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Randy Santel: The Long Road to Global Food Challenge Domination

Randy Santel is a YouTuber, Entrepreneur, Professional Eater and Entertainer, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, and Influencer originally from the St Louis, Missouri, area.

 

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With over a thousand victories to his name, Randy Santel has practically become synonymous with the words "food challenges." He has consistently dominated them after winning the Men's Health/Spartacus Transformation Challenge in 2010, over 14 years ago.

 
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Credit: Randy Santel
 

In celebration of the competition victory, Randy teamed up with his friend Dan Graham (who helped him with the competition) and took on the Pointersaurus team pizza challenge at Pointers Pizza in St. Louis, Missouri. His cousin Patrick accompanied the pair and even filmed a video of Randy (Atlas) and Dan (Zeus) taking on the challenge. Randy then uploaded the video to a YouTube Channel called "AtlasZeusPromos," which he would later delete to start a new channel for video uploading.


Randy eventually created a YouTube channel with his first and last name, where he would film and upload his food challenge adventures and take subscribers along for the ride. He also launched RandySantel.com and then, later on, FoodChallenges.com in 2014. Both websites proved that Randy went beyond dominating food challenges. He decided to write and post articles about food challenges, with some including tips and strategies on how to defeat them.


These websites would eventually propel Randy into the spotlight, and he would inspire many people all over the world. He would further become iconic for some of the recurring statements made in his videos, including, but not limited to, "Very Very Excited," "Healthy Vegetables," and "1...2...3...BOOM!!" He is also known for leaving no doubt and flexing whenever possible in his food challenge videos.


Over the years, Randy has traveled the globe to attempt food challenges. He currently holds 1,270 food challenge victories in all 50 states and 40 countries worldwide. He is also one of four people ever to have a food challenge victory in every state in the U.S.

 

The road to achieving these food challenge feats hasn't been easy for Randy, however. He's worked very hard and made many sacrifices over the years to get to where he is today. He has endured more than a few losses, been injured (unrelated to food challenges), and had the monumental task of scheduling and planning food challenge attempts all over the world while simultaneously uploading videos to YouTube and managing multiple social media accounts.


In 2020, Randy would meet his future girlfriend, Katina Eats Kilos, after inviting her to a food challenge tour in Alaska. The pair began dating after the tour and have since become an iconic food challenge power couple.

 

Randy Santel, food challenges, foodchallenges.com, randysantel.com, Katina Eats Kilos, eating competition, eating challenge, eating championship, eating league, professional eating, competitive eating, eating contest
Credit: Randy Santel
 


 


 

What's more? Randy would also launch his own comic book, Atlas Rising, which depicts Randy (Atlas) and friends, including his iconic teddy bear, Leonidas, going on food challenge adventures and fighting for team good.

 

Randy Santel, food challenges, foodchallenges.com, randysantel.com, Katina Eats Kilos, eating competition, eating challenge, eating championship, eating league, professional eating, competitive eating, eating contest, Atlas, Atlas Rising, Leonidas
Credit: foodchallenges.com
 

Currently, Randy continues to upload videos to his YouTube channel and other social media platforms, with millions of followers tuning in to support him.


Food Challenge News had the opportunity to chat with Randy about his early beginnings, his nickname, Nashville, and more! Let's get this interview started! (Flex)

 

FCN: In 2010, you attempted and completed your first food challenge at Pointers Pizza in St. Louis, Missouri, alongside your friend Dan (Zeus) after winning the Men's Health/Spartacus Transformation Challenge and adopting the alias of "Atlas." 


Why did you take on the name "Atlas," and is there a chance you never would've attempted food challenges if you didn't win that competition?


Randy: That was back when the TV show "Jersey Shore" was popular, and we knew that a lot of well-known competitive eaters had cool nicknames.


We were trying to think of "eating" nicknames to go on the back of our matching sleeveless shirts we were going to wear during the first challenge, but we couldn't think of anything as cool (to us) as Mike "The Situation." My friend Dan Graham decided that he wanted to be "Zeus," and so to keep the theme, I went with "Atlas," which is where Atlas & Zeus Promotions first came from. If we had failed miserably (and didn't win the $500 prize), or if I hadn't been able to eat as much as I did, and then have some ice cream for dessert afterwards, then there is a good chance I might not have tried another food challenge after that.


It can also be said that if I failed my first solo (pizza) challenge that I attempted one month later and didn't win $450 for being the first winner out of over 120 previous attempts, then I might not have attempted many more challenges after that. That is a reason I always tell people to start out slow with a smaller first food challenge, to build their confidence, and then move up from there. It's better to win a smaller "pay-to-play" than it is to lose a bigger challenge and have to still pay for that.


To add to all that, if my cousin Patrick hadn't come with us to film and make a fun video of us attempting that first "Pointersaurus" Pizza Challenge, then I might not have videoed the second challenge either and therefore would have never started a YouTube channel or any other social media. I have a lot of people to thank for my initial inspirations.

 


 

FCN: Your website, FoodChallenges.com, launched in 2014 and has become iconic with your brand and imagery. It was also the first website to offer food challenge tips, strategies, locations, and more. 


Could you tell us what went into the making of the website and how it evolved into what it is today? 


Randy: After my friend Dan Graham ("Zeus") asked me to be his partner for the "Pointersaurus" Challenge, I turned to the internet to look up how to train and prepare for the challenge. I knew about eating contests and food challenges, but I had never heard anything about how the eaters prepare for their competitions. Well, let's just say that I found very little helpful information during my first few searches.


As I continued to try more food challenges and post videos of the attempts, more and more people asked me what I did to get ready for them. I decided to eventually start RandySantel.com and on there, I added five or six different pages with tips and advice for people. There was a page about stomach capacity training, another about what to do during food challenges, and another about what to do to win eating contests. There was even a page trying to help restaurants and promoters start beneficial food challenges and eating competitions.


Then in 2013, another friend helped me buy the domain FoodChallenges.com for just $1000, and I did my best to create the site that I wished was available when I first started.


For seven months of 2013, I was a "storm chaser" and sold roofs to people after a giant hailstorm in Omaha, Nebraska (and project managed the construction projects). I used all that money to fund the website development and my first major European tour with "Magic" Mitch Dombrowski. I wrote all the FoodChallenges.com articles many years ago, but the information throughout all those articles is still relevant today, and I'm happy that so many newer "eaters" have checked them out and learned from them while they were first starting out.

 
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Credit: Randy Santel
 

FCN: You have become very influential for food challenges, with many food challengers, competitive eaters, and fans wearing FoodChallenges.com gear. 


Why do you think you've made such an impact on food challenges? Would you do it all over again the same way?


Randy: Back when I first started, 90% of eaters just cared about eating contests. If I remember right, it was only Naader Reda and me who mainly focused on doing food challenges, and eventually Ramsey Hilton joined us. Other eaters did some food challenges, but those were really just training sessions to help them prepare for upcoming eating contests. I realized early on that I didn't want to do all the intense training it takes to be a top competitive eater, and that I could make food challenges my own niche if I just focused on them and helping other people learn how to prepare and strategize for them ("Win Before You Begin"), and even recover from them afterwards.


Yes, I would do it all over the same way again. I would do things quite differently if I redid FoodChallenges.com the website, but my principles and goals would remain the same. My goal has never been to help anyone win the Nathan's Hot Dog Contest. It has always been to help people learn the basics, the fundamentals. I'm happy that Geoff Esper and some of the other top competitive eaters got started out learning from FoodChallenges.com. Best of luck to Geoff and everyone else competing on July 4th!!


My goals will be similar moving forward as a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN). I won't be trying to help anyone become the next Mr. Olympia. My goal is to use my social media to help people learn the basics and fundamentals of nutrition and weight management. Before learning advanced techniques and practices, you first need to master the basics and fundamentals.

 

FCN: This year, you and Katina Eats Kilos permanently moved to Nashville, Tennessee. What are your thoughts on the food scene in Nashville? Do you have a favorite food or restaurant in Tennessee?


Randy: We love everything about Nashville and are happy to call Middle Tennessee home now. To be honest, I'm still very new to the area. We moved Katina and 90% of our stuff to the new house back in January, but then I headed back up north to finish up some master's degree classes and do lots of food challenges all around Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan, Northern Illinois, and Northern Indiana. I wanted to do all the challenges I could before selling our Milwaukee, Wisconsin house and officially moving south. The Milwaukee house didn't sell until this past May, and then I moved down with all the rest of my stuff. Katina and I have been to quite a few restaurants and food places already, but not enough to officially say I have a favorite. There are some great barbecue places around Nashville, but I actually usually get fried catfish sandwiches! We will be international this summer, mostly in Europe, but we will be back home in the Fall and will try lots more restaurants then. I had a Nashville Hot Fried Catfish Sandwich at one restaurant in Franklin, Tennessee, and really enjoyed that.


The other issue is that when home, I've mainly been trying to lose weight, since my food challenge schedule was aggressive the first half of the year, trying to do as many northern food challenges as possible before selling the house. Now that the house is sold and also 99% of my graduate school classes are finished, I'm excited for everything upcoming around Nashville. Lots more restaurants to explore and try out!!


FCNHave you ever considered starting a podcast with Katina?


Randy: I'm not sure that it will be Katina and me, but I will start a podcast at some point once I'm mainly focused on everything I'll be doing as a dietitian. Katina and I love listening to the podcast that Adam "Beard Meats Food" and Josh host together, but I haven't met my "Josh" yet, who can take care of producing the podcast, which is the more time-consuming part. I'm already overextended with everything I'm trying to do, and there is only 24 hours in each day.


There isn't anything I can cut right now, to make time to focus on hosting a podcast. I've had a lot of people tell me that I should start a Twitch channel, but I haven't done that for similar reasons. There will be more to talk about once I'm working as a social media dietitian as well, and more importantly, there will be more potential listeners wanting help with understanding nutrition and weight management. Katina will certainly be part of everything, but I'm not sure we would both be hosts.


Either way, we need a producer! Anyone want to be our "Josh?" Haha.

 

FCNWere you shy before being an on-camera food challenge personality? How long did it take for you to be comfortable on video for food challenges and interviews?


Randy: Katina loves to make fun of my early videos, and how I presented myself at the beginning of those. I would say I have progressed throughout the years, just as the videos have in general. It is fun to go back and watch any of the first ~100 videos that I edited myself, before "Magic" Mitch Dombrowski took over all the editing back in March 2013. They are a lot better now!! Editing was never fun for me, and I only edited the first ~100 because I could not afford to pay anyone else to do that for me. I cannot really say how long it took me to get comfortable, since there are still times where I struggle and mess up my introductions and have to start over. No matter how little or long I talk, there will still be comments telling me to "Shut up and eat!" or "Eat more, talk less."


Anyone first starting out, feel free to watch a few of my earlier videos for inspiration. Just keep on moving forward and try to get better with every challenge you attempt and video you film. Prepare ahead of time and know what you want to say. That will help you feel more comfortable and confident in front of a camera as well.

 


 

FCNHow do you handle criticism of your brand and content while staying consistent and positive online?


Randy: I often get comments and messages from people who tell me they appreciate my positivity, whether it be in the videos or just in the comment section. There really isn't much good that can come from being mean or rude to people leaving comments. Most of the negative comments come on random posts by media outlets, from people who had no idea who I was or what I did, prior to them seeing whatever post came up for them. I do have consistent "haters" that comment on lots of my stuff, but really I appreciate them because they continue to follow my stuff and leave comments.


As a social media person, would you rather someone watch three videos and comment how much they loved those three, or someone watch 30 videos and comment funny but negative things on all thirty of those? I know myself, what I'm doing, and what my goals are moving forward. Negative people, for the most part, don't really have a whole lot going on for themselves. Rather than put forth the effort to work on themselves, they instead resort to trying to make themselves feel better by cutting others down. I don't mind being that person and still try to reply kindly. I get snarky every now and then, but I make sure not to say anything that will really get me in trouble.


As Adam Richman unfortunately found out, one Tweet or other social media comment can really turn the direction of your career, and I of course don't want that to happen to me. Plus, most of the negative comments we get are littered with spelling mistakes, poor grammar, and lack of punctuation. I never take poorly written comments seriously, since they don't take themselves seriously. With all that said though, I do accept and try to learn from genuine, constructive criticism.

 

FCNLeaving no doubt and flexing are big parts of your image and content. Can you explain why you leave no doubt and flex in your food challenge videos?


Randy: People love to make fun of my flexing, and I always chuckle when I see comments about that. I also laugh when people think the "hat turn" I do before food challenges comes from Ash Ketchum in Pokémon. That is from "Over the Top" with Sylvester Stallone.


Whenever I do anything, I make sure to dominate and "leave no doubt" that I won. As with my unique food challenge win total, I'm leaving no doubt and making sure that nobody ever even thinks of trying to beat that number. That is why I got mad in 2016 when Adam "Beard Meats Food" and his partner, Paul, started to celebrate their team victory over Mitch and me with two big handfuls of scraps sitting in front of them!! Haha, thankfully they finished the rest of the debris once I pointed it all out, and still beat us. I always make sure to eat every crumb and grain of rice possible, to make sure I leave no doubt that I was victorious. I also always try to make sure I swallow the food entirely before pressing my timer. I'm not a big fan of pressing the timer before I've actually swallowed the food and again, left no doubt.

 


 

FCNYour birthday is tomorrow. (Happy Birthday!) How old will you be, and what are your plans to celebrate in an "Atlas" way?


Randy: I will be 38! Today actually, June 23rd, Alanis Morissette is in concert here in Nashville. Radim Dvořáček is with us. We are day drinking on Broadway and then going to the concert, celebrating my birthday. Tomorrow, on my actual birthday, I'm taking Radim and Katina to tour the Jack Daniel's Distillery, since neither of them have ever been, and we will get dinner somewhere. I used to always do a food challenge on my birthday but haven't the past few years.

 

FCNYou have secured 1,270 food challenge victories in all 50 states and 40 countries worldwide.


Can you walk us through some of your best and proudest moments through all those travels and challenges, including some of the harder times that led you to where you are today?


Randy: That is a big question, which is really hard to answer. I just recently ate 208 ounces (including weight from bones) of delicious prime rib at Ward's House of Prime in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. People don't actually understand how hard that is to do, without using unsafe training tactics that include a lot of throwing up. People especially don't understand how difficult it is to maintain your weight as a professional eater, without a lot of puking and throwing up as well. I've been working on becoming a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) since 2016, and I'm very proud that I've been able to get my bachelor's degree in Dietetics and complete a required 1200-hour dietetic internship, and now I'm finished with 36 of the required 37 credit hours needed to earn my master's degree in Dietetics. I've done all that while traveling and working more than full-time on my channels and doing everything required of me as a pro eater. I've posted 2-4 videos each and every week, consistently, since going back to school in 2016. I passed the national credentialing exam back in November 2023, and I am now a dietitian. That is not what I'm most proud of though. I'm most proud that I will be able to stay a dietitian.

 

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Credit: Randy Santel
 

Most of the difficult times throughout these past 14+ years as a food challenger, where I've felt terrible and struggled, and also why I'm not the best eater ever, is because of my choice to actually digest my food whenever possible. That goes for all my training meals and sessions too. I've taken A LOT of hate, grief, and negativity these past 14+ years because all the food challenges have added weight to my frame, and I've weighed over 300 lbs. for many of the past years. My schooling and classwork unfortunately took up a lot of time that could have been used for more exercising. Regardless though, you absolutely cannot always maintain a lower weight while doing 2-3 or more giant eating challenges per week, consistently, and I don't even do my own video editing.


As a social media dietitian, I'll be getting lots of criticism and comments about how I was obese for many of my years as a professional eater. It is unfortunate that I'll have to often talk a lot about how much throwing up is going on these days for training and weight management. I'm proud though because I made smart long-term decisions from the start, and the empire I've been building and working on the past 14+ years won't all be taken away from me, because I was throwing up 5-10 times each week (or more) for the past 14 years like so many YouTubers these days, or cheating while filming "at-home" videos and spitting out food after taking bites and chewing for a while. People think it's actually possible to naturally eat 30 lbs. of food in one weekend and not gain a single ounce.


I know this wasn't at all what the question was really looking for, but I've been called an "old school" eater because I don't eat all my training meals and food, intending to throw it all up and not go through all the rough times ahead, feeling tired and poorly after eating a lot. I've "boarded the struggle bus" and endured that period over 1,268 times (plus all the training meals) the past 14 years, proudly knowing I won't have to go through what Lance Armstrong did when he "lost everything."

 

FCNAfter many years of studying and hard work, you became a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) in 2023. What are your plans for this, and will you eventually retire from food challenges?


Randy: Yes! Thank you! As mentioned, I passed the national credentialing exam back in November 2023. This past May, around when we sold the Milwaukee house, I turned in a 110-page research paper and completed the 3-class research project I've been working on the past three semesters (1.5 years). Now I'm finished with 36 of the required 37 credit hours to earn my Master of Science in Dietetics. I'll graduate Magna Cum Laude as well, which is exciting. I will take the final class either this Fall 2024, or else Spring 2025, and then I'll finally be done with school. I am not entirely sure what will happen and how everything will transpire. We are trying to get the Nashville home loan paid off before the end of the year.


Once that has happened, I will switch down to posting just one food challenge a week, and I'll focus more on everything I'll be doing as a dietitian since that won't immediately be revenue-generating. I'll be starting a new "Randy Santel RDN" YouTube channel, and I'll eventually publish a book and nutrition education system I've been working on since 2012. I'll be doing two more "Sexification" series, and I eventually want to start public speaking. There is lots upcoming to be excited for.


I'll be doing food challenges until I'm making enough money as a social media dietitian to fund all my goals that I now get to share with Katina who has a bachelor's degree in Kinesiology and Education. She will be involved with everything too, and our home base will be Nashville, TN. We will just have to see what happens and I'm excited for everything upcoming. I want to finish with wins in 50 countries. I'm at 40 now and will be adding all of Scandinavia and maybe even Poland too, this summer. I'm excited for all the work I'll be doing as a dietitian, helping people better understand nutrition and weight management. We will just see how it all goes and maybe I can talk about that in another future interview a year or two from now!

 

Audience QuestionIn your eating experience/career, excluding Molly Schuyler and Dan Kennedy, who do you believe is the next upcoming eater, or who do you believe has the potential to make an impact?


Randy: This is another hard question to answer. All I'm going to say is that thank goodness I started my social media journey back 14+ years ago in 2010 before kids started growing up wanting to be "YouTubers." I give full credit to anyone who has started a channel in the past few years and still continues to work on growing it. If I started a channel today, let's just say that things would be a lot more difficult and competitive. There are so many more "influencers" and people trying to "make it" on social media today, as compared to back when I first started. It is crazy. It took me eight full years of working full-time on my channels to reach a point where I could live on my own. I'm thankful that my family and many friends helped me during my early years, and I'm really proud of Katina because she got to that point within only a few years - way quicker than I did.


Whoever is the next young and upcoming person to make a difference will be the person who believes in what they are doing enough to continue on seeing their goals through to completion, enduring everything it takes to "make it" in today's very competitive social media world. It will also be a person who understands that entertainment is more important than simply how much a person can eat. Good luck to everyone who has recently just started out with doing food challenges and competitive eating!!

 
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Credit: Randy Santel
 

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