My Brief Career as a Competitive Eater

 | Mon 31 Aug 2015 08:20 ICT

Here’s a riddle: What’s one simple device that can instantly propel an otherwise completely normal steak dinner into the absurd? I’ll give you a moment…

Got it? A timer. Set to 20 minutes. Other acceptable answers include a catapult or a tennis racket, but for the purposes of this story the answer is a timer, set to 20 minutes. Such was the scene at dusitD2 hotel this last Friday night, where I sat eyeing an impressive spread next to a dozen or so other aspiring gluttons that had joined the steak eating contest in promotion of dusitD2’s new Friday night steak buffet. The things I get myself into…


It began with my coworker Faa, who edits our events column and is usually the first to know about peculiar goings on around town, convincing me to sign up, which I did, but only with the understanding that she had to compete as well. I’m not sure where the impulse came from, I’ve never considered the act of gorging myself beyond capacity with any sort of food a good time, but, to new experiences and all that, I registered.

As the work week came to a close, and Friday was upon us, Faa and I began to exchange nervous glances over our computer monitors. The moment that would force us to play the part of a competitive eater was almost upon us, and we had no idea what to expect.

I spent the final moments of my work day researching competitive eating tactics and professional eaters. One of the most well-known competitive eaters is Takeru Kobayashi, a 37 year old Japanese man who has held several world records for competitive eating, including hot dogs, meatballs, Twinkies, tacos, hamburgers, pizza, ice cream and pasta.

In a YouTube video filmed during the annual Coney Island hot dog eating contest in New York City, Kobayashi admits that he spends around three months leading up to the event training for the contest, which predominately consists of stretching his stomach out by drinking large amounts of water. “The day before the contest I could drink three gallons of water in 90 seconds,” he said.

With only about an hour to spare, my time was running short, and I wasn’t about to start chugging water right before the event. Instead I found tips that I could adopt right off the bat. I also learned that to be a successful competitive eater, a person doesn’t have to necessarily be big. A lot of body weight actually compresses the ribcage and the stomach cavity, which will restrict your ability to eat a lot of food. Other tips include dipping things in water, which I learned from Kobayashi, and “chipmunking” at the end of the contest, which is basically shoving as much food into your mouth as possible in the last few seconds. According to official rules used in professional contests, you have 30 seconds to swallow after chipmunking, making this tactic integral if you are actually trying to win.


Cut to our table at dusitD2. It is loaded with spaghetti, chicken, steak, French fries and dipping sauces. An MC is enthusiastically pumping us up for the moment we start stuffing our faces. “There are only two rules,” he says, “you cannot use your hands, and you must eat the dishes in order.”

The fact that we can’t eat with our hands restricts things a bit. Initially I imagined myself gripping a greasy steak and shoving it into my face, but now things seemed a bit more civilised with the use of silverware instead. I was actually alright with this.

Sam! Song! Neung! Go! The MC shouts, and the face shoveling begins. The first dish to be consumed is the bowl of French fries. They are dry, and salty. They’re wedges, not really fries. Big honking chunks of potato that fill my mouth with a dry, starchy paste that makes it hard to breathe. I grab a bottle of water, and take a slight sip, the fries instantly dissolve, and suddenly I’m able to gulp them down with little to no mastication involved. One, two, three, four fork fulls of six or seven fries at a time; I get into a rhythm: cram the fries in my mouth, sip the water, gulp them down. Bam. The fries are gone. The small crowd surrounding us in the hotel lobby cheer as the MC announces that I’m the first to finish the French fries. Next up: spaghetti with marinara.


The pasta is easier to swallow because of the pasta sauce. My stomach is already feeling crazy from the gobs of French fries I just lobbed into my body, but I go at it full-speed again. A little bit of water, gulp down the noodles, and hit it again. Spaghetti: done. The crowd cheers again, I move the bowl out of the way. Now it’s the real deal: steak time.

There is nothing quite like having to eat steak as quickly as possible. It requires a tremendous amount of chewing. It never breaks down, it’s basically like meat gum. I decide that I’ll get as much meat in my mouth as possible, continue chewing, and slice up the steak while I try to break it down in my mouth. At this point my jaw is sore, my stomach is pretty much full, and my mouth is stuffed with steak that I simply cannot swallow.

A woman behind my chair, a dusitD2 employee who apparently has been assigned to cheer me on in English is taking her job a little too seriously.

“Use the dipping sauce!” she yells in my ear, “It will make it better!”

I try the sauce. It doesn’t make it any better, it’s just more stuff in my mouth that I can’t swallow.

I concentrate on trying to get down the overwhelming amount of steak in my mouth and look around at the other contestants. A twenty something Thai guy to my right has just polished off his steak. I don’t know how he did it, he’s moving onto chicken which I know is easier to eat, and I’m falling behind.

The contest is lost. I bit off more than I could chew, literally. I relax, still chewing the hefty amount of steak in my mouth which seems to have lingered for half of the contest, I reach across the table and crack open the can of Coke and take a nice big gulp.

Time is running out, I’ve lost all motivation to win. The woman behind me continues to shout into my ear as if I have a chance, “Eat more! Faster!” she yells, but her cheer leading is in vain.

10! 9! 8! The crowd begins to cheer as the clock ticks the final moments of the contest. For a second I think about chipmunking, but I’ve lost my will to win. I just want to drink a coke instead.

Our time runs out. Our table of eaters laughing and still chewing the heaps of food in their mouths. The winner receives a giant certificate for his free steak, and we all shake the hand of the chef as we walk out. Thank you sir, I will remember your steak forever.


Faa did not seem to manage much better than I. She got through the French fries and onto the pasta, but slowed down somewhere in her bowl of noodles. Our careers as competitive eaters were short lived, as I don’t think I will ever subject myself to such an experience again. With bloated stomachs and something like nausea we headed to 7/11 for some yogurt, taking everything we had learned with us.