Josh 'Jag' Garcia withdraws from 'The Next Food Network Star 3'
By Christopher Rocchio and Steve Rogers, 07/16/2007
When The Next Food Network Star's third season finished production earlier this year,Josh "Jag" Garcia was still one of two finalists in the running to be crowned the competition's winner. However once allegations that he fibbed about his military background and education emerged following the show's June premiere, Garcia -- presumably realizing that his lies had likely already cost him any chance of winning the home viewer vote that will determine the competition's winner -- decided to withdraw from the culinary competition.
"I'm taking myself out of this competition," Garcia told The Next Food Network Star's judges during a post-allegations meeting that was broadcast at the conclusion of last night's penultimate show episode. "I can't in good conscience continue knowing what you guys demand of a Food Network Star. I can't continue knowing that I'm not mature enough yet to meet those requirements, and I'm sorry."
Garcia and Rory Schepisi, a 30-year-old restaurant owner from Vega, TX, were initially revealed to be The Next Food Network Star 3's finalists during last night's pre-taped penultimate episode, which featured the show's production ending with the elimination of third-place finisher Amy Finley, a 32-year-old caterer and freelance writer from La Mesa, CA.
"Being one of the final two is huge. It's awesome," Garcia explained before he met with The Next Food Network Star's judges to discuss the allegations that had emerged after the show's premiere. "But there's a whole lot more that comes with it. You know there's press, and people going into your personal life. There's some things I need to talk about."
Those "things" Garcia was referring to came to light during an early June investigation by The Army Times military newspaper. Food Network had billed Garcia as "a graduate of the New York Restaurant School" as well as "a former corporal and a grunt-turned-cook who served in Afghanistan" and Garcia had made additional comments supporting those falsehoods during a Food Network-arranged (and publicist monitored) June 1 interview that proceeded The Next Food Network Star 3's June 3 premiere.
However after deciding that Garcia's original interview had include claims that "seemed unlikely, if not imposssible," The Times had discovered that none of those claims were true -- Garcia had never been deployed to a war zone; had never been a corporal; had left the Marine Corps eight months early; and had never finished culinary school.
When The Times confronted Garcia with the results of its investigation in a pair of non-Food Network monitored follow-up interviews conducted on June 11, Garcia told the paper that he had let the show's producers "believe what they wanted to believe" regarding his Afghan deployment claim and a "hazing scandal" was responsible for his early discharge as a private.
In a new The Army Times report published today, the newspaper also reported that although it didn't originally disclose the information in its earlier reports, Garcia also allegedly violated his Food Network confidentiality agreement during one of his non-chaperoned June 11 interviews with the newspaper.
After reportedly disclosing that he was one of The Next Food Network Star's final two third-season finalists (a claim that, in light of his earlier lies and subsequent denials, The Times was reluctant to believe), Garcia also allegedly offered to trade the identity of the season's other finalist if the newspaper agreed not to disclose what its investigation had uncovered. "I'll tell you if you help me out with this," Garcia reportedly told the newspaper's reporter.
However despite being notified of the false information in Garcia's background on June 12, Food Network -- obviously already aware that Garcia had ended up being one of the season's two finalists -- had remained tight-lipped about how it planned to address Garcia's situation.
"We are currently investigating this situation and will have a resolution soon," Food Network told The Times in a brief written statement issued on June 12.
Two weeks later, the message was still the same. "Food Network remains committed to fully investigating Josh Garcia's background," Cara Brugnoli, a Food Network spokeswoman, told The Times on June 26.
Two additional weeks later, the investigation still allegedly remained "ongoing." "It is still ongoing. However nothing has been determined yet," Brugnoli told Reality TV World on July 9.
With no further delay possible, Food Network finally revealed the results of its investigation during last night's broadcast.
"Several months after this episode was taped, Food Network learned that Jag had misrepresented facts about his military service and his culinary training," read a Food Network statement that appeared onscreen after the judges had revealed that Garcia and Schepisi would be the competition's final two finalists. "He said he had served in Afghanistan and that he had graduated from cooking school, neither of which is true. When given the opportunity during a press interview, Jag did not set the record straight. Food Network asked Jag to come to New York to discuss the situation."
"I don't want my negative press to reflect on the Food Network," Garcia said prior to attending the meeting with The Next Food Network Starjudges and Food Network executives Bob Tuschman and Susie Fogelson.
"So Jag, there's been a lot of rumors floating around about you and your background," explained Tuschman to Garcia during the meeting. "We sort of need to clear the air."
"It's very hard for me to do this, because this is something I've dreamed of my whole life," Garcia told Tuschman and Fogelson. "I'm taking credit for something I haven't done. I told you folks I graduated from culinary school, but the truth is, I never graduated. This is hard to talk about, it really is. I told you guys that I deployed to Afghanistan... and I didn't. I didn't. I was a United States Marine. I served my country honorably. And I've been a whole lot of places, but Afghanistan wasn't one of them. I'm not here to take any glory from my brothers that are out there now doing their thing. I love my Corps. I love my Marines. I just want to do things the right way."
After expressing his love for the military, Garcia then told Tuschman and Fogelson he was removing himself from the competition.
However rather than giving any indication that they found his actions unacceptable and -- in a message that might if nothing else, help discourage future The Next Food Network Star applicants from similarly lying about their backgrounds -- making it clear that they had already otherwise planned to disqualify Garcia from the competition, Tuschman and Fogelson instead expressed regret that Garcia was removing himself from the competition.
"Unfortunately, we will accept this resignation. You're stepping down [while], we believe, holding your head high," said Fogelson. Added Tuschman, "Jag you're a talented young man and we think you realize you made a choice that you probably wish you hadn't made at this point. I know this door is closing for you, but I honestly do believe there's a hundred other doors that are going to open for you. And we want you to succeed. We really do."
Garcia's resignation from The Next Food Network Star 2 meant reinstatement for Finley, who had been eliminated following a final challenge that required the final three finalists to each conduct print and radio interviews and perform a cooking segment on Food Network star Rachael Ray's The Rachael Ray Show. During the competition's final judging, the judges had told Finley that she was being eliminated because she had been "less approachable" and "less relatable" to the audience during her appearance with Ray. However her fortunes took a turn for the better with Garcia's withdrawal.
"I get a phone call that I need to fly to New York," Schepisi explained during last night's broadcast, which was followed by Tuschman informing her of Garcia's decision and an announcement of Finley's reinstatement. "I don't even know what to say," was all Schepisi could muster in response to the news of Garcia's "withdrawal."
In addition to wondering whether Food Network's ethical standards are so lax that, barring what was presented to be a voluntary withdrawal, the network would have actually allowed Garcia to remain one of the competition's final two finalists, The Next Food Network Star viewers now have until Tuesday, July 17 at 9AM ET to determine whether Finley or Schepisi will be crowned the competition's winner. The winner will be announced live during The Next Food Network Star 2 finale next Sunday, July 22 at 9PM ET.
As for Garcia, he -- like the show's home viewers, apparently -- has also been left to wonder what might have otherwise been.
"There's always going to be that what-if thing... But I ultimately believe that I made the right decision and we'll see where it takes me in the future," he said following his withdrawal. "I'm gonna go right back into the kitchen and keep cooking. That's what I've been doing, that's my love, and you can overcome anything in time. That's what I need... a little time."