Worst Cooks in America, Episode 1: Ketchup and SkittlesFood Network
A Sunday night without a soul-extinguishing cooking show didn’t quite feel right after the trauma of Rachael vs. Guy: Celebrity Cook-Off, so Mark Lisanti here was kind enough to let me keep this sad-party rolling with Worst Cooks in America. He is a classic enabler. In choosing to watch this show I feel a bit like an addict, in that I am making decision after decision that disappoints and scares my loved ones, and also the sort of people I am hanging around with look like Anne Burrell. I have no idea if Chef Anne Burrell has ever done drugs, and I am not implying she has; I am just saying she looks like the sort of person who can’t get lots of regular jobs because they have strict “Have you ever taken ketamine at a funeral?” policies.
Last night was the fourth season premiere of Worst Cooks in America. I did not know there had been three previous seasons of this show. I’ve never seen it before, and I regret whatever else I spent those 23 or so hours doing. Worst Cooks is sort of like Rachael vs. Guy, in that two professional Food Network personalities, in this case Anne Burrell and Bobby Flay, captain teams of struggling cooks. The difference is that the contestants on this show don’t even pretend to have any kind of prowess in the kitchen, and they certainly don’t pretend to have even one second of experience in how to not look idiotic on camera.
The central conceit of this show — that people try to prove they are the worst cooks in America in order to compete to be the most capable of the worst — is as confusing as it sounds. Any reality show, no matter the premise, attracts people desperate to get on television to its auditions. They want it so bad they can taste it, and that’s something, because since the accident they can’t taste things that well. I don’t like to imagine the home lives of these people, but I imagine it’s a lot of skimming Craigslist via a dial-up connection to find out about new reality shows, and then waiting in line hoping they get to embarrass themselves publicly. Their 10-year plan is “Be in Audition Episode Montage,” and on their vision board is a picture of Pants on the Ground. Usually these people are weeded out by the fact that they aren’t good at anything and therefore won’t get chosen. But it’s very easy to fake that you are bad at cooking.
The episode begins with a “nationwide search,” one that looks like Anne and Bobby spent about 45 minutes in an unbranded office conference room, to find America’s worst cooks. What they find instead is America’s mediocre cooks with the worst case of wanting to get on TV. I knew I was in trouble when the first person who walked up to audition for Bobby and Anne was a comedian and writer I recognized. I am not sure if she’s the worst cook in America, but I’m positive she really wants to be on TV. They don’t give her the satisfaction of even showing her speak. One metal guy walks up wearing a leather jacket and the number “13” tattooed on his neck, and he flips his long hair. Bobby looks at Anne and she cracks up at how “ridiculous” this guy looks. Anne Burrell, no offense, but you wear flair clogs and tablecloth skirts and give yourself light-socket blowouts. How about you relax on Mr. Number 13? Maybe he’s a bad cook and needs your help with it, but he definitely does not need your advice on how to look normal. You are a weird aunt who tells your 8-year-old niece “never trust a man,” and when you’ve got enough white wine in you, which is often, you start talking about 9/11 and chemtrails.
Bobby and Anne have no shame about hamming it up during the auditions, and that’s a little bit disappointing to see. They are legitimate chefs, and though their Food Network jobs have made it easier for them to sell more salmon at their restaurants, one would hope they’d be at the point where Bobby doesn’t have to do a spit take into a dedicated food spit-bucket and then listen seriously when a woman says, “Tamara cooks with dog food; that’s her favorite ingredient.” No it’s not. Tamara want to be on TV. Also, Bobby and Anne are presented with disposable aluminum trays of the auditioners’ food, but we were just shown these waiting on line outside; even if these people were the best cooks in America, you probably don’t want to eat the food that’s been at room temperature for the last five hours. I’m sure Anne and Bobby’s families will be sad however they die, but dying during the auditions for this show would be even a little sadder.
Everyone auditioning is bad at acting, but it is impressive how far we’ve come with reality television such that even dummies understand you’ve got to clearly communicate your character and play a well-defined role. At times their bios are so simplistic I feel like I’m watching people audition to be professional wrestlers: a female ballerina has a male dancer carry her and her food into the room; an accountant wears a bow tie and specifically calls to mind the Taxman Irwin R. Schyster, the WWF heel from the ’90s whose gimmick was telling people they need to pay their taxes. An old man introduces his young Latvian nurse and says, “She is my caretaker, but I wish I’d tasted her food first!” I applaud that they rehearsed this sound bite, but I am still creeped out by having to think of how she bathes him.
(There is something about cooking in particular that really brings out people’s personal health honesty in unwanted ways. Every time I read a recipe online, I am astounded by the stuff people admit in the comments. There will be a recipe for pumpkin pie, and someone will comment, “This looks so good! I can’t make it because of my husband’s diabetes, but I know if I was fully recovered from my foot surgery I’d gladly cook it for him.” Here is an actual comment on a Food Network tuna melt recipe: “I actually got to make these in a group at a mental health facility I was visiting as a student nurse. We didn’t make the tuna salad the way you did, though. We mixed tuna and onion and mayo until it was tuna salad-ish then we put it on toasted english muffins and topped with cheese. They were really good, and the kids enjoyed making them.” Oh, so you didn’t use this recipe, but you wanted to share your story about a mental health facility? Cool comment. Love the dialogue we’re having.
Fourteen cooks join the show. They’ll end up on either Anne’s or Bobby’s team, and Anne and Bobby have the responsibility of teaching them how to live without microwaves or prepared foods. I get that some people are not good at cooking; it’s an intimidating skill to learn and our country presents us with many easier and nearly as cheap alternatives, namely fast and frozen food. But the people on this show are not bad cooks, they are bad eaters. What they think should go in their mouths is not OK. “¡No en la boca!” is what I want to yell at all of them. It’s all ketchup and Skittles. During the initial baseline cooking challenge, where they all make what they enjoy eating to show Bobby and Anne what they’re made of, it becomes clear that many of these people were neglected as children. Thank God for the cameras; otherwise, their baseline cooking results might have been just “making” in their hands and then eating their own “make.” They are all animals.
The premier episode moved fast and spent little time on most of the cooks and no time on some, so I will not bother introducing you to everyone yet. There is a 36-year-old writer/musician named Aadip, and I’m sure we’ve all read and listened to much of his writing and music. It’s like the air we breathe. He’s got huge sideburns and he melts candy in a pan to make a horrendous-looking mole marinara spaghetti. Rasheeda is a high heels–wearing corrections officer with braces; she needs to learn to cook, she says, “So I can find my Mr. Right. My clock is ticking.” I hope her womb doesn’t fall out onto the kitchen floor. Carla calls herself the Fake N’ Bake Queen, and she literally came on the show to screw Bobby Flay and hard. “I’m in love with Bobby Flay.” She makes enchiladas and right before serving them realizes one of her fingernails had fallen off and she can’t find it. “I pray to God my fingernail is not in that food.” God’s like, “Uh, I’m out of the office.”
Tim is an ex-Marine who dry-heaved at the audition, and his gimmick seems to be dry-heaving. That’s a fun gimmick, on account of how fun it is as an audience member to watch people almost throw up. This show is like Salo. Chet is a gigantic interior designer from New Orleans with very bright-white teeth; he looks like a Duracell plastic puppet person. Alex Stein is a obnoxious bro who looks like he packs dip in his asshole. He speaks entirely in loud, nonsense slogans; he’s like if a rhyming demon went to Texas A&M. “Let a playa play! I’m 99 Alex Stein and I’m on the ground all the time! I got the queso cuz I say so!” Every time he’s on screen I hope for that type of scene in movies where a bus comes out of nowhere and erases him.
Dr. Bob is a chiropractor, and his wife has cooked every meal for him his entire marriage. He definitely doesn’t look like a guy with a sex dungeon. I am sure he has no captives at all at home. He serves Anne and Bobby a college-dorm chili made with a lock of hair from every single one of his daughter’s friends, then he yells, “Shut your pig mouth!” Anne and Bobby won’t even taste it. Guys, it’s your job. Taste it. I am sorry, but I am on Dr. Bob’s side here. Dr. Bob’s college-dorm chili wins worst dish of the baseline challenge.
Bobby and Anne pick their teams, and if you care how it’s split up, go to Food Network’s website. Check out the tuna melt recipe first. Both teams look like the Toxic Avengers. They head to Brooklyn to learn how to cook meat and potatoes. Dramatically, the microwaves are removed from the kitchen. Michael says, “When they roll the microwave out of boot camp, it’s like the death of a friend.” Michael must have intensely shitty friends. He’s got a point, though; lots of apartments in New York don’t come with microwaves, and it feels just like moving into the apartment where your friend just died, but the New York real-estate market is tough, so you take it anyway. I will say that my favorite competitor, by a mile, is Big Mike. He’s young and lives with his mom and does power-lifting competitions and he lifted up Anne Burrell over his shoulders in a fireman’s carry and blushed when he ripped his pants. He overcooks his broccoli a bit and explains to Bobby that he is colorblind. I hope he wins.
Bobby and Anne give their team members tutorials on cooking meat and chopping things, and these people have an extremely difficult time understanding basic instructions. Carla thinks a quarter cup is when you pour something the size of a quarter. By the end of the episode, Alina will have to be the caretaker for all of them, because I wouldn’t allow any of these people to use the shower alone. Rasheeda refuses to not wear heels in the kitchen. “If cooking is this hard, I’m gonna be single for life.” She is very set in her belief that the only way to “get a man” is to be a cook. I’d lose the braces first. Tim puts mustard in his pan sauce and dry heaves (again) when he tastes it. The food falls out of his mouth and down his shirt in an extremely unflattering way. Twice this episode, people put food in their mouths and then it falls right back out; even Bobby Flay does it. Didn’t they learn that once the bite is in there, close those chompers? Tim does not like the mustard in his sauce. “To me, mustard goes on one thing: the hot dog.” THE hot dog? What hot dog are we talking about here? Tim says, “I need to prove I’m not a blundering idiot.”
Chet, The Duracell Man, wins for the blue team. Michael, the accountant trying to make bow ties his thing, wins for Anne’s team. One loser will go home from each of the two teams. Sadly, on Bobby’s team, it is Tim going home. He did not prove he was not a blundering idiot, but he vows to go home and learn how to cook. Alina, the Latvian caretaker who believes all food should be burnt and does not know the word for many of the ingredients on the show, gets to stay. On Anne’s team it comes down to Dr. Bob and Diana. Diana is a health nut who doesn’t know how to cook, so she only eats nuts and Greek yogurt. She wears turquoise and is very intense and animated-looking, like she is an animatronic witch who pops out and screams at a Santa Fe haunted house. Dr. Bob really thought his pork was gonna send him home. He says of his dish, “That’s one of the worst things I’ve ever seen,” and that’s something coming from a guy who has a video of a woman in high heels stomping on his testicles. It’s not Diana’s day, though, and she heads home. She vows to come back for Season 5. I hope she comes back for every season and that there are a million seasons and I write about all of them.