Even after sifting through hundreds and thousands of applicants, the ten finalists who make it to the TV portion of “The Next Food Network Star” are there for a reason–they impressed several judges along the way with their combination of cooking ability and the way they present themselves on camera. But something funny happens when they get to this pressure cooker known as national TV….and the first few weeks of each season usually expose the pretenders. Last night was no different, and the same will likely go for the next few weeks.

The show began last night with an initial challenge, and the theme for this week was magazines. Bobby Flay was ready to greet the nine finalists along with Ryan, an editor from men’s mag Esquire, and they had a rapid fire challenge in which they had to uncover a serving tray and create a meal from what was on said tray. Since this would be geared toward Esquire’s male audience, the ingredients were some kind of meat, and another weird ingredient.

Here is what it broke down as, and how they did on camera presenting their creation:

Katie had lamb chops and bran flakes, and made some sort of roasted lamb chops with dijon mustard and cous cous. Not really guy food, but she really flubbed the presentation too.

Debbie made some sort of Asian barbecue steak and it looked amazing. She did a great job on camera as well.

Brett had ground beef and blue cheese and made a burger, and his presentation was wild and funny….slightly over the top but I’d watch this guy in a second.

Michael, who is openly gay, admitted that Esquire was not geared toward his target audience. He had pork chops and coffee, and impressed the judges with his food….his presentation was good too but he had 20 seconds remaining and got flustered trying to fill the time.

Melissa made a chicken tagine with cherries, also with cous cous…again, not really guy food, and she was quite uncomfortable on camera.

Jeffrey had steak and pistachios and did a nice job cooking, as well as giving a mouth-watering description of his dish.

Jamika had whiskey and porterhouse steak, and she would have been fine if she hadn’t rehearsed so much…but when she began to verbally stumble, the wheels came off.

Eddie had strip steak and beer, and he knocked it out of the park with his food and presentation.

Teddy had ribeye and maple syrup and he cooked well but his presentation was way over the top–coming across like a loud high school jock.

So Eddie won the initial challenge, earning him a recipe in Esquire, and also the right to assign the second challenge to each finalist. Along with Giada DeLaurentiis, the second challenge was also being judged by Rosemary Ellis, editor-in-chief of Good Housekeeping. And the theme was holidays. Each contestant had a holiday to build their creations around, and Eddie earned the right to assign each one. Here is how it went down…..

Debbie had Mardi Gras and true to her Cajun/Oriental roots, made spicy Asian potstickers. The Judges said she used too many ingredients but they loved her presentation.

Michael had Halloween and made a seared tuna with butternut squash. The judges love the way Michael operates on camera, and for the most part like his cooking as well. I mean, when Bobby Flay likes your food you’re in pretty good shape.

Katie had Earth Day and since she is the nutritionist (sorry, Ellie Krieger has the market corned on that) she made a very boring shrimp with white beans and radicchio. Katie not only kept stumbling over words like “antioxidant,” but she was incredibly nervous, and worse, her food loooked bland and uninspiring, and that fact was confirmed by the judges.

Brett had April Fool’s Day, the perfect avenue for this jokester, and he made a filet mignon with lobster tempura. He joked that he was leaving the show, which was his own April Fool’s prank, but then said the dish he made was in honor of his mom and the start of spring, which was really incongruous and the judges called him out on it.

Eddie had Valentine’s Day and went on an on, in way too much detail, about how he made this same dish for his girlfriend, who he loves very much how they did it in every room when his roommates went out of town (he didn’t say this but almost did) and blah blah blah. Flay told him to stop midway through, not a good sign. It was a sesame ahi with couscous and a plate of roses, which Flay said over-took the dish. Plus, Flay also found a lobster shell. (ed. note….what’s with all the couscous? Blech!).

Teddy had Labor Day and in honor of one of our nation’s great grilling holidays made a surf and turf. The judges enjoyed his dish but said he was a bit over the top with his acting, that he will be fine when he learns to tone down that jock image.

Melissa, the mom of four, had Mother’s Day, and made a baked egg dish as well as orange scented french toast. But just like last week, she was scrambling to finish in time, and she got some help from Brett and Teddy in plating. Those guys were nice to help her, but then tried to throw her under the bus at judgement time….a really classless move. It didn’t matter…though Melissa was maybe too energetic on camera, they loved her food.

Jamika had New Year’s Eve and took a strange route of making two side dishes that her family made on the holiday traditionally–collard greens and cornbread. The risk paid off as the judges not only dug her food but loved the way she told her story and made them comfortable eating it.

Finally, Jeffrey had Groundhog’s Day, which had to be the most difficult holiday…..I mean, come on! To Jeffrey’s credit, he made up some sort of reference to the groundhog seeing its shadow, but I still don’t know what the connection was, and neither did the judges. He made some sort of stuffed avocado with lobster and chorizo. They loved his food and Jeffrey always seems natural in front of the camera.

So the best three according to the judges were Melissa, Jamika and Debbie, with Jamika winning the top prize of having a dish in an upcoming issue of Good Housekeeping. The next three to be named safe were Jeffrey, Teddy, and Michael. That left a bottom three of Katie, Brett and Eddie. I kept thinking it was Katie, especially after judge Bob Tuschman said “I don’t look at her and see a star.” Yikes. But Katie was safe, leaving Brett and Eddie.

Eddie won the first challenge so this was a suprise, but everyone was disturbed by his Valentine’s Day meal and the way he presented it. Brett’s drive to want to win was questioned by Tuschman, and ultimately that’s why they chose Brett to go home. Dude has a bubbly personality but he was just too rough around the edges to be a Food Network star.

So that’s it…last week Jen, and this week Brett….I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Eddie and Katie are going to be next…..Melissa has flaws too. And the ones I think are making a strong bid to win early on are Michael, Jeffrey, Jamika and Debbie. It should be heating up, literally, over the next few weeks…..let me know who you think is looking good and who will be going home next!