WTF Happened To Food Network’s Halloween Wars?


Food Network’s popular seasonal show Halloween Wars has gone through a dramatic change – and fans are not happy about it

For its new 2021 season, The Food Network has overhauled their popular show ‘Halloween Wars’. It has a brand new format, a new host and a new set.

It hasn’t exactly been showered with accolades by longtime fans.

Just a quick social media search of Halloween Wars and you’ll see the negative reactions this revamped version of the show has been getting. Repeated questions of – “Where are the pumpkin carvers?”, “Where are the sugar artists?”, “What happened with the small scares?”, “Why fix something that wasn’t broken?, along with the statement – “This has just become another cake baking competition!”

Ok, let’s back up and acquaint everyone with what Halloween Wars is exactly.

Debuting in October 2011, Halloween Wars is a reality competition between teams of three. The teams would consist of a cake maker, a sugar artist and a pumpkin carver. These three would have to work together to create a display using all those elements and make the ultimate scary display based on the theme that is given. 

Halloween-Wars-Food-Network-displayThe first round in the show would be ‘The Small Scale’, where the teams would have 45 minutes to create their interpretation of the announced theme. Say, it’s a scary childhood toy, reimagining Medusa’s hairstyle or a mutated animal. 

Their work would be evaluated by two regular judges, along with a guest judge every episode. The winning team of ‘The Small Scale’ would win a helpful bonus for the next round. Maybe they’d get the assistance of an extra helper or their team would get to choose the first pumpkin! Either could be a crucial leg up and help win the second round of the show – ‘The Spine Chiller’!

Once again, the teams would be asked to create a cake/sugar/pumpkin sculpture, but this time it has to be a big, immersive display. With the clock giving them five hours of time, the teams have to scramble, carve, pull sugar and make cake work together to create a scary sculpture to wow the judges.

The show uses artist renderings of what the final project is meant to look like to help viewers understand what the team is attempting to make. Clearly, these illustrations are made in post-production and done after the competitions, but they help visualize the artistic goal. It makes watching the creative steps the carvers, sugar pullers and cakes artists are doing more clear and what they’re trying to make.

Along with the scary scene, teams also have to cook a tasty treat to go along with their display. It becomes a tense marathon of teams trying to make pumpkin, sugar and cake compliment each other, along with each artists visions coming together to make a spectacular cohesive spooky Halloween display!

The Judges taste and evaluate each creation. At the end of each show one team is eliminated based on their work. Eventually two teams are left standing and they go head-to-head competing in the finale to create a mind-blowing Halloween display and to win the $50,000 prize.


Halloween Wars became a seasonal favorite for viewers. It became a Halloween tradition to tune into, along with The Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown and old monster movies. The show clearly had an impact and a loyal fanbase. I recall in season nine one competitor said she was inspired to begin making cakes from being a fan of watching the show.

Through its ten-year run, Halloween Wars has gone through a few changes. Hosts have changed, the second regular judges changed faces and some of the graphics to open the show have been given the occasional facelift. The one permanent face on the show for the past ten years has been pastry chef Shinmin Li, who anxiously bit into chocolate covered cookie spiders and evaluated how tasty the treats presented to her were.

I did enjoy watching Halloween Wars. It was the ONLY program I would watch on The Food Network. It was entertaining to watch these skilled pumpkin carvers create amazing sculptures. I’ve always loved carving pumpkins every Halloween, and the heights these artists could take a pumpkin is truly amazing to see. This wasn’t just carving two triangle eyes and sticking a candle inside it, this was incredible carving feats!

Halloween-Wars-Food-Network-tv-show-pumpkin-carvingThen there was the delicate sugar work that would be used to accent displays. The creations they could make from pulling and manipulating sugar were beautiful. Then add the cake maker working with fondant and a Rice Krispie framework like a sculptor with a chisel. 

They would be frantically working as the countdown clock runs down. Of course things wouldn’t always go smoothly. Mishaps befall the team, sugar breaks, pumpkins fall, cake comes apart, some elements not live up to expectations or some exceeding them – it had me hooked in.

Sure there were plenty of cheesy aspects to the program. Host Jonathan Bennet making very corny jokes, judge Shinmin going on about the tasting element, the silly poses each team does in the opening of the show, the way each segment would end with something of a forced cliffhanger. This was the stuff that would have me shake my head and roll my eyes, but overall that it was pretty painless. I still stayed tuned in.

Host Jonathan Bennet, Judges Shinmin Li & Todd Tucker & Guest Judge Marisol Nichols

Plus, each episode would bring in a guest judge associated with the horror genre to judge just how effectively creepy the teams creations were. Elvira, Rob Zombie, Shawnee Smith, Sid Haig, Robert Patrick, Mick Garris, Gaten Matarazzo and Caleb Mclaughlin from Strangers Things, all sat in to critique the displays and have a bite of tasty treats.

Legendary horror makeup artist Tom Savini was the permanent judge in season two and director and makeup artist Todd Tucker was a regular for four seasons. They used their expertise in creating scares in films to offer up perspectives on what teams got right and wrong. It was very cool!

Halloween Wars became something of a tradition to watch for me, and for A LOT OF FOLKS! It managed to gain quite a loyal following of viewers through the years. Which brings me to the radical change the show has taken for its eleventh season.

Silly fun by host Bennett and guest judges like Robert Patrick and Elvira ready to judge spooky displays

The eleventh season debuted and there has been immediate confusion and disappointment by longtime Halloween War fans. The one familiar face fans saw was judge Shinmin, who apparently stuck around for this version of the show. The rest of this revamped ‘Halloween Wars’ looks very, very different.

First, viewers were introduced to a new host Zak Bagans, who appears virtually through a television screen, gets to promote his Ghost Adventures show and use it as the inspiration for the challenges. Former host Jonathan Bennet has gone off and is now busy filming Hallmark movies. Whether you’re a fan of Bennet or not, a change of hosts is nothing new for the show. There has been a few during its run. I imagine the selection of Bagans was meant to bring a spooky vibe and lure fans of his (which he has a lot!) to check out Halloween Wars.

We also see the show now has three permanent judges – Aarti Sequeira, Eddie Jackson, and the seemingly the only holdover whatsoever from the previous seasons, Shinmin Li. No longer a guest judge comes in every episode. Visually, the show looks much different. The orange, brightly lit kitchen set has been replaced for a new, darker, gloomier, flatter-looking set that I guess is meant to fit in more with the spooky season. There is no longer two competitions during each episode. There are only a select number of teams (they all don’t compete against each other at once) who attempt to make a single cake during the entire episode.

Fans might be asking – what about the pumpkins? Well, there aren’t any.

Halloween-Wars-Food-Network-Pumpkin-CarverThere is no longer a pumpkin carver or sugar artist amongst the teams (only a few teams have a sugar artist not all of them for whatever reason). Two of the key components that made Halloween Wars such a distinctive entry in Food Network’s lineup of endless baking shows has been completely dropped. That big pumpkin patch in the corner of the set and teams fighting for ‘Pick of the Pumpkin’ is no longer part of the equation of Halloween Wars.

Pumpkin carvers will only be seen on Outrageous Pumpkins this year apparently. Really, the only thing that resembles the show Halloween Wars is it using its name. I think fans of Bagans have started watching the show, so at least they’re happy.

What fans are left with are three cake artists making a spooky cake. The judging is no longer about the creepy display, pumpkin carving and artistic skills by competitors as much as it was before. It’s now focused on how tasty their cake is.

Halloween Wars is now pretty much another run-of-the-mill cake making competition show. It resembles more like just another version of Halloween Baking Championship – which Food Network already airs! All the unique elements that attracted fans to Halloween Wars for so many years is pretty much gone.

It is very disappointing to see.

Zak Bagans, the new host of Halloween Wars

Why this change? I haven’t read anything official from Food Network about this whole revamped Halloween Wars they’re giving viewers. Was this all due to budget cuts? A pointless attempt at trying to fix what wasn’t broken? Are these changes due to the pandemic? I haven’t read any official explanation as to what happened and why Halloween Wars has gone through this startling make over.

However, some answers have been unearthed thanks to a current contestant on the show via reddit. Unfortunately, the current crop of contestants have come into the cross-hairs of angry Halloween Wars fans who are voicing their distaste for this season’s show.

Upset fans are actually attacking the contestants on the show! They’re just a collection of bakers who managed to be chosen to compete on a television show. They didn’t do anything wrong and don’t deserve being the victims of ranting fans. Of course they have nothing to do with this show revamp, but that’s a bit too rational of thought for those using social media who just want to yell at someone.

Anyway, this one contestant chimed back to dismayed fans to offer an explanation as to what happened to their adored Halloween Wars.

Halloween-Wars-Food-Network-pumpkin-carver-sugar-artistShe explained the show is filmed a year in advance in a studio in California. Due to the pandemic and restrictions during that time they could not film there. This current 2001 season was filmed in a different studio in Utah in June, when pumpkins were not in season. Hence, the absence of pumpkin carvers. Rather than cancelling this season altogether, Food Network reworked the show the best they could under the conditions they were under.

Why the change of judges and whether host Bennet will return, I have no idea.

Let me reiterate, this explanation was not released by Food Network. It was just one I found after doing a bit of research, because I was curious about this overhaul the show has taken. If this is the true reason why the show is so different, it’s a shame Food Network haven’t reassured fans that these changes were all due to pandemic-related restrictions, they hear their concern and not to worry, Halloween Wars will return in the same form they’ve been watching for years.

The Food Network MUST be hearing the negative reaction the show has been getting from fans. It’s really hard to miss. All those #HalloweenWars on social media is growing – and not with excited praise.

Halloween-Wars-Food-Network-change-revamp-pumpkin-carvers-sugar-artistsReally, finding any positive comments on the Food Network’s social media involving this new iteration of its long seasonal series is not easy. It’s pretty much across the board disappointment. The overwhelming consensus is utter distress at what’s become of Halloween Wars and voicing what has happened is a major mistake and fans vowing not to tune in unless it goes back to the original format.

I think there’s a petition circulating already to get the old version of Halloween Wars back on the air for Halloween ’22.

If you hear about any other official reasoning why Halloween Wars has dumped the core elements to what made it so entertaining for the past decade, please comment below! I’d be very curious to hear it.

Hopefully, Halloween Wars will return to its classic successful format next year and viewers will once again marvel at pumpkin carvers, sugar artists and cake sculptors making a Zombie Blind Date. As for this year, sorry, I’ll be skipping this season.

At least they’re still airing reruns of episodes of years past for fans to get their Halloween Wars fix.

Halloween-Wars-2022-new-judges-host-Food-Network-fan-disappointed-angry-upset*UPDATE 2022 – It looks like Food Network is continuing with Halloween Wars in its new incarnation.

Despite the loud outcry on social media and fan petitions to ‘Bring Back the Original Halloween Wars’, Bagans, the three judges and the format is back again. The show has made one change by adding back pumpkin carving , but the focus continues to be about cake tasting and less about the spooky displays the teams can create. The expert horror judges who critiqued displays about over design, creativity, use of color, execution, all of that fun stuff are gone and the focus remains on how the team’s cake tastes.

Like all the loud criticism the show got last year, HW fans remain unhappy and are still missing the old competition show they watched for all those years.

Any hopes fans might have held onto that the old format of Halloween Wars would return and it was just a temporarily change will remain disappointed. It seems this is the way HW is going to proceed and will now be branded ‘Halloween Wars with Zach Bagans’. Bennett has been focused on his acting roles and doesn’t appear television hosting gigs are not something he’s very interested in. At least it was a fun and entertaining show for ten seasons. That’s not a bad run. Fans might have to start referring to those first ten golden seasons as ‘The Classic Halloween Wars’

On the upside, Outrageous Pumpkins continues to be the same as its always been! It looks like Food Network hasn’t altered that annual Halloween show around at least. 

UPDATE 2023: Changes have taken place with Halloween Wars – This time improved ones that should make longtime fans happy!

Jonathan-Bennett-Halloween-Wars-host-return-2023For the new 2023 season, Halloween Wars has done some tinkering with the show and significant changes have taken place from the past two seasons. The big one is a host change. Zak Bagans’ time on the show seems to have come to a close. The whole device of him appearing via television screens to instruct contestants to make some haunted-themed treats while cross-promoting his Ghost Hunters show is over. A new host has stepped in on the actual set – Jonathan Bennett has returned!

Bennett returning to host Halloween Wars is somewhat surprising. The past few years it seemed he wanted to focus on his acting work, notably making several Hallmark movies. For whatever the reason, he’s come back to some of the hosting duties and add those hokey ‘spooky’ jokes longtime fans have become familiar with.

Along with Bennett returning, Halloween Wars has also reinstated more of the old show format. There are three members to a team – A pumpkin carver, a sugar artist and a cake artist. I’m so happy the pumpkins are back!

Teams have to create ‘The Small Scare’ and ‘The Spine Chiller’, along with incorporating a tasting element. For those who tuned out of the show for the last two seasons (I was one of them), they should be happily surprised to see Halloween Wars resemble the older classic shows much more than it had during the Bagan’s seasons. I found it much more watchable than the past few years. Yep, I watched the entire episode, something I never was able to do during the Bagans’ seasons.

While the show’s format is more similar to the early incarnations of Halloween Wars – and a VAST improvement of what the show became in the Bagans years – there are some things that haven’t gotten a makeover and remain a holdover from those seasons.

For some reason the group of five to six sets of teams on the show are narrowed down to three to four each episode to compete, then one team from those competing is eliminated. Originally, all the teams would in the field trying to pull out a win.

I’m not sure why they would have some teams sit out and not just have all teams be in each competition, make a host of work and just eliminate one team at the end of each episode, like the show had previously done. It seemed like the most logical way to design the show. Almost every reality show is done this way. Toss all your contestants on the battlefield against each other and one will be sent packing at the end. Simple!

I wonder what the reasoning is behind the decision of limiting the competitors each episode. It would seem much more entertaining and provide more action during the episode as more teams create displays.

I think that’s one of the main reasons why the show didn’t have the momentum of years past. The pace feels slower, there was less going on to watch, since there were less teams to go back and forth to. The ticking clock and anxiety to get finished didn’t come across as it used to. 

The old large bright orange kitchen set and pumpkin patch I assume is permanently retired. The darker haunted house set from the Bagans seasons remain. I’m not too much fan of it. It makes the show feel more claustrophobic and quite frankly is more gloomy than the earlier seasons. In fact, that might be one of the reasons why they limit how many teams compete each episode – there just isn’t enough room! 

Halloween-Wars-2023-Jonathan-Bennett-Aarti-Sequeira-Shinmin-Li-The number of judges is now down to two – Shinmin Li and Aarti Sequeira have stuck around, while Eddie Jackson is gone. Two cooking and tasting experts, so you have the Tasting Element covered, but it was always nice to have a third perspective to zero in on the ‘scary’ element of a piece, like Todd Tucker or Tom Savni would weigh in from their experience from working in horror makeup. A judge with a horror or filmmaking background to share their opinion on what works on a piece and what doesn’t. Even a guest horror judge would fill this gap, rather than just leaving it all on the two ladies.

Alas, it’s just Shinmin and Aarti alone. By the way, I don’t think they have much chemistry and other candidates should be considered to partner with Shinmin.

So, Halloween Wars fans should be excited for the new season. Or at least be curious enough to check it out. Visually it might be a reminder of the Bagans Debacle Years, but it’s gone back to more of its original format than I thought it ever would. It’s a HUGE improvement! I still miss the original design of the show, but it’s slowly finding its way back to its fun glory years. Halloween Wars is watchable again!



6 thoughts on “WTF Happened To Food Network’s Halloween Wars?

  1. Please oh Please bring the Original Halloween Wars back!!! It’s totally Awesome & look 4ward to it every year!! 2021 was horrid..hated it..never watched after the first 10 minutes!!! I’m angry!! You’re ruining the whole season for me!!! What a Lousy idea somebody had!!! A long time fan in Georgia!!!!

  2. PLEASE PLEASE,BRING back Jonathon Bennet.I look forward to Halloween Wars all year.Bring back the format that made this show so great and original.We need Elvira and all the awesome guest judges to make this show great again!!

  3. Just watched the first episode of season 13…so happy the format is returning to its almost original feel. The past few years were horrible!!! I hope food network has learned their lesson…and review the Holiday Wars format and do a back track there too!!! Come on Food network…if it ain’t broke don’t change it!

  4. I’m happy with the 2023 season. Here is what I liked and didn’t like
    1. I like the new spooky set they started during Covid.
    2. Back to tasting treat because I hated the cake. What is the point. We can’t taste the cake. Seemed like to took to much time away from the design.
    3. Yay Jonathan is back!!!!!!!!!!!!
    4. Small scares back kind of. Not sure why kind of
    5. More focus on pumpkin arts
    1. Multiple chef judges. We just need 1. It’s not about the taste, it’s about the visual appeal. I accept we have to have at least tasting treats so it can be on the Food network but for me it’s all about the design.
    2. I want the special effect and horror actors back as judges.
    3. More small scares less stress on tasting elements

    1. I totally agree Katherine! We do not need Aarti. Instead, go back to the original format of 3 judges with Shinmin, Todd Tucker (or another Hollywood special effects master) & a celebrity host from the horror genre. I miss seeing like Elvira, or the guy who played the liquid Terminator in T2. That added a cool aspect to the show that is sorely missing now. Ans last, but not least, bring back small scares full time! In other words, go back to the format that made Halloween Wars such a HUGE success! What’s wrong with the Food Network brass, haven’t they ever heard of the phrase “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!”?

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