Season 3 Episode 2 of TLC’s Next Great Baker opened with Buddy Velastro asking the contestants who wanted to be team leader.
Lexington’s James Brown (Brown’s Bakery) responded, “I hesitated. My head hasn’t been totally in the game.” He told the camera later, “I didn’t do so well last challenge, because I have health issues, and I’m a little bit slow in raising my hand, primarily because I’m thinking about those health issues. Any of these challenges, if you’re not at your hundred percent mental focus, you’re not at your best.” Spoiler alert: stop reading right now if you don’t want to know the outcome of Episode 2.
Season 2 winner Marissa Lopez opened with the episode’s groovy girl cake baker’s challenge. Brown’s role was to “crank out the flowers” for his team.
For the elimination challenge, Velastro told the contenders, “I think the best cake decorators are the ones who can tell a story with a cake. I want you guys to make a cake that tells a story. I want each team to create an original superhero character…backgrounds… storylines. One other thing: I want there to be movement. I want engineering…A three-foot tall engineered superhero cake that tells a story.”
Louisville’s Ashley Holt responded, “So it’s gotta be engineered? That [bleepin'] sucks. I have no idea how to wire anything together.” Her superhero story, “I hate rats, so it’d be cool if we had a superhero to get all these rats.” Perhaps a “cat girl” with a “cat mask on, running around in her bathing suit, with dead rats hanging from it.” Philly teammate Chad Durkin’s response, “that’s the grossest thing. Nobody wants that.” Brown admitted, “it does sound kind of disgusting, but that’s where our magic is going to come in. We have to make it look appetizing.”
Later on Team Peter, Holt says of Brown’s rat-sculpting efforts, “I see that it’s taking James forever. [He] just looks lost at this point. Like his eyes look glazed over, and he’s sweating profusely. But it looks like he’s giving it his best shot. He says to camera, “it’s hard to focus on this task and what we have to do. I’m pretty tired. My health has been bothering me. The same day I found out I was going to be a contestant on the show, I was literally in the MRI room, coming out to speak to my doctor, [and] the doctor says that I had a brain tumor. The doctor said it was benign. He gave me the clearance to be able to do the show. I know I got surgery waiting on me when I get home. And I’m scared to death about what’s going to happen. I’ve got three kids that I want to grow up with. I guess the way I kind of look at things is life is all about opportunities. I really wanted to be here, and I wanted to take advantage of it.”
Buddy walks in to announce, mid-challenge, “In business, things change. Deadlines change. That’s why, whenever I work with my team, we make sure there’s a sense of urgency. Today, your deadline has changed. Your cake now has to be finished in two hours.”
Brown’s on-camera interview is interspersed with the action, “I feel pretty sluggish. Kind of like I’m in a fog at this point. I’m thinking about the surgery I have to have done when I get back home.”
As glimpses of the cat girl vs. rat king cake emerge, Brown’s voiceover interview plays, “It’s hard to focus on the competition, when I’m thinking about the surgery on my brain tumor.”
But it’s time for judging and… Lou Ferrigno emerges, and proclaims the cat girl cake “very interesting.”
Everyone knows, as James Brown admits, someone from the cat girl team is going home. The engineering failed, making it “a dud.”
Jess Reyling, on the winning team, acknowledged, “None of us are feeling like this is a win. Because our cake was king of the stupids. It was like every cake was bad, but ours was the least bad.”
Buddy’s admonition to the bottom two teams, “if you guys were happy with those cakes, you were delusional.”
The Cat Girl team was spared the chopping block, but James Brown’s interview cuts continued, “I felt that the only reason that my team was at the bottom was because of me. Same thing as in the first round. My focus really hasn’t been on the competition. It’s just not fair to the other people…”
Next, he gathered his fellow contestants and told them, through tears, “this is my last day. The day I found out that I was here is the day I found out I had a brain tumor,” prompting audible gasps and tears. “I can’t focus on this,” he continued. “I’m more worried about surgery…my family… And I just want you all to know, it’s been a true honor and pleasure to work with you all, and I will miss you.”
He then returned to the judges’ table, and explained tearfully that it was time for him to go, taking a fellow contestant’s exile spot in the box truck of defeat, where he said, “I’ve done a lot to earn this black coat. And maybe after the surgery, when I get better, maybe I’ll be able to come back again and try to earn a white one.”
Now that he’s home safely, his update for fans is, the tumor “is benign and it’s called acoustic neuroma. I am scheduled for surgery in early January here at UK Hospital. I really appreciate all your thoughts and prayers. It was truly an amazing experience to work on the Next Great Baker.”