The Fascinating World of Professional Eating

Liam Ferguson examines the allure of food challenges

Everybody loves a good meal. Food is a universal item that can bring people together, so why would anybody not want to eat for a living? It sounds appealing, on paper, to be able to get paid to eat. That is the world of professional eating, more specifically, the world of food challenges. Food challenges can be rather simple in premise, they could simply contain a single massive burger to be eaten in a period of time or a restaurant’s entire menu and then some. There really is quite a large pool of choice in the space. There are many who take these for fun, as is encouraged by the restaurants that facilitate them since they usually come with the caveat that if you don’t complete the challenge you have to pay an exuberant price for the meal. But, there is something uniquely fascinating about those who take on these challenges for a living. 

A large portion of YouTube these days is taken up by videos of people eating in excess. From Nikocado Avocado’s concerning mukbangs (a Korean term for videos in which people eat large amounts of food while addressing the audience on video,) ReportOfTheWeek’s reviews of various fast food chains to Randy Santel (more on him later) taking on ridiculous food challenges around the globe, there is something for everyone. Watching people stuff their faces for content can sound pretty good, but there are many other reasons that it appeals to such broad audiences. Personally, I’ll stick on a food challenge if I’m feeling hungry and know that my food is on the way. It's a weirdly specific form of therapy that gets me that little bit more excited to eat myself. Not everyone is the specific kind of freak that I am though, which is where food reviews come in. In these videos people aren’t typically stuffing their faces, but eating a bit and then giving their thoughts on what they just ingested. 

But truly, no type of food content is more interesting than those focused on challenges. 

Food challenges can be as exciting to watch as any blockbuster movie, I’m dead serious about that. They can range from glorious victory laps where the eater demolishes the record in mere minutes to trainwrecks in which they throw up after eating one bite too many. There’s a genuine edge of suspense to them, as even the most seasoned veteran can be bested if they’re not prepared enough or if a food item simply doesn’t agree with them. 

Nobody is more shining of an example of why food challenges can be so appealing to watch than Randy “Atlas” Santel. Santel is an influencer/professional eater who, as of writing this, has won 1112 food challenges across all 50 US states and 37 different countries. He has over one million subscribers on YouTube and actively partakes in challenges throughout nine months of the year. On top of his massive amounts of experience, he’s very knowledgeable on the scene, with aims to become a dietician when he retires from professional eating. He fosters a sense of community, as he livestreams many of his challenges before editing them down for YouTube and actively encourages fans to show up and cheer him on, often shining a spotlight on the restaurant he is taking a challenge within. 

I had the absolute pleasure of watching Santel take on a food challenge here in Dublin over the past summer, and it was delightful. Him, as well as his partner Katina Eats Kilos, ate massive servings of what looked like almost everything on the menu of Pitt Bros on George’s Street (which I highly recommend.) Myself and a few friends were there cheering each of them on for around four hours. It was electric. Santel has such a unique personality and perspective on the world of food challenges, he’s as charismatic in person as he is on camera and took the time to meet and greet every one of his fans after consuming an ungodly amount of meat. 

Therein lies the appeal of watching people eat for a living, like any YouTube sensation, you watch for the content out of curiosity and stay for the personality. 

The world of professional eating is a wild one, but people like Randy Santel make it one worth exploring. It can be tragic to watch someone lose a devastating challenge and be victorious when they win.