Gorgeous Gorge

NUVO | July 1, 2007
National Geographic Channel

9 p.m. Sunday

Science of Speed Eating opens with a warning: "Don't attempt these competitive eating techniques at home." Oh, no worries about that. I'm not about to ramrod 23 Waffle House waffles down my gullet in 10 minutes. Or 14 pounds of ribs. Or 20-plus Nathan's hot dogs.

But there are people who do this competitively under the umbrella of the International Federation of Competitive Eaters in hopes of winning paydays that can reach $30,000. And for those who wonder, as I did, how they eat so much and where it goes, this fascinating if sickening hour offers the answers.

Seems the best of them, like Burger King assistant manager Sonya "Black Widow" Thomas and Wall Street day trader Tim "Eater X" Janus, can turn their esophagus into a hollow pipe so the food slips down faster, stretch their stomach to accept enormous amounts of chow and train their brain to ignore the signals that their stomach is full and, therefore, avoid indigestion.

All this is explained in easy-to-understand scientific terms and shown in an experiment in which Janus drinks barium and lets University of Pennsylvania doctors watch his ingestion and digestion. (You'd think he would have the ability to digest quickly -- all the better to eat more. But the opposite turns out to be true.)

In their world, competitive eaters are called "gurgitators" and the hazard of the trade -- throwing up -- is known as "reversal of fortune." Their gluttony is revolting, yet the best of the competitors are in good physical condition and relatively small. Janus is 170 pounds; Thomas is barely 100 pounds.

Loren Yarbrough, the other eater profiled in this show, is not one of the best, but he's becoming one of the biggest. At the beginning, he's 230 pounds; by the end, 250. But not only does he have the appropriate nickname -- "Bubba" -- he holds the perfect job: sewage plant manager. You can make up your own joke here.


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