Food Network Star 2012 resumed July 15 with its 10th week of competitive cooking. By evening's end, the field of hopefuls was trimmed from six to just three in preparation for next week's finale. Who made it to the final episode?
To open the hour, the finalists joined mentors Bobby Flay, Giada DeLaurentiis, and Alton Brown. The trio explained that the season's final challenge required them each to create a 30-second show promo, to be screened by judges Bob Tuschman and Susie Fogelson, as well as a panel of Food Network big wigs, including the most recent competition of the winner, Sandwich King Jeff Mauro, as well as Anne Burrell, Robert Irvine, Melissa d'Arabian, Aaron Sanchez, and Sunny Anderson.
They broke into teams to prepare for the task at hand. In Team Bobby's camp, Michele Ragusis struggled during her first two takes, but Bobby encouraged her to keep smiling, and she hit the 30-second mark perfectly during her last try. Nikki Martin, who's been criticized all season long for being overly polished and scripted, had trouble during her first two takes but earned praise from Bobby for a "great" last attempt.
Team Alton's Justin Warner felt the "nerves" and "pressure," as did his BFF Martie Duncan, who whiffed badly out of the gates, but calmed down after giving a demo to her mentor. Team Giada's Ippy Aiona started off "very laid-back" and progressed to being "too intense," but his mentor was convinced he'd pulled it off during the last take. Up last was Yvan Lemoine, who suddenly had trouble remembering the name of his own proposed program.
Later, the celebrity panelists joined the teams to view the finalists' demos on a huge outdoor screen. Nikki's demo was played first. Anne thought she tried too hard, but Susie called her "girl who grills" theme intriguing. Michelle's clip followed. Melissa thought she was "inviting, welcoming," but Sunny said, "she scared me." Robert said he thought she has what it takes to make it.
Jeff called Ippy's Hawaiian perspective intriguing, but Sunny found his delivery too "sing-songy." Melissa said she'd "love to learn his food." Anne appreciated Yvan's "charm" but had no idea what he'd teach. Robert appreciated the "family style" concept and said he'd watch his show no matter what the content.
Aaron wasn't surprised that Justin was Alton's protege, and Sunny loved him, calling his likability "off the charts." Anne "loved" Martie, but Robert wasn't convinced that she'd deliver. Susie thought she'd "nailed it."
With the demo viewing complete, the judges deliberated privately as the mentors sat with their remaining hopefuls. Moments later, Susie and Bob addressed the six finalists and three mentors. The first person to earn a pilot was Michele, who responded with "wow, thanks you guys." Nikki was dismissed. The next nod went to Yvan, who gave the eliminated Ippy an emotional embrace.
Susie called choosing between Martie and Justin one of the toughest in the history of the showÂ—"torture", in factÂ—but ultimately, the final spot went to Justin. After a tearful Team Alton bade what they thought was farewell to Martie, Bob and Susie threw a shocking twist into the mix when they revealed that Martie would also make a pilot. The stunned finalist admitted that it was the first time ever that she'd been at a loss for words.
The remaining competitors returned to New York, where they planned and shot their pilots. While Justin set up shop in his restaurant, while Michele went to a New England style seafood establishment, Martie went with an entertaining at home theme and called the opportunity a "do or die" one. Finally, members of Yvan's family joined him for his Family Style pilot.
So who will win Food Network Star 2012? Will it be Yvan Lemoine, Martie Duncan, Justin Warner, or Michele Ragussis? Visit the show's official website to cast up to 10 votes per day until voting closes at 5 PM ET July 17. Then tune in on July 22 for the big reveal.