Ten Food Network Star hopefuls are greeted by Giada De Laurentiis and Bobby Flay at Universal Orlando Resort's Volcano Bay to kick off the competition with a surprise -- the results of Food Network Star: Comeback Kitchen and who will be joining the competition. Then each finalist must create a portable version of their signature dish and go head-to-head with another competitor to convince park guests to try their dish. The heat is on, and it's not just the volcano, as Giada and Bobby decide who gets sent home in the first elimination.
The remaining finalists enter the popular world of podcasting as they team up to create food podcasts about colorful snacks. Bobby Flay, Giada De Laurentiis and guest judge Richard Blais listen and critique. After deciding whose voices paint the prettiest picture, the finalists are split up into two teams for field reports from Los Angeles' hottest food hall, The Proud Bird. These destination videos are screened and critiqued by Bobby, Giada and Food Network Star alum and co-host of Southern and Hungry, Damaris Phillips, to determine which competitor is eliminated.
The remaining finalists think they're cooking solo at an exclusive private event for foodies and tastemakers, but en route to their destination, Giada De Laurentiis and Bobby Flay reveal a twist -- they'll be cooking and presenting in teams. When they arrive, each team discovers their event theme, ingredients and decor in the trunk of their vehicle. They must pull together an international-themed party and team demo for the crowd, which includes Bobby, Giada and guest judge Tyler Florence, with one finalist eliminated at the end of the day.
It's the halfway point in the competition, so for the first challenge the finalists are judged on their progress so far. But the tables are turned when they find out they must judge themselves! Then they're thrown in the deep end when People Magazine editor-in-chief Jess Cagle splits them into two teams to judge and evaluate mentors Bobby Flay and Giada De Laurentiis on their own dishes. What the finalists don't know is that the bottom two on each panel will compete in a sudden death cook-off, and two finalists will be sent packing.
With the field narrowed to six finalists, the group goes Hollywood for their first challenge as they whip up dishes inspired by characters from the movie Hotel Transylvania 3: Summer Vacation. Special guest Fran Drescher, who voices the character Eunice in the movie, joins Giada De Laurentiis and Bobby Flay at the judging table. Then it's back to business when the finalists are asked to give their take on new Food Network titles: Ooey Gooey, Cheat Eats and Stacked Snacks. Two finalists each take on a title and are judged head-to-head by Bobby and Giada along with guest judges comedian Loni Love and Iron Chef Alex Guarnaschelli. In the end, one finalist's shot at stardom will be finished.
In the first challenge, the remaining finalists have to update their family favorites with a culinary twist. They have to film an Instagram story about their process while they cook, too, and food blogger Molly Yeh pops in to help judge. Then the finalists head to the aquarium to cater a five-course, VIP dinner in celebration of the 20th Anniversary of Shark Night. Each course is inspired by an ingredient in a different shark's diet. Man v. Food's Casey Webb helps Giada De Laurentiis and Bobby Flay decide which finalist will be eliminated.
The competition is down to the final four, and it's time to see if the finalists can handle the rigors of live television. Each finalist must make a "share-worthy" dish live on Food Network's Facebook page, and their demo is put to the test when special guest Anne Burrell is revealed as the on-camera talent. The finalists have to act as producers, guiding Anne through the demo using a wireless earpiece. The pressure continues to escalate when each finalist hosts their own live "in the kitchen" show with a special guest who's familiar with the format ... Food Network's Ree Drummond! Giada De Laurentiis and Bobby Flay decide which finalists best handle these pressure-packed challenges and earn a spot in the final three.
The final three finalists become four again when a previously eliminated competitor re-enters the competition thanks to a win on FoodNetwork.com's Star Salvation. With the help of eliminated finalists to serve as sous chefs, the final four must cook for their lives to determine which three will get a chance to shoot their own pilot. Former Food Network Star winners Tregaye Fraser and Jason Smith help determine which three finalists will move on to shoot pilots directed by Food Network's Sunny Anderson, Duff Goldman and Robert Irvine.