The Food Network has had a lot of success setting up challenges that require some of the best chefs in the world to create masterpieces under a lot of pressure and with very little time. They’ve spun Duff Goldman‘s Ace of Cakes out of these; they’ve showcased the brilliance that is Mike McCreary; they’ve made a cottage industry of judge Kerry Vincent. These competitions often lead to stunning creations, miraculous landscapes of sugar and chocolate and ingenuity.
It’s disappointing, then, to find their new challenge show going down the road of cheaper reality fare that requires little talent and even less character. Last Cake Standing takes cake decorators (a title that sounds banal when applied to these fondant wizards) who have been successful in previous challenges coaxing cake to be classic cartoon characters, clothing, or cityscapes and pits them against each other in multiple contests with one competitor eliminated in each episode. That’s not such a bad plan–it’s American Idol or Project Runway in sugar. The problem is that the Food Network has apparently decided that watching geniuses do their thing isn’t interesting enough–instead, they’ve structured the show with Survivor-esque twists and turns designed to break the chefs and create conflict among people who actually like and respect each other. Lining up the contestants and making them vote each other out provided tears, but those tears obscured the freakin’ amazing cakes. Making them interview a bride and groom in a limo and then run panting back to the kitchen just takes time away from seeing them work their magic. Springing a team challenge gives us hysterics about who will disappoint their partners, but it forces the chefs to throw away their original plans, meaning we never get to see their true visions and instead get lesser amalgams that look like exactly what they are–ill-conceived hybrids.
Rumor has it that these nonsensical changes are the Food Network’s attempt to pull male viewers into their Challenge brand, but that insults both men and women. Women don’t tune in just to see pretty sugar flowers, and men don’t demand cheap cruelty in their entertainment. Stick with showing us talented people doing things the rest of us can barely dream of, and good things will happen. In other words, if you build cake San Francisco bridges and cake Cinderella’s castles and cake matadors, we will come.