Saturday, June 26, 2010

Scandal! Controversy! Was Crazy Legs Conti's Victory Legit?

Went to the mall near my house today, to watch the Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Qualifier, which was apparently one of three qualifying matches held around the country today, to determine the final contestants in the big event on Coney Island on July 4th. I was hoping to see Joey Chestnut or Kobayashi for some reason, but I guess I hadn't researched the event enough ahead of time to realize that they don't all just tour around eating... they obviously must have qualified earlier in the year elsewhere, and now are training for the big event, their slot in the championship already secure.

Not that there weren't some ranked eaters there - there certainly were. Crazy Legs Conti, Adrian Morgan, Damon Wells, Kevin Ross and a guy nicknamed Wrecking Ball (who proposed to his girlfriend before the event - she accepted) were among the competitors.

Preparing to get their feast on...

For some reason, I've always found the world of competitive eating fascinating - but no more so than any other of my long list of fascinations. What can I say? My mind cycles through many different interests, but when it settles on something, it has my full attention. So, I went a bit early, thinking the place would be swarming with spectators. I wanted a good spot on the 2nd floor rail to watch/video tape the event from. Turns out I didn't need to worry, really... it was nowhere near as packed as I thought it would be.

That's me, in the hat, in case you couldn't tell! With me are the Wagner Girls and Erick, friend of family.

They had a kids round before the main event, but that consisted of kids eating a single hotdog, with ketchup and/or mustard, with one hand in 2 minutes, and the cleanest eater won the prize. Then they took a good long while trying to whip up the meager crowd, introducing the main event eaters, listing qualifications and impressive records. The PA system wasn't all that effective, so I couldn't really understand much of what the MC said - it was too garbled.

The combatants had 10 minutes to eat as many hotdogs as possible. The closer a person stood to the center of the table, the higher the rank he was. So Crazy Legs Conti, being ranked #14 at the moment, had the center spot. For some reason, they put the trophy right in front of his spot before the event began.

I fired up the camera to get the initial countdown to begin, and my LCD screen informed me that I needed to clean the heads on the camera! Are you kidding me! All this time waiting, and now that I'm ready to tape, I can't! WHAT THE! I didn't have the head cleaner with me, and the contest began, so instead of getting crazy-pissed, I ejected the tape, popped it back in, and hit record. After a moment, it seemed to be working, so I just left it record the rest of the time. I wanted to post a video of the whole ten minutes, but alas, the first minute or two is not recorded.

Eat! Eat! Eat! Eat!

So I just did my thing, moving the camera up and down the table, watching the eating machines do their thing. I noticed something odd about Mr. Conti... first, before the event began, he took great pains to set up about a dozen cups full of a dark liquid - a tea of some sort, I supposed. He mixed things into the cups, like a mad scientists [EDIT: which I thought was very cool, actually]. I figured, being the front runner, he must know some secrets about what to drink (other than water) to help it all go down. I know enough about the contest to know that many of the eaters dunk their dogs to moisten them before cramming them down.

I didn't think anything of it until I watched him cram his mouth full and then appear to spit great mouthfuls of food into the dark cups of liquid, and then immediately cram more dogs into his mouth. From my angle, I could see how full the cups were he was picking up, and the angle that he tilted the cup, and how wide he opened his mouth when he "took a drink" seemed obvious to me that he was spitting food into the cups. This seemed confirmed when I saw big chunks of bread floating in the cups afterwards...

Check out this close up of the cups in this picture... Conti is the one in the hat, with the dreads...

Yeah, I know, it's gross... still, you can see the bread in those two cups there, at least. He fished them out after the contest ended, and appeared to fold them into one of his gloves as he removed it.

Anyway, the contest ended, and I just kept the film rolling, zooming in to look around. Everyone else stopped eating, but Conti seems to take another minute or so, working on getting the last mouthful to go down his gullet, including a couple moves to a cup. Everyone else milled around, while he hovered over his station, picking things up, brushing things onto the floor, checking out his station. Seemed really odd to me, but really, I didn't think much of it until I came home to review the tape.

Well, check it out for yourself. Here's the video I edited together. I was going to make a tight two-to-three minute clip, but I thought I'd keep a lot of the more suspect behavior in the clip, just to see what you think...

Maybe the whole Competitive Eating world is structured like Wrestling, where it's a mix of sport and show, with certain outcomes determined ahead of time. I mean, the judges were all volunteers, who signed up on the spot, to get a free T-shirt, I suppose. Just folks from the crowd. And really, in the grand scheme of things, who cares, right? Still I feel bad for the third place finisher... the top two will go to the big July 4th event in NY. If they checked those cups, I'm quite sure they would have found a good amount of food in the bottom. It wasn't water, it was dark, like tea. If Conti was spitting food out into the cups, he should have been disqualified, and the third place guy should be going to NY next month, not him.

It just seemed odd. One suspect move I could dismiss. So many of them? I don't know how seriously they take the rules in the world of Competitive Eating. If they do take them seriously, I think they should review my footage! I feel like an investigative reporter! All I was doing was grabbing footy for my blog! You'll have to call me Scoop Wagner now!

Anyway, afterwards, they tossed frisbees out to the dwindling crowd (Middle Daughter got one) and also gave away the rest of the hot dogs they'd cooked (wifey snagged one for me)...

I finished with one hot dog down!

All in all, it was a cool event. I'm glad the video camera worked for me. It's silly to think people might cheat at something like this - and maybe he didn't. Or maybe it doesn't matter. But it was a curious wrinkle to the event nonetheless...

And that, as they say, is that!


Anonymous said...

This is the worst post I've ever read. I found the link to your story on youtube, where you posted your video of the contest, which you hyped on eatfeats. Honestly, you don't know zip about competitive eating. Guys use dark liquids all the time. It's called iced tea. Guys mix beverages at the table all the time, and they set up their cups just so if the positions of their cups is important to them, which it is to a lot of the eaters who regularly qualify for the Nathan's finals. The top two finishers do not advance to Coney Island; only the winner does. Bits of buns break off in cups all the time, they expand in the water, and when an eater eats 20+ hot dogs in a contest, those waterlogged bits appear to be more substantial than they actually are. Eaters can stuff their mouths at the end of the contest as long as they finish the mouthfuls in a timely fashion. Take a look at the eater next to Conti in the video at the exact moment that you can be heard complaining that Conti hasn't finished what's in his mouth. That guy hasn't finished his mouthful either! And how on earth can you tell if Conti is spitting food into his cups? The guy is busy eating 25 hot dogs. His mouth and hands are occupied. The cups he's working with are filled, partially filled, and barely filled with liquid. He's going to look weird while he's drinking. Honestly, you went to one contest knowing nothing about competitive eating, you misinterpreted an awful lot of what you saw, and then you went home and posted a bunch of defamatory accusations about a guy you've never even met. You're a dick.

David Wagner said...

Yep, a casual fan, freely admitted up front. As a casual fan, I was stoked to see someone there that was on the promotional poster. I was pulling for the guy initially - seems like a real character.

But I have eyes, dude. His performance was suspect across the board - use your eyes. He's spitting mouthfuls into the cups. At one point (0:25), one of the chewed up pieces doesn't make it into the cup and he shoves it back in his mouth. At 1:22 he doesn't even pretend to take a drink, hunched over his cup, opening his mouth wide, putting it back down. 1:37 also. And at 2:10. 2:45. 4:20. Look at everyone else that takes a drink at various points. Tell me anyone else looks like they're doing anything but taking a quick swig. Look at the bread soup in his cups.

It's all pretty lame, really. I suppose I could be completely mistaken, and you're right, and it was all legit. But I doubt it. He's a big boy and can withstand a little controversy.

But ultimately, who gives a crap. You're right, I'm just some random dude with nothing to gain or lose by posting my opinion. If I was some industry insider, perhaps you could accuse me of something.

Anonymous said...

Dave, you are a hero. My bet is that the first post came from Legs or someone in his circle trying to defend his cheating ways. You can't argue with the truth, which is shown on video. Thank you!

Anonymous said...

I have never seen a competitve eater as concerned about cleaning up after his contest as Legs was. Look, he even took the extra hot dogs and put them in his gloves. Awwww, how considerate.
3:33 4:37

And here, I believe in order to qualify, you can't spit out and put the hot dogs BACK into your mouth after the contest is over.

Wow. Your blog is gonna blow up today with drama and atta boys.

Thanks dude!

Video is the truth said...

I looked at the video. Even went as far as looking at it frame by frame. I saw shots that were so close that it looked very nuch like bits of bun were floating in some cups. Water just does not have that white cakey and fluffy look a bun has.

Also bringing a cup up to your mouth to drink means one tips the cup and the water or liquid flows in your mouth. Try it at home and see. Many times he would bring the cup up to his mouth but not tip it to drink. Looked like he only held it close to his mouth. This would make it very easy to spit something in the cup while trying to make believe he was drinking.

Third. I thought I read before eaters could only compete to qualify once, twice or maybe 3 times tops. Not 5 or 6 times. They really must of wanted him to win because I heard he had all his travel costs paid for each time he competed.

There has been talk about how much food product is left on the table and floor by another eater, Juliet Lee. She has been caught cheating many times and will be at the Kuly 4 contest with Crazy Legs.

Here is a case where a lot of food product is left behind in cups. If the contents of these cups were pourd into a cheesecloth, placed over a pail. What would remain after the water and liquid was drained would most likely add up to 5, 8 or 10 more hot dogs and buns.

Don;t let anyone get you down. You told the trurh and that is taht. Some are upset because there are millions of dollars involved with this July 4 event, and neither Nathan's or ESPN wants to be involved with a scam on the American people and even people world wide. seeing a Japanese eater keeps showing up.

They trie to pull a fast one and got caught. I would not be surprised if next year they ban all cameras.

Anonymous said...

Dave anonymous 9:50 came from Rich Shea who is the president of the IFOCE

Anonymous said...

dave the 9:50 comment came from Rich Shea who is the president of the IFOCE

Drydoryssus said...

Ano.0950 ... "A dick" ? How dare you sir !

Such a vulgar attitude was perhaps my greatest incentive to side with Scoop Wagner here, even before I saw the vid ...

logankstewart said...

Gross. I tried to watch the video and made about a minute into it. Watching competitive eating just grosses me out, though it does seem odd at how the guy "drinks" his stuff. I'm like you, though, I know next to nothing about this sport and I don't care one way or the other.

Crystal said...

I'm so proud of you, Dave. Stirring up controversy with book reviews AND food competition reviews. That's impressive!

What did the Wagner Women think of the competition?

Nice pic of you shoveling a hotdog in your mouth.

I agree with Logan, I thought it was gross. I couldn't watch the video without gagging. But it was definitely interesting.

Rebecca said...

Way to go Dave! I am thinking that you should get into investigative journalism : )

I couldn't tell anything for sure from my end because I was kinda grossed out at the bulging cheeks and glazed eye expression, and I am not an expert in the field. Plus the red smeared gloves of Conti was disturbing. However, the lack of actual drinking, the huge mess that he made as opposed to some of the other competitors, as well as the apparent sleight-of-hand tricks at the end all looked sketchy to me.

Looks like you had fun though. Enjoy your controversy!

Erik said...

This is very interesting controversy from the first "anonymous", he probably had money on him :P.
but as Dave said, there is the evidence, but it's a competition with poorly trained judges, he probably wasn't the only one, he was just the most noticeable because he was in the lead so everyone was focused on him.
Being there watching it myself I too noticed it but didn't think anything of it because I could have been wrong... but I was obviously also right.
By the way, I think that the liquid was iced tea now that I read up on it I agree, my first thought was wine, because it is widely used, but being a mall with kids around, I highly doubt it was alcoholic.

Crazed lunatic A.K.A. Erik

Rug Warrior said...

I just LOVE the 1st comment... it is a tactic of the guilty to not rationally point out any errors or "educate" you - but to go straight to name calling to a stranger. Yes, that is sooo much easier than trying to have an adult conversation.

But, it's competitive eating... maybe that is asking much too much.

A cheater is a cheater. It's not fair to everyone who played by the rules to let this guy move ahead. He should be sent home to wash that damn hat.

Thanks for the expose David! And it shows how confident you are in just wanting to share what you saw without editing out even the dumbest posters. That guy probably only knows how to spell 4-letter words... but maybe he can eat 25 hot dogs. :)


Anonymous said...

In preparation for watching the July 4th Hot Dog Eating Competition (which has become tradition in my family), I stumbled across this video. I'm not, by any means, an expert in the world of competitive eating, but ANYONE should be able to tell that this guy is a CHEATER.

This video disgusts me. As if the handfuls of soggy hot dog buns and consumption of 20+ hot dogs in 10mins isn't enough, watching this cowardly display of selfish unsportsmanship puts it over the top for me.

I should choose not to watch the July 4th competition, but the thought of seeing this guy choke on the first hot dog he eats, may get me to tune in. I mean, I don't want the guy to die or anything, but maybe just a little scare...some poetic justice.

I feel bad for the guy that came in "second". He is the true winner and should have a spot at the final table in Coney Island instead of this Crazy Cheat Conti guy.

Oh, and the first comment, absolutely must have been written by Conti...or his mother. There is no way a random person comes across that with such defensive hostility.

Keep doing what you're doing. I will bookmark your blog, as it is appears to be a great read...very well written.

Jesus Melendez said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jesus Melendez said...

Well done! I recently completed an interview with competitive eater Patrick "Deep Dish" Bertoletti. Check it out!