The upcoming taco eating championship this Saturday is drawing a lot of controversy. The second annual Kobayashi Taco Challenge in Huntington Beach (Chronic Tacos) is criticized for being a lop-sided contest. It's hard to dispute that point.
Takeru Kobayashi, as defending champion, faces little threat from the field joining him in competition. His most famed and arguably accomplished rival will be "Furious" Pete Czerwinski. Despite their several clashes in recent years, Pete hasn't come close to besting Koby yet.
The rest of the field is rounded out by Southern California regulars and one eater traveling a medium distance. Damon Wells, Shawn Kirby, Jimmy Lin, Frank Paulin, Aaron Ybarra, Matt Cohen, John Rivera, and I form a collegial group of locals who routinety participate in contests. None of us is expected to touch Koby's numbers.
Even Stephanie Torres, the lone female eater, All Pro Eating's top-ranked woman, and winner of a recent string of contests, isn't expected to threaten "The Tsunami." Among the rest of us it is a race for second, third, and fourth. The press release didn't mention prizes or other eaters because those details probably hadn't been finalized at the time (I've been in contact with promoters).
Some criticize the rest of the table as punching bags for Kobayashi, a skilled man who simply can't find legitimate competition outside of Major League Eating. I'd respond that only one man in the world offers Koby decent competition, and there's no way for them to compete.
I'd also respond that most of MLE's roster serves as punching bags for Joey Chestnut, a man who dominates the sport and rarely loses. Only Pat Bertoletti routinely threatens Chestnut and even then rarely beats him. In the world of All Pro, Eric Dahl typically the contests he's in. And of course, in WLOCE Dale Boone is the big impact player who trounces the opposition.
So, why do the rest of us share the table with such dominant speed eaters? There's the thrill of competition, the adrenaline rush of the stage, the specter that these events are helping develop the sport of competitive eating, and that participating in these events gives them public legitimacy. You need a dominator like Kobayashi to help bring massive attention to an event.
We could always boycott the event. But if I had to pick between eating lunch at home, and eating lunch on a stage with Kobayashi in front of a crowd, the choice isn't hard. I certainly won't gain anything by staying at home. The event is happening anyway. Kobayashi is entertaining a waiting, captive audience and he will get paid. The rest of us may as well get what we can from it.
Veterans and critics within the competitive eating bubble may condemn what Koby does, but the general public will always remember him as the face of the game - the man who doubled the Nathans hot dog total in 2001 and had the bravado to battle a bear.