Credit: Food Network

On tonight’s Next Food Network Star, the eight finalists got a visit from new Iron Chef Alex Guarnaschelli (pictured), who was filling in for Giada. I loved how this straight-shooting force of nature didn’t even pretend to indulge Danushka’s bad attitude. Spoilers (in the form of apple juice and “fruit leather”-infused hot sauce, if you please) ahead….

Eliminated: Danushka, the former fashion model with major Chelsea Clinton face (is that crazy?) and a willful detachment from the competition. “My goal was knowing I’m not like anyone that’s on the Food Network,” she said, “But I just couldn’t make it happen.” Actually, that’s exactly what she made happen! Good riddance to the woman who thought it’d be endearing to announce to a crowd, “I’m a little person! I don’t need a huge burger. I don’t wanna dislocate my jaw!” during last week’s Burger Bash challenge.

In danger: Stacey, who didn’t finish her pot pie in time; Russell, who seemed to be sleep-talking during his keyword-rich presentation (is anyone else sick of the seven deadly sins shtick?), and Lovely, whose stuffed bell peppers were too sweet.

The challenge: I loved the Chopped tie-in, as those challenges are always absurd and impossible. Four contestants had to combine sporting event food (beer, hot dogs, peanuts, cotton candy) and the other four had to combine kid-friendly treats (chicken nuggets, fruit leathers, cheddar fish crackers, and apple juice). I wonder how many times they had to edit out someone screaming a frustrated “These f—ing Fruit Roll-Ups” or “GOD, I LOVE GOLDFISH!” because that would be inappropriate product placement.

I do wish the presentations would have been more dramatic, though. No crowds this time (just wait for next week’s “movie trailer” challenge, sure to be disastrous judging from previews) — the cooks just had to explain their Chopped-inspired hot messes in 60 seconds for Bobby Flay, Alex, and Alton Brown. Of course, Drama did manage to seep into the sauce in the form of….

BROKEN LIFE ALERT: “Food was kinda my saving grace. I used to be a drug addict and alcoholic,” Chris offered to the judges while introducing his buttermilk fried chicken. (It’s only natural that something that delicious would be a trigger.) Through cooking, Chris said, he “turned a broken life into something new and fresh” — this was somewhat hilarious considering he was dealing with some iffy-looking pre-cooked chicken nuggets at the moment. The judges and Chris’ fellow contestants were thrilled with his revelation. Nikki Dinki (THAT NAME!) even rubbed his entire upper body in support and said she now “liked him even better” during a confessional. Romance alert?

Worst dish, maybe? I wanted nothing to do with Viet’s beer-infused hot dog ramen, despite the fact that it reminded me of “hot ham water” from Arrested Development.

Double-edged Alton Brown critique of the night: “Your story’s a bit rambling. Your custard is delightful.” (to Stacey after she had to cook with durian, a “stinky horrific fruit”)

Weirdest reasoning: “I’m a party girl!” insisted Lovely (real name Connie) after announcing she’d be cutting her red bell peppers into four pieces. Is that what people do at parties these days? I wish I was cooler and knew how to really party. Like the judges, I’m skeptical of Lovely’s smoothness, but I also think maybe she can’t help seeming over-rehearsed; that’s just her personality. It can’t be good that they’re calling it into question already, with so many people still left.

The ones to beat: Damaris and Rodney both got to join the judging panel after co-winning the Mentor Challenge. It seems like everyone else thinks Damaris is a flake in the kitchen, but she passed this personality test with flying colors and didn’t have the chance to cry. I’m still really into Rodney after this memorable line from last week: “The best hamburger you’ve ever had is pie.” And Nikki (cheddar fish spring roll) and Chad (fried hot dog and waffles with a cotton candy, beer, and maple syrup sauce, agggggh GIMME NOW) turned out dishes much, much better-looking than stress-filled mid-challenge footage would have suggested.

Who are you rooting for after this week? Is Nikki Dinki a real name? Did anyone else begrudgingly desire a “hot dog rocket” even though it had been prepared by Her Sullenness, Danushka?

The Next Food Network Star
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