Thursday, September 19, 2013

Man v. Food: An Analysis

Man v. Food was a great show. It lasted three seasons from December, 2008 to October, 2010 on the Travel Channel, and its format was gold. Charismatic host Adam Richman, a Yale-trained actor and food enthusiast who has "held nearly every job in the restaurant biz," visited a city in each episode and sampled some outrageously decadent cuisine. It was Guy Fieri's Diners, Drive-ins and Dives for the first 15 minutes of each episode, but then it became something very, very special. Adam could eat, baby. He could eat.

Adam would visit locations that had outrageous eating challenges, and attempt to complete them on national television. It was an oddly compelling spectacle. Challenges could involve quantity (can you eat 5 pounds of pizza?) or spicy stuff (can you consume 12 wings that you have to sign a waiver to eat?). Adam would win some and lose some, but ultimately, he won 37 out of 59 challenges, for a success rate of about 63%. He also became visibly heavier as the show went on, only adding to its absolutely compelling nature (apparently, Adam has actually lost 60 pounds since Man v. Food ended).

With all due respect to the spicy challenges, it's the quantity challenges that were truly impressive. It has been my goal for a long time, as a big fan of the show, to figure out just how impressive each quantity challenge was. So I researched each challenge and put together a somewhat loose methodology to determine which challenges were most impressive, and which defeats were most disappointing.

The factors I used to determine the impressiveness of each challenge included the following:

1. Amount of food (in weight)
How much did the food in this challenge weigh? I understand that a pound of steak is different from a pound of pancakes, which is in turn different from 16 fluid ounces of a milkshake. However, a pound is a pound, and ultimately, I think the weight of each challenge is probably the primary way to gauge its difficulty.

One thing I had to adjust for is liquid weight vs. solid weight. For instance, Adam completed the Kitchen Sink Challenge, which consisted of 2 gallons of ice cream (technically a solid, but for all intents and purposes, a liquid). 2 gallons of ice cream is 256 fluid ounces, and 256 fluid ounces of water weighs just about 16 pounds. Adam did not win a solid food challenge that weighed more than 7 pounds. So clearly, his abilities to eat did not more than double when he completed this challenge. Based on other challenge weights and successes that Adam had throughout the show, I came up with a very rough estimation that a pound of liquid food equals about .4 pounds of solid food in terms of how easy it is to consume. So when considering the weight of the Kitchen Sink Challenge, instead of estimating 16 pounds, I estimated 6.4.

1a. Success rate
How successful were previous challengers? This metric was almost tied with the "amount of food" metric in terms of its importance, but it can also be unreliable. Many challenges did not have definitive previous success rates (a few said "dozens" had tried and no one had succeeded, or that "hundreds" had tried and three had succeeded, etc.). I did the best I could to estimate success rates in these challenges, but these are fairly rough. Factoring in success rate hopefully improves the problems with "amount of food" as a metric, as stated above. If it's harder to complete, fewer people will complete it, regardless of weight.

2. Time limit
Was there a time limit? If so, how long was it? And also, how quickly did Adam finish it? This metric was used more or less as a tiebreaker in my methodology. Weight and success rate were by far the most important metrics.

I am considering the quantity challenges that Adam competed in.* Adam won 24 out of these 41 quantity challenges. The list directly below ranks the challenges that Adam won by their impressiveness.

adam richman

1. Davy Jones Locker Challenge
7 pounds, 2% success rate, 60-minute limit
2. Kitchen Sink Challenge
6.4 pounds (over 16 liquid pounds), 3.5% success rate, 60-minute limit
3. Johnny B. Goode Challenge
5.9 pounds (5.5 solid, 1 liquid), 2.7% success rate, 30-minute limit
4. El Gigante Comida Challenge
5 pounds, 0% success rate ("dozens" had tried), 60-minute limit (Adam finished in 29 minutes)
5. Broken Yolk Iron Man Challenge
6 pounds, 4% success rate, 60-minute limit
6. Jumboli Challenge
5 pounds, 0% success rate, 60-minute limit
7. Hot Dogger Eating Challenge
5 pounds, 1% success rate, 60-minute limit
8. Stuffed-Pizza Challenge
5 pounds (10 pounds for 2 people), 0.5% success rate, 60-minute limit
9. Kodiak Arrest Challenge
5 pounds, 0% success rate ("dozens" had tried), 90-minute limit (Adam finished in 47 minutes)
10. Colossal Challenge
3.9 pounds (6 pounds liquid, 1.5 solid), 1% success rate, 60-minute limit
11. Frittata Challenge
6 pounds, 5% success rate, no time limit
12. Manimal Challenge
4.4 pounds (4 solid, 1 liquid), 10% success rate, 20-minute limit
13. Mount Nachismo Challenge
5 pounds, 10% success rate, 45-minute limit
14. Big Texan Challenge
5.5 pounds, 16.67% success rate, 60-minute limit
15. Tony Luke's Ultimate Cheesesteak Challenge
5 pounds, Adam was the first to attempt it, 60-minute limit
16. Fifth Third Burger Challenge
5 pounds, 12.9% success rate, 2 1/2-inning limit
17. Meterbratwurst
4.5 pounds, 14.3% success rate, 60-minute limit
18. 15 Dozen Club
5 pounds, 18.67% success rate, 60 minutes
19. Melt Challenge
5 pounds, 20% success rate, no time limit
20. Lucky's Sandwich Company
4 pounds, 10% success rate, 60-minute limit
21. Fried Catfish Challenge
3.6 pounds, Adam set the record, 60-minute limit
22. O.M.G. Burger
3 pounds, 10% success rate, no time limit
23. Dagwood Sandwich
3.5 pounds, 40% success rate, 30-minute limit
24. Don Shula's 48 oz. Steak Challenge
3 pounds, 50% success rate, 20-minute limit

And here is a list of challenges that Adam did not win, ranked by disappointment. For instance, I think he should have won the West End Wing King Challenge, but it makes total sense why he didn't win the Vaca Acostada Challenge.

1. West End Wing King Challenge
5 pounds (including wing bones), 30% success rate, 30-minute limit
2. Great Steak Challenge
5.625 pounds, 16.7% success rate, 60-minute limit
3. Southwestern Exposure
5 pounds, 10% success rate, 60-minute limit
4. Malt Milkshake Challenge
3 pounds (7.5 pounds liquid), 4% success rate, 30-minute limit (note: Adam vomited)
5. Ultimate Slider Challenge
5.5 pounds, 2.8% success rate, 30-minute limit
6. Italian Challenge
7 pounds, 6.7% success rate, 90-minute limit
7. Fat Sandwich Challenge
7 pounds, 6% success rate, 45-minute limit
8. Mac Daddy Pancake Challenge
4 pounds, 1.3% success rate, 90-minute limit
9. Knucklehead Challenge
5+ pounds, 1% success rate, 20-minute limit
10. Jack-N-Grill
7 pounds, 4% success rate, no time limit
11. Big Badass Burrito Challenge
6 pounds, 1.4% success rate, 90-minute limit
12. Carnivore Challenge Pizza
5.5 pounds (11 pounds for 2 people), 0% success rate, 60-minute limit
13. Adam Emmenecker Challenge
6 pounds, 0.5% success rate, 15-minute limit
14. 8 Don Juan El Taco Grande
6 pounds, Adam did not break the record, no time limit
15. The Sasquatch Burger
7.5 pounds, 3.9% success rate, 60-minute limit
16. Ultimate Destroyer Challenge
6.5 pounds, 0% success rate, 45-minute limit
17. Vaca Acostada Challenge
9 pounds, 1% success rate, 40-minute limit

For full stats, as collected by me, click here to access the Google doc.

Some patterns emerge. Adam won 71% of challenges under 6 pounds, and 82% of challenges 5 pounds and under. He won just 4 challenges weighing in at 6 pounds or more, and lost 9. The average weight of challenges Adam won was 4.86 pounds, while the average weight of challenges Adam lost was 5.6 pounds.

In terms of success rate, Adam completed 71% of challenges whose success rates were 5% or higher, and 58% of challenges that had ever had someone complete them. Even among challenges that had no previous winners, Adam was 3 for 5 (not including Tony Luke's).

So there you have it. The list, according to me, of Adam Richman's challenges, ranked by impressiveness. Now, of course, this list would be THE definitive list if it were to get the input of one Adam Richman, who currently has a different show on the Travel Channel, Adam Richman's Fandemonium.

We're journalists on this blog, and we're going to try to get Adam to weigh in on this list. Who knows if we'll be successful? STAY TUNED.

*Three are not listed. The Big Ugly Burger Challenge is excluded, as is the Eagle's Challenge Burger. Both of these are different from the other challenges in particular ways that make them difficult to categorize and rank.

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