Guy Fieri Talks 10 Years of Food Network Stardom and Directing Finalists' Pilots

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We're just days ahead of Sunday's Food Network Star finale and the announcement of this year's winner, and no one knows what the top-three hopefuls, Damiano, Jernard and Tregaye, are feeling right now better than Guy Fieri.

Ten years ago this bona fide superstar was filming his own pilot and waiting in eager anticipation for the results, just like the Season 12 finalists are today. Now he's returned to the Food Network Star competition, not as a finalist, of course, but as the director of Damiano's, Jernard's and Tregaye's pilots. His past as a competitor and his decade of shining on Food Network on such fan-favorite series as Guy's Big Bite and Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives means that he has a unique perspective on the pilot process and what it takes to film a successful show.

We checked in with Guy to find out what it's like to be back on the show that launched his Stardom and get his take on his last 10 years on Food Network. Read on below for an exclusive one-on-one interview with him, then click the play button on the video above to hear more.

It was just 10 years ago that you were in these finalists' shoes, filming your pilot and going for the win. What’s it like to have the tables turned and to be right back where you started?

Guy Fieri: This round of Food Network Star — they just get better and better. Each year I think that people are watching the show, seeing how it works, upping their game. I mean, these three that I’ve had a chance to work with have upped their game so much. They would have beat me back in the day. The game gets tougher, the challenges are more difficult, and they’re really talented. I think you could have a show out of any one of them. I would tune in. ... My interest in it is how coachable they are, and they’re really enthusiastic, and they got good creds. Any one of them could do great.

What do you wish you’d known on day one, when you were filming your pilot, Cooking Off the Hook, that you know now, a decade later?

GF: Knowing it is one thing; exercising it is another. You have to own it. You have to own the moment. You have to be aware of everything that you're dealing with, and I don't think you can do that when you first step into the ring — or first step into the scene — because there's so many things that are so foreign to you. But be a great student is the thing that's been my success ... really pay attention. Understand what your team is doing, understanding what the audio team does and what the lighting team does and what the camera guys [do]. What's the director saying? Just really pay attention and be part of it. And the sooner you do that and the sooner that you adapt to that, the better student you are, the better performance, the better job you'll do. And I think that that's what's probably served me the best.

What does the Food Network Star competition mean to you, knowing that you got your start right here?

GF: I keep in touch with my friends that I was on Season 2 with — most of them — and I think about where it’s taken me and the opportunities it’s given me, and I’m very humbled. I mean, it’s probably the most-amazing thing besides, you know, having my family. It’s mind-blowing. I mean, it’s really mind-blowing, and to see the opportunities that are coming available to all these young chefs that are trying out for this, I wish them all the best, and I thank Food Network. I think Food Network has done a tremendous job at fortifying the world with a true exposure to the life of food in all different facets, and I attribute a tremendous amount of the success that we’ve had as a culture in getting back to real food, in getting back to cooking, and getting the family back to the dinner table. These are all realities that are taking place, and, again, I really attribute a tremendous amount of that to Food Network, and I feel blessed to be a member of the team. Ten years — I’m getting to O.G. status.

How do you see your role as a director of their pilots? What’s your goal in working with them?

GF: I think that one of the most-important things is to kind of break it down and not make them nervous. They’re already nervous enough. There’s a ton of cameras and lights ... and people working all around them, and as soon as you get nervous, as soon as they get off their game, they’re not going to be who they are, and that’s what we really want to see right now is who are they, how genuine are they going to be, how well can they present themselves in front of the camera. And I think that as soon as we break that down and let them just go to being themselves, then we’re going to see the real deal, and so that’s what I try to do: come in and offer a little bit of what I know. I mean, I’m a chef. I’m a TV guy second, and so I just give them the best of what I got, but it looks like it’s helping out a little bit.

What’s your greatest piece of been-there-done-that advice that you really want to impart on them?

GF: The best piece of been-there-done-that advice is what Rachael Ray gave to me 10 years ago, and that is don’t burn tape. When you’re in it and you’re doing it, keep it going. You may make a huge mistake, say a stupid thing, you may be standing there with your shoe untied. I mean, someone walks right in front of the screen, right in front of the camera, just keep going, just keep rolling, stick with it, stay in the moment. And that’s proven to be really true in all my adventures that I’ve had is don’t burn tape.

Tune in to Food Network Star on Sunday at 9|8c to find out which finalist will join the Food Network family.