Whether you watched today’s Nathan’s International Hot Dog Eating Contest and found it ridiculous — or refused to watch it precisely because it’s ridiculous — you’re right in your right as American to feel that way. And also correct, but perhaps not for the reason you think.
That ESPN (or ESPN2, thanks Wimbledon) even broadcasts and re-airs the contest for several hours each Fourth of July owes almost everything to Takeru Kobayashi, who changed the way Americans and the world viewed eating competitions.
That the Shea brothers exploited that attention and concocted “Major League Eating” and an “International Federation” that benefits them and the event winners at the expense of everyone else — well, that’s why you haven’t seen Kobayashi much on TV in the past five years. Rothbart and Cerulli follow the Japanese king of eating, as well as a few other competitive eaters who’ve been banned by Major League Eating for trying to earn money in “non-sanctioned” events such as Philadelphia’s arena-sized WingBowl. Brad “The Lunatic” Sciullo, Dave “U.S. Male” Goldstein, “Furious” Pete, and Patrick Bertoletti all speak to Rothbart and Cerulli about the rigors, training and drama behind their decisions to pursue speed-eating as a career.
They also talk to Joey Chestnut, show new hot-dog champ Matt Stonie, and interview MLE’s CEO George Shea, who tells Rothbart after the 2011 contest at Coney Island after denying that his eaters don’t profit from participating in his league: “I love you. Go kiss Kobayashi.”
Rothbart told The Comic’s Comic he didn’t watch today’s hot dog contest on ESPN2 from Coney Island.
Cerulli posted on Facebook: “I watched the contest from home today and it will always mean something to me because of the documentary I made with Barry Rothbart on competitive eating. It goes into the history of the sport and why Kobayashi does not compete on July 4th at the Nathans Contest anymore. The film was just recently released on Amazon Prime. Please check it out. Go America!”