Jacob Kepler
Jacob Kepler

Miko Sudo on How to Dominate at Competitive Eating

Jacob Kepler
Jacob Kepler

Congratulations to Miki, who won the women's division of the Nathan's Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest!

Miki Sudo is not full. In fact, she is almost never full. Perched in the back of a booth at Kahunaville, the tropical-themed Las Vegas restaurant, competitive eating’s fastest-rising female star is surrounded by crumbs and bones and gristle—evidence of a 20-minute assault on a plate of buffalo chicken wings. Wings that have been doused in mouth-scalding hot sauce, then knocked back with six sliders, each as dense as a Big Mac.

Reaching down to her plate, Sudo showcases the technique that once helped her eat 172 wings in 12 minutes. It’s instinct now: First, the thumb dives deep into the cartilage, until the skin loudly pops. Then the wing is thrust into the mouth. An indelicate, half-sucking, half-gnashing maneuver that may be described as extremely violent is performed. A second later, the bone emerges, stripped of meat.

“This is what we call a flipper, or a flat—just your ordinary wing. Relatively easy to clean,” Sudo says. “With a drum, it’s a little trickier. More of a rolling thing.” She is good at talking with her mouth full.

Nearby, three staff members have gathered, slack-jawed and wide-eyed, to watch this feat of mastication. Wiping a smear of sauce from her face, Sudo flashes them a surprisingly dainty smile. “It’s OK,” she says. “After a while, you get used to getting stared at like you’re a freak.”

Competitive eating is not a new sport. Historians of esophageal athletics trace its origins to rural state fairs, where amateurs gathered to scarf down funnel cakes or grilled corn by the pound. But recently, a small handful of leagues, including the International Federation of Competitive Eating (IFOCE) and All Pro Eating, have sprung up in the United States, with the aim of organizing and ranking the very best “gurgitators,” as speed eaters are sometimes called.

Among this elite group, where up-and-comers can train for years before cracking into the top tiers of the sport, the petite Sudo, with her bleach-blond hair, standing 5-feet-8-inches tall and weighing 125 pounds, is an anomaly—a circus act among circus acts. She entered her first food challenge less than three years ago on a whim. She was nervous but certain that, even if she failed, it would be something to tell her grandkids. The challenge was the Phozilla, mounted by Pho 87, a Chinatown bistro in Las Vegas popular with locals.

“I started kind of slow,” Sudo recalls, “but by the time I was down to the last few ounces, my friends were looking over at me, going, ‘Oh, my God—she’s actually going to do it.’” And she did. Thirty-three minutes and 12 seconds later, after 12 pounds of Vietnamese flat noodles and approximately one gallon of burbling liquid, she collected the $1510 prize.

Prior to that, Sudo, 28, had barely an inkling that she might be cut out for the extreme-eating lifestyle. She was born in New York but spent much of her childhood in Japan, where it is considered the height of rudeness to leave food on your plate. She learned early that if she didn’t want to embarrass her parents, it was a good policy to simply devour everything. Later, her family moved to Hawaii, and she has memories of going to fast-food joints after a long day of surfing and putting away a bag of burgers as if it were nothing. Of course, competitive eating was a different beast—consumption not for pleasure or politeness, but for the sheer athletic challenge of stuffing your body to the bursting point. But if it can be said that anyone competing in this sport is a natural, then Sudo is, to borrow an analogy from the popular baseball movie, the Robert Redford of distended abdomens.

These days, Sudo has an established routine: In the two days leading up to an event, she’ll juice all her meals, which provides the essential nutrients but clears room in her stomach. When she’s not on the road, she subsists mostly on heaping kale and avocado salads and the occasional grilled chicken breast. She works out religiously, spending an hour at the gym five or six days a week.

Sudo also has a tried-and-true game-day uniform: an oversize T-shirt and a pair of spandex bike shorts to accommodate her game-day belly, which can swell up like a water balloon. If the tournament food is spicy, she leans on chocolate milk to wash it down; if it’s sweet, she swears by coffee.

Sudo entered her first official competitive eating tournament in August 2012. The featured dish was ramen noodles—pounds of it. She was a mess—short of breath, damp-browed, on the verge of a panic attack. She knew she could eat a lot—she’d always been able to do that—but now she had a crowd watching her. There was pressure to perform, not just for a couple of friends, but for the world at large. Not to mention, she was a woman in a sport that is traditionally dominated by men.

Despite rattled nerves, she managed to consume seven pounds of ramen—approximately 50 times the amount of noodles in those microwavable cups—in half an hour, nabbing first place and $250. Two months later, she went on to mow 35 full-size ribs in five minutes for a jackpot of $1299. A quirky quasi-career was hatched.

In April 2013, Sudo signed with Major League Eating, which operates under the IFOCE umbrella. She’s spent the last couple of years touring the country on weekends while holding down a day job in marketing. Along the way, she’s racked up some incredible achievements: 71 Twinkies in six minutes; 76 tamales in 10 minutes, 109 hard-boiled eggs in eight minutes. And she has set a couple of unofficial world records: in kimchi, the fermented cabbage Korean side dish (8.5 pounds in six minutes), and in Cadbury eggs (50 in six minutes and 15 seconds). She also once ate 1.687 gallons of chili. In less than seven minutes.

Sudo claims never to count calories, but suffice to say they are in the thousands and often in the tens of thousands—numbers that can put a strain on even the most accommodating digestive tract. As Jason Fagone, the author of the 2006 book Horsemen of the Esophagus: Competitive Eating and the Big Fat American Dream, puts it, ingesting such quantities is just “pain and pain. The human stomach is a medical marvel that can take an incredible amount of abuse,” he says. “But it’s still abuse.”

To spend any time with Sudo is to find yourself constantly wondering how she deals with it: How can someone so small and so seemingly normal possibly cram so much food into her esophagus?

“The best I can explain it is that it’s adrenaline,” she says. “During a competition, it just completely takes over. I try to pay attention when the emcee calls time or announces where another competitor is in terms of quantity, but other than that, I don’t see or feel anything.”


The competitive-eating process, Sudo explains, is as much mental as physical. “I know what I’m capable of,” she says. “Sometimes you get toward the end of a competition, and you want to throw in the towel and say, ‘I’m done with this.’ But you can’t whine. You’ve got to have that drive.”

Of course, there are the occasional hiccups. A few hours after eating 147 wings, for instance, she felt a burp coming on, only to discover that her mouth was full of briny orange liquid—mutant acid reflux. At another event, an ice-cream-eating frenzy (13.5 pints in six minutes), her core temperature dropped to dangerously frigid levels, and she had to chug hot coffee to bring it back up. And then there was the time that Sudo took an overly ambitious bite of hot dog. “I thought, ‘Is it going up or down?’ It went down, but it was scary. You’ve just got to tell yourself that there are EMTs there,” she says. “There’s nothing to worry about.”

And yet, Sudo has a way of making what she does look effortless. “I remember coming back from a wing competition where I’d eaten pounds and pounds of wings,” she says. “I took a day off, and then the next day, I had this intense craving for wings—more intense than it had been before.”

Major League Eating currently ranks Sudo fourth on its leaderboard, behind three experienced male competitors. Sudo says she is happy with her status, but she clearly relishes the idea of giving “the boys” a run for their money. Given her career trajectory—and the fact that her day job increasingly takes a backseat to her professional gorging—they should probably be worried.

It’s not just glory she’s after: She knows that, if she can keep up her winning momentum, lucrative sponsorship opportunities await, such as the $100,000 Pepto-Bismol awarded top eater Joey Chestnut for endorsing its product.

When we meet, Sudo is preparing for a grilled-corn-eating contest: “I’ll probably go grab some ears tomorrow and practice my technique,” she says. (She tied for second place by eating 42 ears of corn in 12 minutes.) Then, in July, Sudo will be entered in the combined Super Bowl and World Series of extreme eating: Nathan’s International Hot Dog Eating Contest, on Coney Island.

This would be her first time at Nathan’s—remember, she’s only recently entered the ranks of top competitive eaters—but she’s optimistic. “It’s a big stage, and I think I can make my mark.” She pauses. “Look, I know this is not a traditional sport, but it is a sport, and I take it seriously. It pushes my body to the limit, and it requires focus, stamina, endurance. There’s a lot on the line. And people are counting on you to put on a show.”

She peers down at the plate. There’s one wing left. “Hey,” she says. “Are you going to eat that?”

10 Facts About Aspirin

Aspirin may be one of the world's best-known wonder drugs, able to do everything from cure a headache to reduce a fever, but its powers stretch beyond your medicine cabinet.

1. It's not the same as acetaminophen (used in Tylenol), ibuprofen (used in Advil and Motrin), or naproxen (used in Aleve).

2. There’s more than one way to take an aspirin. Americans swallow their tablets whole. The British dissolve theirs in water. And the French prefer theirs as suppositories.

3. The ancient Egyptians took their painkillers in the form of tree bark. Egyptian doctors used to give their patients willow bark to relieve pain because it contains salicin—the raw ingredient in aspirin.

4. Aspirin broke into the European market in 1763, after British clergyman Edward Stone chewed on some willow bark and felt a renewed vigor. He shared the stuff with his parishioners and relieved 50 cases of rheumatic fever in the process. After Stone reported his discovery to the Royal Society of London, the race was on to package the miracle cure.

5. A century later, French chemist Charles Gerhardt published an article on how to synthesize salicin in the lab, creating acetylsalicylic acid. Nobody paid attention.

6. Forty years after that, in 1897, German scientist Felix Hoffman followed Gerhardt’s process and took credit for inventing aspirin. Hoffman worked for Bayer Industries, which introduced the medicine in 1899 as the first mass-marketed drug.

7. In the mid-1940s, aspirin became a huge hit in Argentina thanks to radio jingles sung by future First Lady Eva Perón. Her country became the biggest per-capita consumer of aspirin in the world.

8. The wonder drug doesn’t just cure headaches; it can also revive a dead car battery. Just drop two tablets into the battery, let the salicylic acid combine with the battery’s sulfuric acid, and you’ve got an instant jump! Just make sure you don’t have any salt on your hands. Adding sodium to the aspirin-and-car-battery combo can cause an explosion.

9. So how does aspirin work? No one knew for sure until the 1970s, when British scientist John Vane discovered that aspirin reduces the body’s production of prostaglandins—fatty acids that cause swelling and pain.

10. Here’s another reason to eat your fruits and veggies: When the body gets a healthy dose of the benzoic acid in those foods, it makes its own salicylic acid, or aspirin.

A version of this story appeared in Mental Floss magazine.

Peter Cade, Central Press/Getty Images
How Kiss's Alive! Saved Their Record Label—And Changed the Music Industry
Peter Cade, Central Press/Getty Images
Peter Cade, Central Press/Getty Images

It was late 1974, and Neil Bogart, CEO of Casablanca Records, was falling apart. His wife of nine years had divorced him. Warner Bros., Casablanca’s onetime parent company, had cut the fledgling label loose, saddling Bogart with crippling overhead and advertising costs. The company’s headquarters—a two-story house off the Sunset Strip that Bogart (no relation to Humphrey) decorated to resemble Rick’s Café from the film Casablanca—had devolved into a hedonistic playground awash in cocaine and Quaaludes. A few years earlier, he’d made stars of the Isley Brothers and Curtis Mayfield, whose soundtrack for Super Fly had been an instant hit. Now, at 31, he was watching his career crumble.

But Bogart had a plan. As part of the split with Warner Bros., Casablanca inherited a promising project: a double LP of audio highlights from The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson. It seemed like a sure thing. In 1974, The Tonight Show drew 14 million viewers a night. The year before, as the CEO of Buddah Records, Bogart had sold more than a million copies of a similar compilation titled Dick Clark: 20 Years of Rock N’ Roll. Bogart was so confident in The Tonight Show project that he envisioned the album as the first of four highlight records, stretching back decades.

Before SoundScan existed to track album sales, the recording industry conferred “gold” status to any album that shipped more than 500,000 copies. Bogart shipped 750,000 copies of Here’s Johnny: Magic Moments From the Tonight Show. As it turned out, no one wanted to listen to audio clips of a late-night talk show. The album was such a flop that distributors even mailed back their free promotional copies. Industry insiders joked that it had been shipped gold and “returned platinum.” Or as Casablanca cofounder Larry Harris put it, “It hit the floor with a lifeless, echoing thud.”

By the end of 1974, Casablanca was broke. To make payroll, Bogart cashed in his line of credit at a Las Vegas casino. The label seemed doomed. It needed a cheap hit just to survive.

One of the bands on Casablanca’s roster was in similarly rough shape. Kiss, a flamboyant heavy metal outfit from New York City, had released three albums by the spring of 1975. The band had a cult following in the Rust Belt. But the moment Kiss stepped into the studio, they deflated, unable to replicate the raucous energy of their live concerts.

This may have been an impossible task. Since their first gig in 1973, the foursome had performed only in Kabuki-style makeup, black leather costumes, and towering platform shoes. Onstage, Gene Simmons, the Israeli-born bassist with a 7-inch tongue, spat fire and fake blood at the audience. Blasts of smoke and pyrotechnics punctuated hard-driving songs like “Strutter,” “Deuce,” and “Black Diamond.” At the end of each set, drummer Peter Criss rose 10 feet above the stage atop a hydraulic drum riser. This intimidating stagecraft belied Kiss’s sound: more pop than metal, closer to David Bowie than Black Sabbath on the ’70s rock spectrum. Kiss’s stage show was so over the top that Bogart pitched the band as a headline act before the foursome had a legitimate hit. Queen, Genesis, and Aerosmith all canceled bookings with Kiss because no one wanted to play after the band.

But if Kiss was a circus act, Bogart was its P.T. Barnum. At pitch meetings, he’d unleash fireballs from his hand using magician’s flash paper, declaring “Kiss is magic!” Bogart hounded DJs, TV hosts, critics, and music magazines, pushing the Kiss brand. He even convinced Kiss to record a cover of “Kissin’ Time”—a single by ’60s teen idol Bobby Rydell—as a promotional tie-in for a nationwide kissing contest called “The Great Kiss-Off.”

None of it worked. And Kiss was fed up. The band received a meager $15,000 advance for its first three albums—Kiss, Hotter Than Hell, and Dressed to Kill— and despite Bogart’s fiery efforts, it had yet to see royalties. He’d even produced Dressed to Kill himself because he was unable to afford a professional producer.

Then Bogart had an idea. What if Kiss put out a live album? It’d be less expensive than a studio recording and might preserve some of the band’s incendiary live show. At the time, live records weren’t considered a legitimate product; bands released them mainly to fulfill contracts. But Bogart didn’t care. He knew this was his last chance.

Kiss liked the concept. Within days, Bogart had arranged to record a multicity tour, with stops in Detroit; Wildwood, New Jersey; Cleveland; and Wyoming. Since Bogart couldn’t finance the tour himself, Bill Aucoin, Kiss’s long-suffering manager, put $300,000 of his own money into costumes, expenses, and effects. To oversee the recordings, Bogart roped in Eddie Kramer, a star audio engineer who’d produced albums for Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin.

On May 16, 1975, 12,000 people packed into Detroit’s Cobo Hall—the largest venue in a city many considered the capital of rock ’n’ roll. Bogart and Aucoin went all out on production. To fire up the crowd, a cameraman followed the band from the dressing room to the stage, projecting the shot onto a giant screen overhead. During the song “100,000 Years,” flamethrowers wrapped the band in a curtain of fire. And this time Criss’s drum kit rose to twice its usual height.

The concerts were a massive success, yet the recordings were still mediocre. The energy was there, but the band’s musicianship suffered in its frenzied live performance. In the end, sound engineers recorded over much of the material. Nevertheless, certain core elements remain, including Criss’s drum tracks, lead singer Paul Stanley’s stage banter, and the propulsive fury of early singles “Deuce” and “Strutter,” in which the band’s energy soars in response to the sound of thousands of screaming fans. The physical record was an accomplishment of its own. A double album with a gatefold sleeve, it featured handwritten notes from the band, a glossy eight-page booklet, and a centerfold collage of in-concert photos.

Alive! was released on September 10, 1975. Five days later, Aucoin sent Bogart a letter of termination: Kiss was leaving the label. In desperation, Bogart, who’d recently mortgaged his house, cut Aucoin and the band a check for $2 million to retain them. Then everyone sat back and watched the Billboard chart.

The result was unprecedented. Alive! peaked at No. 9 and remained on the charts for the next 110 weeks, becoming the band’s first record to sell more than a million copies. By the end of 1975, major rock bands from Blue Öyster Cult to REO Speedwagon suddenly found themselves opening for Kiss. Today, Alive! has sold more than 9 million copies, making it the biggest selling Kiss album of all time.

Alive! rescued both Kiss and Casablanca from oblivion. The band’s next three albums—Destroyer (1976), Rock and Roll Over (1976), and Love Gun (1977)—were all certified platinum. In 1977, Kiss topped a Gallup poll as the most popular act among American teens. The late ’70s saw a superstorm of Kiss merchandise, including Kiss makeup kits, pinball machines, Marvel comic books, and even a made-for-TV movie called Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park.

But Alive! also changed the music industry. “Shortly after it hit, just about every hard rock band issued live albums,” says Greg Prato, a writer for Rolling Stone and the author of The Eric Carr Story, about Kiss’s short-lived drummer Eric Carr. “Some of those albums were the best live rock recordings of all time: Thin Lizzy’s Live and Dangerous, the Ramones’s It’s Alive, Queen’s Live Killers, Led Zeppelin’s The Song Remains the Same, Cheap Trick, At Budokan.”

What makes Alive! a masterpiece, though, is how it captures the essence of Kiss—a hard rock band that was meant to be seen, or at least heard, live. “The emphasis on a live album is the experience itself, specifically how close the record translates and interprets the experience of actually attending the show,” says author and Kiss fan Chuck Klosterman. “[Alive!] jumps out of the speakers. It feels like a bootleg of the highest quality.”

Ultimately, Bogart’s excessive spending habits, along with his prodigious cocaine use at Casablanca HQ, led to his ouster from the label in 1980. By that point, he’d become the reigning king of disco, breaking such acts as the Village People and Donna Summer. He died of cancer two years later at age 39, having just created Boardwalk Records and signed the then-unknown rock goddess Joan Jett. In the decades after his death, the iconic metal band he’d helped bring to the top continues to tour, even making an appearance on American Idol in 2009. For 40 years, Kiss has been sending drum kits aloft (albeit with a different drummer), performing in fully painted faces, setting stages on fire, all in an effort to recapture an impossible sound. With Alive!, Bogart had created a chimera. It was a record that could never exist in real life: part raucous energy, part polished studio overdubs, a “live” masterpiece better than the best live act in rock history.

This piece originally ran in Mental Floss magazine.


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