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Meet George Shea, the MC Behind Nathan’s Sizzling Canine Consuming Contest

Every yr, the Nathan’s Well-known 4th of July Worldwide Sizzling Canine-Consuming Contest attracts almost 25,000 folks to Coney Island, N.Y., whereas over 1,000,000 viewers tune in to ESPN’s dwell protection, all to observe 20 rivals eat as many scorching canines as they will in 10 minutes.

Moreover the rivals, there’s one other draw: George Shea—the occasion’s host, or Grasp of Ceremonies—who delivers a collection of verbose, outlandish and infrequently impressed introductions of the rivals. On the 2014 Nathan’s contest, he launched one of many rivals saying: “His mom held him shut and whispered in his ear. She mentioned you’re of mine flesh however you aren’t mine personal. Destiny is your father and also you belong to the folks.”

Consuming competitions weren’t at all times what they’re at the moment. Shea, additionally the co-founder of aggressive consuming’s Main League Consuming (previously generally known as the Worldwide Federation of Aggressive Consuming), took over the Coney Island occasion in 1991 as a press agent a number of years out of faculty. Sizzling canine consuming as a “competitors” reportedly dates again to the early nineteen-hundreds, and when Shea took over the Nathan’s contest, it was a small affair—a pair dozen spectators, one or two tv cameras, and a gaggle of enthusiastic novice eaters.

It was Shea who started closely selling the occasion and delivering elaborate, irony-tinged introductions. (He as soon as mentioned of 10-time Nathan’s champion Joey Chestnut: “via the curtain of the aurora, a comet blazes to herald his arrival.”) Shea additionally started billing the eaters as “athletes.” In radio interviews all through the Nineteen Nineties, he defined that the dozen or so entrants have been the fiercest rivals culled from a nationwide circuit of qualifying occasions.

“There was no marketing strategy,” Shea explains. “You understand what was in my thoughts? I believed it was humorous and absurd, and I like issues which are absurd. So we at all times handled it as a sport, referred to as it a sport, referred to as them athletes.”

Miki Sudo (center) receives her award after the 2017 Nathan's Famous International Hot Dog Eating Contest (Getty Images)

Miki Sudo (heart) receives her award after the 2017 Nathan’s Well-known Worldwide Sizzling Canine Consuming Contest

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The Nathan’s contest is now the biggest and best-known aggressive consuming occasion in America, however it’s removed from the one one. From the Acme Oyster Consuming Championship in New Orleans to the Pork Roll Consuming Championship in Trenton, N.J., there are dozens of comparable occasions all below the auspices of Shea and his companions’ Main League Consuming. To arrange, skilled and semi-professional eaters practice year-round: training swallowing methods; rising their abdomen capability by alternately fasting and binging on greens, milk or protein powder; and understanding to restrict extreme physique fats, which may curb abdomen growth.

“He convinces the viewers these guys are athletes,” mentioned Joey Chestnut of Shea within the 2017 documentary, Chasing the Mustard Belt. “He does such an excellent job, he convinces me I’m an athlete.”

The league was constructed largely by Shea’s new pageantry. In 1997, he and his brother based the Worldwide Federation of Aggressive Consuming to handle their multiplying occasions, every sponsored by a distinct company shopper. And in 2001, a first-time competitor from Japan named Takeru Kobayashi ate an astounding 50 scorching canines in 10 minutes, doubling the earlier document. Different contestants, initially bewildered by Kobayashi’s method—he practiced rigorously and employed a trademark “Kobayashi wiggle” to power meals into his abdomen—started to coach like athletes as properly. In 2003, ESPN started broadcasting the occasion on nationwide tv.

Joey Chestnut (center) wins the men's division of the 2017 Nathan's Famous International Hot Dog Eating Contest at Coney Island, eating 72 hot dogs. (Getty Images)

Joey Chestnut (heart) wins the boys’s division of the 2017 Nathan’s Well-known Worldwide Sizzling Canine Consuming Contest at Coney Island, consuming 72 scorching canines.

Getty Pictures

And in 2007, Nathan’s Well-known obtained what all sports activities really want: a rivalry. The previously unbeatable Kobayashi was bested by Joey Chestnut, who consumed a staggering 66 scorching canines. Shea continued to boost the dramatic stakes, narrating a story of loss and redemption in interviews and onstage, with Joey Chestnut as the game’s American hero. “This man stands for all that’s everlasting within the human expertise, the braveness to face for a nation when all others fail or flip away,” Shea mentioned on the Nathan’s contest in 2015.

“It’s a contest for us, but it surely’s a present for everyone else,” explains Matt Stonie, the 2015 Nathan’s champion. “You want anyone to inform that story.”

That story has at all times contained a singular stability of earnestness and irony. Shea’s trademark narrations promote the drama of the occasion whereas reaching a grandiosity that capitalizes on the competition’s absurdity. “[The audience] each is aware of that that is by some means a joke and nonetheless feels it on the identical time,” Shea says. “That razor’s edge, that’s for me the magic.”

In some ways, the expansion of aggressive consuming is much like that of mainstream American sports activities. Novice baseball golf equipment advanced into multi-million greenback leagues, very similar to how small consuming competitions have become nationally broadcast occasions. Relatively than touring the again roads of turn-of-the-century America, aggressive consuming made the rounds of strip mall parking heaps all through the USA.

At occasions, the wild narratives of aggressive consuming resemble WWE skilled wrestling, a scripted pseudo-sport that mixes the melodrama of cleaning soap operas and the motion of boxing. Like wrestling, winners of the Nathan’s competitors are awarded “the mustard belt,” and Shea’s theatrical introductions typically resemble wrestlers’ long-winded pre-match soliloquies.

By coincidence, Shea’s spouse is a author for WWE and a former cleaning soap opera producer. “What cleaning soap operas did and what WWE did is precisely what we do however in a distinct format,” Shea says. The distinction, it appears, is that whereas skilled wrestling delivers its narrative with a cleaning soap opera’s self-serious camp, aggressive consuming does so with a winking acknowledgement of the truth that its “heroes” are women and men who compete to cram down astonishing portions of scorching canines, oysters, candy corn or pork rolls.

Aggressive consuming’s mechanisms of viewers engagement—the creation of heroes, drama and cultural relevance—are not any completely different than these in different standard sports activities, besides for his or her lack of straight-faced earnestness. In aggressive consuming, George Shea created the primary true ironic sport, and made a killing alongside the best way.

Requested if he believes that aggressive consuming will outlast him, Shea stops to replicate. “Are you aware what number of questions I’ve thought-about earlier than? I’ve by no means thought-about that.” He pauses for a second, pondering. “Wow,” he says. “I assume it might.”

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Write to Alejandro de la Garza at alejandro.delagarza@time.com.

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