The Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest on the Fourth of July
I used to watch the Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest on TV every Fourth of July. For some people, Independence Day meant fireworks, barbecues, parades. But, for me, it meant sitting in front of ESPN and watching a row of gurgitators consume as many hot dogs as was humanly possible in 12 minutes.
In 2007, I watched the Super Bowl of competitive eating from my couch, at home, when Joey Chestnut ate 66 hot dogs and buns and out-ate the seemingly un-beatable, six-time hot dog eating champion, Takeru Kobayashi. It was unexpected, unprecedented, unheard of. I was at the edge of my couch cushion for the entire twelve minute competition.
And I knew then that I had to experience it live.
I had to see the Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest in person.
The next year, in 2008, a friend and I flew to New York for the Fourth of July.
I’m not going to lie: I wanted to see Kobayashi eat. And I kind of wanted to watch Kobayashi win. He was a competitive eating icon. And, despite his previous year’s loss, he was still one to watch on Independence Day. It was a rivalry like no other.
Kobayashi didn’t win that year. But, in another unexpected, unprecedented, unheard of, move, he and Joey Chestnut tied.
The tie was settled in a five-hot-dog eat-off that Joey Chestnut won in 50 seconds, and earned him his second consecutive title of world champion hot dog eater.
It was riveting to watch, nerve-wracking to witness, thrilling to be part of that massive crowd. It was disgusting and beautiful and patriotic all at the same time.
I knew then that I couldn’t go back to watching the Nathan’s hot dog eating contest on TV.
In 2012 and 2013 I was out of the country, so I didn’t get to watch the contest in person, but I did watch via a VPN and borrowed Comcast login.
In 2014, I was in the US again and came back, this time at the table.
In 2015, I came back again.
In 2016, I came back again.
In those years, I watched the contest move from 12 minutes to 10.
In those years, I watched the contest break apart into separate divisions for men and for women.
In those years, I watched Joey Chestnut win 10 times.
In those years, I watched Matt Stonie once defeat Joey Chestnut and win the mustard yellow belt for himself.
In those years, I watched Miki Sudo break into the scene and hold steady to the pink belt for herself.
In those years, I managed to once compete on stage myself, coming in last place, but standing in front of that massive crowd all the same.
In those years, I watched records get broken again and again and again and again and again.
In those years, I watched countless hot dogs being eaten.
Last year I decided not to go to New York for the Fourth of July. I didn’t go to Brooklyn. I didn’t go to Coney Island. I didn’t go to the Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest.
I just wasn’t in the mood to travel. I wasn’t in the mood to go anywhere. I wasn’t in the mood to do anything.
I kept thinking that I didn’t need to spend the money. I kept thinking that I didn’t need to see the contest live yet again. I kept thinking that it would be OK to stay home, to not go, to not watch, to not be there.
And so, for the first time in ten years, I spent the Fourth of July at home in Chicago.
I didn’t even get to watch the contest on TV because I don’t have ESPN and couldn’t access it. By the time it was available online I already knew what happened, had seen the highlights, and couldn’t be bothered to watch.
So I went out to see some fireworks with a friend. And…that was really all I did for the holiday.
But I kind of wished, throughout the entire day, that I had gone to New York. That I had been there in person.
I almost didn’t go this year either.
I still wasn’t in the mood to travel. I still wasn’t in the mood to go anywhere. I still wasn’t in the mood to do anything.
I still kept thinking that I didn’t need to spend the money. I still kept thinking that I didn’t need to see the contest live yet again. I still kept thinking that it would be OK to stay home, to not go, to not watch, to not be there.
But I needed to force myself into a vacation. I needed to start forcing myself out of this rut. I needed to not stay at home. I needed to do something. I needed to be there. I needed to go to Coney Island for the Fourth of July.
So I booked a flight, I booked a hotel room, I hired a cat sitter, and I flew to New York.
And I watched Badlands Booker perform for the crowd. And I watched Amos Wengler sing about hot dogs. And I watched life-sized hot dogs dance. And I watched the bun boys do pushups and the bunnettes twirl.
And I watched Miki Sudo eat 37 hot dogs in ten minutes to win the women’s hot dog eating contest.
And I watched Joey Chestnut eat 74 hot dogs in ten minutes, among much counting-controversy, to win the men’s hot dog eating contest, to break his own record, to break a world record.
And I watched countless hot dogs being eaten.
And I listened to the crowd who chanted, who gasped, who laughed.
And it was still riveting to watch, still nerve-wracking to witness, still thrilling to be part of that massive crowd.
It was disgusting and beautiful and patriotic all at the same time.
And I knew again that I couldn’t go back to watching the Nathan’s Famous hot dog eating contest on TV.
The 2018 Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest Results:
1. Joey Chestnut 74
2. Carmen Cincotti 64
3. Darron Breeden 43
4. Geoffrey Esper 41
5. Matt Stonie 40
6. Gideon Oji 37.5
7. Max Suzuki 34
8. Adrian Morgan 33
9. Juan Rodriguez 32
10. Nick Wehry 31
11. Rich LeFevre 28
12. Derek Jacobs and Juan Neave 27
14. Matt Hazzard 25
15. George Chiger 24.75
16. Steve Hendry and Pablo Martinez 24
18. Erik Denmark and Ronnie Hartman 21.5
20. Jim Reeves 21
21. Badlands Booker 20
1. Miki Sudo 37
2. Michelle Lesco 28
3. Juliet Lee 25
4. Sarah Reinecke 21
5. Larell Marie Mele 19
6. Sophia DeVita 14
7. Jingru Chen and Holly Titus 13
9. Kassandra Zapata 12
10. Katie Prettyman 11
11. Jocelyn Walker 10.5
12. Tracie Dickerson and Kathryn Tesch 8
14. Brittany Powell 7
15. Rene Rovtar and Brynn Szeles 6.5
17. Kristina Rovtar 5
18. Prudence DiBenedetto 4