Worst Cooks in America offers a unique focus on the people behind the food, their development (or regression) as notoriously “terrible” chefs, and kitchen disasters-be them honest or perplexing-that most viewers can relate to in one way or another. Season 22 airs currently on The Food Network, pitting “the best of the worst” against each other in a reunion that is, in fact, highly rewarding despite being a season so far into the show’s run. This is thanks in large part to the returning recruits, their formidable charisma, and their diverse array of…”skills.”
Since its premiere season in 2010, Worst Cooks in America has stuck pretty closely to an effective format, with star chef Anne Burrell as the recurring host/judge and another reputable guest chef as her co-presenter. Once the competition really kicks into gear, the contestants are split into a red team and a blue team, which are helmed and mentored by each co-host, and then whittled down to the final two recruits (one from each team) from there. The cumulative challenge at the end of each season is to prepare a restaurant-worthy meal for unsuspecting food critics, the grand prize being $25,000 and a chance to do a cooking set that will air on The Food Network.
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What makes the show so enduring even in its current season is its constructive aim and light-hearted spirit. Its contestants are always modest, self-aware, seeking improvement and willing to improvise even if the attempt goes awry. The judges, too, are hands-on, tough, relentlessly witty, and yet helpful towards the contestants. Worst Cooks in America, therefore, is a cooking competition that lives up to its namesake, but does so while laughing with the contestants, not at them.
Burrell is joined by Michael Symon for mentoring duties in season 22, but they have their work cut out for them with eight fan favorite recruits from prior seasons. From a nurse to a special investigator to an opera singer, the following contestants are no strangers to the professional world and hail from vastly different experiences. Yet somehow, some way, they all come together for a season that seems to be equally cringeworthy and inspiring as these fascinating personalities fumble to grasp the culinary arts (again).
Joey ‘Sir Yacht’ Kinsley
Kinsley might seem like an unassuming guy in a Hawaiian shirt who’s never prepared a meal in his life; these are both essentially true. But the Ohio native is extensively covered by local news outlets due to his social media following. His influencer persona is @siryacht, in which he satirizes Midwest stereotypes so successfully that he now gets paid for it. He previously appeared on season 21 of Worst Cooks in America and gained notoriety for frequently injuring himself while handling knives. Hopefully Kinsley’s girlfriend, an aspiring surgeon whose love for cooking originally inspired him to join the show, will be the only one in the relationship puncturing flesh with a sharp instrument…
Jefferson ‘Chiffonade’ Goldie
The veggie-slicing style known as “chiffonade” seems to have stuck with Goldie as a kind of traumatic obstacle that he owes himself to overcome. The Chicago musician is a positive, cheery guy who competed previously on season 18 under the watch of particularly critical chef Alton Brown. The mentor once shouted at him in the middle of a stressful challenge, “What are you gonna do, chiffonade the paper towel? What are you looking for? It doesn’t matter, throw that the hell away and move on!” More than ever, Goldie now seems determined to chiffonade his way to cooking proficiency, much like he did before appearing on the show with his own impressive weight loss.
Eric “Angel In Disguise” Smart
Smart is a special investigator with a soft spot; his motivations for cooking lie with his parents, aging and ailing as they are, and he wishes to be able to cook for them and take care of them as they grow older. He doesn’t forget this, as he was brought to tears over it on multiple occasions when he appeared on season 20. But his passion and confidence shine through even in these emotional moments. Bursting with empathy and boasting a fashion sense entirely his own, Smart is more than ready for redemption in season 22.
Dr. Lulu ‘Cyndi Lauper’ Boykin
Boykin, like Goldie, appeared on season 18 of Worst Cooks in America. Alton Brown memorably joked, “Cyndi Lauper’s making a booger” while watching Boykin recklessly handle dough. She has stark-white hair, an ethereal personality, and is easily the oldest contestant competing on season 22. She is also unforgettable among the contestants for donning festive, vibrant accessories in her hair and being always decked out in luscious colors. Professionally, Boykin is a teaching artist and author, and she holds a Ph.D. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The doctor seems more confident this time around and ready to apply her creativity to the culinary field once more-for better or worse.
Stephanie ‘Onion Lover’ James
In all seriousness, James despises onions; maybe not in taste, but definitely in practice. On season 21, she was called out by Anne Burrell for slicing an onion incompetently and succumbing to the pressure as a result. She works as a postal clerk in the Chicago Metropolitan Area and is also a filmmaker and writer who is currently seeking a publisher for her first, completed novel. Judging by her multiple aspirations and diligent work ethic outside The Food Network, Stephanie seems like the type of “terrible” chef who won’t give up until she escapes that label.
Domaine ‘Not In Her Domain’ Javier
Javier appeared on season 20, where she gained a reputation for messy preparation and presentation. For perspective, she wore a face shield when prying open a can of beans, and this was pre-pandemic. But Javier has a noteworthy reputation in other regards, having appeared on Anderson Cooper’s Anderson Live and an episode of MTV’s True Life. She once sued California Baptist University for unlawful discrimination based on her trans identity. This came about after university officials caught word of said True Life episode and expelled Javier for “lying” about her gender on her application. With this type of persistence, along with a track record of nursing and activism, Javier might just end up pulling through this season if she’s more deliberate with her cooking process.
Jonathan ‘Figaro’ Beyer
Bursting into the competition with equal energy to Queer Eye‘s Jonathan Van Ness, and slightly less extravagant facial hair, Beyer is an accomplished NYC-based opera singer and educator. His presence is lively, stagey, and quick-witted, so he brings ample humor and good vibes to the room. His anxiety in the kitchen, however, has gotten the better of him in the past; his debut on season 17 found him bleeding into the food platter he was preparing, courtesy of a knife wound. Yet, Bobby Flay has since gone on record to say Beyer has potential as a chef, and he seems to have learned his lesson since the bloodbath when, in the first episode of season 22, Beyer exclaims, “It turns out that two requirements to doing well on this show are cooking what you’re told to and not bleeding into the meal.”
Sadie ‘Swashbuckler’ Manda
Sadie earned the prestigious accolade of “making Bobby Flay fear for his life” when she carelessly flailed a knife in his direction as he was approaching her for assistance. That was season 17 of Worst Cooks in America, where she also struggled to operate a food processor in the heat of a challenge and shoved her entire hand into its slicing chamber; it was a dangerously close call. But Sadie is high-spirited and hilariously modest, with one-liners already this season like, “I don’t think Bobby failed me; I think I’m not that smart.”
She is a non-profit associate from Pennsylvania who might be the least serious in attitude of this season’s entire cast of returning recruits, but she is at least up-front about it. In any case, she seems determined for redemption as much as the next contestant, which is what this new season is all about.
Worst Cooks in America is ultimately a rare case in the reality subgenre of cooking competitions. It is certainly a competition, with a prize, judges, and all, but it also places emphasis on the process of cooking by showing it at its most messy and amateurish. Season 22, in particular, is perhaps the most high-stakes and rewarding installment yet. All the contestants have previously endured the pressure, humility, and precious learning moments. But now they get to prove to the fandom and the star chefs at the show’s helm how much perseverance and passion they really have-whether they’ve improved since their initial season, remained exactly the same, or gotten even worse at cooking.
This season’s contestants display full force the diversity of experience, identity, and profession that the show is able to achieve with its amateur recruits, and what better to bring them together than healthy, constructive competition with good humor all around. Whether a postal worker from Illinois or a trans nurse, an artist with a terminal degree or an influencer from Ohio, everyone can be brought together by food and honest feedback, as captured perfectly with the cast’s communal dinner and dish tasting in season 22’s premiere episode.
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