On Sunday, Oct. 6, Food Network premieres the third season of the competitive reality show “Halloween Wars,” which pits cake decorators, candy makers and pumpkin carvers against one another in search of the $50,000 prize.
Recurring judges are cake decorator Shinmin Li and makeup artist Brian Kinney.
Host Justin Willman sees his role as a multifaceted one.
“I wear many hats,” he says. “I’m the referee, I’m the cheerleader, I’m the emcee, I provide the color commentary, I’ve got to tease the tension. As you know, it is a war.
“It’s serious business. As a performer, as an entertainer, I like to release the tension and put people at ease, but for good television, you’ve got to build on that tension.
“So I walk the line between the two — crack people up when I need to, or let them wallow in their awkwardness, which makes great television.”
In the first episode, “Zombie Prom,” five teams – each with a pumpkin carver, cake decorator and sugar artist — try to create scenes depicting the theme. The special guest judge is actress and “scream queen” Danielle Harris.
” ‘Zombie Prom’ was exceptionally delightful,” says Willman, “because it’s got a sense of irony to it. The prom, we associate with prim and proper and tuxedos and dresses and corsages. In this episode, they get to take that and cross it with this pure gore and gross, oozing sickening-ness.”
As to his own Halloween costume, Willman has to defer to his girlfriend, Jill, because they are “one of those sickeningly adorable couples that does some sort of couple outfit.”
Willman then consults with his lady love, who informs him she is dressing up as the warrior queen Khaleesi Daenerys Targaryen from HBO’s “Game of Thrones.”
“If you’re Khaleesi,” says Willman, “I’m [her warrior husband] Drogo. Now I’m going to be one of those poseurs who’s going to be dressing up as something he doesn’t understand.”
Reminded that Drogo is deceased, Willman says, “I’m Zombie Drogo. OK, good. Is that a thing?”
Food Network’s home page for “Halloween Wars” offers several recipes for fun Halloween party food. These include individual spooky white pizzas (ghostly shapes with just cheese and black-olive eyes), phyllo-wrapped hot-dog mummies (essentially pigs in blankets that look as if they’re swathed in bandages) and pull-apart graveyard cupcakes (they’re put together to look like a cake, then decorated in proper scary-cemetery fashion).
Sandra Lee also suggests putting a bowl of punch (with or without vodka but thickened with lime gelatin and pineapple juice) in a cauldron on top of a larger bowl containing dry ice, then wedging a fake hand (sterilized, of course) in the gap so it seems to be waving forlornly for help.