The Food Network
Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014 | 11:32 a.m.
Only one point separated Rio magician headliner Penn Jillette from the victory NFL Hall of Famer Herschel Walker claimed on Monday night’s “Rachael vs. Guy” on the Food Network.
Penn came so close with 499 points against Herschel’s 500 points and winning the $50,000 prize that producers voluntarily kicked in a $15,000 donation on behalf of Penn, who was playing to earn money for his beloved charity Opportunity Village here in Las Vegas.
It was the final episode of Season 3 of the celebrity-cook-off competition, and what a tough battle it turned out to be.
Penn told me: “I’ll tell you what I hate about competitions — I hate when the best man wins. In this case, the best man did win. Whenever they said, ‘May the best man win,’ I go, ‘Oh, no, no, no, that’s not what I want.’
“But I came so close. Herschel was on 500 points; I was 1 point short of them. It was just an absolute squeaker, so much so that the producers wanted to give a lot more coin to Opportunity Village, and they just threw some money my way. Rachael was seriously upset I came in second by the slimmest possible margin!”
Four contestants made it through to the finals: Actress Florence Henderson was on Rachael’s team with Penn, and singer Tiffany was on Guy’s team with Herschel. They battled preparing a three-course meal on a dinner cruise.
Penn explained: “The cameramen had to cheat it a little bit. They were very kind to me because I said that I couldn’t stand up in the galley. I’m 6-foot-7, and because on a ship they need to keep all the space they possibly can, they had the ceilings set at 6-foot-3. Can you imagine me stooped over 4 inches smaller for 3 hours of cooking? That’s Vietnam in a tiger cage!
“They moved me for the first 2 hours off the ship to the dock. I cooked there, and then we moved everything back, and I finished the last 90 minutes bent over. All four of us had to do our own three courses, so I was actually competing against my own teammate Florence.
“My assistant was comedienne Judy Gold, who had been eliminated 2 weeks earlier. The nice thing about the show is I liked everyone on it. When you’re on the other team, you don’t get to see people much. I only chatted with Herschel a little bit during the competitions, but what a guy.”
Herschel won the $50,000 grand prize, but the scoring was so tight, so close, that Penn still walked off with the unexpected $15,000 prize for Opportunity Village.
“That really was a great gift,” Penn told me. “The entire experience was great because there’s really no emotional or psychological stuff in this. You just cook. There’s a very sweet camaraderie, there’s not really backstabbing, there’s not really as much surprise when you’re there because you kind of know how good your stuff is, and the contestants who blew it knew they’d blown it.
“The thing I’m fairly good at is pulling in a lot of information and just letting it go. If I was asked to do another cooking show like this, I’d have to start all over again. Beforehand, I got in touch with a great chef, Jet Tila, who is here in Las Vegas and Los Angeles. He gave me lessons on how to cook on TV, and he would pinpoint exactly what I needed to do.
“Although you don’t know what the tasks are going to be, it’s amazing how he had talked me into doing something really Las Vegas-themed. How about a halibut casino, and do it like a clams casino, but with a different take with the fish. That’s what I cooked on last night’s show, and it went over really well.
“I really liked doing the show — every moment of it. Also, when you’ve been on ‘Celebrity Apprentice’ with Donald Trump, this turned out to be a walk in the park. For the other people on the show, it was kind of high pressure. For those who’ve done ‘Celebrity Apprentice,’ this is a walk in the park.
“It was still tough, but a different kind of tough. When you don’t have a crazy person in charge, that changes everything. Rachael and Guy follow the rules of human behavior. Trying to read The Donald , he is not only an eccentric fellow, but also he’s cultivating an unpredictable quality that is his style. He’s trying to be unreadable, whereas Rachael is just trying to help and have a great time.
“The chefs they bring in aren’t there to play mind games with you; they taste the dishes and they choose one winner. I go on record as saying there is nothing in the world that Herschel wouldn’t beat me at. He’s just smart and strong and hard working. I have no interest in sports and had no idea who he was. I never saw him play football, but friends of mine consider him a hero.
“There are some people who are just heroes. He was kind and polite no matter what. He was working hard throughout the competition. I don’t think he said one word or syllable that the tone wasn’t respectful, kind, intelligent and well chosen. If everyone in America grew up like Herschel, we would be doing fine.”
Penn now gets ready for the Las Vegas premiere of his and magic partner Teller’s new movie “Tim’s Vermeer” opening the last week of March at Suncoast movie theaters and the following week at Brenden Theaters in the Palms.
The documentary on Texas inventor Tim Jenison, who attempted to solve one of the greatest art mysteries of how 17th century Dutch master Johannes Vermeer painted so photo realistically 150 years before the invention of photography, took five years for the two illusionists to capture on film.
Vegas DeLuxe has a further interview with Penn & Teller about the remarkable film, which we will post before its Las Vegas premiere. Penn also updated us on his new $1.2 million crowd-funded movie, which he plans to start filming in Los Angeles and Las Vegas in April.
Teller will update us on his new magical production of William Shakespeare’s “The Tempest.” Its world premiere is April 6 at our Smith Center for the Performing Arts under a tent in Symphony Park, and it has been extended through April 20 due to high ticket demand.
Congratulations, Penn! Despite the loss, it still resulted in an unexpected $15,000 win for Opportunity Village.
Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.
Follow Robin Leach on Twitter at Twitter.com/Robin_Leach.
Follow Vegas DeLuxe on Twitter at Twitter.com/vegasdeluxe.
Follow Sun A&E Senior Editor Don Chareunsy on Twitter at Twitter.com/VDLXEditorDon.
Carnival lasts all year at the Rio. With a float occasionally passing overhead and dropping beads while feathered dancers fire up the gamblers below, the Rio tries to keep its 120,000-square foot casino jumping with excitement. Special Brazilian mixed-drinks are also served throughout the casino. The hotel suites tend to be larger than similar priced rooms on the Strip and many offer excellent views with floor to ceiling windows.
The Rio offers some quality shows like "Penn & Teller" and "Chippendales." Many come to the Rio for the nightlife at the VooDoo Lounge, located on the 51st floor, or McFadden's Irish Pub on the casino level.
Others come for a bit relaxation at the Rio Spa or pool area and still others come to shop at the hotel's 60,000 square feet of shops. In each of these endeavors, the Rio attempts to make the experience a bit more fun and spontaneous.
The Rio also offers guests a variety of dining choices from all-American food at the All-American Bar & Grille to Gaylord India Restaurant for something a little spicier and even Carnival World Buffet for the indecisive.