Halloween Wars 2021 Let Us Down

Halloween Wars season 11 was a disappointment this year. No bones about it.

There are three major reasons for this: no pumpkins, a format change, and a judging change. But before we get to those, let’s highlight a couple of net-neutral changes.

In a positive shift, Jonathan Bennett was out as host this year. Jonathan never really fit the vibe of the show, which is supposed to offer some spookiness, quirkiness, and artistic beauty. Jonathan shares none of those qualities. He’s not a dark or spooky actor, he’s corny and silly (not quirky), and his acting and hosting is mediocre at best – certainly not to the artistic level of the competitors, or the judges. So it’s nice to not see him this season.

With Jonathan gone, Food Network replaced him with Ghost Adventures’ Zak Bagans. Bagans at least deals in spookiness for a living, but he never actually appeared in person this season, only in pre-recorded segments. There was far too much hype about him hosting the show for him to not truly host the show.

Secondly, Food Network changed the set to be darker this year. It falls in line with the theming of the show, which is good; But an unintended consequence of switching to a dark background is that the often-dark displays created by the artists were not able to contrast with the white kitchen background of years past. The lighting was still fine, so it wasn’t too much of an issue, but the set change didn’t bring as positive an impact as Food network probably was hoping for.

Image courtesy of Flickr.

Now, let’s talk about the major issues of the show this season.

First and foremost, there were no pumpkins or pumpkin carvers this season. It’s really unbelievable. The whole point of the show is that a cake artist, a sugar artist, and a pumpkin carving artist come together to create (technically) edible masterpieces. And while cake is incredibly important in any baking or dessert competition, pumpkin carving is the core of Halloween Wars (cake is year-round, while pumpkins are a fall staple and an important symbol of Halloween). To not have pumpkin carving as part of the show means this season wasn’t really Halloween Wars. It was just Holiday Wars or an American version of The Big Bake (coincidentally or not-so-coincidentally also featuring Eddie Jackson as a judge). At least we still got Outrageous Pumpkins.

Supposedly, supply issues due to filming the show later because of Covid-19, combined with a pumpkin shortage, led them to nix it for this season. Really, though, they could have found a way to get pumpkins. The shortage was not as bad as advertised, nor were supply chain issues, according to a story by Today. Let’s hope Food Network realizes the show doesn’t work the same without pumpkin carvers and make a point to have pumpkins next season.

The second negative change for this year was to the format. In years past, teams had to put together a quick and scaled-down creation in a first round called the “Small Scare.” The winners of that round would then get an advantage in the main event “Spine Chiller.” It made for some interesting creations, helped teams learn how to work together, and gave teams a sense of momentum within an episode. This year, there was only one main round, with a small twist coming about halfway through. With only one round, Halloween Wars again became little more than The Big Bake or any other cake competition. It also made the episodes, especially the first halves, a little less interesting.

Finally, a smaller negative this year was the judging changes. Luckily, the well-respected cake artist and poignant judge Shinmin Li was back, making her the only mainstay for every season of the show. New this year were Aarti Sequeira and Eddie Jackson. Both judges are solid, and don’t bring anything negative to the show. But two things were missing with these new judges…

The main judging issue was a lack of design expertise. The second judge has always been somebody with a set design, special effects, makeup, or similar background – and from the horror genre as well – giving the show someone who could critique the edible creations from design and spooky perspectives, complimenting Shinmin’s cake and dessert expertise.

The second missing piece was a lack of a guest judge. It was always exciting to see a celebrity face as an added element for the artists to try and impress. In addition, the guests were always someone who came from a horror or Halloween background (like Elvira, or Caleb McLaughlin from Stranger Things), and who would be able critique from their own unique perspective. This year’s judges essentially all had the same perspective.

Halloween Wars is popular and stands out in food television because of its premise, format, and unique judges. This season checked none of those boxes. If Food Network wants to continue with Halloween Wars in the long-term, they need to readjust. Namely, they absolutely have to have pumpkin carvers competing on the show. Let’s hope next year brings us the unique competition we know and love.

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