Frankly, Joey Chestnut looks like he can’t be beat, even when he’s injured. The same can be said about Miki Sudo, who returned to competitive eating after having her son. Both were top dogs once again in the men’s and women’s competitions, respectively, at the 2022 Nathan’s Famous Fourth of July Hot Dog Eating Contest.
This year, the 38-year-old Chestnut didn’t exactly dog it despite wearing a surgical boot due to a leg injury. He actually 63-dogged it, as in consumed 63 hot dogs and buns in a span of just ten minutes at the annual Coney Island, New York, event. While this didn’t top his own world record of 76 hot dogs set at last year’s event, he did continue his remarkable roll. Chestnut’s been the champ in this wiener-takes-all event for a total of 15 times. Chestnut has allowed only one other person, Matthew Stonie in 2015, to win the title since first topping legendary reigning champ Takeru Kobayashi in 2007.
Although Chestnut will most likely relish this seventh straight title, this year’s contest was not all just bun and games. During the contest, a protestor wearing a Darth Vader mask rushed the stage. Instead of saying, “Joey, I am your father,” the protestor was carrying a sign that said, “Expose Smithfield’s Deathstar,” pushed his way to the hot dog table at the front of the stage, and bumped Chestnut in the process. Chestnut then responded by monetarily putting the protestor into a bit of a chokehold and then tossing away the makeshift Darth Vader with a little force. Since the “wurst” was not over, a security guard had to quickly remove the fan from the stage. Chestnut then resumed his dogged pursuit of the title.
The video accompanying the following tweet from Will Brinson, Senior NFL Writer for CBS Sports, showed how Chestnut put some mustard into throwing the protestor away from the hot dog table:
In Heinz-site, this incident along with the injury may have kept Chestnut from breaking his record and reaching his stated goal of 80 hot dogs. But he remains so far ahead of his competitors that they can’t really ketchup.
Sudo has been practically as dominant as Chestnut, having won the women’s competition for the eighth time in nine years. Since winning the first time she competed in 2014, Sudo has been the big “wiener” every year except for last year when the 36-year-old skipped the event due to being pregnant. In Sudo’s absence, Michelle Lesco topped the competition with 30.75 hot dogs for the 2021 title. However, this turned out to be a bun and done situation. This year, Sudo led all the way, finishing with a gut feeling of 40 hot dogs and buns, easily out-eating Lesco, who finished second.
What has made Chestnut and Sudo so dominant? Well, let’s take a look at what makes for a top competitive eater. It starts from the mouth and throat. Competitive eaters don’t chew food and swallow like you would during a date or business dinner. Instead, through a combination of sipping water and using various chewing techniques, they try to create a mass of food that can then move down their esophagi like toothpaste. (Yes, “esophagi” is the plural of “esophagus” in case you haven’t ever had to mention more than one esophagus in a sentence.)
It helps for them to be able suppress their gag reflexes so that this mass can make its way past their throats. It also helps to be able to expand their esophagi and relax their lower esophageal sphincters, which normally control the junctions between the lower esophagi and stomachs. Top competitive eaters are typically able to hold more food in their stomachs at a time than regular folks. As I covered for Forbes last year, they tend to have larger, more stretchy, and more flaccid stomachs from birth or training or both.
Then there are the body movements. You’ll notice that during the competition, competitors will be moving their bodies, jumping and writhing. This isn’t just dancing to the surrounding music. It’s to physically move the mass of food down their esophagi, again like squeezing toothpaste.
As with all physical competitions, the mental game plays a big role too. Top competitive eaters need to be able to suppress many of their body’s natural feelings and reflexes. Normally, your body will tell you when you’ve reached your limit when it comes to eating. This can come in the form of nausea, feeling very full, or even vomiting. Typically, such feeling will come relatively soon. That’s why you may be more likely to tell your host at a dinner party, “I don’t think I could eat another hot dog,” rather than “I don’t think I could eat forty more hot dogs.” Competitive eaters, on the other hand, have to somehow delay, ignore, and overcome these cues and keep putting food where their mouth is.
Finally, they need to have enough muscle and a high enough metabolism to burn all the calories and handle all of the salt that they consume. A typical hot dog made of beef or pork will consist of around 6 grams of protein, 14 grams of fat, 3 grams of carbs, and 562 milligrams of sodium, totaling 162 calories, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). That means 40 hot dogs would be well over 6,000 calories. That’s not even considering the buns, hun. Therefore, top competitive eaters must try to stay in shape even thought their esophagi and stomachs may be in different shapes.
Presumably, Chestnut and Sudo are able to do most or all of the above better than others. That’s why Chestnut has been roasting the competition. And so has Sudo. Their domination of the Nathan’s Famous Fourth of July Hot Dog Eating Contest has been akin to Rafael Nadal’s domination of the French Open. And that’s a hot dog take of the situation.