The logical progression of eliminations continued this week on The Next Food Network Star, confirming my underlying belief that the no-nonsense selection committee of Susie Fogelson, Bob Tuschman, and Bobby Flay actually has its eye on, well, finding the next Food Network star, not just keeping contestants around to fulfill pre-determined roles as “sweetheart,” “bitch,” “funny guy,” “dude with simmering rage issues,” and “chef so smarmy you’d want to douse his concoctions in Purell before eating.”

Oh yes, speaking of Paul…”Hell-oooo, lay-dees!” The guy who stood not even a guppy’s chance in a piranha’s tank of scoring a Food Network deal finally got booted this week, and not just because he (gasp!) used gardenaire sauce from a jar, but also because he decided it would be a good idea to hurl sarcastic retorts at Bobby just moments before the judges decided which contestant to eliminate. Indeed, when Booby questioned Paul’s new point of view — “blue-collar dollar” — by pointedly asking “What am I gonna eat?,” Paul channeled his inner seventh grader and snapped back, “Food, Bobby.” I was surprised he didn’t follow up by rolling his eyes and sending an “I’m so over it!” text to his BFF.

Whatever, Paul. Honestly, I was a little shocked the judges didn’t eject the dude midway through the lunch-truck challenge, considering the lamely named “Paul and Herb’s Wraps” stand could’ve carried a tagline along the lines of “Lunch…it’s best served in hell.” Seriously, all that SCREAMING, all the forced jocularity of “baby!” and “buddy!” and “bro!” The sound of Herb chanting “rubbin’ my pork, baby, rubbin’ my pork!” Or Paul leering at guest judge Paula Deen and asking “You want the sandwich, not Herb, right?” I know the guys (and the judges for that matter) kept trying to portray all this obnoxiousness as the guys having “big personalities,” but that would be like saying Heidi Montag got a little nip-tuck done before her People magazine feature earlier this year.

Oh, and side note about Herb’s product presentation for the camera challenge. Maybe it’s just me, but I felt like at any second he might unleash his true, inner feelings by shouting “MY NAME IS HERB, AND I AM GOING TO PUNCH YOU IN THE FACE, KICK YOU IN THE GROIN, AND FORCE MY ENERGY-CHEF OIL DOWN YOUR GULLET!” And then the crowd would cheer delightedly and Bob could tell him that if he learned to manage his highs and lows, he’d be the guy to beat in the competition. Please tell me I’m the not only one struggling to understand Herb’s “appeal.”

Since the judges are still on the Herb train, though, I have a sneaking suspicion that next week, we’ll say goodbye either to Serena or Brad. Yes, the former contestant redeemed herself in the food department with that porketta panini, but she remains outrageously clueless in the speaking department. Take her comment after that sit-down with Giada: “I feel like I just talked to my older sister!” Or when she poached customer’s from Aria’s truck by saying “your food is good but we’re the hot ones!” I also loved the judges’ comments that the pasta sauce Serena purportedly served to her vegetarian mother happened to contain…drumroll please…bacon! Let’s just be glad her suggestion for the international food van moniker — “Hotties in the Truck,” which sounds like he kind of pay-per-view movie title Paul might try to get erased from his hotel bill during a business trip — did not see the light of day.

Brad, meanwhile, is breaking Susie’s heart, and I believe her when she says it, too. Is it too late for him to change his culinary POV from “professional restaurant chef” to “adorable sous chef looking to learn his trade — and find his missing smile — in front of the camera”? Kiddo, you made hot dogs with slaw? Paula’s toddler grandson could’ve made that travesty! And is there any hope for Brianna, who’d probably be an excellent Food Network host if her delicious concoctions could not only assemble and cook themselves, but also speak to the camera on her behalf? (“Hello, I’m a tasty hunk of beef, and I’m going to wrap myself in dough, deep-fry myself, and go by the name ‘Empanada’! Let’s begin…”)

At this point, it’s looking more and more like Aarti over maybe Aria, maybe Tom, maybe Aarti’s own self-sabotaging doubts. What’s your prediction for next week, and for the finale, for this season of Next Food Network Star? [Follow Slezak on Twitter @EWMichaelSlezak.]

The Next Food Network Star

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