A pinch of melodramatic suspense and a dash of desperately cast, overpaid stars are all that’s needed to concoct TV’s latest reality drama. No, not “The Hills” – it’s TLC’s “Kick Off Cook Off.” Promising action-packed episodes of pre-game cuisine and hearty competition, “Cook Off” is an obvious attempt to lure the male demographic (because “Say Yes to the Dress” apparently just wasn’t cutting it), but it drops the ball entirely.

Kick Off Cook Off

Thursdays at 10 p.m.
TLC

Surrounded by yards of green, the contestants are challenged to fire up their grills and create the ultimate fan’s food. Three teams sprint for the $1,000 prize as they cook through various stages of meals, judged by restaurant owner and past “Top Chef: Miami” contestant Brian Malarkey as “cheferee” and ESPN reporter Erin Andrews as host. The two are charming and cute as they brave undercooked chicken and gag-worthy meat sushi. Of the three teams, TLC relies heavily on the appeal of a much-hyped sports star duo. Twins Tiki and Ronde Barber, a former New York Giant and current Tampa Bay Buccaneer, respectively, and Shaun Phillips and Stephen Cooper of the San Diego Chargers display their talents outside of the stadium and nudge the show along through friendly teasing and taunting.

“Cook Off” is unique among a reel of fellow competition programs — in that it lacks actual competitiveness. The minutes lull by as the clearly untrained and inexperienced contestants fumble about shabby squares of kitchen. It seems the producers seemingly just plucked the nearest guy with a spatula in hand, as the players take the show no more seriously than they would a rousing game of horseshoes at a weekend family barbecue. One woman, disgusted by her own meal, gags and vomits into the nearest trash can, blaming it on nerves. Another contestant shamelessly insists his beer-flavored chicken, blackened in ash, is “supposed to look like that.” The program would find more success scouring college towns as the tangy, barbecued talent floating from the grills of fraternity porches far exceeds the show’s pathetic hopefuls.

“Cook Off” chooses to neglect the cooking and instead focus solely on the football, spotlighting the mere presence of athletes and twisting phrases into sports puns or references at any and every chance. Points are deemed “touchdowns,” and as one team is caught cheating, they are ushered to the sideline for a ten-minute penalty.

And the show is so desperate for action that all conflicts even seem staged. The program is plagued by anticlimactic suspense and Erin Andrews’s hyperbolic expressions. Her look of shock and disgust at the cheating incident is so excessive, it could only be the result of hours of practice. And another contestant is subject to an equally malicious Andrews glare as the host gets corrected: “It’s beef, not pork.”

While some programming can clear a room, TLC’s “Kick Off Cook Off” could clear stadiums. Boring and idiotic, “Cook Off” floats by on the presence of big-name athletes, yet still leaves a bad taste in viewers’ mouths.

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