Joey Chestnut on How His 'The Good, the Bad, the Hungry' Doc Opens Up the World of Competitive Eating

Scott Fishman
Preview ESPN Films

When it comes to the Ali/Frazier of competitive eating, there is no bigger rivalry than Joey "Jaws" Chestnut vs. Takeru Kobayashi. And days before the Nathan’s Famous Fourth of July International Hot Dog-Eating Contest, ESPN Films’ 30 for 30 series premieres an inside look at two of the sports biggest stars with The Good, The Bad, The Hungry.

The Nicole Lucas Haimes-directed project explores the ascension of Japan’s Kobayashi within the Major League Eating organization until Chestnut came on the scene ending his six-year win streak in 2007 at the signature Coney Island event. Chestnut, who is going for his 12th opportunity to hold the mustard title, was a bit apprehensive when he was approached about the project.

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“First I was kind of honored, and second oh no, the world is going to know how crazy I am,” he said.

The guarded walls started coming down through conversations with Haimes. It became apparent that she had done her research and genuinely cared about presenting an accurate glimpse into competitive eating.

“She brought up things like when the contest went from 12 minutes to 10 minutes. She really did a great job,” Chestnut said. “It’s easy to attack competitive eating as glutinous or wasteful. She was going at it with the eye of being in the sport and with admiration in talking to the two best.”

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Beyond the competition, the film presents the impact success can have on these individuals. Whether it’s Kobayashi’s career choice being accepted by his family or Chestnut coming out of his shell, there are elements of their stories that audiences can relate to.

“There is a lot of human issues with this,” Chestnut said. “The biggest [misconception] is that we wake up and eat like that. People think we’re just naturally really big eaters. We are big eaters, but we look at it as a sport.

"I think between Kobayashi explaining his technique and me going through my training, I think people will understand we don’t eat like that on a daily basis. We’re just training for that one thing the same way a runner doesn’t have to run everywhere. They train for their big event. We’re competitors.”

Although Chestnut was ultimately happy with ESPN’s finished product, he did have some criticism when it came to Kobayashi’s recount of certain events and going in-depth with his side. Among them, reasons why he isn’t associated with the organization or participating in its contests.

“He made decisions to go off and do different things. He doesn’t want a relationship or want anything to do with anybody,” Chestnut said. “We’ve had many opportunities to compete against each other, and he won’t do it. Maybe he will understand that I may have come off super mean, but I was just being competitive. Maybe he thinks I came off as mean.

“I don’t know if his side is reality because people can see every time he lost, he’d have an excuse. It doesn’t really say they’re excuses, it just goes into things. Once he lost three times in a row, the third time he lost, it doesn’t say he lost. They say it was a contract issue, and he decided not to come back...

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"Is it possible he was fabricating these issues about freedom. They really weren’t big issues because he was signing the same contract for nine years in a row, and the six years he was winning. It was only when he started losing that he started complaining.”

The 35-year-old reiterates that he did like the doc. Though the competitive fire remains when talking about Kobayashi. He has embraced being the face of the sport, making appearances regularly and even releasing his own line of condiments.

Chestnut is living a dream he didn’t even know he had until later in his life. His career trajectory initially took him to construction after graduating with his engineering degree. That was until traveling around the country for eating contests became more than a weekend job.

“This past weekend I lost a contest. For some reason, I turned out slow out of the gate and got nervous. I fell behind. Even when I lose, I love it,” he said. “I love learning about my body. Tomorrow I have a chicken wing event with Hooters, and then it’s back to the Fourth of July. I love breaking records.

“I’m at a weird point now where I get fan mail and stopped on the street. People tell me their dad watched with them and now they are a dad watching me with their son. It’s stuff I never imagined. Baseball players know they are going to become baseball players when they are eight years old. I didn’t know I was going to be doing this. Even after I started doing this, it wasn’t my goal. Then it evolved into better than anything else. I’m super lucky.”

Summer is in full swing, and it won’t be long until Chestnut turns his attention to the Super Bowl of eating competitions. This year he looks to follow-up on his record-breaking 74 hot dog performance.

Two days leading up to the Hot-Dog Eating Contest he says he stops consuming solid food. The evening of the event, he might cheat with a bit of salmon. The day of he’ll wake at 5 a.m. to drink the last gulps of water. Chestnut switches to coffee and lemon, making sure he is empty and loose.He gets ready mentally surrounded by the positive energy of family. Then it’s time to go out there and eat.

Those inspired by the documentary and want to enter the game, Chestnut is cautiously encouraging. The champ brings some sound advice before firing up the grill and breaking out the plates.

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“With competitive eating, it’s a little harder because there is no real book. There is no real trainers. So it’s a little bit harder to do the research. In the movie it shows me, it talks about capacity and my muscles in my throat and esophagus. It’s a lot of trial and error,” he said. “For a while, I kept a diary of what I ate and how I would feel and how I was doing in competitions and practice.

“It took a long time to figure out my body. I think one of the risks if  you’re a competitive eater, gaining weight is a serious concern. I can gain weight very easily if I lose track of my calories. But I love to eat, but I don’t take my recovery days seriously I’m in trouble. If on the days after a contest I’m not eating super high fiber stuff, all that weight is going to stay on me. A lot of it is paying attention and learning about your body.”

30 for 30: The Good, The Bad, The Hungry, Tuesday, July 2, 8/7c, ESPN

Nathan’s Famous Fourth of July International Hot Dog-Eating Contest, Thursday, July 4, Noon/11c, with the Women’s Championship being decided at 10:50/9:50c on ESPN3 and streaming on the ESPN app.