mentally fill in "It's distracting us from enjoying these wonderful Hershey's brand chocolate bars!"
The Scrappy: Penny, both in show and out. It really says something that she managed to make all of the other female contestants hate her guts to the point that they were all on another team during one challenge.
Unfortunately she raised the ire of many again when she was brought back for the Iron Chef challenge and tried very hard to sabotage Mary Beth as much as possible with what was possibly the slowest chopping in the history of American television. So slow that normal home cooks would've run circles around her speed-wise. When Alton Brown asked her why she was chopping so slowly, Penny smirked and in a very sarcastic tone of voice replied "You know, I'm very methodical." The smirk on her face gives the impression that she was "very methodically" trying to sabotage Mary Beth.
The intentional sabotage was pretty much confirmed in the reunion show where they showed a never before seen clip of her saying that she just didn't care. One wonders if this will end bringing back the last X eliminated to help out for the Iron Chef Challenge. (Update: As of Season 8, it apparently has, as they didn't do an Iron Chef challenge at all this year).
During the reunion special she also said that she wouldn't change any of her behavior, even with all the grief if caused and the fact that it was a big part of why she was kicked off. Yeeeaah...
The Bad Guy Wins: Penny was featured on an episode of Chopped All-Stars... and won. One can only imagine that anyone who has to work with or live with her will find her several orders of magnitude more insufferable than before. However, it becomes Subverted when she lost in the second round of the finals.
She was just as full of herself as she was on NFNS. At one point, she actually suggested that Michael Symon and Marcus Samuelsson were intimidated by HER. She also made the ridiculous statement that she was going to conquer Food Network. There isn't much call for 7th place finishers on this show. Eventually, when Michael Symon was eliminated because he'd forgotten to plate some okra chips, Penny was ecstatic and starts crowing "The bragging rights alone! I took down an Iron Chef!" Uh, no, Penny. You didn't. He just forgot an ingredient, so unless you somehow slipped him a drug that disoriented his memory, then no, you didn't "take down an Iron Chef." In the next round, however, Penny ends up being a victim of her own arrogance as usual...
As of Season Nine, Lovely could very well fit this trope. If you had hopes that any of your favorite contestants that could actually cook would return through Star Salvation, Lovely manages to impress Robert with uncreative dishesnote Caramel apples with crumpled up potato chips at the bottom that were supposed to be the star of the dish, and isn't exactly sympathetic when she sends her fellow contestants home after ruining their second chances.
Bob and Susie were definitely this, especially in Seasons 7 and 8 where they had quite a bit of screen time and talked continuously about the importance of "stories" and "PO Vs" but not focusing very much on the food. Thankfully, the show seemed to take notice of this in Season 9, as they have only appeared in a couple of episodes, and Bobby, Giada, and Alton (who generally take food into a bit more consideration and, as "Food Network Stars" themselves instead of executives, tend to give much more reasonable advice to let contestants come into their own) are the ones who give primary feedback and control eliminations.
It got worse: As of the mid-season, Susie decided to fully conform to the judges' stereotypical expectations, and began to play up her ethnicity to an annoying degree. This caused the judges to express complete delight, rave about how the Mexican food she prepared for them "is the embodiment of her soul", and begin gushing about how pleased with her they suddenly are, and in the second to last episode, Giada seemed almost orgasmic by the "transformation"note A certain amount of this may have been projection, since Giada is an Italian-American who started out doing a show about Italian cuisine and later branched out into other cuisines after proving that she had staying power, Giada probably views the whole "let your heritage inspire your cooking" thing as a natural first step. She probably felt that if Susie was good enough to not only win the competition but good enough to last long enough on the network, that Susie would eventually be able to do the same thing and branch out gradually. Of course, Susie ended up losing, so we'll never know whether that would have happened.
It's also a bit jarring when the season has Whitney Chen and yet her ethnicity is barely mentioned, which may be because Whitney is only half Asian, and doesn't exactly look it, or if it's the accent Susie has. In the second to last episode, Giada almost went orgasmic when she talked about Susie going back to her roots. They want certain styles of cooking on their network but geez!! Talk about putting people in boxes!
It was even worse for Herb in season 6. Susie at least occasionally mentioned being Hispanic, and it was important to her, so asking her to draw inspiration from it wasn't a big stretch. Herb came in as a personal trainer with a love for healthy cooking, who never mentioned his Cuban/Puerto Rican ancestry until asked. The judges pressured him more and more to focus on Hispanic food until his pilot had a freaking Spanish title.
It's particularly unfortunate given the Double Standard by which white Anglo chefs are treated. No one bats an eye if a white competitor from the Midwest decides to cook, say, Asian-inspired food (unless the person royally screws up), or gets told to stick to the food that's "in your soul."
Then again, Food Network is often berated by some viewers for being "too white" and not having enough ethnic hosts and ethnic cooking shows. Of course, when they then try to cultivate an ethnic chef, they're either accused of tokenism (if the audience deems the host "watered down") or racism if the host is "being forced into a stereotype". They can't win.
What Could Have Been: There was nothing wrong with Penny's food. In fact, the judges consistently loved her cooking. The problem was her over-the-top Jerkass/Alpha Bitch personality rendering her unlikable. Her recipes actually looked quite tasty. If only Penny hadn't been such a bully, she might have actually won and brought a Middle Eastern point of view to the Food Network.
On the other hand, Jeffrey Saad from an earlier season could ALSO have brought Middle Eastern flavor to the network. The best part is that—unlike Penny—Jeffrey has an extremely likable and friendly personality. He does have a show on Cooking Channel now and a webseries on foodnetwork.com that ran for a year, but he doesn't get nearly the exposure he would have if he had won.