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Happy birthday, Badlands!

By editorial assistant Sandi Toxic

Posted February 21, 2013
badlands booker in action
Get it down yer! Badlands in action. © Eric Booker

He eats. He raps. He's hungry and he's focused. Ladies and gentlemen, be upstanding for Eric 'Badlands' Booker!

February 20 is one of the most important days of the competitive eating year.


Because that's when rap sensation, the People's Champ and one of the Rake & Herald's all-time favourite gurgitators Eric 'Badlands' Booker was born.

But what made this legendary Noi Yoik gurgitator take up the greatest sport on Earth?

To find out, we decided to bombard him with a load of questions instead of simply allowing him to open his presents and enjoy his special day in peace.

"I got into the sport on June 21, 1997 when I visited my local Nathan's Famous in Oceanside, NY," he exclusively tells the Rake & Herald by email when really he should be tucking into his birthday cake and relaxing with family and friends instead of being hassled by a bunch of unwashed, smelly hacks on the other side of the Atlantic.

"I would usually take my kids there to enjoy some hot dogs and fries and play a few games in their video arcade when upon entering I saw a poster of Uncle Sam with a frank in his hand, saying 'I want you to enter the Nathan's International Hot Dog Eating Contest!'"

"So I met George Shea, who was the MC, entered and with no training devoured 16 hot dogs and buns in 12 minutes."

"I won a trophy, a spot at Coney Island on July fourth and a year's supply of hot dogs."

"Which is 486 links!"

"Since I had so much fun and was good enough to win free hot dogs every year, I bought an ice box and kept coming back."

The rest, as they say, is history.

So has competitive eating changed much since does heady days of 1997?

The answer is a resounding yes.

"The sport has changed immensely since the days I started, going from a couple of eating contests a year to several contests a month, TV specials, major ESPN coverage, eaters on late night TV shows, like Jay Leno, Letterman [and] Jimmy Kimmel, eaters on reality TV shows and so on."

"I think people like it because they're amazed how much we can eat in a short time and also the way it's presented."

"It's not just an eating contest, it's a show!"

Too bloody right.

And what an amazing show!

It certainly beats the pants out of snooker and that's a great game.

"I've watched Major League Eating's (MLE) George Shea build this sport with his bare hands from just a few guys eating hot dogs in the name of patriotism to putting on major stomach-centric sporting events worldwide, the biggest being Nathan's, which draws 40-50,000 people every July 4 for the past decade!"

badlands and cookie jarvis
Living legends: Badlands and Cookie Jarvis. © Eric Booker

By our reckoning, Badlands must be one of the longest competing gurgitators in the sport.

So how has the current MLE number 13-ranked gurgitator managed to stay in the top echelons of the sport for so long and does the fact that he is also an accomplished practitioner of Judo help in any way?

"Right now, myself and Brian Seiken are the most veteran gurgitators on the circuit since we both got our start at the same contest."

"But personally, how I've lasted so long in addition to staying hungry and focused as far as training and competing is by being myself, being humble, treating the fans right by signing every autograph, taking every pic, chatting with them and so on and striving to stay current and interesting by incorporating my other talents, such as rap."

"The Judo helps too by clearing my mind before contests."

So does Badlands have any advice for rookie eaters out there looking to up their game?

"To be a great competitive eater you need four things: stomach capacity, strategy, stamina and focus."

"This is what I call being hungry and focused."

"I get my stomach ready for competition by eating lots of vegetables and drinking lots of water weeks before competition."

"I also try to figure out what's the quickest way to eat the food that I will be competing against."

"I build my stamina in the gym by doing cardio and on gameday I make sure I zone everything out and just concentrate on eating as much as I can."

"Follow these steps and enter a MLE event and you're on your way!"

Since first throwing his hat into the ring back in 1997, Badlands has competed in countless competitions and broken more records than an angry DJ with an axe.

For example, a quick glance at his MLE bib sheet reveals that among other things he has eaten 21 baseball-sized matzoh balls in five minutes and 25 seconds; 2 lb (0.9 kg) of chocolate candy bars in six minutes; 49 glazed doughnuts in eight minutes; and 9.5 one-pound bowls of peas in 12 minutes to name but four.

Given that yours truly has an admittedly bizarre yet nevertheless insatiable love of peas (face it, they're just ace), it's not difficult to guess which one of the above stands out most for me, but are there any particular records or contests that stand out for Badlands?

"After 15 years of competitive eating that's a tough one," he concedes, explaining that he has "so many fond memories".

"One that stands out was in 2005 at the National Buffalo Wing Festival in Buffalo, NY, where I caused a stunning upset and beat the Black Widow, Sonya Thomas, by eating 191 wings in 12 minutes."

"She's beaten me ever since, but it's all good!"

Undoubtedly one of the highlights of last year for us was the cannoli eat-off that saw Badlands heroically thwarting a thoroughly determined challenge from another Rake & Herald favourite, triathlete extraordinaire Yasir 'the Doggy Bag' Salem, but what was it like for the Cannoli King himself?

"Cannolis is a tough contest and that's what I think I like most about it."

"I've actually lost a tooth the first year I won."

"Yasir is a good friend and a fierce competitor."

"He's extremely fit, has good capacity and great technique so beating him was no cakewalk!"

But what about other foods?

"I'm an omnivore so I mostly like all foods I come across in competition," Badlands says.

"Some are easier to train for, like buffalo wings as opposed to hot dogs."

"The only food I didn't enjoy that much was cow brains at the Glutton Bowl finals back in 2001."


We've never tried them but somehow, we can see where Badlands is coming from.

On the whole, buffalo wings and cannolis sound somewhat nicer.

badlands raps
Sweet science: Badlands rocks the mic. © Eric Booker

And when it comes to sounds, Badlands is certainly no stranger to making some pretty sweet and tasty beats, having invented the genre of competitive eating-themed hip hop.

"I've been doing all aspects of hip hop my entire life, from writing graffiti, to break dancing, to beat boxing, to writing and producing hip hop music."

"I started doing competitive eating-themed hip hop when MLE were invited to compete in the Philadelphia Wing Bowl."

"I made a track with the help of Julian Maile about how we were going to take over the contest and beat the local champ."

"To my surprise, they loved it."

"I started writing eating raps and one song turned into a whole album call Hungry and Focused, which includes the track Sweet Science."

"Fast forward to the present, I have seven albums of competitive eating hip hop on iTunes under the name Badlands Booker."

What's more, you can also catch Badlands rapping and chatting live as a DJ on Think 1 Radio, a hip hop internet radio station founded by Badlands' "west coast brother Jendor from San Jose, CA".

"We have interviews from hip hop artists and producers past and present, live mixes and more."

"Think outside the box," he says.

"Check us out on"

Don't you worry, sir, we will.

But Badlands isn't just limited to the airwaves.

He's also been known to put in a fair few visual performances on the box to boot, with his TV CV, or 'résumé' as we understand they say in the States, including a stint as Eater in Residence on NBC's Last Call with Carson Daly as well as fronting an advert for internet domain registrar and web hosting firm Go Daddy.

Moreover, Badlands has even had his own episode of ABC's Wife Swap.

So what was that like?

"Wife Swap was a pretty good experience which had its high and low points, but meeting and swapping with a great family like the Alcorns from California made it all worthwhile," he says.

"We did the show back in 2006 and we still stay in contact via social media."

And on the subject of wives and the like, Badlands, himself a married father, describes the sport of competitive eating as "like a family".

"I love all my brothers and sisters that I share the table with when it's time to eat for fame, fortune and glory," he says.

"I have a lot of eaters that inspired me over the years, kept me on my toes and taught this old dog new tricks to stay in eating shape, from Mike Devito and Charles Hardy, Cookie [Jarvis], [Takeru] Kobi [Kobayashi] and Crazy Legs [Conti] to Deep Dish Bertoletti, Joey [Chestnut], Bob [Shoudt] and Sonya [Thomas] just to name a few."

But what about the year ahead?

Does Badlands have any particular competitive eating goals for the coming 12 months?

"Just to stay hungry and focused and to be a strong pillar which future generations of gurgitators can stand on."

Well, all at the Rake & Herald certainly wish him well in that.

And now for a real birthday treat for you all.

We've run it before but we're going to run it again.

That's right.

It's the aforementioned cannoli eat-off between Badlands and the Doggy Bag courtesy of Crescenzo Rillo's YouTube channel.


We reckon it's ace.

See also Badlands crowned cannoli king, posted 13/9/12.

If you haven't done so already, we strongly urge you to check out Badlands' excellent website, YouTube channel, Facebook page and Twitter feed. Thank you very much indeed, Badlands, for answering our questions when you should have probably been down the pub drinking champagne. You are a true star and we wish you all the very best for the coming year and many, many more to boot. And, of course, many happy returns!

Do you like our Sandi's scribblings? If so, why not befriend her on that Facebook thing? We don't let her out much, see, preferring instead to shackle her to her desk inside an indestructible cage (it's actually a Perspex box with a couple of air holes stabbed into it with a chisel). As such, she's terribly lonely and unloved. Please find it in your heart to help her before her constant whining drives us to kill her with a sharpened curtain rod. Remember, Sandi's life is in YOUR hands so get 'friending', or whatever the trendy modern verb is. Please. She's just started crying again.

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