With little fanfare or notice, the Food Network decided to wrap up Rachael Vs. Guy: Celebrity Cook-Off in five weeks instead of six. This past Sunday they aired the final two episodes back-to-back. Perhaps they worried the finale would get much higher ratings than the Super Bowl, and Guy Fieri didn’t want to be responsible for destroying the game he loves. “I’m a major pigskin-head, bro. I can’t do that to the Big Game. Unrelated: I’m allegedly uncomfortable around gay people.” If the Food Network were worried about putting the finale against the Super Bowl, why’d they premiere the show six weeks before? Was there a time where they thought it might actually compete with it? None of these things check out.
All I’m sure of is I was forced to choke down two hours of this program, and I want you to read the fruits of my efforts. I feel like those two girls who had to chug a large glass of donkey semen on an unaired episode of Fear Factor. Yes, it’s embarrassing and painful they had to go through that, but now that they did, you better be damned sure they want people to see it. I’d want everyone to see it. I’d want it showed in schools. “This is why you shouldn’t move to LA and audition for things.” My point is: this show is a hot mug of donkey semen. “Is that steam coming off the top of the mug?” you ask. No, it’s mist, as in, “I mist my chance to say no to writing about this show, so please read my recap because Grantland made me swallow all of it.”
The final four contestants are Joey Fatone, Coolio, Taylor Dayne, and Lou Diamond Phillips. That means both Rachael Ray and Guy Fieri have two team members remaining, but only one from each of their teams can go to the finale. To decide the finalists, the four celebrities will individually cook a family-style dinner party for some very special judges: as Guy says, “a mixed group of our friends and family.” Can you imagine a less warm and endearing way to describe the people close to you? “Hello, I’d like to thank this mixed group of friends and family for joining us here to help arbitrate in what order we’ll euthanize Jim & Diane’s pets now that they’ve died in a car accident.”
Guy’s team is up first, and he coaches both Joey and Coolio, even though only one of them can win. It’s in his best interest to send the strongest competitor to the finale. “I’m not going out the first season of Rachael Vs. Guy as a loser,” says Guy. What’s that about the first season, Guy? Don’t even pretend that there will be more seasons. This is the only season. Or at least it better be. I am going to use the Secret, like Lou Diamond Phillips does. How exactly does one visualize something not happening? I am really intensely picturing a press release saying Rachael Vs. Guy has been canceled and that all the Food Network executives responsible for making this show peacefully turned themselves over to local authorities. And then the guy from those Pace Picante commercials says, “Get a rope,” because they make their salsa in New York City, the subtext being that place is filled with gay Jewish people.
Guy’s mixed grill of friends and family will be judging his team’s dishes, and his group includes his friend Dustin, his culinary director, his manager, and his mom. He tells a charming story about his mom not thinking his food is good, and it makes me like her a lot. Everybody likes Joey’s linguine with clams, but his chicken is dry. Guy says Joey’s trying things “outside his wheelhouse.” What exactly is in Joey’s wheelhouse? Running a weird middleman charity that distributes money to other charities? Leaving three voicemails a week for Justin Timberlake? “Hey bro, quite a game of phone tag we got here. I think I missed a call from you? My phone didn’t say I missed one, but my Original Razr ran out of batteries for about an hour and that’s probably when you tried to call. Anyway, saw you on the People’s Choice Awards. Where’d you get your suit? It fits super good. Call me!” One of the judges says, “I feel like Joey Fatone has been to a lot of nice restaurants.” I would hope so. What a strange, backhanded compliment. “Looking at this artist’s work, I feel like he’s definitely driven by some big museums.”
Coolio’s menu is crazy. He makes something called a fork steak, which is a nice piece of steak braised to death and turned into a pot roast. Guy doesn’t buy it, but some of the judges do. Who would want to eat a steak with a spoon? Guy’s culinary director, that’s who. Also, I am very much on board with Coolio’s Italian bread, which is covered in mayo, butter, and cheese. My friend Lauren is from Ohio and makes something called “Heartland Heartattack” which is similar, except maybe raw. It’s so good. And it’s very good for you, which is why when you Google that name you get a half a million web pages about how to avoid myocardial infarctions. Looking at his plate of Coolio’s food, Guy says, “You look at that, there’s one thing you think: Shaka Zulu!” Everyone has a big laugh. (Now, Guy’s comment makes sense, because “Shaka Zulu” is Coolio’s catchphrase. But out of context, imagine how racist that would be!)
Up next are LDP and Taylor, cooking for Josh Ozersky, a noted food writer whose face and hands are always slick with grease, Joey Campanale, Evette Rios, and Charlie Dougiello, who is both Rachael Ray’s publicist and friend. “He’s my PR person but also my best friend, so I pay him so we can hang out together all the time.” That is how friendships work, for sure. It’s so cool how they are equals and both really respect one another. I like to imagine Rachael screeching, “You are my best friend!” at random times throughout the day. I definitely bust MY best friend’s chops all the time. “Careful, or I won’t give you your paycheck and then you’ll starve and die, best friend.”
Ozersky loves LDP’s “Lousagna” which he says he could eat out of a trough. “I want to eat your Lousagna out of a trough.” It’s disgusting because I believe it. Taylor’s veal is over-salted, and her caprese salad looks like it took exactly as long as it did, which is under a few minutes. Taylor wants to win. She says, “I don’t want to go home.” I imagine her saying that in another situation and it makes me laugh. “Ms. Dayne, the bar is closing.” “I don’t want to go home.”
The judges make their decisions and the winners are announced: Lou Diamond Phillips and Coolio will be heading to the finale. Luckily for the losers’ charities, Joey and Taylor will cook-off for five grand. They’ve got twenty minutes. It is boring. They make fried rice and matzah ball soup. Joey wins. His Fatone Family Foundation gets to distribute five grand to various other charities, because it’s a shell corporation. Taylor is sad. Her Cambodian children get nothing. Earlier in the episode she said she didn’t even tell the Cambodian kids she was doing this. I bet they are so confused why she was gone for five days. “Where is the Sabertoothed Lady? We miss her. I hope she brings us five thousand dollars.”
Hour of two of this shitacular begins. Two hours? Back to back, it is really a lot of hours. It makes you think: in this amount of time, I could have watched a movie, or two episodes of Downton Abbey, or I could have buried a pencil eraser-deep in my eyeball, Joker-style. “Some people just want to watch the steak burn.” That is a line from The Dark Knife. Speaking of movies, Lou Diamond Phillips says, “Look, I’ve got over 90 movies under my belt.” He says that as if it’s an introductory statement meant to clarify a point, but he just leaves it at that. Fair enough, Lou. Point taken. He then says, “To beat Coolio would prove it’s a competition about the food, and Coolio can cook, so if you can outcook him, you deserve to win.” I see no problem with that perfect sentence, no problem whatsoever. Meanwhile, Coolio is doing sit-ups, desperately gunning for a Food Network show. It is clear his goal is to win and to get his own show. My girlfriend asks me, “Does Coolio cut the holes in his hats himself?” That’s a great question. There is no way to know, as they show neither him nor anyone else cutting the holes.
For the final challenge, Coolio and Lou Diamond Phillips must each open their own fine-dining restaurant. I bet that dining will be so fine. It’ll probably become a permanent restaurant because of how elegant and perfect it is. The special judges will be Tim and Nina Zagat, who’ll issue both restaurants one of their patented Zagat scores. I can’t wait. Lou Diamond lies, “I’m at a loss for words.” I imagine you’ll scrape something together, Lou.
Don’t think for a second Coolio and Lou have to manage a three-course menu for 40 diners on their own. If they did, it’d look like that scene in Hook where the Lost Boys have a food fight with imaginary purple porridge. Instead, they’ll be joined by three professional chefs, a host of servers, and Joey and Taylor, who’ll help them decorate and run the place. Lou decides to call his restaurant Blessings, which is so gross. Blessings? That name makes me feel like I’m picking up free boxes from Craigslist at some stranger’s house, and I notice he’s got an oil painting of a nude baby laying on straw with “BLESSINGS” written in script, and he sees me looking at it and he says, “It’s the Baby Jesus” and I say, “Did whoever painted this really have to be so detailed about Jesus’s genitals” and he says, “I painted it” and then I realize I can afford boxes, free boxes aren't worth that. Anyway, Lou’s restaurant is like a nude child.
Coolio calls his place Chez Cooly’s (GOOD NAME), and when he doesn’t get the décor he wants, he threatens to quit the show. Sadly, he doesn’t. Instead he picks out a lot of orange. Everything is the same color of orange. His restaurant is the color of Doritos’ fingers. He doesn’t fare much better in the kitchen. He says, “I don’t know nothing about running a kitchen this big.” He only has three people helping him, so it’s unclear exactly how big a kitchen he does know how to run.
Meanwhile, Lou Diamond Phillips continues to act like’s putting on a musical the last week of summer camp. He’s such an annoying theater kid. “Ugh, thank God, this finally has the character I wanted!” I bet he’s such a good dad, but also the most annoying dad. He absolutely asks his kids’ friends whether they want to see his impression of Emilio Estevez on the set of Courage Under Fire and they’re all, “Who ARE you?” He accidentally sets a wooden spoon on fire, and he runs around the kitchen like it’s an Olympic torch yelling, “Where are you, Summer Sanders?” He repeats that five times in that terrible way where the person is making sure everyone has heard it. Yes, Lou, we heard the joke the first time. We didn’t laugh, because it’s not funny, but we’ll laugh on this fifth time to get you to stop.
Coolio’s food seems to do well. I won’t go into specifics here, because who cares? There is a fried avocado stuffed with crab called a King Cool-ocado that looks good in a “never again” kinda way. His short ribs and lemon cake also look great. Meanwhile, Lou’s more refined food goes over better. There’s a butter-poached pear in his off-white salad everyone goes crazy for. The salad is so named because his whole career, LDP has been the off-white choice of casting directors everywhere. (That’s not a joke. He says that.) When he serves his desserts, he says, “Both of these are inspired by my wife because she’s the sweetest thing in my life.” That would be adorable, except for when he waits and gives a few seconds for the table to say “awww” at the end. Don’t pander, Lou.
At the end of the meal, both Lou and Coolio thank the diners. The diners they found for this meal are particularly odd. They all look like Kathy Geiss on 30 Rock, where they are kind of normal but also you’re like, “I think your eyes are too close together. Why is the top of your head shaped like that? Did you get run over while wearing an old-fashioned bike helmet?” Lou lays it on so thick that the floor of the building collapses. “Was that food the..La Bamba?” What? I looked up the translation for that song, and "La Bamba" translates as “The Bamba.” I am laughing out loud at Lou asking, “Was that food..La Bamba?” “Was that food..a dance?” I realize he probably was making a horrible “Was that food the bomb?” joke, but I’m too embarrassed to even address that. Just thinking about it makes me feel like I’m watching my father try to freestyle rap at my own wedding. I am cringing. “Thanks to my chefs, who showed Courage Under Fire. I’m glad the meal was a Big Hit, and I hope you’ll all come back and bring your Young’uns, 2. Also, Wolf Lake.” Lou ends by saying, “The name of the restaurant is Blessings. I hope I’ve blessed you all a little bit in your lives. God bless you.” No, God bless YOU, Lou. Who would ever finish a meal and say to themselves, “Wow, that was a BLESSING. This skirt steak was better than the time our daughter survived that surgery.”
The Zagats read a custom Zagat review for each restaurant. Coolio scores a 23 out of 30. He’s happy. Then he’s not happy. Lou Diamond Phillips scores a 28. A 28 out of a possible 30? I was recently lucky enough to dine at Eleven Madison Park, the restaurant New York Magazine calls the best in the entire city. The meal was 14 courses and four and a half hours long, and the kitchen, truly artists, managed things with food I literally couldn’t have imagined. Eleven Madison Park also got a Zagat score of 28. I guess Blessings was just as good! Yeah, that’s definitely the answer, and not that Tim and Nina Zagat, and this show, are completely full of shit.
Coolio is dejected, his dreams of a cooking show dashed. Lou hugs people and delivers a warm message to his charity. His wife is very happy. I for one pity her, because I can only imagine how insufferable Lou will now be in the kitchen. “I’m sorry, Yvonne. I’m not comfortable serving this macaroni and cheese. As winner of Celebrity Cook-Off, it is not an option for me to plate anything but perfection.” My eyes hurt just imagining how hard hers will be rolling around in her head.
And so ends the first season of Rachael Vs. Guy: Celebrity Cook-Off. What did we learn? Nothing. In fact, we forgot things. I feel dumber. In keeping with the spirit of the finale, I’ll close out my season of reviews with my own Zagat review:
“Sub-human” celebrities and “unpalatable horseshit” are the raison d’être of this “abominable” television program, thanks in no small part to its “mouth-breathing” hosts, Rachael Ray and Guy Fieri. Viewers will be relieved they can’t yet “smell what they’re watching” as the “undulating stink lines” emanating from both the food and the personalities compete to “empty the stomach and the bowels” the fastest; “cancelling your cable entirely” is highly recommended, as is joining your “still-glowing television” in a “bathtub full of running water.”
Max Silvestri is a comedian and a writer based in New York. Follow him on Twitter, where he mostly talks about food.