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Ken Hoffman dishes on a tasty sports event making a big return

Ken Hoffman dishes on a tasty sports event making a big return

Joey Chestnut world champion mustard belt
Competitive eating champ Joey Chestnut promises to take a bite out of the competition.  Joey Chestnut/Facebook

And the first big league sport to resume play in America is … competitive eating!

You know and love them, the men and women best known for inhaling insane numbers of Nathan’s hot dogs at the July 4 contest in Coney Island. The BetOnline.ag Quarantine Challenge starts at 6 pm Friday, April 17. The competition, a bracket-style elimination tournament similar to March Madness, is endorsed by Major League Eating, the leading organization of competitive eating.

All rounds will be streamed on MLE’s Youtube channel. Unlike the famous hot dog contest, where total number of franks determines the winner, Quarantine Challenge winners will be determined by how fast they clean their plate.

  • First round (April 17): two pounds of slice bologna.
  • Quarterfinals (April 19): one family pack of Oreo cookies and a half-gallon on whole milk.
  • Semifinals (April 21): 1.5 gallons of Bush’s baked beans.
  • Finals (April 22): 10 individual cups of ramen noodles.

I know what you’re thinking: this is the best thing on TV during the coronavirus isolation. But as Ron Popeil says: wait it gets even better. You can bet real money on each round of the competition. There even will be prop bets, like “Will a competitor vomit during the contest?”

Inside trading: that’s the lock of the millennium, nobody is going to vomit. I’ve been a judge at a few dozen of these competitions. I’ve only seen a pro eater suffer a “reversal of fortune” once, and that was the great Kobyashi during a Coney Island contest. To his credit, he puked into a cup so the crowd and TV cameras wouldn’t catch it. I didn’t call for a disqualification because he immediately drank everything in his cup. That’s commitment. That’s the mark of a champion. That’s disgusting. 

To prepare for today’s exciting first-round action, I peppered Dave Mason, brand manager at BetOnline.ag, with 10 quick questions:

CultureMap: Who are the competitors?
Dave Mason:
Badlands Booker (21 half-pound matzoh balls in five minutes), Darron Breeden (528 oysters in eight minutes), Joey Chestnut (the Babe Ruth of eating), Michelle Lesco (176 gyoza in 10 minutes), Gideon Oji (25 pounds of kale salad in eight minutes), Matt Stonie (only man to defeat Joey Chestnut in Coney Island the past 12 years), Miki Sudo (the GOAT of women’s competitive eating), and Nick Wehry (11 pounds of strawberry shortcake in eight minutes).

CM: Where will the competitors be eating?
The eaters will be practicing social distancing, facing off via video from the kitchens in their own homes.

CM: Uh-oh, their own kitchens? Will the production values be better than what we saw on ESPN’s HORSE event?
Major League Eating is producing the entire event so it will likely be better. My phone filming them from a window would be better than the HORSE and video game ESPN productions. The NBA and ESPN completely flopped on that event.

CM: Who will be the announcers?
George and Richard Shea, the owners of Major League Eating. (George Shea is the straw hat-wearing emcee of the Coney Island contest, while brother Richard Shea is the color analyst on ESPN’s broadcast. This is great news. The Sheas are hilarious).

CM: How will be assured that competitors are actually eating the assigned amounts of food? How do we know a competitor won't try to eat 1.9 pounds of bologna instead of 2 pounds? Integrity is essential in an eating contest.

DM: All the foods they are using come in a sealed package. They will open the packages live on camera so there are no discrepancies. The announcers will address all of the competition rules during the event. The only varying event is the ramen noodles where the competitors have to fill the water line to the appropriate level on the cup, but they can choose to eat the noodles hot or cold.

CM: How did you pick which foods would be consumed in each round?

We selected foods that were abundantly available at local grocery stores. Since the competitors had to compile their own food, we wanted to make it as easy as possible on them. There was also an importance on not selecting food that was low due to the pandemic needs.

CM: How will the betting work on betonline.ag?

Other than the overall odds to win the tournament, betting odds will be on a round-by-round basis. So after the qualifying round where seeding will be determined, the futures odds will likely see a shakeup. And there will also be new odds created for Round 2, the Oreo and milk round. There is a $100 wagering limit on the eating odds.

CM: Will there be prop bets other than whether someone pukes?

DM: There are prop bets such as the over/under for fastest and slowest time in Round 1, fastest/slowest competitors in Round 1, whether or not Chestnut or Stonie will make the finals. All of the odds/props can be seen in real-time here.

CM: Will there be a separate division for the women competitors like in Coney Island?

DM: No. (Note: Say bye-bye to Michelle Lesco, but Miki Sudo can stand belly-to-belly against the men, except for Joey Chestnut.)

CM: Will BetOnline.ag continue accepting wagers before the shutdown is lifted?

Wagering continues at BetOnline.ag despite the coronavirus. We're having to create odds for oddball sports that might be seen on ESPN’s “The Ocho,” or even simulated video games. Customers are still eager to bet and be entertained. Political betting, entertainment, stocks, weather, Tiger King — you name it, we've probably booked odds on it over the last month.

Final note: I would put my 50 cents on Chestnut in the finals. He is not going to be embarrassed with a national audience watching.