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On the Topic of TV Host Bashing

After recently reading "The United States of Arugula", which has several chapters on 80's & 90's "celebrity" chefs, I was reminded that people like Wolfgang Puck and Emeril are more than just celebrity spokesmodels. They fought their way to where they are and earned it. The fact they were personable in addition to being very talented led to their adoption by the various networks and product manufacturers. It's undoubtedly hard to say no to an income stream when you need to do very little to support it. So while it's easy to criticize them today for their ubiquitousness it's just mean-spirited to say that they're hacks or sell-outs (that goes for Rachel Ray, too. I personally find her irritating and that laugh makes me cringe but if there wasn't a market for what she does she wouldn't be a mega-celebrity).

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  1. The fact that there's a market for someone or something doesn't mean it has any redeeming value, especially in the context of a food site that purports to exploring the most delicious food experiences. American TV and mass commercialism in general shoot for the lowest common denominator - and in terms of food, that is most typically not the most delicious. Puck and Emeril worked hard, and were well established as premier chefs before TV - this is in the tradition of so many others that paved their way, from Franey and Pepin onward (not including Julia, despite her being the mother of all TV cooking, simply because she never was a working chef... a working spy, yes, but not a chef).

    But to put RR into that category is simply nonsense. RR may or may not have worked hard at her family's catering business, but to say that she has cooking chops from years of experience would be a major joke. She is a TV personality, made into one by Scripps/Howard and TV production companies (including Harpo) - simple as that. She is not a chef - she is a hack. She is popular based on her looks, personality, and production values - lowest common denominator stuff if ever there was any.

    Early TVFN was a different place. With Bourdain, Milliken and Feniger, Rosengarten, Moulton, etcetc... there was real data to be mined, real technique to be learned - real deliciousness to be made and understood. I've honestly never bought into the grow or die aspect of capitalism - a ma and pa can stay a ma and pa for years, so I don't understand why TVFN had to sell out to S/H other than the greed of the owners (it had already changed hands before then). But of course, once growth became the goal, then the very nature of growth meant the lowering of the common denominator. That's where Rachel Ray, the head and tits, and Sandra whatever-the-fuck she does with boxes and cans, come into the picture. But let's not conflate these folks with the likes of Puck and even Emeril. That's doing a major disservice to real chefs, even those that became TV chefs and made a few bucks.

    18 Replies
      1. re: applehome

        "...there was real data to be mined, real technique to be learned - real deliciousness to be made and understood...."


        The current cultural penchant for reality TV, the cheering for celebrity Cooks, and the acceptance of Airheads in general as models for emulation holds very little data, technique, nor deliciousness.

        1. re: applehome

          Thanks Apple..you hit it right on the head. I think it's sad that someone like RR is so damn popular. The food she turns out is crap to say the least. If I wanted a meal in 30 minutes i would just order some Thai food. I like to take my time when I cook. The more prep the better. It gives me & my kids time to talk.
          Even when I come home from work after 12 hours(and I work in a kitchen) I can whip something up in about 60 -90 min & not feel like I cheated myself.

          I know you RR lovers or toleraters can say "well then just ignore her"..but how can I when she's all over like a bad heat rash.

          1. re: sugarbuzz

            It's a sad state of affairs when you can't avoid Rachel Ray. Aside from a Dunkin Donuts commercial a few months ago I can't say I've seen her on TV in a very long time.

            1. re: ferret

              It's not the point that we can flip the channel when RR's irritating voice comes on. It's much more critical to understand that shows like hers displace quality shows. TVFN made a decision to go after the big bucks available in that market segment, and in doing so, they got rid of Bourdain, Moulton, Batali, and even Emeril to make room for these bobbling heads/tits no-nothings. The special relations they have with Flay keeps him on board, but doing mainly idiotic psuedo-competition shows, with little to show for his actual talents. All this junk displaces real chefs and real opportunities for us to learn. It's not that you can chose to turn off the junk, it's that the good stuff - the stuff we would keep watching, is gone.

              But to give them their due, they're refocusing somewhat on the need for real food information. With shows like Anne Burrell's, they are bringing back real chefs who are demonstrating real food techniques - not necessarily more advanced, but more delicious - like real Bolognese vs. 5-minute out of the can Marinara.

              In truth, all chefs, experienced or not, celebrity or not, shoot their wad at some point. There's just no reason to listen to Emeril, in his sixth season, reading off a script, how to make chinese food. His area of expertise expired long ago, and it was definitely time for him to go. TVFN ought to keep rotating new people in - but they ought to rotate in people that really know and understand their areas of expertise - not barely knowledgeable people who look good on camera.

              This latest penchant of theirs to bring in virtual amateurs is a complete disaster. No one wants to see someone making what you can already make, on TV - we get our validation from our families and friends. We need to grow - to expand our horizons - to see what else there is in the world.

              Why was it that PBS ended up with the Batali/Bassols/Paltrow series on the great foods of Spain? Was that amount of real food information just too hoity-toity for the TVFN marketplace? You get more real food information from one Batali-Bittman collaboration than watching 10 Sandra Dees, 20 Rachel Rays, and 100 Paula Deens - including her offspring. Oooh - let's send Paula Deen to Paris - I bet viewers will learn much more from that than some Joisey schmuck named Bourdain... I mean - who makes these decisions?

              Your original point about it's ok for chefs to chase a little celebrity-dom, is certainly true. Whether it's Coliccio on TC or Ruhlman on ICA, I think that real food folks ought to chase the limelight a little, and get themselves a few bucks as well as some press and recognition for their work. In fact, if you follow that train of thought, the more knowledgable and experienced chefs get in front of the camera, the better. When Julia had shown us everything she knew several times over, she started bringing on young chefs on her shows - people who could show a new way to do things, who had spent their lives becoming experts in their particular field. Remember Emeril doing a crab boil on Julia's show? TVFN ought to specialize in this sort of thing - bring on new young faces - not families and amateurs, but real chefs working all around the world. What do we get instead? Rachel Ray. Why, exactly, shouldn't we be pissed off?

              1. re: applehome

                Boy would I love to see CHOW interview a FN executive. Then maybe we could stop guessing, stop bashing and learn a thing or two about how the FN folks really think.

                1. re: HillJ

                  I'd be really interested in getting these execs to recognize us as a greater part of their potential marketplace. With the thousands of hits this site gets per day, the interest in foodie level shows - instruction, entertainment, cultural presentations (travel), etc., has got to be a demographic that has some impact. Look how many people get into the conversations about Bourdain's shows. What do we talk about with TVFN - what a waste of Allen's talent his new show is? They've got to be able to do better than that. Yes - mediocrity sells, but what are we - chopped liver? Does it really take that much to develop shows that foodies might actually watch?

                  How about a young chefs show done in the vein of the old Great Chefs of ..., where one 30 minute show is dedicated to one chef. I could create a list of a dozen chefs myself - I'm sure that this list is almost endless.

                  Or another version might be Emeril and Friends - where he's the master and he brings in the young top guns, the way Julia brought him in.

                  ICA has an all-around following. How about another Japanese TV import - Dotch (Which). We've had Chicago deep dish vs. NYC pizza ad nauseam. How about Omakase: Nobu vs. Morimoto? BBQ: Low Country whole pig vs. Memphis ribs. Steak: Peter Luger dry-aged vs. Mishima. NO po boy vs. philly cheese steak. Spiny Lobster vs. Homard. A three-way- Cutlets: Katsu vs. Schnitzel vs.Scaloppine... And this isn't like Showdown, with one chef making up stuff as he goes - it's always two experts, with years of tradition and cooking experience, going up against each other - with a fixed panel of "experts" being the judges. It doesn't have to be made into a circus like the Japanese version - just well edited with lots of background info to set up the match.

                  You don't have to totally get rid of the Rachel Rays and Marc Summers Productions - but given that they have so many repeats anyway, why couldn't they go into some new territory? Food is a big tent - TVFN, the only dedicated food channel, ought to try and represent more than just the star-struck housewife without a clue market.

                  The biggest TVFN problem is that they believe in this cult of personality. They think that people want to watch because of Guy Fiori, not because of the diners and the great food he gets in them. How do we convince them how wrong they are?

                  1. re: applehome

                    <How do we convince them how wrong they are?>

                    Start by sharing your detailed and thoughtful perspective with FN directly. You have a strong statement to make-why not share it with the FN exec's?

                    1. re: HillJ

                      How many of you work in the manufacturing sector? How many of you have management levels being innundated with professional managers rather than people who started out in manufacturing or engineering?

                      This is how you need to communicate with the FN execs. These are not people who are passionate about food. They don't even like food for all I know. They are passionate about money, but they are most passionate about how making money for the FN with give themselves the leverage to move up the food chain. So quality of the programming doesn't matter, we don't matter because we are a small niche audience. What matters is maximizing profits at a minimal investment in talent, that is how these MBA types get ahead. Never mind the future, or the legacy, or the goose that laid the golden egg.

                      1. re: Phaedrus

                        I understand that - what I contend with is the assumption that we're a small niche. We're an extremely enthusiastic niche that will put in 10x the money that the average person does into finding deliciousness. We're worth 10 of them (from a foodie $$$ perspective - not a human value one). Someone that advertises the kinds of things we're interested in on a show that we would watch will reap much higher returns - selling us foodstuff is not a cold call.

                        1. re: Phaedrus

                          Oh please, an MBA thing?

                          You have the data to support that conclusion or is that a non-MBA's wet finger in the air.

                      2. re: applehome

                        Well said. Liked the line about the "star struck house wife market". Very true about the cult of personality. How many times did they say that personality is the most important thing during NFNS? I wish I could find the quote but some FN exact said NFNS is better than Top Chef because on NFNS it is all about the food. Clearly they are out of touch with their viewers(former) as well as their own shows. We don't need the same people on all the time on seemingly every show.

                        FN has clearly found something that worked at some point but seems to have run it's course. Do we really need more cake decorating competitions? NO. But they seem to be on all the time. I know people who love FN and those the hate it with a passion. I don't know (or even heard of) anyone who finds Paula's Party the least bit entertaining or even watchable. I do know lots of people who have lost respect for the woman as a result of the show. Yet FN is out there promoting the show when they should be canceling it and burning the tapes. Talking o FN wont do any good they have their own agenda and they are sticking to it.

                        This is a completely unscientific observation but during the finale of NFNS. I was really surprised and the network presidents appearance. Here it is the grand finale of the highest rate series ever on FN and she shows up as this slobbish, frumpy woman who looked as if she had just been on an all night bus ride. I would have thought that as the head of the network she would have taken some pride in her appearance. Apparently not. It was like she didn't care. The same can be said about her attitude toward the network and it's viewers. 'Can't be bothered to change.'

                        1. re: Withnail42

                          'Can't be bothered to change.' -- But they DID change!!!! Not for the better, in most of our eyes, but they DID change.

                          Some recent media trade articles I've seen say that their overall ratings are up in the last year or so. Executives are paid to keep stock prices rising, not necessarily to follow a specific taste-level direction if the two don't coincide. The only way to get the network to raise the quality of their programing is for them to believe it will lead to bigger audiences and equal higher ad revenue. Apparently the earlier formula wasn't good enough. Sad, but not all that surprising. Quality is a relative thing in business. It's not like Sandra Lee's recipes are sending people to the hospital (though they do make some of us sick).

                          Seems to me that Scripps has tried to use Fine Living as it's higher-end programming outlet and Food Network has migrated to the mass market. You could argue that they haven't done that great a job on Fine Living, but it does seem aimed at a higher plain.

                        2. re: applehome

                          Apple,I loved your original post, but I thought I was the only Chowhound who missed the "Great Chefs" series. Id love to see more shows in the vein of what PBS offers and fewer of the cleavage queens and product placement shows.

                          Frankly I'm amazed that Chow management hasn't removed this post for strong emotions but thank whoever they haven't.

                  2. re: sugarbuzz

                    I'm not a huge fan of RR, but I have made some of her recipes and they've turned out well. Would I rather see some of the shows that I really enjoyed, such as Sara Moulton, Emeril (not the live show), Mario, etc.? Of course. I don't look to her as a source for great ideas etc., but if she encourages more people to learn to cook/cook at home, more power to her as far as I'm concerned. Not everyone aspires to be a great cook, or spend their leisure time cooking and shopping for food (as I seem to do), but just want to put decent meals on the table in a timely fashion for their families.

                    1. re: MMRuth

                      I have a very hard time listening to RR, so I rarely watch anything she's on. Her voice just grates on my nerves too much. However, except for the times when I've seen her using "semi-homemade" shortcuts, her food looks ok to me. Interestingly (well to me), I also can't watch Sara Moulton for the same reason: just can't take the sound of her voice. I know Sara has much more legit cooking experience compared to Rachel, but I'm not really interested in shows that feature either of them. And I adore Bourdain in No Reservations, but I'm learning about cultures from him, not recipes or cooking techniques.

                      1. re: MMRuth

                        uh...ew...you actually made her recipes?

                        I'm sorry, you should really see my face right now...

                        1. re: AngelSanctuary

                          Yes, I tried a couple of them and they were quick, easy and tasted good.

                  3. It's rather simple, really............... H.L. Mencken said it back in the 1920's or so:
                    “No one in this world has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people. Nor has anyone ever lost public office thereby.” Catering to 'average' tastes makes sense, since the average is, by definition, the largest mass of the population.

                    1 Reply
                    1. Maybe its my non profit background showing, but I always seek out a mission statement and here is FN's: http://www.foodnetwork.com/food/about...

                      They strive to be MORE than a food network...
                      and THEY have succeeded (wink).

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: HillJ

                        Unrelated, but I was wondering if there's a relationship between Scripps and Discovery - seeing as how both Emeril (from TVFN) and Ed Begley (from HGTV) are now on Planet Green, a Discovery product. All this corporate for-the-shareholders stuff just seems antithetical to the advancement of information for information's sake - or deliciousness for its own sake. But hey - we're entertained, right?

                        It just feels nefarious - people making big bucks manipulating what Americans should be thinking of as deliciousness, providing only the information they see fit to provide that meet their requirement$. Would it be a big surprise if we found hidden documents, many years form now, that showed Cargill, Nabisco, and General Foods (and maybe even the USDA) having a meeting in a little room somewhere and coming up with this plan of buying out a small foodie cable channel, and... (hey, was this in Wall E?)

                        1. re: applehome

                          appleh, when you launch the Deliciousness Channel there will be an audience....so what are you waiting for!

                      2. @ferret I am not a fan of RR either but i do find it DISGUSTING for people to project their insecurities on to her success. She admits she is not a chef but if she can help families make a decent and/or healthy meal for a few bucks then that is great. She is not selling herself as anything but a personality and an entertainer in the food industry so I think people should save up their anger and critique for things that REALLY matter. In the state of our economy, no matter how annoying and mind numbing she is, she is helping some families out.
                        I do not think your OP was lumping RR with real chefs (like people implied). Nice work to everyone who can get it in an honest living.

                        6 Replies
                        1. re: jacquelines

                          Disgusting seems appropriate - we're all disgusted and disgusting about something, I suppose. Projecting insecurities on to her success? That's a bit of a stretch, don't you think? How do you get "projecting insecurities" from not liking a person, or what she does on TV or even her voice? This is a food site, just what the heck does the state of our economy have to do with liking or disliking a TV food celebrity? Do you think people liked RR before the current recession?

                          Hey - if you like her, you like her. Write a post that says I love Rachel Ray and make sure you don't project any of your insecurities "on to her success".

                          Rachel Ray, like it or not, is a symbol - a symptom, if you will, of the disease that TVFN has become. Since so many of us thought TVFN used to be so much better, she has become the focus of a lot of vehemence - more than she deserves, but far less than Scripps deserves for doing the things they did.

                          BTW - has anyone noted that your handle is close to our dear den mother. It threw me for a bit - not necessarily a big deal.

                          1. re: jacquelines

                            The problem is her food is not decent...they are fattening and monotonous. They take more than 30 minutes to make, she consistently give out inaccurate info on her show.

                            You know what helps out families, if you give them money, I mean she just made 17 million this year for doing absolutely nothing.

                            1. re: AngelSanctuary

                              "They take more than 30 minutes to make, she consistently give out inaccurate info on her show."

                              Actually, I happened to watch a FN show that was "behind the scenes" at various FN shows, and, unless you think they were lying, she does cook the recipes in 30 minutes. That said, she also seems to have all the ingredients needed right at the front of her fridge or cupboard, whereas I'm always rummaging around in mine to find what I need.

                              Re your comment above - I'm not sure how you can opine on her food as "monotonous" if you've not tried any of the recipes.

                              1. re: MMRuth

                                I have a hard time believing onions fully caramelize in a three minute commercial break.

                                  1. re: invinotheresverde

                                    I think it's the onion elves... miraculous work... They also ticken sauces..

                            2. Man I miss Mary Sue and Susan!

                              1. Jfood is lucky to have grown up and fell in love with cooking with Julia, Jacques, Graham and Jeff Smith (before the fall) and his favorites were the Great Chefs of... and Great Cusine of... and the early days of Food TV and has regrettably seen the change when it became the FN, and not for the better. It dumbed down TV but was in parallel with ntire dumbing down of TV as a whole.

                                This has never been a favorite position on the boards but jfood thinks that many of the current chefs on FN serve a purpose other than for people on these boards. And jfood actually applauds RR for her success and for allowing non-CH'ers to find the pleasures of the kitchen. That being said, jfood can not watch her with the sound on and he did see his first episode in probably 6 months the other night and she is irritating but does being cooking to a large forum. Others that he finds just unwatchable are Paula Dean and the semi-homemade person.

                                He does like watching the hosts that take it on the road so jfood can learn about other food in different parts of the country and the world.

                                Is it upsetting? yup. Is it worth all the vitriol that appears on these boards? jfood thinks it's a little out of control.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: jfood

                                  >>He does like watching the hosts that take it on the road so jfood can learn about other food in different parts of the country and the world.<<

                                  And what part of the world is that, which TVFN brings to you? Perhaps you mean Paula Deen in Paris (chuckle). With Mario gone, the last vestige of anything foreign is gone and forgotten. And no... Tyler doing Chicken Cacciatore and Fajitas aren't foreign. It's most certainly part of TVFN's dumbing down that any show that has to do with real foreign cultures is most probably on PBS or Travel Channel. It's just something else that the non-CH'er, lowest common denominator demographic isn't considered capable of handling - is it because they're probably xenophobic, or is it the TVFN management that's actually demonstrating their own level of global tolerance and understanding?

                                  You're right - I am probably criticizing RR too much, when she's just a symptom of the TVFN programming deficit in balls and brains, not a cause.

                                2. I think it's crazy that people have so much hostility to TV personalities. We don't know these people. If you don't like them, so what. Personally, I'm not a big fan of shows with Bobby Flay, but I respect his skills. As for my skills, it is people like RR who brought me back to the kitchen.

                                  I'm not a housewife, I'm just a single gal who lives in a house with 5 other people with very busy schedules. Anything I can do to help get something other than fast food or take out is welcome to me. Not only that, but my interest in RR began because of an article about why people loved to hate her, so I figured I'd check her out myself.

                                  Making her recipes and her encouragement to try new things in the kitchen has made me more confident to cook for other people and add personal chef services to my personal training business. I have even managed to get my family to shop at the local farmer's market. Something they would not normally do.

                                  So, I thank people like RR who keep it simple and real. That's what I like to see. After all, if it's not simple, people won't do it. Who wants to feel like they can't measure up as a cook because they're always watching gourmets or spending all of your free time in the kitchen. Sorry folks, I have other things to do than spend forever in the kitchen. I want my meals simple, quick and healthy.

                                  Wendy Stewart
                                  Personal Trainer and Personal Chef

                                  3 Replies
                                  1. re: chef wendy

                                    I started my first comment on this thread by saying that the context here is of a food site that purports to exploring the most delicious food experiences. If your priorities are more towards fast foods, simply and quickly prepared, and you don't feel that learning more about cooking is a good way to spend your time, then by all means the current crop of TVFN shows will fit your needs. Simple and quick is definitely one set of goals in eating to live. They're just not necessarily the ones that all or even most of us here will identify with, as being synonymous with deliciousness and living to eat.

                                    As a personal trainer what do you do when you have a client that feels that they can't measure up to hard bodies with abs of steel, and so refuses to spend time in the gym, or learning about and pursuing physical training techniques? After all, if it's not simple, people won't do it. I would hope that while you start simple, you set goals. You acknowledge the wonders and benefits of having a truly fit body, even if you start out with simple steps. Why can't the appreciation of food and cooking be the same? Looking at the most complex foods and wonderful ingredients is not discouraging. Trying difficult recipes is not just spending all your "free time in the kitchen". It's about spending your time learning - about being exposed to the many different foods and techniques that are out there in the food world.

                                    TVFN has focused on the simple end, and many of us feel that it's too bad - they used to have much more complex and interesting shows. RR may be simple, but real? Real what - real simple? Personally, I'd much rather be watching the two hot tamales while I'm on the elliptical.

                                    1. re: chef wendy

                                      FN is focusing on one part of the whole picture. They may have erred on the complex end previous, but that was to grab the interest of the foodies. But now, with a whole stable of cooking for the beginner shows, they are erring on the other end. I personally think there is room for both, obviously FN programmers disagree.

                                      1. re: chef wendy

                                        This is what irks me about Rachael Ray and her fans. I keep hearing about how she is "real" and "simple". Why is she more "real" than any other cook on FN? She is a horrible cook. Her recipes are always lots of meat + olive oil + way too many spices (and whatever is the "main" spice determines the ethnicity of the food) + tons of cheese + bacon + some kind of salad. Her food is unhealthful and unappealing.

                                        There are still some cooks on FN who can teach you how to make a basic recipe and the basic skill set to cook what you need to cook. Tyler Florence is great at it. Giada used to be halfway decent at it (her recipes have gone downhill in the past couple of seasons). Sarah Moulton was also a good cooking instructor and "How To Boil Water" was wonderful for both teaching skills and giving basic recipes. Maybe they didn't promise a meal in 30 minutes, but how many of RR's recipes actually take 30 minutes (and let's not forget she uses 10 pots per meal, causing a 2-hour cleanup). Why are professionals or those who have training not considered "real"? Are all professionals robots?

                                        People aren't buying it for the cooking. Plenty of cooks on FN, on PBS, on *bleah* Fine Living and in a hundred good cookbooks in your library can teach you how to cook simply and easily. Rachael Ray is a cult of personality.

                                        I"m not "bashing". I'm making what I feel is a legimiate observation and critique here.

                                      2. A friend of mine used an allegory when we were debating the wide-open topic of Good versus Evil. The discussion on Good versus Evil started up when I stated something like, "Gee, wouldn't it be nice if the proverbial Hand of God could just wipe all scum off the face of the Earth?" in reference to some of the less savory past and current leaders of our real world's dark side. How could anyone argue to the contrary? He did. His reasoning was this. If you have an imaginary scale stretching from good to bad, with angelic on one end of the scale, and demonic at the opposite end, then eliminate the most atrocious of beings, then the slightly less atrocious set the standard for the most atrocious or demonic. Eliminate those? Now your generic villains and bad guys are left. Eliminate them, and so on - you get the picture. So what do we do when we reach the ones with bad table manners as their most serious flaw? Yes, they now set the bar for the most atrocious, but do we eliminate them as well? Then what? How far do we keep culling the herd before we stop? Do we stop just shy of destroying the last remaining most pure of angels? HIs point was that bad, evil - whatever one wants to call the other end of the scale is one of those necessities. He posits that how else could we know what is good if we don't have evil? How are we to judge who or what is exceptionally good if we don't have something equally as bad to compare it with? To some extent, maybe the logic of this scale can be justified here?

                                        5 Replies
                                        1. re: bulavinaka

                                          the basic issue: who's scum do you want to eliminate? yours or mine?

                                          bottom line? let natural selection thin the herd.

                                          1. re: steve h.

                                            I agree with natural selection, but the weeding out process is anything but natural in the media bizz. Case in point: compare the Emmy award recipients' shows' ratings to what's at the top of the ratings chart:


                                            I think the only show that might prevail based on both lists: Survivor.
                                            How ironic...

                                            1. re: bulavinaka

                                              i let it slide.
                                              don't watch the emmy's, never seen survivor. i don't think the nielsen folk know/care where i live. i'm just not on their radar.

                                              1. re: steve h.

                                                Don't feel bad, I didn't see it either (or most of the shows on either chart), and I don't think any one of us count. It's all about the percentages - we're each just little specks of statistical dust in the ratings universe...

                                                1. re: bulavinaka

                                                  I think this topic is just too difficult for me to add to. I for instance, couldn't stand watching that new show from the lady that won the Next TV network star, two seasons ago. Can you saying boring? I don't think she even liked watching herself, food=boring=set/stage=boring=personality=boring................how 'did' she win anyway?