Volume XXIX Issue 19  February 28, 2002

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  FOX crosses line in programming with new “reality” shows
‘Glutton Bowl’ arouses disgust and anger
Jessica Vitak - Managing Editor

FOX, you should congratulate yourself. You have officially reached an all-time low in programming content.

I used to wonder why I tried to avoid watching television so intensely, even though the vast majority of the programming made a valiant attempt at lowering the mass public’s IQ. However, after viewing one particular show last week, I think I have been traumatized for life.

"The Glutton Bowl: The World’s Greatest Eating Competition," (FOX, Feb. 21, 8 p.m.) made it abundantly clear to me that television will stop at nothing to get attention or ratings. With flashing lights, high-grade sound systems and a WWF atmosphere featuring two obnoxious commentators, FOX turned an eating competition into an all-out artery-clogging battle.

During nine rounds of competition, contestants plowed through bowls of food dumped from a trashcan above the platform before reaching the final battle to determine who would be crowned king of the gluttons. Each round featured a specific food item, with the first contestant to finish the specified amount moving on. Contestants battled through pounds of mayonnaise, sticks of butter and beef tongue in hopes of reaching the final round.

Now, it’s bad enough that a country with severe obesity problems would promote a show that not only condones such heart-clogging behavior, but awards $25,000 to the person who manages to shovel the most pounds of fat into his body without vomiting it back up. FOX has officially crossed the line.

To add to the disparaging tone of the show, producers made extensive use of the "glutton cam," a camera positioned to look up at contestants as they struggled to hold down mouthfuls of Rocky Mountain oysters (bull testicles) or other delicious treats they swallowed.

How can I be expected to take anything on television seriously after seeing a grown man sweating, his shirt covered in fat, looking at the stick of butter in hand and taking only a second to contemplate possible repercussions before shoveling it into his mouth? I am almost surprised there wasn’t a paramedic on hand with the jaws of life ready and waiting to resuscitate a contestant in case he had a heart attack.

In an ironic twist of events, however, the overall winner and champion of the Glutton Bowl was neither American or overweight. It was 23-year-old Takeru "The Tsunami" Kobayashi, weighing in at 130 pounds. Kobayashi gained international fame last year when he shattered the hot dog world record by eating an unbelievable 50 hot dogs in just 12 minutes. In the Glutton Bowl final, Kobayashi destroyed the competition again, eating more than 10 pounds of cow brains to take the prize.

After winning the hot dog competition July 4 at Coney Island, N.Y., Kobayashi received a year’s supply of Nathan’s Famous hot dogs and a trophy. Wayne Norbitz, the company’s president, said the contest "is not only a beautiful display of athleticism, [but] it is a fundamental way for citizens of all nations to display patriotism."

Whoa. Wait a minute here. First of all, I don’t think Kobayashi really wanted any more hot dogs, especially after gaining 8 pounds eating 50 of them. Second, how is it patriotic for Kobayashi to eat an American food on American soil? I can’t see how such an event would make him feel a deeper devotion to his Japanese heritage.

The question also arises of whether competitive eating can be considered a sport. George Shea, the chair of the International Federation of Competitive Eating (IFOCE) and commentator at many of these events, says that these people are serious athletes who follow rules, develop strategies and devote their lives to becoming the best eaters around.

When Kobayashi won the Glutton Bowl, Shea referred to him as "an athlete in his prime." I will not deny that Kobayashi’s many feats in eating are impressive, but athletic? Do we now compare heavy eating to Olympic athletes who train their bodies as finely tuned machines? Certainly, a 300-pound man whose only skill is holding down 20 sticks of butter does not hold up to athletes like Michael Johnshon or Winter Olympic phenom Janica Kostelic of Croatia.

I respect people who refine various skills to a level so developed as these eating champions. However, I cannot understand why FOX chose to air a show promoting such gluttonous behavior on prime - time television, nor why the network sensationalized the event to such a degree. While following in the footsteps of other successful "reality" programs like "Fear Factor," "The Chamber" and "Survivor," the show has made a mockery of obesity, a disease affecting more than one-third of the U.S. population. While competitors shoveled down pounds of high fat foods, I heard no mention of potential health problems associated with overeating. In ignoring this significant bit of information, the program encourages such practices, which lead to hypertension, heart attacks and strokes, among other problems.

Even more insulting, I believe, was a commercial aired during the program by FOX News, asking viewers to watch a program on "how to mind your waistline." I am confused, Mr. Murdoch. Do you support gluttony or healthy living? Maybe if you focused on providing audiences with quality programming rather than raking in a few more million dollars at the public’s expense, I could understand. However, this pitiful attempt at entertaining the public falls short of holding any purpose other than to glamorize a problem that will ultimately lead to an early death of all who fall into the trap of overeating.

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