Friday, July 6, 2018

Guest TigerBlog - The Most American Thing

The Princeton University Department of Athletics fields 37 varsity teams.

Competitive eating is not one of them. In fact, TigerBlog is hard-pressed to figure out why anyone would consider this a sport, as opposed to, say, simply disgusting. What must it feel like after you've eaten that many hot dogs in a short time?

Macall Martin, TigerBlog's colleague here at Princeton, was in Coney Island for the Nathan's hot dog eating contest Wednesday. TB found this out from a tweet she put out, one that she references at the end of her Guest TigerBlog on her experience in Brooklyn:

The 4th of July is easily one of my favorite holidays. Well… my favorite summer holiday I guess. And who might I be? My name is Macall Martin, and I am a colleague of TigerBlog's. On America’s birthday, I received a text from TB asking if I would write a guest blog sharing my unique 4th of July adventure… so here we go.

What exactly did I do on 4th of July that sparked TB’s interest? Well… I attended the 2018 Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest. If you haven’t heard of this American tradition, let me fill you in.

Each year thousands of people flock to Coney Island in Brooklyn for a day filled with sun, fun, rides and of course a hot dog eating contest. The tradition dates back 102 years and takes place on the corner of Surf and Stillwell street, outside of the original Nathan’s Famous Hot Dogs.

In recent history, the event, which brings crowds of 20,000+, has been aired live on ESPN for all of America to see. So, for the last six years or so, my sports enthusiast husband (we are talking BIG time sports fan… who also works in college athletics) has posted up in front of the TV to watch this one-of-a-kind event. It has sort of become an unofficial tradition in our household. So… as we found ourselves relocating to the East Coast last fall, attending this event in person made its way to the upper part of our bucket list.

Fast forward to now. This 4th of July morning we woke early, lathered ourselves in sunscreen, and made our way to Brooklyn. Surprisingly, the traffic was very light, and we cruised right into a nearby parking lot. We walked the few blocks to Surf and Stillwell streets, and our eyes widened as we saw the masses. The line to enter the “viewing area” was already 300 plus people long and it was still and hour until the first event. We opted to find some space on the outside fencing instead of going into the “pit” of people. As we settled, some of the pre-event entertainment started. We saw performances from local bands, jammed out to a DJ and enjoyed a few dance routines courtesy of the “Bun Bros” and the “Bun-ettes.”

Eventually, it was time for the women’s competition. The “Eaters,” as the contestants were called, hailed from all over. Many held titles in other MLE (Major League Eating) Contests. One held the “Kale Eating Champion of the World,” while another was the “Hard Boiled Egg Champion of the World.”

Once they finally got through their accolades, it was time to start! Just like on New Year’s Eve, the announcer had the crowd counting down from 10 to start the race. As we hit zero, the ladies began guzzling down hot dogs and buns. The goal is to take down as many hot dogs and buns as they can in 10 minutes. Those 10 minutes flew by and soon we were counting down from 10 again to signal the end of the contest. Who won? Had a record been broken?

The winner was five-time champion Miki Sudo. However, she ate nine fewer hot dogs and buns than she had in her best year and didn’t break the all-time record held by MLE champion Sonya Thomas. But she still smiled over the crowd excitedly has they handed her another pink championship belt.

Next up was the men’s competition.

Year round there is an enormous countdown clock on the upper part of the Nathan’s building that counts down to the event. As it dwindled down to noon, the fans started to get anxious. Finally, it was time.

The announcer started the show with the swearing in of the judges by the Brooklyn district attorney (yep… that’s how the Brooklyn DA spends his 4th of July), and then finally into the Eater introductions. Backwards from 10 the crowd yelled. Three, two, one, go! Again, the 10 minutes seemed to fly by as the announcer updated us along the way.

The fan favorite was Joey Chestnut, now an 11-time winner, who was far ahead of his competitors. But as the time ticked down it didn’t look like Joey was going to break his own world record. He was 10 dogs and buns behind! Finally, the time wound down and it was clear Joey didn’t break it. But… what was this? A dispute?

Joey and the next closest competitor were pulling hot dogs from two different plates at two different times!? The judges had missed this. The announcer quickly informed the crowd of the error and then they decided to bring the Brooklyn DA back up to settle things. After what seemed like an eternity, they had determined the judges had indeed missed plates of hot dogs and buns.

What was the actual total!? Seventy-four hot dogs and buns! Joey Chestnut had done it! He had broken his own record of 72 hot dogs and buns and… consumed roughly 22,000 calories!

The crowd roared and chanted Joey’s name as they handed him his 11th“Mustard Belt.” After a few words about his success, and one more loud roar from the crowd, the event concluded. Fans poured out of the street and went on to enjoy their 4th of July afternoon. My husband I were spent as well, after hours in the sun, but we had one more mission before we left. We had to get a photo with the mascot “Frankster.” And yes, you guessed right, he is a giant hot dog mascot.

Why did we have to get a photo with the mascot you ask? Because my huge sports fan husband has made a tradition of taking photos with mascots at all types of events where mascots frolic. Check him out at @mascotguy1 if you’re looking for a laugh.

But all in all, the event was quite an experience and I would definitely recommend it if you’re looking for something truly American to do on the 4th of July.

I think my post-event tweet summed it up well… “I have never been so proud/disgusted to be an American.”

Cheers to a fun and safe summer filled with hot dogs and buns… but maybe not as many as Joey Chestnut.

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