Behind The Scenes

Cari Champion relishes debut on hot dog eating contest

2010 Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest (Joe Faraoni/ESPN)
2010 Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest (Joe Faraoni/ESPN)
Cari Champion (Joe Faraoni/ESPN Images)
Cari Champion (Joe Faraoni/ESPN Images)

People across the country will be celebrating the July Fourth holiday this year with American flags, fireworks and of course, food. But because just simply eating hot dogs isn’t enough, many will be satisfying their appetites by tuning in to the Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest (Noon ET, ESPNNEWS), live from Coney Island, N.Y. (This is a tradition that will extend to 2024, it was announced this week.)

ESPN2’s First Take host Cari Champion will be on site for her first time, reporting on the happenings at the popular annual summertime contest. Front Row caught up with Champion leading up to the big day to find out what she’s looking forward to in her first year working the event. Champion will team with broadcaster Paul Page and Major League Eating’s Richard Shea as they offer the in-depth analysis of the competition.

What are you doing to prepare for a sporting event like this?
This is my first year reporting, however, I have watched Joey Chestnut for years in amazement. So when [ESPN Vice President, Production] Marcia Keegan asked if I wanted to be a part of the grand festivities, I said yes! Though, I will not be eating the morning of the event.

Which competitive eaters are you hoping to interview on site?
Joey Chestnut is the Mike Tyson of eaters – so he is a must-get interview. How does one recover from the contest? What are your secrets? I also want to interview Sonya Thomas, the female champion. Again, it’s a different talent, how does one develop it? I’m also looking for the wildcard. . . the person who could upset the defending champions. The Buster Douglas of eating contests.

Everyone likes their hot dog with different toppings. What are your favorite condiments to add?
Most people prefer their hot dogs with the traditional toppings. Not me! After mustard, I love jalapeños, relish, tomatoes and a dash of barbecue sauce. Best meal ever!

Lastly, since you host First Take we’ve got to know: Who do you think would win a hot dog eating contest, Skip Bayless or Stephen A. Smith?
Since working with Skip and Stephen A., it’s easy for me to tell you that Stephen A. would win the contest. Here’s why: Skip is fanatical about his health! He would never agree to a hot dog eating contest. It’s been years since he’s had one (I’m sure). While Stephen A. is concerned about healthy eating in moderation, he would cheat and eat a hot dog or two. . . so he would easily win. No contest there!

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