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THE AMAIZING RACE — Glutton pros hungry to go cob to cob at National Corn Eating Championship in WPB


Miki Sudo returns to West Palm Beach on April 28 to defend the crown she won at the 2023 National Sweet Corn Eating Championship. (DOREEN POREBA/THE PR CZAR INC.)

EARS ALL YOU need to know to appreciate the gluttonous glory of the National Sweet Corn Eating Championship, a frenetic race to the cob after cob after cob this coming Sunday, April 28, at the South Florida Fairgrounds in West Palm Beach.


It might be the most grueling 12 minutes in the professional eating circuit, a fierce competition known to bruise lips, tear gums and test the toughest incisors. 


It will feature some of Major League Eating’s biggest stars — from reigning corn queen and top-ranked female eater Miki Sudo, who sheared and swallowed 52 ears in 12 minutes last year, to Eric “Badlands” Booker, whose food consumption exploits are followed by over 3 million subscribers to his BadlandsChugs YouTube channel. 


It’s an amaizing race that will cap off the 24th annual Sweet Corn Fiesta, a family-friendly cornapalooza spotlighting the nearly 25,000 acres of yellow gold grown in western Palm Beach County, the biggest supplier of sweet corn in the United States.


It's not a real pretty site, but it's a fun site. It brings the crowds,’’ said fiesta organizer Ann Holt, noting how visitors start jamming into the corn-competition big top at Yesteryear Village an hour before the niblets and kernels start sparking off the cobs.


Holt knows a thing or two about sweet corn. As a partner in Twin H Farms in Belle Glade, she and her husband, Tommy, will supply the Sweet Corn Fiesta with up to 1,000 crates, each containing 48 ears. Those 48,000 pieces of corn will be shucked, cooked and eaten during a daylong celebration that attracts 4,000 to 5,000 visitors. 


There will be live music, rides, crafts, facepainting and green markets. There will be amateur contests for shuckers and eaters of all ages. 


At 3 p.m., the big-league eaters take the stage.


Nick Wehry in action at the 2023 National Sweet Corn Eating Championship. (DOREEN POREBA/THE PR CZAR INC.)

Under the scrutinizing eye of a judge, a dozen or so Major League Eating contestants will go cob to cob with corn-on-the-job focus, taking aim at a prize purse worth $6,100, including $2,500 for the first-place winner.


“It’s about skill and the technique you use to get the corn off the cob,’’ said George Shea, chairman and co founder of Major League Eating, the sanctioning body of all international professional eating contests.


“You can use your teeth as a scraper and just run the corn up and down, which is very difficult. You can bruise your lips if you go very quickly, and some of them do,’’ said Shea, who emcees the event with the vigor of a carnival barker. 


“Some people use a sort of classic typewriter, kind of rolling around. It’s not about how much you eat, it's about how quickly and efficiently you can get the corn off the cob. That's all it is.’’

 

But it’s not easy. 


“For me, it’s running it up the face. Some people call it ‘the zipper.’ Some call it a really unpleasant way to eat corn,’’ said Nick Wehry, a Tampa-area man ranked fourth on MLE’s top professional eaters.  


And all those niblets that fall from the cob without landing in your mouth? You have to scoop those up from the table and eat them, too, or you can lose points.


“While it's extremely hard not to make a mess, I do my best to eat as clean as I can and get done as fast as possible,’’ said Wehry, a former competitive bodybuilder.



The National Sweet Corn Eating Championship kicks off Major League Eating's busy season of roughly 70 events, including its “Super Bowl” — the Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest on Coney Island, televised live on ESPN every Fourth of July. 


MLE contestants often compete in several different eating races during the season, consuming just about everything from fish balls, kale and chicken wings to donuts, baked beans and burritos.


But each race — each food item — comes with its own challenges, requiring different techniques for success. Joey Chestnut, the No. 1-ranked MLE eater, might be the king of the Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest, but he couldn’t beat Sudo last year in a chicken-wing competition. Sudo, meanwhile, won the women’s division at last year’s Nathan’s Famous competition.


“The discipline here is a great leveler for the eaters,’’ Shea said. “If Joey Chestnut came down and can eat 70 hot dogs, that doesn't mean he's going to win in corn under any circumstances. If he hasn't really, really practiced, he’s just not going to win.’’


Wehry and Sudo practice. A lot. And when they do, they’re joined by a formidable eating partner: Each other. They’re married. 


“Corn’s a fun one,’’ Wehry said. “When they’re down to 10 cents an ear, we’re like, ‘Let’s do a practice!’’’


Sweet Corn Fiesta organizer Ann Holt and Major League Eating chairman George Shea at the 2023 National Sweet Corn Eating Championship. (DOREEN POREBA/THE PR CZAR INC.)

Wehry and Sudo met at the gym the morning before the 2018 Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog eating contest. A few months later, they joined a team that ate a 107-pound burger for a New Jersey charity — “the romantic second date,’’ he says. It was love at first bite. 


A few years later, moments after he set a world record by eating 50 hard boiled eggs in 3:04 (Paul Newman’s “Cool Hand Luke” eats 50 eggs in one hour in the 1967 movie), Wehry dropped to his knees and proposed to Sudo.


Today, they live in Port Richey with their 2-year-old son, Max (named after the hotel where his parents met in the gym, The Maxwell in Manhattan). And Sudo is ranked third among MLE’s top eaters, just ahead of her husband, a fact that provides a constant source of friendly domestic banter.

 

Together, they make a decent living on a professional eating circuit that takes them around the world to compete in a smorgasbord of sanctioned gluttony, from egg rolls in Lubbock, Texas, to Jell-O in Milan, Italy.


They chronicle their eating exploits on their aptly named website, The Hungry Couple


And when they’re not competing, they are exercising and watching their diets. The contents of their fridge — usually yogurt, avocado, kale, spinach, broccoli, chicken breasts and eggs — “looks like a health nut lives here,’’ Wehry, 34, said. 


“We feel better if we are healthier, and if we’re in better shape going into these contests, where we know we're gonna take in five, 10, 15,000 calories in 10 minutes, we have to do the other side of the work, which is making sure calorically we are in check, making sure we stay active and exercise four to six days a week, making sure our blood work is good and our health markers are in check.’’


Moments before the 2022 National Sweet Corn Eating Championship. (JOCELYN YOUNG/FACEBOOK)

He added, “As much fun as it is to go eat 50 billion moonpies, you gotta pay the piper before and after.’’ 


And then there’s that other important strategy, one all professional eaters try to stomach without thinking too much about it.


According to ESPN Sports Science, the average humans can consume about 1 liter of food before the nausea reflex kicks in and causes them to stop eating and sometimes vomit.


Competitive eaters like Wehry and Sudo train their bodies to ignore the reflex, allowing them to consume a capacity of food four times greater than the average stomach.  


While the biggest challenge of the corn-eating contest is getting the corn off the cob, consuming all those niblets and kernels is fairly easy, Wehry said, definitely easier than consuming hot dogs, pizza and bagels.


“The nice thing about corn is it’s high fiber, really easy to digest,’’ he said. “Some of the higher sodium, higher fat foods, they'll wear you out for 24 to 36 hours, but corn is a pretty simple one.’’


2017 National Sweet Corn Eating Championship. (PHIL GALEWITZ/FACEBOOK)

And with all due respect to mainstream professional sports leagues, Major League Eating considers professional eating a sport and professional eaters athletes.


“Some people resist that, but it is 100 percent a sport, without question,’’ Shea said.


“They train. There is theory and practice and specialized approaches. They put a lot of energy and thought into how to eat this efficiently and then it's a real competition. It's very heated, in particular with corn because you’ll hear some guy going, ‘No, he’s got niblets all over the place!’ It's very hard-fought.’’


At the 20th annual corn-eating contest in West Palm Beach this Sunday, Wehry and Sudo will morph into serious frenemies.


“I love her to pieces, but for 12 minutes on April 28, I will not know her because I will focus on strictly ears of corn,’’ he said. “She's strictly a competitor when they say ‘go.’ And she is the same way. It’s one of the reasons why we mesh so well. We know when we are there, it's business. We're at work. As silly as that may sound to some people, we’re at work to do a job.’’ 


Miki Sudo (L) rejoices after dethroning Gideon Oji (R) at the 2023 National Sweet Corn Eating Championship. (THE HUNGRY COUPLE)

Sudo, 38, will have the biggest job that day.


“I will be defending my status as the world corn-eating queen and defending champion,’’ she said with a laugh, “and Nick will be trying to dethrone me.’’


Wehry adds, “I will be much happier if my name is on the trophy, but as long as it comes to the right address …’’


Last year, Sudo took the crown by dethroning the 2022 champion, Gideon Oji, by just half an ear of corn. “She’s a phenom,’’ Shea said of Sudo.  “She’s a fierce competitor.’’


The world record is 67.75 ears, set by Carmen Cincotti at the 2017 Sweet Corn Fiesta.


Sudo shared one surprising secret to her corn queen success: She uses the scraping technique — which might seem sacrilegious considering she is studying to be a dental hygienist.


“I probably should apologize to my dental hygiene instructors and the whole department in advance because that's not super incisor friendly,’’ she said with a laugh. “I don’t think it's great for my teeth. But that’s OK.’’


 

Adults: $10

Children 6-11: $5

Under 5, FREE.

Ride Wristband: $10 for one or $15 for two

Free Parking

11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Yesteryear Village, South Florida Fairgrounds

9067 Southern Blvd., West Palm Beach 33411


If you can’t attend the Sweet Corn Fiesta, crates of sweet corn will be available just outside the entry gates for $25 each.



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About the author

Joe Capozzi is an award-winning reporter based in Lake Worth Beach. He spent more than 30 years writing for newspapers, mostly at The Palm Beach Post, where he wrote about the opioid scourge, invasive pythons, the birth of the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches and Palm Beach County government. For 15 years, he covered the Miami Marlins baseball team. Joe left The Post in December 2020. View all posts by Joe Capozzi.









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