Competitive competiton-watching, part 2: Lay down your art/you’re here for the party

Public service announcement: Kalan Porter JayDee Bixby Theresa Sokyrka Brian Melo…and, er, Matt Dusk….

OK, sorry. It’s only that I was starting to quite enjoy the whole ‘readers suddenly flocking over in actual droves’ bit, and couldn’t figure out any other reason for it. I am really trying to maintain an air of ‘for the love of the craft’ about this latest project, and succeeding I think rather well…quite a few of the current readership will recognize what a change that is…but I’ve come to the conclusion that love of craft and love of an audience can’t ever be fully extricated one from another, unless the craftee happens to be either a saint or a genius, which, yeah.
Anyway, now that I’ve got everyone’s attention, time to admit that I kinda sorta lied totally about being through with the Bob & Ray article, and when not cheering the Packers through the NFL playoffs have in fact spent much of the time between LJ entries working it up into a more sophisticated and detailed – ie., 6000-word – version.
This isn’t to announce I’m planning to repost; only that if anybody out there isn’t completely sick of my obsession with a couple of comedians, and feels like playing beta reader for this sucker before I start poking around seeing if any magazine-type site on the Net would be interested…let me know (at the email addy under ‘User Info’), it would be greatly appreciated.

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Now back to this week’s entertainment. Which is competitive reality TV, as per the Food Network and HGTV…no, really, go back and look it up. As detailed in that week’s column – also, pretty much my entire writing career – Shoemom and I are all about sitting around and mocking the attempts of food/design types to be on TV. Or, in the case of Bravo’s series, just to be really, really obnoxious while doing it. Here’s a partial list of the competitions we’ve followed over the past year:

HGTV Design Star
Top Design
Top Chef
The Next Food Network Star
The Next Iron Chef
Designer Superstar Challenge
(apparently a Canadian version of Design Star)
Handyman Superstar Challenge (apparently…oh, who knows, it had Mike Holmes in it anyway)

What does it feel like to be the reigning authority on random kitchen/rec room makeovers, you’re probably wondering right now? Well, for one thing, it feels lonely. Very. Thus I’ve decided to inflict some of my observations on you, my kind and forgiving audience, who are probably just grateful I’ve not decided to develop the obsession with NFL football any further…well, at least not until next week. Maybe we’ll all get lucky, and I’ll find a really good book to read. Meanwhile, I present the Official Shoe Central Best in Reality Snark:

—Most viable contestant – David Bromstad, HGTV Design Star Season One. As discussed previously, DS’s producers somehow totally missed the chapter in the reality show Bible (How to Lose Your Self-Respect and Influence People) re: the more ‘controversy’ you need to generate the less your competition actually matters. An artist, carpenter and sometime children’s room designer, Bromstad turned out to be a bonafide original with ideas worth offering to the public…also, a bonafide guy who takes his shirt off a lot. Colour Splash, the net result of the combination, is in its second hit season.

Runner-up: Matt Lorenz of Top Design. The contestant lineup on this show was so…er…flamboyantly dedicated…that Matt here managed to win largely on the strength of being able to create rooms people would actually want to live in. The really neat part came in where he then he had them salivating at the prospect through his use of rich materials and sophisticated detailing. Leather floors! I ask you.

—Contestant who clearly had no chance but I rooted for them anyway: Brian Malarkey, Top Chef Season Three, who finished fourth. Besides having the official Best Reality Show Contestant Name Ever, he was a total sweetheart. Which, in the context of TC, is something close to being named Man of the Year at the cattlemen’s association despite being a vegetarian.

Runner-up: Goil Amornvivat, Top Design. You know how every single one of these competitive-reality types blather on about being fresh and original? Well, this kid actually was, and charming & funny to boot. Given a children’s room to design, he threw in a space to hide under the desk. It’s just a shame he spent so much time being different he neglected to, y’know, make his rooms look nice.

—Least viable contestant: Everybody who ever won one of these silly Superstar Challenges, apparently, since none of them have ever materialised on my screen again. It’s like Food Network & HGTV Canada are both secretly trying to eliminate any competition for, say, the Junk Brothers. Seriously, ten minutes of any given Debbie Travis ep will prove my point. The minute a winner is crowned, hey presto, it’s down the laundry chute, manic Cockney chuckle echoing in their ears.
Check that – the poor dude who won the first Handyman challenge must’ve really posed a threat, because they gave him twenty minutes opposite Mike Holmes by way of an audio-visual rack session. “You forgot to allow for pyhrric figloconfusational tension in measuring the biohalventican roof slats, boy! You know what that means! [manic Mississaugan chuckle]”

—Clearly talented contestant I loathed: Marcel, Top Chef Season Two. Actually, I pretty much loathed the entire lineup of this season before it was all over; buncha semitalented bullies anyway. Marcel, however, pushed an especially toasty button here @ Shoe Central by both being an obnoxious prick and having pretentious hair, for no very good reason in either case.

—Weirdest contestant: The entire cast of Top Design, really. About midway you had one contestant explain that he’d had a meltdown last ep on account of he was HIV-positive and had been given a big ol’whack of testosterone pre-show to help him thru. After that, an herbal chandelier (no, not a representation, I mean actual fresh garden herbs rustling from the light fixture) over a chef’s table starts to seem almost cute. Of course, the prospect of not only being eliminated, but being told ‘See ya later, decorator!’ by Jonathan Adler as you departed, would probably be enough to send anybody to the edge.

Runner-up: Ramona Jan from Design Star. Who says reality TV doesn’t impart valuable Life Lessons? Never trust an artist who carries a little foofy dog in her purse, this is the one I picked up from Ramona. Asked to create the art for a townhouse redo, she scribbled a caricature of a fellow contestant – a former Miss Utah – on the living-room wall (helpfully labelling it ‘Miss Utah’ just in case anybody missed her Meaning) then covered an upright vacuum in plaster of Paris and set it up on the deck. Why, yes, she did claim the judges’ taste was all ‘a matter of opinion’ as she was being eliminated, however did you guess?

—Most obnoxious contestant: Oh, don’t get me started. There was Carina Perez-Fuentes of Top Design, who morphed into the Design Diva from Hell every time her carpenters tried to drive a nail without her input; Shoemom & I had a great time imagining the revenges they might’ve plotted, up to and including ‘accidentally’ positioning a beam to drop just as the judges passed under.
Heading the common or garden-variety famewhore list was Design Star’s Temple McDowell, the aforementioned Miss Utah, whose emotional manipulations were such that I was almost driven to retroactive sympathy for Ramona. Also there was Rory Schepisi, scary mutant teeth lady from Next Food Nework Star, who just…just…wanted this so much, to quote her own tearful words.
Somehow, in the alternate universe these shows take place in – this would be the same universe in which being down-home Southern somehow automatically = culinary skill, which may have also helped – that translated to her having a ‘great personality’ and she actually made runner-up. There’s an entire solemn PBS documentary on What’s Wrong With America, in Rory somewhere.

—Most unfortunately candid contestant: John, HIV-positive dude from Top Design. Also DS’ Temple, whose idea of inspired leadership one on challenge was to write everybody little notes telling them she loved them sooooo much and knew that if they only rose above such little hitches as actual facts and experience, they’d get it done.

—Least unfortunately candid contestant: Joshua Adam ‘JAG’ Garcia from NFNS, who was flying high until it was revealed he’d lied about his Marine service record and his culinary training, which makes him easily the most creatively desperate famewhore in reality-TV history. (“Hmmm…I’ve morphed myself into an ex-serviceman with major gastronomic credentials. I know! I’ll see if I can get my own TV cooking show!”)
Frankly I can’t see what difference in integrity it makes on a network that’s already trying and failing to pretend that Rachael Ray isn’t a hack with luck, but they booted him anyway.

—Funniest contestant screwup: Told to create a coat rack, one of the interchangeable disposables from Designer Superstar Challenge created…well, a coat rack. OK, maybe you had to be there – all these elaborate Moderne racks, and smack in the middle is a basic white wooden jobby such as is prominent in medical waiting rooms everywhere. Demonstrating the shortcomings of these series in more ways than one, ID claimed she ‘misunderstood the intent of the challenge’ but was eliminated anyway.

Runner-up: One of the NFNS personalities spilling food on guest judge Bobby Flay. Again, possibly YMMV; Shoemom and I, however, would happily watch an entire hour titled Let’s Find New and Exciting Ways To Spill Stuff on Bobby Flay. Given creative enough placement of the boiling bouillon, I think ratings could actually be decent across the board.

—Best judges (as defined loosely by ‘judges I agree with the most’): Freed from the need to cuddle along the ‘personalities’, Top Chef’s Tom Coliocchio and his guests are splendidly fearsome arbiters of their art. I loved the little cameo Coliocchio made on Top Design, repeatedly glancing askance at their judges like, “You let them say that to you here? Wow.”

Runner-up: Vern Yip, ex-Trading Spaces favourite, now judging Design Star. Because, of course, Vern wins at pretty much everything. Any day can be made a little brighter, just by adding some Vern.

—Worst judges: Handyman Superstar Challenge. I’m not sure whose brilliant idea it was to give Mike Holmes yet another smugness outlet, then pair him up with a couple of soft-spoken people completely incapable of out-shouting him; but they need to be buried in a really, really deep hole before they make any kind of decision ever again.

Runners-up: The group put in charge of choosing the Next Iron Chef, who – in a fashion strikingly reminiscent of many of that show’s judges – seemed much more intent on proving themselves precious enough to kiss than actually, y’know, evaluating the contestants’ skill. Because they were not, in fact, herding a bunch of contestants who aren’t among the top-ranked chefs in the nation, this somehow failed to go over as well as on Top Chef.

—Best judging moment: Vern, confronted by a contestant who’d hung a random dog leash from the ceiling: “Not really feeling…uh…don’t really know what you were going for…[visibly giving up] It looks like a noose for a gerbil.”

—Funniest judging moment: From Next Iron Chef: Precious Judge #1 debates with Precious Judge #2 for a full five minutes over whether John Besh – one of the country’s elite chefs by any standard, and not incidentally a real Marine – should be penalised, upon producing a slightly murky soup and calling it consommé, for ‘not having enough knowledge of food.’

Runner-up: NFNS guest judge Alton Brown, bless his little ‘they can’t touch me and I’m gonna make it count’ heart, when confronted with the results of the first live demo: “Can we just fire ‘em all and start over?”

–Scariest judging moment: Handyman Challenge: Mike Holmes, already cruising along at about 12.5/10 on the Smug Scale, is confronted with a demo-ing contestant taking his earlier advice to loosen up and think outside the box. Contestant plays around a bit, jumps off a roof into the shot, whatever (add amateurish camera angles to my list of DSC peeves).

Well.

Did you know that ’twas dedication to televised carpentry singlehandedly won WWII, caused the fall of the Berlin Wall and is now well on the way to curing cancer? Neither did I, but boy howdy, our Mike left us viewers in no doubt that evening. To this day I’m not sure whether that was a heavenly choir swelling in the background, or just the Theme Song Guy hastily cranking it up.

…like he’s doing now,  actually.  Well, folks, that’s all the time we have for this column…tune in next week, when I…[glances over at LaVyrle Spencer novel peeking out of purse]…uh,  we’ll think of something, ‘kay?

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