Attention, Guts of America! It’s almost July 4, which means it’s not only time to head to Urban Outfitters and buy a $35 ironically camouflaged T-shirt you could get for $3.99 at Piggly Wiggly, but also time for the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest, which returns to Coney Island to spread iconic American cheer and ruin many of its bathrooms. Since we here at The Loop and Golf Digest participate in a sport that doesn’t end with the competitors disgorging 12 lbs. of leftover panda meat into a Port-a-Potty, unless Mickelson is playing, here’s a wiener-eatin’ primer for those of you who consume hot dogs “one at a time,” like you’re so fancy.
How is this allowed to happen in America?
We have no idea! And yet every Independence Day, the country’s most accomplished “competitive eaters,” a phrase that never fails to fill us with a titanic melancholy, engage in the Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Competition in Coney Island. It’s basically like the World Series/Preakness/US Open/World Cup of shoving Wonder buns into one’s face, and the only sports championship that ends with every last competitor looking like they’re eight seconds from becoming history’s first meat sweat-related fatality. We know, we thought it would be Pete Rose too.
We put this on television?
We put it on TV designed for SPORTS. In fact ESPN will show the competition a total seven times in 15 hours from Thursday into Friday. Live coverage of the women's contest begins Thursday, July 4th at 10:45 a.m. ET on ESPN3 while the men's contest coverage follows on ESPN2 at noon ET. The men's competition will also re-air on ESPN2 at 3 p.m., 4 p.m. and 1 a.m. ET., and at 7 p.m. and midnight ET on ESPNEWS. They even made a 30 For 30 about it this year, which premieres Tuesday at 8 p.m. ET on the big daddy. We’d make a searing Internet joke about this, but ESPN2 broadcasts 22 daily hours of overweight men shouting about other people playing sports, so they’re probably thrilled to have 10 minutes’ worth of competition.
Who signs up for this?
This year’s competition includes an all-star roster of famed competitors who have inexplicably not died from gastrointestinal collapse. This includes 2018 winner and ten-time champion Joey Chestnut, who last year demolished 74 hot dogs in 10 minutes, the last of which he digested in late March. That number is a record both for the contest, and the world, and the galaxy, probably, because there’s no way aliens would do this shit. Also, how lucky we are to be alive right now, because we are watching a legend in action: Chestnut owns 44 competitive eating records, meaning that this field has way, way too many governing bodies. DRAIN THE SWAMP!
This dude ate 72 hot dogs in 10 minutes?
Seventy-two hot dogs WITH BUNS (HDBs, if you’re nasty), as dictated by the competition’s strict rules. Also, much like Arctic temperatures, gas prices, Cubs on the disabled list and number of people talking to Mueller, the numbers just keep rising. Back in 2008, Chestnut won by eating a mere 59 hot dogs, a number that seems like a side salad compared to the 70s he’s clearing these days. It’s almost as if Chestnut’s 34-year-old body, which is already as genetically predisposed to eating as Michael Phelps’s is to swimming, is making more room for leftover swept-up slaughterhouse shavings as he ages. Truly we are in a golden era.
Who else competes?
Some other people! There’s a guy named Megatoad and another guy named Carmen Cincotti, but the coverage, understandably, focuses on the record-setting winner. Imagine going to New Jersey and eating 50 hot dogs and not being terribly noticed.
Is there a ladies’ division?
GLAD YOU ASKED, and get ready to fall in love. There appears to be no stopping Miki Sudo, the reigning champion who PRed last year by snarfing down 41 HDBs in 10 minutes en route to her fourth title. The men’s division is loaded with potential competitors, but Sudo is all alone on the ladies’ side. It’s not easy to beat someone like Sudo; you have to wait until they “bow out,” and by “bow out” I mean “topple forward due to the changing center of gravity.”
What do the winners get?
Searing intestinal pain, obviously! But they also get the Mustard Yellow International Belt, which is named for the condiment and colored so you don’t notice when you throw up on it. Last year, Chestnut took home $10,000, although most of that went right to the plumber.
How much can the human stomach hold anyway?
The maximum human capacity for even a grossly distended non-Greg Norman belly is about four liters when full. That’s a little over a gallon’s worth of food, or about 75% of a portion at Olive Garden. According to ESPN’s Darren Rovell, Chestnut’s poor poor body last year took in 20,160 calories, 1,296 grams of fat, 2,160 mg of cholesterol, 56,160 mg of sodium and 720 grams of protein. To put that in perspective, you are supposed to take in that many calories in about a week and a half, preferably with other food.
Who runs this?
This guy may actually be the best part of this: The MC is George Shea, who introduces the competitors, wears Dick Van Dyke’s hat from Mary Poppins, raps at least once every year and told the New Yorkerthat the competition is so successful because “we are drawn to heroes.” This man needs to be at the Masters like yesterday.
These people are serious, aren’t they?
Not only are they serious, but the competitors take this very seriously. In an post-gorge interview with ESPN2, which we are glad we didn’t administer because oh my God can you imagine the breath, the 35-year-old Chestnut said he is nowhere near retirement. “I treat competitive eating like a sport. It’s not like going to a buffet,” he said, which is true because at the buffet people stop. “I train, I fast, I tape my practices and try to figure out how to improve. I make my body work for me and I’ve been really lucky for how it’s performed.” From a sport where grown men wear purple pants to knock a little ball into a hole, godspeed, Jaws.