HOLLYWOOD—I love this show, I really do and most people who know me know I hate food competition series. I’m a fan of a cooking show that teaches me how to cook, not so much seeing chefs compete against one another, but Guy Fieri has crafted something genius with “Tournament of Champions” that kicked off its fifth season February 18.

Let’s just say this because it’s important, all four champions Brooke Williamson, Mei Lin, Maneet Chauhan and Tiffani Faison are all back competing. I will admit, Faison who was knocked out in the first round last season, should have had a lower seed. If we’re talking about current stats, she doesn’t get a #1 seed if she was knocked out the first round. Guy honored the four champs with their own rings and banners held in the arena for years to come.

The names this season alone are impressive. I am happy to see Jet Tila and Antonia Lofaso back. Jet is like the underdog who I think deserves his chance at the final round, as does Michael Voltaggio who has always fell to Williamson, but after not competing in season four, I think Michael wants this more than ever before. Let’s talk about the battles that will be unfolding as the West and East divisions were broken up into 16 rounds. I’m eagerly awaiting the battle between Adam Sobel and Lee Ann Wong, as well as Maneet and Nini Nguyen (I think we might get an upset there).

Another interesting battle will be between Tobias Dorzon and Kelsey Barnard Clark. Tobias has truly proven to be a force in previous seasons, and I see him proving that even more this time around. Another battle is between Amanda Freitag and Darnell Ferguson. Darnell has been wiped clean of the Food Network website and his shows pulled after his arrest and allegations of domestic abuse. I mean we got a glimpse of Amanda in the season premiere episode, but the show didn’t EVEN show who she was facing in the bracket it was almost ignored. I have to see how this is edited in terms of if the audience sees the battle or it’s simply announced Amanda won and then the next wrong transpires?

This woman is a seriously underrated chef, she was fantastic in season two of “The Next Iron Chef” making it to the final four, and I’m sorry she should have won season five of “The Next Iron Chef” against Alex Guarnaschelli. Freitag was impressive as hell that entire season and how she lost I just cannot fathom it. That series had a big issue with judging, as it should have followed the pattern of “TOC” blind judging to deliver fairness across the board. Not to mention she lost by one point to Williamson in the first season of “TOC.”

The first battle of the night was between Jet Tila and Brian Malarkey that involved calamari tubes and tentacles, eggplant, the microwave, it had to be peppery and canned sardines were the Wild Card Ingredient. Yes, the time element was constant the entire round which was 30 minutes. I thought Brian’s dish was creative, well-composed and a standout; however, Jet had a bit more finesse that wowed judges Susan Feniger, Carla Hall and Geoffrey Zakarian, with an 84-82 victory.  Zakarian as a chef is great, but as a judge he is pompous and that annoys me. He is just so full of himself sometimes you just don’t want to see him on TV.

I’m seriously waiting until the day that TOC has judges like Bobby Flay and Michael Symon on the panel, if not the great Jeffrey Steingarten and Anya Fernald, judges who actually take the time to care about the food presented not just their image. I was thrilled to see that Donatella Arpaia will be judging a few rounds this season.

The next round was between Iron Chef Jose Garces and restauranteur Marc Murphy and it was perhaps the easiest Randomizer I have seen ever with salmon, sweet onions, the blender, charred and habanero peppers. I mean this felt so easy to craft, and I was stunned that Garces didn’t craft a more original dish. When I saw Marc’s dish, I knew in my gut it was over and it was an upset as many expected Garces to move to the next round, but I was happy to see Marc with the victory, his dish was just more impressive.

Marc earned the highest score of the night with 85, and it was well earned because the final two rounds of the night, the dishes and the scoring were very disappointing. These should have been entertaining battles, but they disappointed me on every scale. Jonathan Sawyer did battle against Britt Rescigno involved ground beef, basil, the Panini press, silky and graham crackers. When I first saw the results, I thought this would be tough, but as the round continued, I was impressed with Sawyer’s dish. It was original and not the typical meatballs like Britt did.

As soon as Zakarian mentioned he didn’t like Sawyer’s meat sausage I knew it was over. The scoring stunned me though, 78-74 with Britt taking the win. Britt is going to have to elevate her food to make a run this season. The final battle of the night was between last year’s winner Mei Lin and Play in victor, Michael Reed. The randomizer involved pork shoulder, broccoli rabe, a stand mixer, fried and utilizing canned carrots. I loved what Lin did, but her plating was sloppy as judge Carla Hall pointed out. Reed crafted a stellar dish with carrot pasta, but the way he utilized the element of frying the pasta was just not impressive.

Lin edged out the win by a mere three points, 79-76, and I expect more from her in the coming rounds or she might see herself losing the chance to become the first two-time winner of the series. Next week looks like we might see some remnants of the Amanda Freitag and Darnell Ferguson battle and what we will or will not see. “TOC 5” airs Sundays at 8 p.m. on Food Network.