The first pie-eating contest took place in January 1878 in Toronto, Canada. Albert Piddington took home the prize, which culinary historian Sarah Lohman identifies as a “handsomely bound book.”
Initially, machismo was somehow supposedly demonstrated by the number of pies a man could manage to down as a clock ticked away the allotted time. Men’s clubs and bars with exclusively male clientele were the contests’ first venues. By the 1940s, though, such competitions served as “community events” involving Boy Scouts, Rotary Club members, college fraternities, and competitions between branches of the U.S. military.
“Today,” Lohman says, “competitive eating is big business, and both male and female competitive eaters are treated like.” Such competitions are open to amateurs, too. Untrained but enthusiastic (and presumably hungry) men and women—in pursuit of either fame or money… or both—have competed before crowds to eat the most of various foods, with more than a few fatal consequences.
As the 10 people on this list show, contestants have died from choking, seizures, and other causes related to cramming various foods down their throats, whether hot dogs, tacos, chicken wings, eggs, pancakes, doughnuts, lamingtons, fairy cakes, croissants, or even cockroaches and worms.
10 Madelyn “Madie” Lee Nicpon
Tufts University athlete Madelyn “Madie” Lee Nicpon lost consciousness after choking during a charity fundraising hot dog eating contest in Somerville, New York. According to the University, “first responders performed life-saving procedures on site” prior to transporting her to Massachusetts General Hospital. However, Nicpon, 20, died the following afternoon.
The young woman, who was immensely popular, had bright plans for the future. A junior biopsychology major, she intended to pursue a career in the medical field. Her teammates summed up both her character and their loss in a social media website post, writing that “Madie will be remembered as a bright light, a social butterfly, an amazing teammate, a kind and generous person, [and] a wonderful sister and daughter [whom]… we can all aspire to emulate.”
9 Dana Hutchins
Dana Hutchins, 41, died at a local hospital after participating in a taco eating contest at a minor league baseball game featuring the Fresno Grizzlies that took place at the city’s Chuckchansi Park. An autopsy found that he died of choking. His family was stunned by the news, with his sister Mecca Hutchins asking, “Who would think something like this would happen?” According to an ABC News report, Hutchins “choked and collapsed… falling face-first onto a table and tumbling to the ground.”
As the Associated Press reported on April 5, 2021, Hutchins’s family filed a lawsuit against the event’s organizers, Fresno Sports and Events, which owns the Grizzlies, claiming that they were negligent in making him “aware of the risks and dangers involved in an eating contest” in which contestants vied against one another to “eat as many tacos as possible during a certain amount of time.” As a result, the lawsuit contended, Hutchins, an amateur eating contest competitor, may not have been aware of the need to “train” for the event by making himself “physically ready to participate.”
8 Fredy Jayadi
A KFC chicken wing dispatched Fredy Jayadi, 45, to the hereafter after he was unable to wash down the fried chicken with a glass of water. As a contestant in the 2016 “Eat or Treat” contest in West Jakarta, Indonesia, he was attempting to eat his third wing when it stuck in his throat, and he “collapsed,” later dying at a local hospital.
Due to the fatal incident, organizers of the event canceled the contest, releasing a statement that assured the public that they were “fully supporting the Jayadi family [and] cooperating with… authorities.”
For its part, KFC made it clear that the company had done nothing more than to offer “their stores as the venue” for the competition and had had no role in “organizing” the event. As police investigated the incident, Criminal Unit Police Chief Taufik Iksan said that they determined “that the organizers failed to provide medical personnel.” Had he won the contest, Jayadi would have taken home a purse worth £367,000.
7 Subhash Ladov
All Subhash Ladov had to do to win his friend’s 2,000 rupees (a bit more than $28 U.S. dollars) was swallow 50 eggs. As K. Thor Jensen points out in a Newsweek article, “He was making good time up until his 41st egg. When he popped the 42nd into his mouth, he fell unconscious.” He was taken to a local clinic before being transferred to the Sanjay Gandhi Post Graduate Institute of Medical Sciences. Without regaining consciousness, he died a few hours after being admitted.
As Jensen observes, “Weighing in at approximately six pounds, 50 eggs is significantly more volume than the average human stomach can accommodate without discomfort.” It’s not known whether a similar but non-fatal incident in the 1967 movie Cool Hand Luke, starring Paul Newman, inspired the bet. In the film’s scene, Luke, a prisoner on a Florida chain gang, wins such a bet with another prisoner by swallowing 50 whole hard-boiled eggs in an hour’s time.
6 Caitlin Nelson
The pancake eating contest was “fun,” Fairfield Police Lt. Bob Kalamara said until it became “a tragic event.” Fortunately, when Sacred Heart University student Caitlin Nelson, 20, began choking, two nursing students, as well as police officers and paramedics, were on the scene to render “lifesaving measures.”
Nelson was then rushed to a Bridgeport, Connecticut, hospital, where she was listed as being in “critical but stable condition,” police said before she was transferred to New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center, where, unfortunately, she died three days after the contest.
Sacred Heart University later settled a lawsuit by Nelson’s mother. The terms of the settlement were undisclosed.
5 Travis Malouff
Travis Malouff’s last meal consisted of doughnuts. As a participant in an eating contest at VooDoo Doughnuts, he was, like the other competitors, required to eat a 1.1-pound (500-gram) glazed doughnut in 80 seconds, which would amount to half a dozen doughnuts in under two minutes. Paramedics responded to “reports of a man choking,” but Malouff, 42, was pronounced dead at the scene, according to the medical examiner.
As Keith Coffman reports for Australian news site news.com.au, “Authorities would not confirm that Mr. Malouff died during an eating contest.” However, the Denver television station KUSA “quoted an unnamed eyewitness who said the man was taking part in the… chain’s ‘Tex-Ass’ doughnut challenge.”
4 Sixty-Year-Old Woman
A 60-year-old unidentified woman died from choking and having a seizure during a lamington eating contest in Queensland, Australia. A “large crowd” was in attendance at the time, as the contest is an Australian Day tradition. The lamingtons—”cube-shaped sponge cakes coated with chocolate and coconut flakes”—were served up at the Beach House Hotel in Hervey Bay during the 2020 holiday.
According to local news outlets, the woman’s death, which occurred at a local hospital, did not appear to be suspicious, but police investigated the incident, nevertheless. Both Beach House Hotel management and staff and the Top of the Bay Bakery expressed their condolences to the woman’s family.
3 Adam Deely
Despite being a graphic design student by day and a nightclub employee by night, Adam Deely found time, on a night off in February 2008, to participate in an unofficial fairy cake-eating contest following the actual event. At the spur-of-the-moment, early-morning competition, Deely collapsed at the Monkey Cafe nightclub in Swansea. A responding crew took him to the Singelton Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 3:20 am. His death, which the Guardian reports resulted from “several fairy cakes [becoming] lodged in his throat,” was regarded as accidental rather than suspicious.
An inquest found that Deely had been playing a prank by “trying to fit as many into his mouth as possible” while competing with his friends. One of them shoved three cakes into his mouth. Another stuffed four of them into his mouth. Deely then topped both by managing to cram five of the cakes into his own mouth before choking and collapsing onto the floor, where he started convulsing. The cakes were among the leftovers from a buffet that the nightclub had served.
2 Mario Oscar Melo
The croissants that former Argentinian professional boxer Mario Oscar Melo forced down his throat during an eating contest ended the 65-year-old pugilist’s life. As a People article points out, he “was reportedly on his third croissant when he began choking in front of a bewildered crowd of people in Argentina.”
A number of men delivering thrusts to the victim’s abdomen were unable to force Melo to disgorge the fatal pastry, and he was pronounced dead at Pinamar Hospital. The champion fighter’s sister thought that he was playing a prank, but he is believed to have died from choking. However, it’s unclear whether his diabetes was partly responsible for his demise.
1 Edward Archbold
In 2012, NBC News reported that the cause of 32-year-old Edward Archbold’s death was unclear. In competing for a python in a reptile shop’s eating contest, had he experienced an allergic reaction to the “60 grams of mealworms, 35 three-inch ‘super worms,’ and part of a bucket full of discoid roaches” he had eaten?
Certainly, the bugs themselves hadn’t killed the winner of the “Midnight Madness” bug-eating competition. Cockroaches are not toxic themselves, Bill Kearn, a professor of entomology, assured the public. Although many may consider them undesirable food sources because cockroaches “store large amounts of uric acid and nitrogenous waste” and consume unappetizing materials. Other experts agreed. Roaches might not be all that appetizing, but eating them wouldn’t kill a diner.
A report the same month in the National Post also cast doubt on speculation that the cockroaches had killed Archibold, pointing out that “eating bugs is normal in many parts of the world” and that cockroaches have been devoured in plenty of other eating contests without mishap. In 2011, Madagascar cockroaches were eaten at a Six Flags theme park in Illinois by people hoping to win park passes. Cockroaches were consumed at the Exploreum Science Center in Mobile, Alabama, apparently just for the fun of it. Archibold might have reached the end of his tolerance to the insects, Mike Tringale, the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America’s vice-president, proposed and gone into anaphylactic shock.
What about the worms? Could they have caused the python winner’s death? As it turned out, neither an allergic reaction, anaphylactic shock, nor, it seems, worms killed Archbold. According to the Broward County medical examiner, he “died of asphyxia due to choking and aspiration of gastric contents” after “arthropod body parts” blocked the upper passages of his respiratory system, through which air reaches the lungs.