By Matt Hickman
If it seems counterintuitive for a registered dietician, who just graduated magna cum laude with a masters degree in the subject, to be the world’s most formidable eating challenge slayer, it should.
But for Randy Santel, who this week is crossing Alaska off his list as the 50th and final state in which he’s obliterated every restaurant’s eating challenge he can find, it works for him, even if not all of his colleagues agree.
“While I am very extreme, I take a couple months off between (eating) trips, I exercise even more and eat definitely a more balanced diet. Before I go on a trip, I make sure my cholesterol, triglycerides and blood lipid levels are all good to go,” Santel said. “I’m sure some (dieticians) frown on what I’m doing, but I look at the fact that dietetics don’t have any social media platform that’s really well received, so a lot of them are excited about the way I’m going about things so we can get dieticians on the platform in the future. They trust I’m taking care of myself in a smart way.”
Santel has what is almost certainly the largest social media and YouTube following in the world of competitive eating. Each of the 300-plus records he’s smashed around the U.S. and 32 countries are available on video, and this week, destinations in Southcentral Alaska are joining that list.
On Monday, he took down the burger challenge at Boss Hogz All-American Diner in Homer — a 6-patty ‘Big Boss’ burger, along with 6 grilled cheese sandwiches with bacon and two pounds of french fries.
On Wednesday he did another in Soldotna, and on Thursday he begins his rampage of Anchorage with the Kriner Family Burger Challenge at Kriner’s Burgers and Pies, which offers a 2-pound burger patty with all the fixings, along with a pound of fries, all of which must be completed in 45 minutes.
Santel heads downtown for the weekend with a brand new challenge at Flattop Pizza & Pool on Friday at 6 p.m., where he’ll be the first to attempt ‘The Wild Thing’, a 21-inch pizza with white BBQ sauce, Yak brisket and wild Alaskan halibut smothered with mushrooms and cheese. The pizza alone weighs in at 6-pounds, but that’s not all. To complete the challenge, Santel will also need to down an order of UnAlaska wings, a wedge salad and a root beer float.
On Saturday, Santel moves next door for probably the best known eating challenge in all of Alaska — the Kodiak Arrest challenge at Humpy’s, which has been featured on the Food Network’s ‘Man vs. Food’ show.
The Kodiak Arrest boasts 7 crab nuggets, 14 inches of reindeer sausage, 4 pounds of Alaskan King Crab, side dishes and, for dessert, Humpy’s Wild Berry Crisp Ice Cream. To get it for free, a competitor must beat the existing record of 12 minutes and 10 seconds.
The Humpy’s challenge could prove to be the undoing of Santel, if for no other reason than the time it might take to crack the crab legs.
Santel has been doing his homework on that.
“I was just in Seattle and was able to train for this,” he said. “I did 12 pounds of crab legs with shell. It’s just getting the experience of cracking the legs… It took me forever to crack them, but since then I’ve been looking up tips and suggestions, so while cracking the crab legs I’ll start eating the reindeer and the sides. I’m always eating something.”
The St. Louis-area native discovered his passion for competitive eating while in high school, looking to put on 100 pounds for football. It worked and as a 300-pound-plus offensive lineman, Santel earned a scholarship to Division I Missouri State University where he played for three years, and where he just recently received his masters degree.
Eating copious amounts of food is common for college football linemen, many of whom fall victim to obesity when their playing days and extreme calorie-burning days are over. Fighting that battle got Santel on television and spawned his idea to take his message to social media.
“In 2010 I won a national body transformation contest, sponsored by the magazine Men’s Health on a TV series on Starz called ‘Spartacus’,” Santel said. “To celebrate at the end of a two-month diet, after I took the final photos, some friends invited me to do a 28-inch pizza challenge in St. Louis. I won $500 and everything spawned from that.”
Santel isn’t just not-fat, he’s a tremendously fit bodybuilding champion.
“We definitely make sure to exercise, to do something every single day. When on tour I only eat things like fruit and vegetables — breakfast pretty much,” Santel said. “I have a membership at Planet Fitness when I’m on tour, so I try to do some type of weight workout. When that’s not around I do a lot of sight-seeing cardio, walking, jogging around. Today I did an hour and a half walking and jogging around along a road in Homer to experience all the sights — it’s beautiful.”
Santel acknowledges that while he may be a freak of nature, eating contests aren’t something he’d necessarily recommend. But, he points out, obesity isn’t going to be the result of one competitive scarfing; it’s going to be the result of day after day of unhealthy eating habits.
“I don’t recommend eating contests for anyone without any real experience — it can be dangerous, especially choking hazards,” he said. “But if you go about it safely — as we preach, then, yes, trying one every now and then can be fun for lots of people.”