Most experienced competitive eaters at some point in there career have been involved with at least one or two eating competitions where something went wrong and people got frustrated. The most upsetting issue is when there are obvious judging errors, but then there are also other occurrences such as the food sponsor running out of food before the time limit expires or a situation where one of the contestants is cheating. There will of course be times when something weird happens unexpectedly ‘out of the blue’ and for ‘no rhyme or reason,’ but most negative situations that arise during and after eating contests could have been foreseen before the contest even started, based on the competition rules and details along with a quick analysis of the people involved. If you analyzed every single eating contest around the world that has ever gone poorly, you’d find that there are only a few distinct categories needed to sort all of the individual situations. You’d also find that within each particular category, most of those occurrences stem from one common source allowing those issues to happen. To help you decipher between competitions that should run smoothly and the eating contests that could get sketchy, we’ve made a list of common sources that create most problems that occur during and after eating contests.

1. The contest is judged by weight – Chicken wings, barbecue ribs, and other meats that contain bones are all commonly judged based on ‘total weight consumed’ whenever they are featured in competitive eating contests. It would be very tedious to count each rib that a person ate, and it really would not be accurate or fair to judge a rib contest that way either since ribs are not all the same size and weight like other contest foods are (e.g., hot dogs). It is pretty easy to judge hot dog, pizza, meatball, oyster, and other eating contests where everything is based on the quantity you ate. If twenty hot dogs were placed in front of somebody and only four are left, it’s visually obvious how many that person ate (assuming they didn’t cheat of course). On the other hand, judging a contest with a “bone-in” meat is not as visually clear since each one varies in size and some people eat more meat off the bones than others. To solve that problem, restaurants and contest hosts use a large scale to judge everything. They weigh each person’s tray before the contest and then they weigh each tray after the contest, and the difference in weight becomes that person’s “total weight consumed.” While the scale may be accurate, the numbers are only as precise as the person in charge of weighing everything. Especially if the scale being used is not digital (e.g. numerical like a clock), weights can get misinterpreted (may be off by 1/4 or more) and many other things can happen which may lead to judging errors. When scales are involved, and especially if the event isn’t very organized, there is a greater potential for “human error” to occur. Therefore, if you know you were one of the top eaters, pay attention to your own tray and make sure everything gets scored accurately.

2. The weights are judged ‘behind closed doors’ – This if a follow-up to #1, and it’s definitely something to think about during your next contest involving the food being weighed. Some event hosts place the scale right on the table after the contest and weigh everything in front of both you and the crowd. Then there are others who take all the trays off stage or back into the kitchen and weigh everything. It’s pretty difficult for somebody to do anything sketchy while weighing the food in front of everyone, but it’s pretty easy to ‘adjust the numbers’ if there is nobody watching. If you know the amounts will be weighed, ask beforehand whether the trays will be weighed in front of everyone or ‘in the back.’ If they say they bring all the trays into the kitchen and weigh them there, get a feel for how honest you think they are. If they are the kind of people you think may play “favorites,” you may just want to avoid the event altogether. At the very least, prepare yourself for the possibility that you may not get announced as the winner, even if you thought you were. This dishonesty doesn’t happen often, but it has in some cases involving large contest prizes. Some sponsors don’t want to give a prize to a person they don’t know over somebody they “prefer.” A majority of the time, there are no issues when the measurements are done ‘behind the scenes,’ but know that ‘errors’ can happen, so you need to be prepared and keep calm when they do.

3. Contests benefitting a particular charity organization – If you are competing in a contest being held as a charity fundraiser for a particular organization, be aware that there are some restaurants or hosts that may “do what they can do” to make sure people involved with that organization do well in the contest. This is very rare, but it has happened to me before in Kansas City, and that contest involved chicken wings being weighed ‘behind closed doors.’ If you are in a similar situation ever, be aware that things potentially may not end in your favor.

4. Everything is completely disorganized – It takes a lot of work and effort to put together a legitimate eating contest and keep everything running smoothly. All the food has to be prepared at the right time, and there also has to be enough prepared to meet potential requirements based on the number of people eating and how long the contest lasts. If a host doesn’t put a lot of effort into anything, then there is room for many unfavorable things to happen. If there aren’t enough judges and people monitoring the contestants, some people may cheat or do other things to gain an advantage. If the contestants are better eaters than the host expected, then there may not be enough food. Many things can happen, so be careful entering contests that are very disorganized, and don’t expect everything to run smoothly exactly the way you want it to. Make the best of the situation, and stay on top of everything so you can be sure the results are fair and accurate. You can also help and offer tips!

5. There are drunk & obnoxious people participating – Especially if the host is asking people to sign up at the last minute (at a restaurant with a bar), you may get a few people entering who have been drinking plenty of “liquid courage,” and think they can win. Watch out for the loud and obnoxious ones, because they are likely to blatantly cheat or just be loud and annoying. They are also likely to throw up if they really try eating fast during those first few minutes. Don’t let them distract you, and focus on winning!! Let the host take care of him or her.

6. It is the staff’s first time hosting an eating contest – If a restaurant has never hosted a competition before, then they may not know exactly what to expect. Therefore, you shouldn’t expect a perfect event where each aspect is finely tuned. Help them through this one, and then they’ll do better next year due to the experience.

7. There is dunking allowed (especially with Styrofoam cups) – If you are competing in a hot dog contest or any other event which allows ‘dunking,’ then be aware that some people may try hiding some ‘debris’ (the parts of the food that break off while dunking) in those dunking cups to that they get credit for more than they actually ate. This especially happens when the contest allows big opaque cups (e.g. Styrofoam) you cannot see through. Look around every now and then and see if anybody you are competing with is doing that. If so, it will need to be calmly brought up once time expires (finish!). This doesn’t happen that often, but it definitely does happen.

8. When quantity totals are based on judge’s visual opinion – The best example for this point is a corn-on-the-cob eating contest. You definitely cannot judge based on weight, and you have to judge based on quantity of similar sized cobs consumed. You may be eating every single kernel off your completely clean pieces while the person next to you may be leaving bits and pieces and moving on to the next one. Because of that, he or she may be getting ahead of you. This happens during chicken wing eating contests based on quantity eaten too. Your “clean” may be different than somebody else’s. You both may have eaten the same amount of actual corn, but you may have six clean cobs in front of you and that person may have 12 sloppily unfinished ones. If the contest judges approve those all as acceptable cobs, then you only ate half as many as the winner!! No that is not fair, but it does happen during contests like that. Therefore, be aware that this may happen if you enter one similar. It would be very wise to ask the judges beforehand what’s considered an approved ‘food unit’ and follow that.

The above eight ‘sources’ lead to a very large majority of all issues that have ever happened during any previous eating contests held around the world. They will continue to lead to problems too, which is why they have been brought up in this article. If your totals will be weighed or counted based on visual opinion, there is a possibility that unfavorable errors may occur. If the contest is very disorganized and not well-thought-out, there may be some undesirable effects such as running out of contest food or not catching cheaters. Now that you know the eight major ‘sources,’ you can prepare yourself beforehand and make sure you’re ready to react to any problems throughout the event, if anything sketchy does happen. It will of course be tough in some situations, but please remember that yelling really doesn’t help solve any problems. Keep calm and follow our tips in Rules For Proper Eating Contest Etiquette. If something does happen though which doesn’t end up getting corrected, ‘chalk it up’ as a lesson learned and make sure you don’t encounter that same problem ever again. For more tips on what to do after the contest and how to constantly improve, please check out Critique The Eating Contest And Improve.

Thanks for reading about eating contests that could get sketchy and checking out!!

To go back and view other Eating Contest Tips articles, click here.