Food Network Star Finale

First and most important: Congratulations to Jeff. As I’ve said in interviews and everywhere else, his food is wonderful and his show is appointment viewing for me. I’ve already programmed my DVR to remind me (cute, Tivo has it listed as “FNS Season 7 Winner Show” to not spoil the surprise). As I watched FNS, his sandwich concept won me over as a great way to showcase cultures and experiment with food – two goals I embrace and that I know Jeff is serious about. And as Jeff and I have connected outside of the competition, my respect for him has grown. He also has a fabulous wife who seems to suffer no fools, an indicator of a man’s good character.

Anyone who has visited my website knows that every week, a few days after Food Network Star airs, I post my thoughts about the show. I’ll miss doing it now that the show is over.

Some people have expressed surprise that there was tension between Jeff and me shown on the reunion show, and that I didn’t handle it well. Genuine apologies to anyone who was disappointed by my stammering and not hugging. I imagine it’s very difficult to condense thousands of hours of footage (per episode) into a one-hour show that follows a coherent storyline. It’s probably like turning War and Peace into a movie: You simply can’t include all of the subplots and nuances, even if the storyline is generally the same. I ask that disappointed people consider that the situation is more nuanced than an hour affords.

My stammering at being asked about Jeff’s show reflected my surprise at the question – it was literally the first thing I was asked when I walked in the room and I just didn’t expect it. I stammered because I was trying to figure out how to answer it, given that Susie and I were very good friends. That’s why I said, “It’s tough to separate the personal from the professional.”

My previous FNS blog post lists things I learned from the show. Before I posted it, I deleted two things from that list, because I thought the post was too long. Those were:

1. When life gets crazy, don’t shut down, open up.

2. It’s never too late to be the person you always meant to be.

Funny, because those are two of the most important things I learned from watching the reunion and the finale. I guess somehow I knew I hadn’t really learned those lessons and needed to save them for this post. Being afraid and closed off is one of the reasons why I’m not interested in hugging as my dream dies before my eyes. Being afraid and closed off is why I gave a performance in Episode One that Bobby Flay (now one of my favorite people) called “mediocre.” Only when I decided that I wanted to really open up, be courageous, and be myself could I deliver a performance that would get me to the Final Four.

But old habits don’t die easy, which brings us to Lesson Two – I am still trying to be the person I always meant to be, including being someone who opens up rather than closing down. Hence this post. I am still growing and learning, and hope to do that until the day I die. And it is the flat-out craziest thing in the world that it took a reality show to help me understand that. For everyone who became supporters throughout the show, THANK YOU! I promise, the best is yet to come.

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  1. Rainey says:

    Thanks so much for the explanation. I really liked your ideas and your recipes (um…meatloaf = yum!) and when the reunion show aired I felt like I’d been lied to for the whole season. I’m not sure why they decided to paint you in such a negative light…but it really bugged me. (meanwhile the REAL witch was glossed over and shown as a funny witch instead of the bitchy witch…grrrr)

    Keep on doing your thing…you are eloquent and you have some danged good food that comes out of that mind…so keep posting it so we can all share with you! :-)

    • Cheryl in France says:

      You couldn’t have said that any better, Rainey! (and personally, I wouldn’t want *anyone* hugging me at that moment!

      You (MB) remind me a little of Carol Blymire in your humor- have you ever connected/worked together, given you’re both in the DC area?

  2. Rebecca says:

    Awesome. I think the surprise for us was just seeing you react so WELL under stress in other challenges, but falter a bit when it came to Jeff. But you know, it’s actually encouraging to know that you’re human and can be caught off guard and can close down too. Just like, well, me! And yet you’re a class act. Onward!

  3. Mary says:

    I could not like you more after reading this!! Well said…I look forward to seeing what you do in the future and seeing you while running around DC!!

  4. I’m a hugger Mary Beth. I would have reached out to hug you too. I’m glad that you posted this. I had wondered about you and Jeff after the finale show. We only get to see what the directors and producers want us to see. Penny seemed like a bad seed all the way through the show but was she really or was it what they wanted us to think. I’m sure that going through all of this was challenging to say the least. But I bet it was also fun. Anyway I love Food Network Star and enjoyed you this year. Keep becoming the person you want to be Mary Beth.

  5. I was wondering about the supposed tension, too, so I was glad to read this post. I can totally understand not wanting to be hugged at that moment, just as I can understand Jeff’s gesture was made to comfort you. I know I would have been vastly disappointed and perhaps even angry at that moment, and comfort wouldn’t necessarily have been welcomed.

    I think it’s wonderful that recent FNS finalists that have not won the big dream of the FN show have gone on to do other wonderful things on FN and the Cooking Channel. It’s been great to see Adam, Tom, Kelsey and others get their own shows that may not get the same level of attention as some of the winners but are still successful and enjoyable TV. I hope that could be in the future for you and Susie, if that’s what you desire.

  6. Lena says:

    Thanks for sharing this post. To be honest, when watching the finale I was a bit turned off by the way they portrayed you and in how you responded to the question about Jeff. It didn’t feel like you . I felt mislead, by you and by FN, but now I understand it was in the moment and there is a lot more to everything. You are, and will continue to be, one of my favorite candidate on FNS across all the seasons and I look forward to following you and your pursuits as long as you keep sharing them!

  7. TomD says:

    Thanks for clearing the Jeff thing up, MB. I suspected the question response was edited to punch up some sort of smaller existing issue, but I think they did you a disservice in portraying it as active animosity. I also suspect you gave some supportive commentary during the ‘focus group’ of Jeff’s pilot. It would’ve been fairer for FN to show that for balance, since they manufactured the earlier “conflict.”

    In any case, I hope your time on the show has furthered your career options as much as you deserve. I look forward to seeing more of you in the future!

  8. Lori says:

    It’s totally understandable that you didn’t want to be hugged at that moment. I don’t think FN gave you the greatest edit in the reunion show and obviously wanted to redeem Penny in some way. I’m a huge fan of yours and can’t wait until it cools down so I can make your meatloaf!!

  9. Kathi says:

    Just wanted to say that I would not have welcomed a hug at that moment either. Any expression of comfort would have just made me more emotional – not something anyone would want to be on national tv. A few minutes later back stage – that’s when I would have looked for the hug. Loved you on NFS – hope to see you and learn from you soon.

  10. Susan says:

    So glad to read that you will be watching Jeff’s show. I was taken aback by your response at the reunion show and am glad to have your explanation. Wish it was your show that we will be watching, I really enjoyed you! So glad I found your blog!

  11. Karin says:

    Hi Mary Beth!
    I was disappointed in the way you were portrayed during the reunion. Whoever the editors were made you appear to be just as bad as Penny, and left us here at my house thinking…”Gee, maybe it wasn’t all Penny’s fault” and were were really bummed out. I am so glad you posted this because it explains things to a point – but the sad part is people that don’t follow your blog or facebook, will probably always be left with that bad taste in their mouth. I know it is a game show and sensationalized for ratings, which is unfortunate. I still really like you and hope you get your own FN show!

  12. Pat says:

    Even though it seemed somewhat mean for you to not let Jeff hug you, I wasn’t there. I figured that we were viewing a 2 second cut and that we “missed” what may have happened before or even after that. Maybe you hugged him off-camera, or the next day. It seemed out of character for you to not be kind to someone else or a good sport. You had been a good sport every week then suddenly you were not. But video editors could edit in such a way to make you look like an angel or the most evil person ever. We all get mad, sad, surprised, knocked off-balance. We all have moments when we are not sure how to respond to something. Maybe even Penny isn’t as bad as she seemed. They did show clips of her being funny and kind sometimes. Maybe Chris isn’t really as dumb as a box of rocks…….no wait a minute……he always appeared that way every time they showed him.. okay so maybe he is. But anyway, bottom line, I understand, I still like you, and I would still watch your show. The other thing that convinces me that you’re “okay” is that the other Food Network people liked you. (That’s the one thing that holds out a small piece of hope for Penny–some FN people still liked her despite her acidic behaviour.) And in the end, you’re just too darned cute to be upset with forever and not forgive, (if you even ever required forgiveness for anything), and not watch. Good luck and God bless you and your family.

  13. Melissa says:

    I actually got all that from the last two shows. I understood that not wanting to be hugged was about not wanting to be hugged by anyone in that moment. And I got that the stammering was about being caught off guard and trying to be diplomatic. I could also see that FNS’s editors tried to skew that which irritated me, but I thought those attempts to skew were pretty transparent. I thought it made FNS look bad not you.

    I saw the same person in you I’d seen all season. Flustered at times when caught off guard, as were other people, fantastic in front of the camera, memorable, engaging, funny, and a strong sense of integrity. That’s how you came across throughout the season, and that’s what I saw in those last episodes.

  14. lisa says:

    i’m sorry you felt you had to explain yourself and hope you didn’t receive all kinds of hate because of the finale show. i’m not a hugger either and am always shocked how this seems to define me as cold and withdrawn (which i’m not). to me, you came across as very intelligent on the show so i just figured you were getting the “bring down the smart girl” treatment, which seems to be our nation’s new favorite thing to do. just keep being yourself. your frank and honest insight and humor is so very refreshing.

  15. ruth says:

    Mary Beth,

    I was sad to see how you were portrayed as well. I felt this was a deliberate and exploitive use of film editing. I don’t think it matters whether you are a “hugger” or not. You could be, and at that moment when you received that news, you just needed your space. None of us know how we would react given the mental, emotional, and physical investment that you had in the competition. It is unfair of FN to orchestrate those negative feelings. I believe they attempt to control people’s emotions thinking them not smart enough to observe and discern what was happening. I don’t know what you were thinking at that moment, but I doubt if you were focused on Jeff and feeling like he did this to you. I know I would have also felt deep disappointment, and at the same time, I would have focused on my own performance and what I could have done differently. No one knows what the true reasons are behind the way things go. If you draw superficial and obvious conclusions such as were presented to the viewing audience, it would be hard to learn and grow. You could just blame others for your circumstances. Getting news such as you did which affects your future takes some time and adjustment to process. If viewers don’t get that, I am sorry for them. There is so much manipulation in the editing on this show, but this one bothered me more than some. It was an alteration of who you are. You will be fine, better than fine. You are introspective and hard working. You took the road less traveled. Food Network did not.

  16. Russell van Kraayenburg says:

    I was crossing my fingers for you the whole time. I’m sure Jeff’s show will be great but I still would have rather seen a fellow foodie and food writer up there. I’m glad I found your blog though! I can’t wait to catch up with all your posts.

    Being a film school major I know all too well how TV works, especially “reality tv”.

  17. Renée says:

    Hi Mary Beth. As soon as I saw that reunion show segment I knew the editing monkeys had done their best to make you look bad. The question is why would Food Network want to throw you under the bus? I don’t get it and I don’t think you deserved it. They should know that a lot of people buy what they see at face value on shows like this, even if common sense should tell them otherwise.

    I belong to a chat board that has a thread on Food Network Star and after that episode it seemed like the majority of members were all too quick to take things on appearances and started trashing you. I couldn’t believe it! In your defense, I did my best to convince them otherwise, and then when someone posted this blog entry there suddenly all the “dime turners” were silent. Honestly, don’t these people realize that so much of what we see on competitive reality shows is very incomplete and can give the wrong impression? It’s too bad because I hate it that nice people like you are negatively affected by reality show gimmickry. Fortunately for me, I was given a healthy common sense by my parents and God so I knew better. Plus I have been watching these shows for years and I’m wise to the way they work by now. (And being 53 years old and having had a lot of life experience doesn’t hurt either.) I’m a good judge of character and you impressed me very much (and remind me a lot of myself too!).

    I hope that in the future you will be given a show on either the Food Network or the Cooking Channel. To tell the truth I could also easily see you sipping wine in Spain with Mark Bittman and Mario Batali, so you could fit on PBS as well. I hope you take your success on FNS and find yourself a show somewhere. You have a rare quality of approachability and what Tuschie would call “relatability”, but you also have what it takes to make the big guns of the culinary world more accessible to the average person – And that’s a great service you could bring to the world, sort of taking up where Julia Child left off in her later years with her “In Julia’s Kitchen with Master Chefs”. Your kind of talent is too good not to be on TV!

  18. Mary Alaimo says:

    Mary Beth, I understand you far more after reading your explanation. You didn’t need to give one, but you did, and I am glad because it cleared a lot of confusion and disappointment up for me. I was always a fan of Jeff, although I always liked you on the show, at least up to the ending. I figured you had reasons for why you rejected Jeff’s hug, and why you stammered with the question they gave you, but I feel fortunate to read what your reasoning was. I didn’t want to believe you were a negative or cold person, so I feel relieved knowing it was a mix of emotions and poor editing. I figured at least half of the way you were portrayed was due to their choice of editing, but I was still left with a bitter taste in my mouth. I am a hugger, and I guess I really don’t understand what it’s like to not want to be touched, even in severely emotional moments. I do realize not everyone is like me, but at first, I misinterpreted your gesture as a slap in the face to Jeff. I suppose, initially, that is why I felt so shocked and let down by your actions. Now I, and everyone else who visits your blog, will have some clarity on what really went on. So, thank you, and best of luck for the future.

  19. I just wanted to say that I thought you were so great on FNS. Seriously, thank you for representing our fabulous city of DC — a city that i think gets knocked around quite a bit. I feel bad for people who don’t get to see our thriving culture, identity, and our FOOD! So while I’m toiling away in our kitchen in the Bloomingdale neighborhood of DC, I’ll definitely be inspired by your stories!

  20. Robin-Taine says:

    Hey Mary Beth. I’ve been watching the show here in Canada. Honestly, I called it at about the 6th from last show you would make it to about 4th or 5th place. In my heart of hearts, (though I love the other top 3 finalists), you were my favorite throughout the competition. As a home cook, you are seriously relateable to those of us who are not pro’s but want to be better cooks. you are engaging and funny. I look forward to reading your blog regularly and to trying out some of your delicious food on my family!

  21. Rebecca Cz says:

    Mary Beth! I am sure you know this… & perhaps I need to remind myself of this.
    A story teller (T.V. Show) can paint a picture any way they want the viewer to see it. A “Cook” can paint a plate of food that offers FLAVOR & Taste! Both of which I find Classy! Thanks for sharing your thoughts! Congrats on being YOU!
    Rebecca Cz

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