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EATING & DRINKING

Full metal gurgitator

By editorial assistant Sandi Toxic

Posted October 11, 2013
ronnie mega byte hartman in action
Military precision: Mega Byte in action. © Ronnie Hartman

In another world exclusive, Ronnie 'Mega Byte' Hartman talks to the R&H about Nathan's, slugburgers and life as an active-duty food fighter.


Among the names on the roster at this year's Nathan's Famous Four of July International Hot Dog Eating Contest in Coney Island, Noi Yoik was that of Ronnie 'Mega Byte' Hartman, a 24-year-old serving soldier with the US Army.

Having been invited to compete by Major League Eating (MLE) as an "honoured military contestant", Mega Byte, in just his third appearance at an MLE-sanctioned chowdown, went on to finish 14th ahead of veteran dog destroyer Eric 'Badlands' Booker and Canada's Christos 'Hot Dog Hercules' Kyriazis with an admirable gut count of 22 hot dogs and buns (HDBs) in 10 minutes.

Wanting to know more about him, we set about emailing Mega Byte a load of searching questions that sought to leave no stone unturned in our hunt for truth, knowledge and enlightenment.

And what questions they were!

In fact, everyone who saw them agreed that they were absolutely brilliant, with the Times of London even running a massive five-page spread extolling their virtues.

Requests for TV and radio appearances immediately flooded in and suddenly we were on the front page of every newspaper in the known world, not to mention every chat show sofa on the box.

Overnight we were household names, fêted as the writers of what the Washington Post termed "quite possibly the greatest questions ever f--king asked".

People stopped us in the street for our autographs.

Children, ships and swimming pools were named after us.

Hollywood made a blockbuster movie about us and then a sequel, a prequel and even a cruddy remake.

When we weren't at book signings or gala receptions, we were knocking back the champagne and caviar in the company of the great and good from Manhattan to Manila.

It was like a dream.

A non-stop whirlwind of a dream.

A dream of fame, fortune and endless parties.

Trouble is, in all the excitement we never quite got around to writing up Mega Byte's even more impressive and excellent answers.

Until, that is, today, when we finally got off our big fat rumps and did something about it.

Sorry, Mega Byte.

Blame Rake & Herald fashion editor, London cabbie and self-appointed competitive eating pundit Kok 'Moron' Wang, the dozy twunt.

It's all his fault.

Not mine.

Honest.

But don't worry because I've already slashed both his arse cheeks with a bowie knife as punishment.

Trust me, he won't be able to sit down for months.

Ha!

That'll learn him.



mega byte and adrian the rabbit morgan in Atlanta
Dog fight in Atlanta: Mega Byte and the Rabbit. © Ronnie Hartman


THE MAIN EVENT
But enough of all the lame excuses that only a fool would believe, what was it like eating at Coney Island?

"Nathan's was amazing," Mega Byte exclusively emailifies the Rake & Herald.

"Anyone who has ever wanted to competitively eat wants to be there."

"That is the Super Bowl of competitive eating."

"It has the largest crowd, it has the largest purse and it's on ESPN."

"The Nathan's contest on the Fourth of July has become a tradition."

"I knew before I ever considered professionally eating I would wake up on the Fourth and watch the contest."

"The fact that I got there so fast was amazing."

"But at the same time I don't want to kid myself."

"Although I was there, I didn't earn my way in."

"I was allowed in as a guest, which was a very nice gesture by MLE and Nathan's."

"It's almost bitter sweet: while I was there I didn't really deserve it and I don't think I could fully enjoy it."

"You know, with competitive eating, so far I've noticed within the first minute you know if you've 'got it' or not."

"When I did the qualifier in [New Jersey (NJ)], I thought 'Damn, I may win this thing' as soon as the first minute was up and I was hanging right behind Kevin 'LA Beast' Strahle, who was eating right beside me."

"With [the Nathan's final], I started eating and I knew it wasn't my day, but I was still giving it all I had."

"I was disappointed with my numbers: I wanted to go up from my qualifier in NJ and I wanted to break 25, but I wasn't able to."

Just nine days later, though, Mega Byte found himself finishing in the money at the Second World Slugburger Eating Championship in Corinth, Mississippi, a 10-minute all-you-can-eat gobathon in which he ploughed his way through 13 deep-fried-burger-in-a-bun-things-garnished-with-mustard-and-stuff to pocket a quarter large, or about £158 if you pay for your pints in sterling.

So how did the two foods compare?

"I'll tell you this, if I had to pick between the two to eat it would be Nathan's hot dogs every time," he says, revealing that he doesn't "particularly like mustard".

"As a matter of a fact, when I was a kid and I would say a cuss word my mom would wash my mouth out with mustard because she was too scared soap would harm me."

This is something Mega Byte's taste buds haven't forgotten.

"You will never see me put mustard on anything I eat 'normally' and if I'm ever ordering a burger I will make sure it has no mustard."

"That being said, slugburgers was new to me."

"I had never tried to competitively eat anything besides hot dogs up until that point so it was exciting."

Describing his performance in Corinth as "OK", he continues: "I really wanted to eat at least 15 and I didn't reach that goal but at the same time I still beat ranked people and fell just shy of people in the [MLE] Top 20, so I think I'm getting better."


IN THE BEGINNING
But how did Mega Byte get into the greatest sport on Earth in the first place?

"I had always been known as a big eater," he says, reporting that prior to making his début at the Nathan's qualifier in Atlanta, in which he placed second behind Adrian 'the Rabbit' Morgan with 16 HDBs down his crop, he had "finished off a couple different 3-lb [1.4 kg] burger challenges and a 7-lb pizza challenge".

"Basically, while in Afghanistan I was just looking for things to do when I got back home," Mega Byte continues.

"I always like going out and seeing different things and I came across a link talking about the Nathan's qualifier in Atlanta and I planned to go and watch it."

"When I visited the official site for MLE and saw you could sign up, I was like 'Wow, I have to do this', so I signed up."

Yet while the rest, as they, whoever they are, say, is history, there's more to the story than just that.

"Yasir Salem is the absolute man," Mega Byte states.

"If it wasn't for Yasir, then you wouldn’t be talking to me today that's for sure."

"After Atlanta, I left the table and I thought I'm not very good at this."

"Even with a second-place finish, the difference between me and Adrian was a pretty high number1."

"So I got on Twitter, thanked MLE and pretty much said I'm done."

Then Yasir got on the case, telling him "that 16 is very good for someone on their first try and that [he] should consider doing this more".

"He's probably the reason I was able to increase by eight hot dogs in just two weeks," Mega Byte says, adding that Juan 'More Bite' Rodriguez, Marcos 'the Monster' Owens and the Rabbit himself were also significant sources of help and encouragement.

"I think it's pretty awesome that people who are trying to improve themselves are willing to help me out."

Admittedly, it's still early doors as far as Mega Byte's eating career is concerned, but are there any foods he'd particularly like to have a bash at or, for that matter, any he'd rather not touch with a shitty stick?

"There aren't many foods out there that I really hate to eat [other than] maybe oysters."

"I know I mentioned hating mustard, but I can deal with it."

"Oysters, I'm not too sure."

"I'm a meat and veggie guy."

"If it has meat, I'll eat it."

"I really want to do a chicken wing contest – chicken is my favourite food – and I think I would enjoy every bite."

"Also, I was stationed in South Korea for two years and there's no way I could ever think about a kimichi eating contest."

Miki Sudo, your title is safe.


mega byte twitter address
Man to follow: We do. © Ronnie Hartman


ABOVE TOP SECRET
And on the subject of being stationed in Korea, what exactly is it that Mega Byte does in the military, providing, of course, he won't get court-martialled for telling us?

"I am a Specialist in the US Army," he explains, revealing his Military Occupation Skill (MOS) to be 25B, "which is an Information Technology Specialist".

"I'm geek squad in camouflage."

"I have been in the Army a little over four years now," Mega Byte continues.

"Without the Army, I would still be working at Pizza Hut and living with my mom, so I am very thankful for what the Army has provided me and the person it has helped me become."

As Napoleon observed, "an army marches on its stomach", but how does competitive eating sit with modern military life?

Does Mega Byte wolf all his rations down in two seconds flat and is the mess hall out of bounds in case he scoffs everything before anyone else can get a look in?

"When we were deployed in Afghanistan and it had become known I was going to do Nathan's, they decided to have an eating contest involving our chicken burrito mixture," he replies, noting that the nosh in question is not strictly speaking cordon bleu.

"Only one person wanted to compete against me and let's just say it wasn't even very close."

"Everybody in my unit is very excited for me and always asks me about [competitive eating] and what's next."

"I even had about five guys go with me to the Atlanta contest to watch."

"As far as rations, I don't go to the dining facility most of the time."

"I'm not able to get enough portions to satisfy me so instead I choose to buy my own food and cook for myself or go out to eat most of the time."

And the top brass?

How do they view Mega Byte's one-man war against food?

"I'm sure somebody in the Army wouldn't approve but the Army is a big organisation and I can't worry myself with what somebody way down my chain of command thinks about it."

"I know right now the unit I'm in and my immediate supervisors are all for it as long as I maintain my weight standards and pass my [physical training (PT)] test."

"I have never failed to make my weight standard and I have never failed a PT test and I have been eating like this the whole time I've been in the Army."

"It's just now I'm doing a contest every now and then."

"As far as registering for events, it looks like the only contests I will be able to do will be ones that are close to Georgia or events that fall on holiday weekends."

"In the Army, we get a four-day weekend at least once a month and if a contest was going on during that I may be willing to fly out for [it]."

"I've looked at MLE's past events and there seem to be a lot in Florida so you should see me at them when they roll back around."

"I've looked at the current schedule that MLE has for the rest of this year and at this time I won't be able to make any contest they currently have planned."

"But they could always add more contests before this year is up, so we will see."

"I would like to do at least one more before the end of this year."

"I love it and I love competition."

However, it's not just bolting back huge quantities of grub against the clock that floats Mega Byte's boat.

"I plan to get out of the Army when my contract ends in 2014 to pursue my lifelong goal of becoming a professional wrestler."

"One of the best parts of being in MLE so far is the fact that I've gotten to do a lot of TV interviews and I look at it as practice because what I want to do with my life is wrestle in front of millions of people."

Well, to this end we certainly wish him well, as we also do with regard to his eating ambitions.

"My goals in MLE are to win an event and to eat 40 hot dogs in the 2014 Nathan's contest," he says.

"I honestly think with a year's worth of preparation I can get my numbers up to 40 and if I can't, you can bet that I will try my hardest."

So does he have any advice for our cherished and beloved readers out there, especially those looking to take up gurgitation and/or wrestling professionally?

"Just go out and do what you want to do and don't let anyone tell you that you cant," Mega Byte says.

"Make the most of life because whether you want to admit it or not we all have an expiration date."

"I want to be the guy in the nursing home with the coolest stories to tell."

And let's hope a fair few competitive eating crowns to boot.


STOP PRESS: EATING SCHEDULE UPDATE



Mega Byte has just exclusively informed the Rake & Herald via Twitter that he will be competing at the forthcoming Ben's Chili Bowl's World Chili Eating Championship in Washington, DC this coming October 12.

Fair play, sir.

All power to your stomach and spoon!


See also Sixty-nine bloody hot dogs!!!, posted 5/7/13, and Megatoad slugs Jaws in Corinth, posted 16/7/13.


Gargantuan thanks indeed to Mega Byte for answering our questions and huge, huge apologies too for taking so long to write them up. Mind you, if it's any consolation, Kok's just passed out from massive blood loss. And his lips have gone blue. Anyway, good luck with the eating and the wrestling, sir. Here's to next year's Nathan's and watching you scoff your way well past 40!


Are you a competitive eater interested in a profile/interview jobbie? If so, get in touch by email. Just be aware that there may be a bit of a lag between contacting us, receiving the questions and then us actually writing them up. Don't take it personally. We're just bloody slack. Especially Kok. He's f--king useless.


Footnote


1) The Rabbit won the 2013 Atlanta qualifier with an engobulation of 36 HDBs in 10 minutes.


This article was first posted on the old R&H 16/9/13 (update same day).




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