On “The Next Food Network Star” Season 5, there have been some catty moments, and, well, moments of gameplay that border on vicious. So it wasn’t really a big surprise last night when the judges announced who they were eliminating. We’ll get to that in a bit, because this episode had a lot going on, including one of the finest (read: horrific) moments in the show’s history.

The show began with Bobby Flay playing network executive, and telling the remaining seven contestants that they would start off this week’s episode by creating a burger from a specific region of the country (not necessarily where they were from). The winner would have a burger on the menu at Bobby Flay’s new burger joint in Connecticut (book my flight, I want to go there right now). They would then have 30 minutes of camera time to describe their creation.

Melissa made a Burlington, Vermont inspired (where she went to college) burger with cheddar cheese and turkey chili on top. She gave a nice presention that was informative, descriptive and entertaining. And the judges loved her burger. Michael was next and he made a Mulberry Street burger, or Italian inspired one built on garlic bread. The judges liked his energy but he was still a little nervous. Oh, but they loved the food, even more so than they loved Melissa’s.

Jamika was next and did a New Orleans inspired burger, complete with smoked sausage. For whatever reason, she froze a bit, making her presentation seem like an infomercial, and her burger didn’t go over all that well. Debbie went next, and did a California/Asian style burger with Korean barbecue sauce and she did pretty good but not amazing. Jeffrey made a California burger with avocado and green chiles, and the judges were feeling it was a bit vanilla presentation-wise and that his food has the same “sweet heat” theme every week.

Teddy made a Pennsylvania burger, making reference to Amish people and the fresh produce and cheese they are known for. Um, okay….so basically he made a cheeseburger with tomato on top….BO-RING. And Teddy was not real comfortable doing his presentation….better than previous efforts, but still like a used car salesman. That’s really just who Teddy is, I guess. Katie wrapped up the initial challenge with a San Francisco style turkey burger, but it was a huge gamble considering the 20 minute time frame they had….and she didn’t cook it all the way through. Oops. Katie knew she was in trouble and the judges confirmed that. Should she have not plated anything? Maybe so.

The judges announced that Jamika and Katie were the losers of the challenge, and that the big winner was Michael. Bobby has been praising the dude’s cooking for a while (just like he did with Aaron McCargo Jr. last season) and I’m sure he’s thrilled to have Michael’s burger on the menu at his burger place. I’m also pretty sure Bob Tuschman licked the plate.

Then came the main challenge, which was to cook a meal on the ship Intrepid for a bunch of soliders just arriving home from the Middle East. They’d also be cooking for the usual cast of characters Flay, Tuschman and Susie Fogelson, and also Food Network personality Guy Fieri, who won Season 2 of this very competition to help launch his wildly successful career.
Susie was basically wearing an American flag, making it difficult to take her comments seriously last night.

Anyway, the challenge was to create a signature dish that was unique to an area of the country, but it wasn’t their own choice this time…..instead, they had to remove the top of a tray to reveal their key ingredients underneath…sort of like on the show “Chopped.” They had 1.5 hours to make their meals and would have to serve it and talk about the dish. Oh, and they brought along the editor for USA Weekend, who announced that the winner would have their recipe appear on the cover of the magazine.

Teddy had New York and his main ingredient was duck breast, so he made a “D.L.T.” sandwich. EWWWWWWWWW. Look, I grew up on Long Island feeding ducks, but I could never bring myself to eat one. And once again, Teddy was nervous and didn’t do a very good job presenting. But the judges, in particular Flay, loved his sandwich.

Jeffrey, who lives in California and has a relaxed and cool demeanor, was baffled by his theme of Maine….and his ingredients were lobster and blueberries. So what does he do? What anyone would do, make a pot pie! Really Jeffrey? Anyway, he made a sauce out of the blueberries and some chipotle peppers and basically threw the dish together. I thought for a second that the Jeffrey the judges have come to adore would come through, but it didn’t. Dude gave a weak presentation and Fogelson echoed everyone’s feeling about the dish, saying it was “disgusting.”

Melissa had New Mexico but claimed to not know much about chiles, and of course she had to use them. But Melissa was smart, tasting each one to become familiar. And she made a skirt steak tostada that actually looked good on TV. It also tasted great, because the judges were floored by the dish and and also by Melissa’s presentation.

Katie had the state of Georgia, including catfish, and made a Southern style dish with breaded catfish, greens and squash. This time she cooked the fish through, and the judges were more impressed with her food. Her presenation was okay, but just okay.

Jamika had Wisconsin and made a potato casserole using the theme ingredients of cheese, beer and smoked sausage. Good idea, but she didn’t execute it properly, whirling the undercooked potatoes in a food processor until they became paste-like. Blech! Her presentation was okay but not the food.

Debbie and Michael were cooking together in the kitchen, and the best moment came when Michael rammed a serving tray into Debbie’s right cheek….and I don’t mean butt cheek. Ow! In reality TV terms, it was hilarious, but probably not so much for Debbie. Anyway, she had the California theme, having to use wine and almonds, and she made a chicken dish out of them. The judges felt she did a nice job considering her cheek was the size of a basketball, but they thought her food was bland.

Meanwhile, Michael had Hawaii and he did a decent job considering he felt awful about ramming that tray into Debbie’s face. Michael had some sort of fish I’d never heard of, along with macadamia nuts and pineapple. He gave a decent presentation, though he mentioned macadamia nuts about a dozen times…and once again the judges were wowed by his cooking ability.

So on the chopping block, the judges announced that the winner of the USA Weekend cover was Melissa, and that she was also safe from elimination this week. But not before Flay warned the seven of them that someone needed to step up and really try and grab this competition. Well, don’t look now, but Melissa is emerging as that person and a real contender. Also declared safe were Michael and Debbie, though they told Michael he needs to become friends with the camera.

That left Jamika, Katie, Jeffrey and Teddy. They said Jamika gave a decent presentation but her food was awful. They thought Jeffrey’s food was also terrible this week, and he’s starting to look like a one-trick pony. Katie made better food, and the soldiers thought she had a nice “girl next door” image, but the judges thought she wasn’t very exciting and also reminded Katie about her salmonella burger. Teddy made good food but as Flay pointed out, he makes everyone else nervous when he’s presenting…not exactly what you want in a network star.

I thought for sure Katie was going home, but then the judges chose Teddy. And when you look back at the last two weeks, the dude had this coming to him. I mean, he threw Melissa under the bus one week and Debbie last week, after which he cried and apologized, looking like a man with emotional issues. So while the judges surely looked at that fact, they also knew that having a “used car salesman” with a Food Network show would be a bad idea.

So that’s it….we’re down to the final six! I think Katie’s days are numbered, as are Jamika’s. Melissa and Michael are looking really good, and Jeffrey and Debbie are somewhere in the middle. After last night, I’m already envisioning Melissa with her own show, and I have a feeling that the judges are, too.

What do you all think?