The Student Newspaper of DePaul University

The DePaulia

The Student Newspaper of DePaul University

The DePaulia

The Student Newspaper of DePaul University

The DePaulia

SAIC Student Competes on Pumpkin-Carving Show

Maya Oclassen

Pumpkin carving is a beloved October tradition dating back centuries as a way to celebrate Halloween. For most, it is a seasonal activity, but for School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) student Ethan Anderson, it is much more than that. 

When he was 10 years old, Ethan Anderson began carving pumpkins after watching “Outrageous Pumpkins” on “Food Network Challenge.” In September 2022, producers for the show asked him to apply for the upcoming season.

First airing on Food Network in 2020, “Outrageous Pumpkins” features eight contestants competing in an elaborate pumpkin-carving competition for a prize of $25,000 and the title of Outrageous Pumpkins Champion. The show’s fourth season, which started Sept. 24, features Ethan Anderson among seven other skilled pumpkin carvers.

For years, Ethan Anderson showcased his pumpkin carving abilities on his Instagram account,, where producers for the show scouted him. After doing an interview, Ethan Anderson earned a spot in the fourth season.

“At some point, Ray Villafane was on there,” Ethan Anderson said. “He was the original pumpkin sculpture person, and he was crazy. I insisted every year on trying to do figurative sculpture with pumpkin.”

Ethan Anderson’s mom, Shari Anderson, was thrilled to hear he was chosen for the show.

“When Ethan’s happy, I’m happy,” Shari Anderson said. “I’m proud of him and happy that a wider circle of people are getting to meet Ethan and see him making art.”

Ethan Anderson’s season of the show was filmed in November 2022 on a farm in Virginia. While Ethan Anderson said the competition was tough, the competitors bonded over their unique profession. Ethan Anderson said the contestants have a group chat and text each other on holidays.

“Everyone in the whole pumpkin world is really sweet,” Ethan Anderson said. “I didn’t really know that was a community that existed, and now I’m a part of it.” 

While the show usually features “grizzled lumberjack men” and “wood sculptor moms,” as Ethan Anderson puts it, he said this year’s contestants are a little more varied. Contestants for the show’s fourth season include people from all different backgrounds and artistic practices.  

“Our season has a bunch of different types of people that I feel is really exciting,” Ethan Anderson said. “We have all these people from different backgrounds and different artists and practices.”

Although Ethan Anderson can not reveal much about the show, he said the filming process was incredibly demanding.

“It’s a thousand times more intense than it looks on TV,” Ethan Anderson said.

The show includes two challenges per episode, a quick carve and a big carve, where competitors are given a prompt to base their creations on. At the end of each challenge, the contestants are judged on the quality of their carve by pumpkin-carving expert Terri Harden and world-renowned cake decorator Ralph Attanasia. The winner of the three-hour quick carve receives an advantage for the big carve, which varies in each episode. The loser of the big carve is eliminated from the competition. 

The episodes were filmed back-to-back, leaving the contestants with little time to breathe between pumpkin-carving challenges. Ethan Anderson said filming often lasted from early morning to late at night. 

“Especially at the beginning, I didn’t know how to time manage yet, so the time constraints were crazy,” Ethan Anderson said. “It’s the worst, but also it was so fun.”

When he is not busy carving pumpkins on TV shows, Ethan Anderson is working to graduate from SAIC with a bachelor’s in studio. Although he is currently focusing on sculpture animation, he said the techniques he learned in school helped him on the show.

“Most of the carvings we’re doing on the show are figurative sculptures, most of them have big scales,” Ethan Anderson said. “I’m really locked down on anatomy and composition and how to use structure and different mediums to create structures so that I can apply all these different things to this new weird medium of pumpkins.”

Ethan Anderson experiments with mediums other than pumpkins. While at SAIC, he moved between the painting and drawing department, fashion, “designed objects,” sculpture and animation. Recently, Ethan Anderson became interested in stop-motion animation and said it combines all of his passions in one. 

Mark Stafford, a sculpting professor at SAIC, said Ethan Anderson’s pumpkin-carving skills made him a more experienced student. He said Anderson came to class with a strong sense of technique and is challenging himself with ambitious projects.

“I’m continually impressed by his enthusiasm and commitment,” Stafford said. “It’s been a great pleasure to see how rapidly his skills and knowledge have grown, even from his more advanced starting point.”

Stafford first met Ethan Anderson in the fall of 2021 in a ceramic figure class and is now eager to see where Anderson’s career will lead him.

“After his graduation, I hope to see him wherever he would like to be, doing whatever he wants to be doing,” Stafford said.

Catch Ethan Anderson on season four of “Outrageous Pumpkins,” which airs on Food Network on Sunday nights at 10 p.m. ET, or stream it on Max.

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