It’s difficult to explain why watching a man stuff himself with every ingredient under the sun is as addictive as it is. In theory, the sight of a sweaty New Yorker swallowing every member of the deep fried family should be both morally and physically revolting. And yet it still seems kinda awesome. It just goes to show that some ideas are better in practice than on paper.
The years that Man v. Food has been on the air have seen the hosts tackle every sort of eating challenge, from quantity to heat. However, even though a few of the 130 eventually morph into one overindulgent mass, there are a couple of classic tests that will forever live long in the memory. Whether because of the scale of the undertaking, or the spectacle of failure, these challenges have helped make some of the most recognisable foodie TV moments of all time. These are the greatest eating challenges ever attempted on Man v. Food.
1. Acme Oysters
For many, oysters are the ultimate indulgence, a symbol of wealth, style and sophistication. They lose much of their mystique once you’ve watched a man slurp his way through 15 dozen of the slippery morsels. Featured in Richman’s first season on the show, the challenge is a monumental (if admittedly nauseating) achievement which is made all the more amazing considering the price that Richman paid for success. Apparently, since completing the task 10 years ago, he has eaten less than a dozen oysters.
2. Amarillo Steak
It might not be the biggest challenge in MvF history, but there’s little doubt that the Amarillo Steak set the benchmark for what the show could be. Included as part of the first episode, the task involved eating a 72-ounce steak, along with sides, salad and shrimp cocktail all in under one hour. Richman smashed it in style and a legend was born.
3. The Davy Jones Locker Challenge
Richman’s initial retirement from the world of competitive eating saw him turn mentor to a motley crew of would-be food competitors for what would become known as “Man v. Food Nation”. Though watching strangers eat wasn’t anywhere near as engaging as the man himself, “MvFN” delivered a few memorable moments, including the Davy Jones Challenge. The sight of Richman trying to coax a weeping pro wrestler through 10 spicy chicken wings is not easily forgotten. As he himself put it, “Seeing this man - who, for a living, gets hit over the head by folding chairs - reduced to tears by wings is pretty great.”
4. The Eagle’s Challenge
Tackling the food is hard enough when you have the backing of a crowd. It’s another matter entirely when they want you to fail. The Eagle’s Challenge in Boston saw Richman go toe to toe with a local eating legend in a hostile atmosphere that saw abuse hurled from every direction as he tried to concentrate on eating a five-pound cheeseburger. It certainly made for great televison.
5. Fire in Your Hole
Richman has gone on record to say that, as a rule, he prefers a spicy challenge to a large one. But “Fire in Your Hole” was definitely an exception. Richman managed to get through two wings, before proclaiming them to be the spiciest thing he had ever eaten, downing some milk and heading to the refrigerator. It subsequently emerged that the owner had emptied an entire bottle of pepper extract onto the wings before they left the kitchen. Ouch.
6. The Gigante
Burritos have proven themselves to be something of an Achilles heel for the ever-confident Adam Richman. However, with the Gigante Challenge at Sweet P’s BBQ, he proved that he can still deliver when it matters most. Tackling a four-pound burrito would be bad enough, but Richman also had to polish off half a pound of mac and cheese, followed by half a pound of banana pudding. This victory definitely counts as one of his finest.
7. Hellfire Sushi
Spicy wings are a common opponent of any competitive eater, but things took a dramatic twist when Richman took on one of the world’s hottest sushi rolls in Salt Lake City. Featuring seven ascending levels of spice, the Hellfire sushi challenge featured a sauce that was described as looking “like warpaint” by a clearly terrified Richman. Remarkably, he managed to see off the rolls and live to fight another day.
8. Kodiak Arrest
Labelled by Richman as his favourite eating challenge of all time, what made the Kodiak Arrest so memorable was the array of unusual ingredients that it contained. Instead of beef and chicken, this challenge contained Alaskan king crab and reindeer sausage, making it as delicious as it was enormous. To top it off, Richman became the first competitor to successfully finish the entire feast.
9. Suicide Six Wings
Everyone loves a comeback. An early MvF episode saw an inexperienced Richman fail at the Suicide Six Wings challenge after a single bite. Having spent time away learning his craft, an older, wiser host returned to the site of his greatest failure, only to successfully complete the challenge that had previously thwarted him. Redemption: complete.
10. Zombie Burrito
Though many fans claim the show hasn’t been the same since Richman left, new host Casey Webb has certainly had his moments. Arguably his most memorable came when he successfully completed the Zombie Burrito challenge at Genkiyaki in LA. Not only does this challenge involve quantity, but it also packs a serious amount of heat, making Webb’s successful attempt all the more impressive.
It’s easy to dismiss much of Man v. Food as gluttony for gluttony’s sake. However, if you actually consider what is being attempted on screen, there’s no denying that some of what takes place is seriously impressive. It might not be the most meaningful show on earth, but MvF certainly provides substantial food for thought.