Though her ‘Nailed It!’ adventure began more than a year ago, University of North Alabama alumna Emily Cook has been busy navigating post-graduate life while dealing with the recent wave of attention that has hit since her episode was released in May on Netflix.
“Everyone’s been really excited for me,” she said. “Everyone around town— I always see somebody and they’re like, ‘Oh, congratulations. I didn’t know you were doing that. I can’t believe you won.’”
Cook proved she could out bake the competition on the third season of Netflix’s “Nailed It,” a show that pits three amateur bakers against each other to see who can best recreate some daunting desserts.
Last June, she flew out to Los Angeles on her own — her first time on a plane and her first visit to California — to film the episode over the course of three days.
The first and third days consisted of filming interviews, while the competition was filmed on day two.
In her episode, titled “Cake-O-Phobia,” hilarity ensued when Cook and two other women tried their best to recreate bug cookies and a creepy “clown-in-a-box” cake.
As someone who enjoys painting, Cook said she felt like her artistic skills served her well in the competition. Still, she was “shocked” to hear the judges’ positive comments on her wasp cookie.
“I was like, ‘If I can just somehow get the stuff baked, I’ll be fine because I’m a terrible baker. … I’m telling you — those legs were, like, real crispy. I was scared they were going to be burnt, but I guess once I put the icing on there, it didn’t taste as bad,” she recalled with a laugh.
There were no hard feelings when Cook swept the competition, taking home the grand prize of $10,000.
“I loved, loved, loved the two ladies I was with (on the show),” she said. “They were super, super sweet. … After we filmed, we all went and ate together. They were really nice.”
A feat even more amazing than winning the competition, some might say, was Cook’s ability to keep her win a total secret for almost a year.
She even kept it a secret from her sister, Amber, who had helped her figure out how to earn a spot on the show after they watched a few episodes together.
“She kept it from all of us, and it was kind of nerve-wracking, but I kind of figured it out,” Amber admitted. “I was like, if she didn’t tell somebody, maybe she did win because if I would have been on there and I would’ve lost, I’d have been like, ‘I lost.’
“She kept it a secret. She didn’t tell anybody. She stayed truthful to her word.”
Cook said she had to sign a contract before appearing on the show, and one of the stipulations was she had to keep the episode’s results a secret until the season was released.
“It was really hard, but it was worth it because they were all surprised,” she said.
Cook, who earned a bachelor’s degree in history with a minor in psychology from UNA in December 2018, moved back to her tiny hometown of Myrtle, Mississippi, shortly after graduation.
She said she served as a long-term substitute teacher for a local first-grade class until April. She is now spending her summer working at a nearby water park — the same one she mentioned on the show.
According to Cook, she regularly receives admiration from the children who come to the water park.
“It’s so cute because these little kids will come up to her and they’ll be like, ‘I just want you to know that I watched you on ‘Nailed It!’ and that’s cool,’” said Amber, who also works at the water park. “And a few kids have asked for her autograph. I just think that she’s just soaking it all up. It’s so cute.”
In the midst of all the attention, the Cook family is dealing with another type of happy chaos at home. Both Cook and her sister are set to marry their sweethearts this year.
“(Amber’s) getting married in, like, three weeks,” Cook said. “It’s crazy at my house right now.”
Come November, Cook will marry her fiancé, Josh, who has played baseball for UNA. She said the two met at a junior college before deciding to attend UNA together.
Amber said her sister has been baking more since she appeared on the show, a skill she joked will come in handy once she’s married.
“There’s a lot of bakers in my family, but Emily’s kind of been the one to sit at the side and watch,” Amber said, noting that her sister has typically been more of a helper in the past. “I feel like she’s become more confident. She’s progressed a lot.”
Cook said she most enjoys baking cookies and cupcakes. Not only does she love to eat them, she said, but she is able to “make it into so many different things.”
Cook said her baking skills have improved, thanks to the tips and tricks she learned on the show. Among the most memorable is a trick using hot water to melt a big clump of buttercream.
“I had no idea that you could get butter to melt like that if you didn’t have it at room temperature … so that’s a good thing to keep in mind if it ever happens again,” she said.
As for the $10,000 prize, Cook said she is still deciding how she wants to spend all that cash.
She has considered using it to pay off some of her student loan debt, but she said part of her also wants to save it.
“I do enjoy baking. I don’t know if I’ll ever, like, open up a bakery or anything — that would be fun — but maybe I can do that with the $10,000,” she said with a laugh. “But I don’t know. I guess we’ll have to wait and see.”