Patrick Vandam and Tim Brown eat at the Illinois Qualifier for the Nathan's Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest.

A new Patrick steals the show at the Illinois hot dog eating contest qualifier.

Guy: So, are you the official photographer?
Val: No, I’m just a big competitive eating fan.
Guy: I’m not going to lie. That’s kind of weird.

So, it’s not that me being a little weird of a person is any big news to anyone. But, every once in a while you are confronted with a situation which may just illustrate how odd you are. And, well, when you are seemingly the only person to show up to watch a hot-dog eating contest that is not either related to or friends with a competitor, you may start to reevaluate your life choices…or you just realize that perhaps you are the most awesome person ever and just enjoy the day. I will go with the latter.

Tim Brown eats at the Illinois Qualifier for the Nathan's Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest.

Saturday afternoon the Matteson Sam’s Club hosted a hot-dog eating contest which served as one of the qualifying rounds for the big Fourth of July competition. It’s not often that there is an official IFOCE (International Federation of Competitive Eating) contest anywhere near Chicago, so when there is you know I’m there.

The way these qualifiers work is that there are usually one or two ranked or emerging competitors with the rest being locals who just want to try it out. While I was waiting I walked around for a bit to talk to some of the people because, hey, why not? No one had any clue how much they’d eat and I think everyone thought I was a reporter at first and then thought I was crazy when I said I was just a fan. Yes, yes, I think I am officially a groupie 🙂


The event started out with a “neat” eating contest for young kids where they each got a hot dog with ketchup and had to eat it without getting anything on them. Heck, I certainly can’t do that. After that was the main event.

One by one the competitors took their places, prepared their drinks of choice, and were handed a plate full of hot dogs. In the middle, in the prime position, was Tim “Gravy” Brown, the number 13-ranked eater and obvious frontrunner. Next to him was a newcomer Patrick Vandam (another Pat!!!) who had only competed in 3 or 4 competitions thus far.

The countdown began and they were off. The two in the middle gobbled down while everyone else took their time. Actually, after a few minutes many of them kind of just stopped eating and started watching Pat and Tim battle it out. It was pretty fierce. Patrick began edging out Tim, being passed plate after plate of hot dog.

Illinois Qualifier for the Nathan's Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest.

It wasn’t the sheer speed or the commonly-used shaking technique that surprised me about this newcomer. It was his level of cleanliness. Seriously, I think he would have cleaned up (no pun intended) in that neat eating contest. I’ve met some of these eaters right after a competition before, and let me tell you, it’s not always pretty. They usually are kind of sweaty and covered in water/juice/milk and have food particles all over. He had no crumbs. Almost nothing. It was pretty insane.

Patrick Vandam and Tim Brown eat at the Illinois Qualifier for the Nathan's Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest.

Anyways…as the final moments ticked down it was slightly unclear who would win. But in the end the upset was announced: Tim Brown with 28, Patrick Vandam with 31. Not bad not bad.

Everyone else I’d talked to said they’d eaten about 7. One guy said he had one. Then I went and got my picture taken with Pat. 🙂

Me and Patrick Vandam at the Illinois Qualifier for the Nathan's Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest.

It was a totally awesome contest. Nad, Bryan, and I are going to try to make it to Coney Island for the big one on the Fourth. I can’t wait!!!

More photos from the Illinois Qualifier for the Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest:

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Hi, I'm Val. I spent most of my 20s in a standstill, unable to pick which path in life I wanted to take. I wanted the nomadic life of a traveler but also wanted the husband, the condo, and the kitten. Unable to decide which life I wanted more, I did nothing. When I turned 30 I’d had enough of putting my life on hold and decided to start “choosing my figs.” So, I quit my job, bought a one-way ticket to Europe, and traveled for three years. Now I'm back in Chicago, decorating my apartment in all the teal, petting my cats, and planning my next adventure.

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