If there was ever one sport that needed a documentary about it, competitive eating is the most obvious choice. Writers-directors Joe Ruzer and Sean Slater’s Scarf Face is much more than just a documentary about this odd pastime. Who knew this sport had a dark, seedy underbelly?
Our story begins in 2007 at the 92nd Annual Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest. The six-time defending champion is Japan’s Takeru “Tsunami” Kobayashi taking on the U.S. challenger Joey “Jaws” Chestnut. It’s here that Chestnut would continue to inch out Kobayashi for the next three years. Then suddenly, Kobayashi is simply gone. This is where the organizer and promoter, George Shea, comes in.
“…Kobayashi refused to sign an endorsement deal, he would be banned from future competitions.”
Scarf Face is not about the sport of eating but the man with universal control over the entire sport. He made heroes, heroines, and superstars but demanded a cut of everyone’s action along with absolute loyalty (i.e., iron-clad NDAs). Shea created the entity known as Major League Eating (MLE), sanctioned by his International Federation of Competitive Eating. Because Kobayashi refused to sign an endorsement deal, he would be banned from future competitions.
Shea is credited with putting competitive eating on the map. For decades, he turned MLE and the Nathan’s contest into a legitimate sport that included coverage on ESPN. He also expanded into other franchise food brands, like Gyoza dumplings and pizza. Shea’s a ruthless businessman. Think WWE’s Vince McMahon, except Shea, believes this is a legitimate sport. He is the king of competitive eating, and he will remain the king, so help him, God. For obvious reasons, Shea is not interviewed for the documentary.
"…who knew this sport had a dark, seedy underbelly?"