Ranking the best and worst Man v. Food challenges

There are some TV gigs where it's easy to sit on your couch and think "Anybody could do that." Man v. Food is definitely not one of those TV jobs just anybody could do. From 2008-2011, Adam Richman crisscrossed the United States "in search of America's greatest pig out spots." (The show has carried on with a new host, but for the purposes of this article we're sticking with its original run.)

What made Man v. Food such fun was that Richman wasn't some super human competitive eater like Takeru Kobayashi or Joey Chestnut, but just a regular guy. There was no guarantee he was going to beat the challenges and according to his own calculations, he had around a 65 percent success rate.

Some challenges of course were better than others, and some were even downright painful to watch. It's time to revisit some of MVF's greatest glories and most crushing defeats. We'll look at what made some challenges so spectacular to watch, while others were nothing short of stomach-turning. On to the challenges!

Best: The Dagwood Challenge at Ohio Deli in Columbus, OH

Quantity challenges seemed to be especially tough for Adam Richman and by the end of many an episode he looked like he'd been put through the ringer. Going up against this sandwich at the Ohio Deli, Richman was given the task of eating a comically tall sandwich and pound of fries. In an interview with The Guardian, he discussed just how tough bread and potatoes can be.

"If you do a quantity challenge, the problem you'd face would be a starchy challenge. If it has a lot of potatoes, a lot of bread or fried elements, that's difficult."

While the Dagwood match was far from the biggest challenge — it was actually one of his easiest — it lands on our list because it was pivotal for the success of the show. In an interview with Bizarre Foods host Andrew Zimmerman, Richman said it was a real learning experience. "This bout was the one that helped me realize the importance of a developing a specific game plan when tackling the challenges." If he hadn't stumbled upon a strategy and won this challenge early on, who knows, MVF could have been over and done with after a few episodes.  

Worst: Hellfire wings at Smoke Eaters in San Jose

Scarfing down 12 wings in just 10 minutes seems doable. In theory, one should be able to just shove them in their mouth and be done with it. The problem is that these wings were coated with six ounces of dried habanero pepper and out of the 9,000 people who have attempted the challenge, 80 percent failed. The good news is that Richman wasn't one of those folks and won the challenge. So why include a challenge he completed in our "worst" category? Well, the sheer pain that he was in during and after the challenge is enough to make a person think twice about ever eating a hot wing again. If eating the wings wasn't bad enough, Richman had to lick the thick sauce from his fingers or be disqualified. 

Hey, at least it couldn't get any worse, right? Wrong. Upon finishing the wings and licking his fingers clean, Richman had to sit in tongue-searing pain for five minutes before he could extinguish the fire with a glass of milk. We'd like to tell you that's where the pain ended, but even after the challenge was over Richman was still pacing around behind the restaurant waiting for the burn to subside. "Those last five minutes almost killed me," he said. 

No free T-shirt is worth that sort of pain. 

Best: A 72-ounce steak at The Big Texan in Amarillo, TX

The saying "things are bigger in Texas" is true to ridiculous proportions at this Texas steakhouse. The Big Texan is no stranger to food shows and has appeared on The Great Food Truck Race and No Reservations. When this Man v. Food episode premiered though in 2008, Richman was still a rookie in the food competition game.

The 72-ounce steak is the final boss of food challenges and competitors are only given an hour to eat it. If gnawing away at what probably seems like an entire cow wasn't daunting enough, Richman also had to consume a shrimp cocktail, baked potato, salad, and dinner roll. On the plus side, the meal was free if he finished it all and didn't die. Woo-hoo!

Somehow, the food gods smiled upon Richman that day and he was able to finish not just the steak, but the full challenge without having a heart attack. How his jaw didn't dislocate from chewing all that beef is impressive, but the real miracle — he did it all in under 30 minutes. Holy cow!

Worst: The Hawaiian Mac Daddy pancake at MAC 24-7 in Honolulu, HI

Pancakes have been one of the most popular breakfast foods for ages, but they seem to feel like sandbags in your stomach. Richman and the Man v. Food team traveled to Hawaii just to take on a stack of pancakes nearly as big as the Pacific Ocean. While jetting off to paradise just to eat breakfast isn't a bad gig, we're here to talk about pancakes, not tropical beaches.

Sure, three pounds of pancakes and a pound of toppings looks delicious, but let's be realistic, eating that many carbs doesn't seem humanly possible. It's certainly not going to do you any favors should you be foolish enough to go for a swim in the ocean. According to MAC 247's chef, the challenge has less than a one percent success rate. Unfortunately for Richman, he wasn't able to boost that success rate and halfway through hit a syrupy wall.

Should you find yourself at MAC 247, don't try and be the big kahuna by ordering this challenge, just get a short stack like a reasonable person. 

Best: The Gigante at Sweet P's BBQ in Knoxville, TN

Burritos were a recurring nemesis for Richman on Man v. Food and more than once ended with food conquering man. Considering the popularity of burritos, the show kept finding new places with overstuffed tortillas for Richman to try and defeat.

The four-pounder on its own would have been a worthy opponent for Richman, but he also had to take down the Gigante's tag-team partners: a half pound of banana budding and a half pound of mac n' cheese.

Nobody had ever entered the ring with the Gigante and come out a winner. Simply conquering Gigante and winning his first burrito challenge would be enough to land Richman major MVF accolades. He took things a step further, however, and devoured half the burrito just five minutes into the hour-long challenge. Perhaps it was losing those other burrito challenges, but Richman made sure "not to let painful history repeat itself." Watching this challenge you can't help but root along with the Tennessee crowd as he becomes Gigante's only victor, just 29 minutes in. 

Worst: The 15 Dozen Club at Acme Oyster House in New Orleans, LA

People seem to either love oysters or equate them to swallowing pure sea slime. Even the most passionate of oyster fans though would likely turn green at the idea of eating 180 of the slippery sea creatures. With so much good food in the city of New Orleans, sitting down to a plate of 15 dozen oysters seems like an exercise in stomach sickness. Nevertheless, that was the challenge that awaited Richman and it took its toll on him.

Over 150 had tried and 28 people had succeeded when this episode premiered in 2009 and Richman was able to pound through the oysters and in the end, did indeed become a member of the 15 Dozen Club.

Proceed with caution though if you fancy yourself stepping up to the plate at Acme Oyster House. It pretty much ruined oysters for Richman. "After the oyster challenge, ... I think I may have had less than a dozen since," he later said. "It just turned me off." Any challenge that results in never again wanting to eat a food you once enjoyed is a most definitely a hard pass. 

Best: Hellfire spicy tuna roll challenge at Kobe Sushi in Salt Lake City, UT

Richman has certainly faced down his share of spicy challengers over the years and been brought to his knees by as little as a single chicken wing, so how would he fare against a tuna roll?

The Hellfire is anything but your ordinary sushi challenge and participants must pass qualifier rounds of heat before they can even enter Kobe Sushi's seventh ring of fire. "The last qualifying round explodes in my mouth like a nuclear bomb," he said. It may be just a six-piece tuna roll, but with layers of Thai chilies lined throughout, it's definitely not a guppy of a challenge. "It looks like war paint," commented Richman. Fortunately, the challenge has no time limit and Richman was permitted to drink and eat whatever he wanted to offset the heat. 

Considering that Richman looked like he was about to spontaneously combust, it's pretty remarkable that he advanced to and finished the seventh ring of Hellfire. This challenge may not be one that the average sushi-lover would be up for trying, but it's certainly thrilling to watch Richman embrace a "no pain, no gain" mindset and forge on to victory. 

Worst: The Absolutely Ridiculous Burger at Mallie's Sports Grill & Bar in Southgate, MI

Adam Richman was no stranger to burgers while filming Man v. Food, but none of them could hold a french fry to the behemoth he would go up against in Michigan. Known as the Absolutely Ridiculous Burger, it lived up to its name and clocked in at 190 pounds. With the title of "the biggest burger ever made" there was simply no way Richman would be able to defeat the goliath on his own.

The solution: recruit a 40-person army of eaters to chew away at the beefy monster.

Despite having hockey players, firefighters, a KISS tribute act, and more fearless volunteers back him up, you can't help but watch this challenge and doubt they'll finish it before even a single bite is taken The fun of Man v. Food is that there's a real possibility that the host will beat his food challenger, but even with 40 people chowing down, they'd each have to eat nearly five pounds of burger. Those are some pretty poor odds. 

The entire room (and everyone watching) seemed to be glad when the challenge and their meat sweats came to an end with more than 30 pounds of food left, and frankly, we can't blame them.

Best: The Kodiak Arrest at Humpy's Great Alaskan Alehouse in Anchorage, AK

Jumbo sandwiches and fiery hot wings were common fare on Richman's Man v. Food travels. Reindeer sausage and Alaskan crab legs, however, not so much. The unique cuisine of this food challenge places it firmly in our "best of" category and in a Reddit AMA session, Richman even confessed that it was his favorite challenge in the entire series.

So what makes this challenge worth hitching a dog sled all the way up to Alaska? Well, that would be the six-pound Alaskan feast that includes wild salmon cakes, grilled veggies, mashed potatoes, and the aforementioned crab legs and reindeer sausage. Oh, and dessert, because after eating three pounds of crab meat you need some ice cream to top it off.

Richman had 90-minutes to devour the meal fit for a camp of lumberjacks and none before him had been able to meet the challenge. After spending 15 minutes cracking open the crab legs before getting a single bite, Richman could have easily been doomed for defeat. Rather than go back to the lower 48 with his head hanging in shame, Richman pushed through to give the Kodiak Arrest its first win. 

Worst: The 5 milkshake challenge at Crown Candy Kitchen in St. Louis, MO

Lactose has a way of taking down even the mightiest of men. Don't get us wrong, milkshakes are a wonderful thing, but five milkshakes in one-sitting?! Ugh. That definitely has the potential for a seriously messy disaster. For starters, chugging a gallon of milk without vomiting is almost impossible. Our bodies can only break down so much calcium and lactose at once. Plus, most people can only hold about a half-gallon anything before their stomach turns against them. The five milkshakes that Adam attempted to conquer definitely pushed past that mark.

The challenge that matched Adam against 120 ounces of milkshake in under 30 minutes didn't exactly have the greatest chances of success. Only 22 people at the time were able to rise above the inevitable brain freeze feat, and unfortunately, our Man v. Food host didn't become 23. After downing the last of his coffee milkshake, Richman headed to the bathroom and well, you can guess what followed. Any challenge that results in a man becoming a milk geyser certainly falls under the "worst" category. 

Best: The Kitchen Sink at San Francisco Creamery in San Francisco, CA

Alright, so we just ripped the Candy Crown Kitchen challenge that had Adam Richman trying to slurp down five milkshakes, so why put an ice cream challenge in the "best" category? Because everybody loves a good comeback story, that's why!

The Kitchen Sink ice cream challenge was a ridiculous two-pound dessert that was loaded up with eight scoops of ice cream, plus toppings, and whip cream. Only four people had succeeded at the time of filming, so the odds were definitely not in Richman's favor. Being able to pick the ice cream flavors had to be a plus, but a starchy strategy proved to be the real key to defeating this frozen giant.

After hitting a sugar overload, Richman seemed like he may have been down for the count, but then ordered fries to push back the sweetness. "I'm gonna wrestle it to the ground like a demon cobra," he said as he pushed forward and drank the last drops of melted ice cream. Some MVF challenges become a thing of legend and the Kitchen Sink is one of those challenges. 

Worst: Fire in Your Hole Hot Wings at Munchies 420 Cafe in Sarasota, FL

Coming in at 855,000 to 1,041,427 Scoville heat units or 10 times hotter than a habanero pepper, the ghost chili is reportedly hot enough to possibly kill a person. Suddenly this challenge seems a bit scarier than habenero pepper wings, doesn't it?

Richman didn't have the best track record when it came to spicy wing challenges. The Suicide Six Wing challenge in Brooklyn forced him to throw in the towel after a single bite. (Though he did later declare a rematch and emerge victorious.)

As for the wings at Munchies though, they proved to be straight from the fires of Hell. "It's the hottest thing I've ever eaten," he said during the challenge. After two wings, Richman said he was on the verge of passing out and opted to end the challenge with a glass of milk. The chef later admitted to putting an entire bottle of ghost chili extract on the wings, which explains why Richman later said in an interview that he felt like he "couldn't breath."  

If there was ever a MVF challenge that we wouldn't wish on our worst enemy, this would definitely be the one.