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Eating the World

Fox's "Glutton Bowl" only scratched the surface of the world of competitive eating.

11:01 PM, Feb 24, 2002 • By VICTORINO MATUS
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"DISGUSTING." "Obscene." "Gross." Those are just a few words people have used to describe "Glutton Bowl #1: The World's Greatest Eating Competition," which aired on Fox last Thursday. Contestants were challenged to eat bowls of mayonnaise, sticks of butter, and "Rocky Mountain Oysters," and the only rule was "what goes down must stay down!" The winner, Takeru Kobayashi--weighing all of 130 pounds--received a whopping $25,000 after besting his opponents in the final round (cow brains).

Yes, the program is something along the lines of "Temptation Island," "Who Wants to Marry a Millionaire?" and "When Good Pets Go Bad," but don't think for a second that this was some ratings stunt put together at the last minute. Glutton Bowl is actually sanctioned by the International Federation of Competitive Eating. In other words, this goes on all the time.

By now, everyone is familiar with the hotdog eating contest sponsored by Nathan's in Coney Island (the current champion also happens to be Kobayashi, who ate 50 hot dogs in 12 minutes). But other competitions take place all over the world. At one contest last year, Bill Simmons, aka "El Wingador," consumed 137 chicken wings in half an hour. In October, Edward "Cookie" Jarvis finished off more than a gallon of vanilla ice cream in 12 minutes. Germany sponsors an annual bratwurst eating contest while England hosts the pommes frites competition.

All of which are sanctioned by the IFOCE. Really, it was only a matter of time before it hit the airwaves. And while some critics have deplored the gastronomic excesses, other viewers were probably glued to their screens, watching in amazement, or perhaps even in awe.

But sometimes it's the challenges that aren't sponsored by the IFOCE--the kind you hear about from restaurant managers and daredevils--that are the most intriguing. Herewith are just a few (WARNING: Some of the following descriptions may not be for the faint of heart):

Eagle's Deli, located on Beacon Street in Boston, is a favorite hangout for local college kids. You can get yourself a hearty breakfast of eggs, bacon, and sausage or an even heartier lunch featuring their famous 2-pound Cowabunga and 1-pound Godzilla burgers. If you finish either of these, you get your picture on the wall. But the real challenge, according to employee Billy Aruda, is taking on the Reilly Burger: six 8-ounce patties--that's 3 pounds of beef--12 slices of cheese, and a 5-pound bag of fries, for $25 (but free soda!). Your time limit is two and a half hours. So what do you get if you finish the meal? "Heartburn for a week," jokes Aruda. "It's just a pride thing, really. But if you can do it, I'll pay for your meal," he adds. Only two people have ever finished the Reilly challenge: Shawn Reilly, whom they named the burger after (and who finished in a time of 2 hours and 7 minutes), and "some random kid who just showed up three weeks ago."

In eating circles, Jim Donohue is something of a legend. In 1993, the 6'2", 220 pound, former Georgetown football player took on a bet to see who could eat the entire McDonald's menu first. "This guy was bragging about how he could eat this and eat that, so I just had enough of it and challenged him," says Donohue, now a banker living in New York. There were ten witnesses, including two coaches. "My coach was very serious," recalls Donohue. "He would unwrap my sandwiches, open the ketchups, tell me not to drink too much." The menu consisted of the following: a cheeseburger, a hamburger, two Big Macs, a Quarter Pounder with cheese, a McChicken sandwich, a six-piece McNuggets, supersized fries, a small salad, two apple pies, and cookies.

"I started with the small burgers but my opponent went right for the Big Macs. Sixteen minutes later, about two-thirds done, he runs into the bathroom and vomits. He then returned and tried to eat a cheeseburger but couldn't." Donohue, on the other hand, finished the entire menu in 21 minutes. A stunned manager took their pictures and offered the contestants hot fudge sundaes. "I ate mine on the walk back," says the champ.