Merrimack Repertory Theatre Blog



118 Jalapeno Poppers is 10 minutes? Done. How about 17.7 pounds of cow brains in 15 minutes? Not a problem. 37 dozen oysters in 8 minutes? It has been achieved. Welcome to the world of Competitive Eating.

Takeru Kobayashi

With its humble beginnings at county fair pie eating contests, Competitive Eating (or speed eating) has become very popular in the United States and Japan over the past 15 years. 100 Major League Eating events are held each year, most being less than 15 minutes long. The “gurgitator” (contestant) who consumes the most food is declared the winner, and can often take home prize money of $10,000 or more.

In general, contests last either 8, 10, 12 or 15 minutes, although some disciplines (the food being consumed is referred to as a discipline) such as chicken wings have “long-form” contests that last 30 minutes. The contest itself is presided over by a master of ceremonies, who gets the crowd into the contest by telling stories about the eaters, and a panel of judges to enforce contest rules. Typical rule violations would be for messy eating, which leads to a deduction from the final total, and the dreaded Reversal of Fortune, which is grounds for immediate disqualification.

Joey Chestnut. Photo by Audrey Sel

The Superbowl of Competitive Eating is the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest, held every 4th of July at Coney Island and televised on ESPN, and the two biggest rivals in the sport are Joey Chestnut and Takeru Kobayashi. In 2001, Takeru Kobayashi burst onto the Competitive Eating scene by setting a then World Record of 31 Hot Dogs and Buns (H.D.B) in 12 minutes. Weighing in at just 128 pounds, Kobayashi did not fit the stereotypical mold of a competitive eater, but he reeled off 6 straight wins from 2001-2006, and pushed his own World Record to 54 H.D.B.

In recent years however, a challenger has arose. American Joey Chestnut has now claimed 4 straight titles, defeating Kobayashi 66-63 in 2007. In 2008 the format of the contest was changed from 12 minutes to 10 minutes, and the two titans tied at after regulation at 59 apiece. Chestnut won the timed “Dog-off,” in which they raced to see who could eat an extra 5 H.D.B the fastest. In 2009 Chestnut broke the World Record again, consuming an amazing 68 H.D.B to Kobayshi’s 64.5. In 2010 Kobayashi did not compete because of a contract dispute with Major League Eating, and was arrested at the event when he tried to jump on stage. While being detained, Kobayashi told reporters “I am very hungry,” and “I wish there were hot dogs in jail.” Without a true challenger, Chestnut coasted to his 4th straight victory, eating 54 H.D.B., 11 more than his closest competitor.

Want to learn more about competitive eating? Head over to The International Federation of Competitive Eating where you can see if tour events are coming to your town, and how you can become a Major League Eater.

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