Hey, everyone - Cherish, here! And I’m going to begin this article by asking you all a question:
When you think of competitive eating, what’s the first thing that comes to mind?
I’m willing to bet that at least half of you answered “Nathan’s.” Am I right? If so, that’s probably because Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest is one of the oldest and most popular eating contests currently in existence!
Beginning in 1972, the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest has been held annually at its original location in the Coney Island neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York, every 4th of July, and it is even broadcasted live on ESPN to millions of viewers!
An additional estimated 50,000 spectators come out every year to witness eaters such as Joey Chestnut, Miki Sudo, Michelle Lesco, and Geoff Esper wolf down as many hot dogs and buns (otherwise known as HDBs) as they can in just 10 minutes, with men and women competing separately and the top five from each category winning part of the prize purse, ranging from $10,000 for first place to $1,000 for fifth place. (But those coveted Mustard and Pepto-Bismol championship belts are only reserved for those who place first.)
Credit: Sebastien Cordat
On the men’s side, Joey Chestnut has won first place an astounding FIFTEEN times, only having had his title taken away once in 2015 by Matt Stonie, who ate 62 HDBs to Joey’s 60.
Rookie numbers, am I right?! (I kid, I kid.) Joey was quick to reclaim his title the following year by eating 70 HDBs, with Stonie only managing 53, and Joey - being the absolute legend that he is - still holds the world record to this day at 76 HDBs!
On the women’s side, Miki Sudo has won first place EIGHT times, with her best performance being 48 ½ HDBs, only forfeiting her title to Michelle Lesco in 2021 due to pregnancy. (Don’t even get me started on Baby Max; he is the absolute cutest!)
She quickly reclaimed her title the following year, eating 40 HDBs!
Usually beginning in the spring, Major League Eating (MLE), the company that has sanctioned the event since 1997, will hold multiple qualifiers in different cities across America, searching for contestants who want to earn a seat at the big table. The qualifiers are very similar to the actual contest in that contestants have 10 minutes to eat as many HDBs as they possibly can, with the top male and female from each qualifier punching their tickets to Coney Island on the 4th. (They also receive a super cool trophy to display on their mantel!)
Those who won first place at the previous Nathan’s are not required to qualify, nor are those who live outside of the U.S., but just because an eater had a spot at the table the previous year does not exempt them from having to qualify again, even if they are currently contracted by MLE.
Will yours truly ever get her shot at becoming a part of this exhilarating spectacle? Well, it’s funny you should ask…
Recently, I attended my very first Nathan’s Qualifier in Dayton, Ohio, at the Day Air Ballpark! When I first received the email saying that I was chosen to compete, the nerves immediately started. (I love competition, but the anxiety never goes away!)
I had already started training before being selected, but when it became official, I increased my hot dog runs to at least three times a week.
I felt confident going into the qualifier; my numbers were decent, and although I’m not the best competitive eater, I knew that very few women show up to qualifiers to begin with, so as long as I could eat at least 10, the odds were in my favor.
Imagine my surprise when MLE eater Kelly Wong showed up at the check-in booth! At this point, I knew it was anyone’s game, so I decided to trust in my training and enjoy the experience for what it was.
Walking onto the field and hearing the audience in the stadium cheer for us made my nerves vanish almost immediately; it was finally time to eat! (Believe me when I say I hadn’t eaten since the night before, and the contest didn’t start until 9:30 at night, so I was more than ready.)
After setting up our stations, Richard Shea counted us down, and we were off to the races! I noticed immediately that the hot dogs we were eating were a lot different than what I had been practicing with. I had been using skinless because that’s the only kind available in my area, but these were the opposite, which made them so much harder for me to eat! I was worried at first, but I stayed calm and just kept trucking away.
When our 10 minutes were up, it turned out that Kelly and I had tied with TEN HDBs each. (The minimum number required to get the trip to Coney Island!) Initially, I thought we would have to do an eat-off, but thankfully for my stomach, Richard said they were sending us both! (On the men’s side, Bartley Weaver secured his spot with an impressive FORTY-TWO HDBs!)
Photo Credit: Richard Shea, Major League Eating
I’ll resume hot dog training for the next few weeks until the big day on the 4th of July - where my goal is to hopefully place in the Top 5 - and then take a little bit of a break from training or from doing anything in general. (Trust me when I say this has been a busy month!)
It’s very amusing to me that my first-ever trophy came from an eating contest, but hey - life can be funny like that. Don’t you think? Some people may think it’s silly, but I am so thankful that competitive eating is a part of my life, and I cannot wait to see where it takes me next!
Registration for most of the remaining qualifiers is already full, but if you think you have what it takes next year and want to give it a shot, just keep an eye on the Major League Eating website for all upcoming MLE contests and qualifiers. (https://majorleagueeating.com)
Until next time!
Credit: Antonio Gabola
DISCLAIMER: The content and challenges listed in this article are for informational purposes only. Do your own research and exercise caution if you are thinking about attempting a food challenge or eating contest (including spicy food challenges and eating contests). It is at your own risk.