The untold truth of 'Man v. Food'

Man v. Food was a ratings powerhouse for the Travel Channel from 2008 to 2012 and it made the show's host, Adam Richman a household name. The recipe for Man v. Food was simple, yet effectively addictive for audiences. It highlighted the world of competitive eating and some of the most famous diner food challenges, all through the eyes and stomach of an amateur. I can barely finish three slices pizza and I used to watch the show thinking, "You know, I probably could tackle that 30 pound one." You either loved it or loathed it, but there's a lot you might not know about Adam Richman and the show that gave him his big break.

Adam Richman consulted with doctors before starting the show

Richman never formally trained as a competitive eater before he landed the Man v. Food gig in 2008. In fact, he was an actor and Yale drama school graduate who appeared in bit roles on television dramas and soap operas like Joan of Arcadia, All My Children, Guiding Light, and Law & Order: Trial By Jury.

According to a live chat he did with ESPN during Man v. Food's heyday in 2010, Richman stated that he "…went to specialists ahead of time because I wanted to start with a baseline of good health, versus correcting bad health down the road." Richman may have discussed the risks with his doctors, but that didn't stop him from packing on the pounds during the show's four season run.

Richman would go without eating a day before a challenge

Richman frequently skipped meals leading up to challenges to increase his eating capacity, but in a 2009 interview with 411 Mania he said that because of the tight production schedule it was sometimes difficult to prepare the way he wanted to before a challenge.

Richman told the entertainment blog, "If I do have a day off I don't eat, or eat very minimally, and I drink a lot of water and club soda to keep my stomach stretched and full and to keep myself hydrated. The most important aspect is that I work out like a beast. I work out like a beast the night before and the morning of."

He couldn't finish the smallest challenge on the show

Most fans of the show tuned in to see Richman plow his way through gargantuan sandwiches and steak dinners, but he couldn't stomach the smallest challenge on the show. In Sarasota, Florida, Richman was faced with 10 little chicken wings at Munchies 420 Cafe. Called the "Fire In Your Hole," these wings were slathered in a tongue torching brutal mixture of habanero peppers, run-of-the-mill hot sauce, cayenne pepper, chili powder, crushed red pepper flakes, garlic, and ghost chili extract.

Richman had to eat 10 wings in 20 minutes without drinking milk. He was able to eat a couple of the wings before he threw in the towel, guzzled some milk, and ran into the back of the restaurant, spitting in his hands, and holding back tears. Good thing the cameras didn't show us when Adam experienced how the wings got their namesake. Richman didn't feel that bad about losing, the odds were up against him from the start. About 90 percent of those who take the challenge fail.

He couldn't finish the largest challenge on the show, either

Mallie's Sports Grill & Bar located in Southgate, Michigan is home to the Absolutely Ridiculous Burger; a burger so large that Richman and 39 other belly busting eaters could not finish it in the two hour time frame. They were pretty close though, chowing down 160 pounds of the 190-pound beast.

Since the episode aired, Mallie's has broken their own Guinness World Record for producing the world's largest commercially available burger. The Detroit-area restaurant unveiled a 338-pound burger on their menu in 2011 with a cost of $2,000.

Which is easier, heat or quantity?

Richman has faced off against a ton of different challenges, but at their heart, most fall into two categories: Heat and quantity. The Guardian asked him the question we're all wondering, and that's, "Which would you rather have?"

His answer is more complicated than you might expect. He says heat challenges are easier if the dish uses whole peppers instead of pepper extract. With extract, it's just heat for the sake of heat, instead of a flavor-filled heat. "A good spicy challenge strikes a balance between flavor and fear," he says.

And quantity? He says they're fine, as long as they don't have a lot of starchy ingredients. It's the fried foods, the fries, and the potatoes that makes it more difficult, but says there's always a certain level of discomfort that comes after doing a challenge, no matter what it is.

Richman was extremely ill while filming the Denver episode

In Denver, a seven-pound breakfast burrito at the Jack-N-Grill Cafe wasn't Richman's only nemesis, but according to a Q&A he did in 2010, he was battling with his immune system as well.

Richman said the worst challenge he's ever done was a smothered and covered breakfast burrito which has been dubbed the fattiest food in Colorado saying, "I was extremely sick with a 101 fever, a bronchial and sinus infection. Add to that I hate chunks of ham and green pepper in food and that dish had both. Truly a sucky experience."

His most — and least — favorite challenges

In 2015, Richman did an AMAA on Reddit and spilled the beans on some of the things fans have been wondering for years.

He says his favorite challenge was Humpy's Alaskan Alehouse's Kodiak Arrest, while his least favorite came with a caveat. That was the challenge he faced at Munchies in Sarasota, Florida, and he says it came in last (in his book, at least) because the owner allegedly cheated — it was a mystery challenge of ghost chili hot wings, and he completely failed.

He almost ruined his career with a social media rant

After retiring from Man v. Food in 2012, Richman dropped close to 70 pounds in 10 months, but despite his food challenge ways behind him, the Travel Channel knew that if you have Richman host a show, it'll mean big ratings. The cable network was set to debut Richman's next endeavor, Man Finds Food, in the summer of 2014, but pulled the show after the star went on a misogynistic and profane tirade on Instagram after a user called him out on his use of the problematic hashtag 'thinspiration', which is used by the pro-anorexia community. During his rant, Richman told one Instagram user, "Grab a razor blade and draw a bath. I doubt anyone will miss you," called another person a c***, and told the same person to eat s***.

Although the Travel Channel pulled Man Finds Food, he was still the host for the short-lived NBC show Food Fighters and briefly appeared as a spokesperson for Walmart. Both of these gigs fizzled, but nine months later Richman's Man Finds Food finally made its debut on the Travel Channel and was renamed (probably because of the negative press associated with it) Secret Eats with Adam Richman for the second season in 2016.

Anthony Bourdain is not a fan of the show

Anthony Bourdain has no problem speaking his mind about his fellow foodie celebrities. That's why during his stop in Atlanta for the 2015 Close to the Bone stand-up comedy tour, he ripped into Adam Richman and the idea behind Man v. Food.

He asked the audience why they watched the show and quickly snapped back with the hilariously morbid statement, "Admit it. You wanted him to die." Bourdain also revealed a surprising fact about Man v. Food: that it's popular in the Middle East, specifically Afghanistan, Libya, Iran, and Yemen. Bourdain even loosely suggested that the reality food show causes a spike in ISIS recruitment stating, "The show confirms their worst suspicions — that Americans are fat, lazy, slothful [and] wasteful." He went on to describe his version of a goat herder in Afghanistan: "I know what he's thinking, 'America is a terrible place. I want to join ISIS.'"

Why Adam Richman really retired

We talked about the outrage following Richman's less-than-respectable social media rants, and it's easy to associate the end of Man v. Food with those. But Richman says there are a few different reasons he chose to retire from Man v. Food, and perhaps unsurprisingly, that doesn't even get a mention.

According to what he told The Guardian, the decision was all his — and not the network's. "The simplest way to put it is to say that the spectacle diminishes over time," he told them, going on to say he didn't want to wait for his fans to ask him to do something new. He wanted to be ahead of the game, and quit before it got too boring.

Rumors that he stepped away from the show for his health circulated, too, but he told the BBC not only was that not the case, but he was shocked at how many "sick people" wanted to believe he'd been forced into retirement by illness.

Adam Richman went vegan... sort of

Richman revealed in a 2015 interview with the British newspaper, the Independent that he went on a three-month vegan diet to gear up for Soccer Aid, a celebrity charity soccer game that raises money for UNICEF. Richman, who is an avid soccer player and rabid fan of Tottenham Hotspur told the newspaper, "Now does that mean I'm not going to have a steak? No I absolutely will when I want to, but it's just about picking and choosing my spots, and when I want to have that cow and I wanna have that bacon, I'm going to make it count, I'm going to make it great quality."

Because the internet loves a good rumor, word spread that Richman went full-on vegan, but he put those rumors to rest with a few social media posts of him chowing down on In-n-Out burgers.

Richman posed nude

It's funny to think the dude who would do competitive eating challenges while wearing a T-shirt, flannel, and a jacket would bare it all in a magazine, but Richman wanted to show off his newly fit body in UK's Cosmopolitan in June, 2014.

He was proud of the spread, saying,"To go from hating the way I looked to being a Cosmo centerfold is a profound honor. If you're a guy who's always been the fun-to-be-around teddy bear, then all of a sudden people are viewing you as sexy it's nice."

Richman loves soccer so much he sponsors a team

Soccer is an important aspect of Richman's life and a big reason why he has been able to maintain his impressive 70-pound weight loss, but not only does he suit up to play in celebrity charity matches, and cheers on Tottenham Hotspur, but he also has been the sponsor for an amateur UK-based soccer club called Broadley FC.

The club was formed in 2013 by three friends to honor their buddy, Richard Broadley, a 20-year-old soccer fan who passed away from Leukemia in 2011. Since 2015, Richman has been the top sponsor for the team, paying for their pitch fees, and setting them up with new kits and equipment.

They didn't invent the food challenge, but they made it popular

If you've ever thought, "I can do that!" you can give it a try. There are thousands of food challenges out there, and according to Food Challenges, a site that strives to list them all, that's thanks mostly to Man v. Food.

One of the oldest food challenges is from Missouri's Crown Candy Kitchen, and since 1913, they've been challenging guests to drink five 24-ounce milkshakes in 30 minutes. (Richman took on the challenge in 2009, and only finished four.) The other long-running challenge is the 72-ounce Steak Challenge at Amarillo's The Big Texan Steak Ranch (which Richman beat for the show's premiere), but they were among only a few food challenges out there, until 2008. Between 2008 and 2015, more than 2,300 food challenges popped up across the US. It goes farther than that, too, and they say more than 15 countries have also adopted the idea that stuffing yourself silly can be entertainment. Thanks to the popularity of Man v. Food, you can now find food challenges across Britain as well as in Thailand, India, France, Sweden, Australia, and Belgium.

Filming took hours, but it's just as fun as it looks

You never really know what goes into making any TV show or movie, and you know there's a ton that just doesn't make it to the final broadcast. Mark Cohen owns New Jersey's The Chicken or The Egg and was featured on Man v. Food in 2010. He spoke with The Independent about just what went on during filming of the 12-super-hot-wing challenge, and he says it was just as fun as it looked. "Adam made it easy," he told them. "He was very friendly, genuine, and funny."

It was still a long day of filming, and Cohen says the film crew showed up at noon on a Saturday and started filming a ton of the filler footage, kitchen shots, and b-roll stuff. The challenge itself didn't start until 9pm, and by the time they wrapped at midnight, they'd been shooting for 12 hours. That wasn't the end of the day, though, and he says they all just hung out for another three hours.

Cohen also says the publicity was amazing. He hired more staff, and even years later, reruns still send people his way that otherwise wouldn't have stepped through the door.

The internet was not happy with a new host

Man v. Food came to a heart-stopping, artery-clogging end in 2012, but in 2017, Travel Channel announced it would be making a comeback. Unfortunately for die-hard fans, Richman wasn't going to be making the same return, and the internet went into a rage-meltdown as only the internet can.

Replacing him would be New Jersey native Casey Webb, who has some serious food cred himself. According to his Travel Channel bio, he's been working in restaurants since he was 15, and he's spent years working in every aspect of the food business. The internet still wasn't happy, though, and The Daily Meal reported there was even a petition started to bring Richman back.

Richman was already hosting another Travel Channel show — Adam Richman's Fandemonium — but according to the fans, that didn't really seem to count.