Some of the best MLE competitors, on the other hand, are happy to answer questions I never thought I’d ask anyone. Such as, how does one eat 209-plus jalapeno peppers in less than 10 minutes? I ask this question of Thomas, a cheerful, 5-feet-5-inch, 105-pound goliath of an eater who holds a long list of staggering eating titles and world records set against men twice or four times her size.
“I think so much of it is a mind thing — maybe even 60 to 70 percent,” says Thomas, a Burger King manager at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland who once ate 65 hard-boiled eggs in six minutes, 40 seconds, and 46 dozen Louisiana oysters in 10 minutes. She attributes the other 30 to 40 percent to her speedy fingers, naturally large appetite and “other things” that she can’t talk about (or, I’m guessing, may not even fully understand herself).
What do you like about competitive eating, I ask her. What have been your happiest moments doing this?
“I’m just a normal person, but sometimes people treat me like a celebrity and say ‘Hey, you’re the Black Widow! We saw you on TV!’ ” laughs Thomas, who also gets a kick out of overhearing amused comments from the audience — “look at the little woman at the table with all the men” — before destroying everyone in the competition. Her happiest moments in the biz: winning a car in a Philadelphia chicken-wing contest and raking in $10,000 in last year’s first-ever, gender-specific Nathan’s Famous female hot dog eating championship — created, according to MLE, to handle the increasing women’s interest in the event and “to give female competitors the recognition they deserved.”
“Do you ever get autograph requests?” I ask Pete “Pretty Boy” Davekos (No. 14), a 33-year-old Boston-based sales director, former natural body builder and world record-holding garlicky-greens eater (7 and a half pounds in five minutes) and edible-arrangement-fruit-basket-eating champion (one complete fruit basket in three minutes, 52 seconds).
“It’s pretty cool and maybe a tad unsettling when people approach me and know all my stats and eating records — but, yeah, I get asked for autographs sometimes,” Davekos says, adding that his MLE alter ego provides the perfect outlet to support his three passions in life outside of his family and career. “Food. Travel. Competition. Being a professional eater has given me a platform to combine all three.”
Floyd’s personal goal this time, besides reclaiming his title, is to finish two full pizzas in the 30 allotted minutes. No one’s done it, but he’s come pretty close — within about a slice and a half. Of course, at that point, a slice of pizza has been scientifically proven to be as large as Mount Fuji.
“Will you ever feel like eating pizza again after doing something like this?” I ask him. “Won’t it turn you off of pizza forever?”
“No,” Floyd says, conceding that certain other foods aren’t nearly as palatable afterwards. “Hot dogs are brutal,” he says. “Typically, after a hot dog competition, I don’t want to even smell a hot dog for a very, very long time.”
Floyd takes his seat. The pizzas are brought out. The crowd momentarily hushes. The MC with the goofy Howard Cosell persona does the countdown. “Three. Two. One. Avanti!”
And they’re off. The crowd goes wild as eight dudes furiously begin eating pizza. What in the world does this say about us?
Regardless, you know you’re wondering, even if it’s just a wafer-thin bit, what happens next.