Food challenges even Adam Richman couldn't beat

Some men are born to fly rocket ships. Other men are born to write code for software companies.

Adam Richman was born to eat food. The original host of the Travel Channel's iconic Man v. Food television show, Richman traveled the country taking on some of the most famous and formidable food challenges. Like a hairy, ever-ballooning superhero, he boldly tackled towers of oysters and 30-pound pizzas. He gobbled down atomic hot wings and slurped fiery chili. He polished off massive sandwiches, guzzled monstrous milkshakes, and ate donuts the size of car tires. From humble origins as a mild-mannered, bit-part actor, Adam grew into a true king among competitive eaters over the course of four seasons — even though he was never a competitive eater before being on the show. Not only did he conquer some of the most monstrous and heat-packed dishes known to man, he did it all with humor, intelligence, enthusiasm, and style. The fact that he always had a huge crowd cheering him on probably didn't hurt either.

But just as Superman has been bested by his fair share of super villains over the years, Adam Richman didn't triumph over every one of his competitive eating contests. Here, we've listed some of the more insane food challenges that even Adam Richman — the mighty man of Man v. Food himself — couldn't beat. Could you?

Memphis, Tennessee: The Sasquatch Hamburger

Adam Richman's first on-air defeat went down on season one, episode two in Memphis, Tennessee, and we're guessing that first loss hurt worse than the others. That's where Richman attempted to beat a burger challenge at The Big Foot Lodge (now known as Kooky Canuck), a lively local burger joint famous for its big portions. The Big Foot Challenge (now known as the Kookamonga Challenge) involves polishing off a whopping 7.5-pound burger — including four pounds of freshly ground chuck, 1.5 pounds of lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, onions, and cheese. It's all stacked on a massive two-pound bun, and it must be eaten in under 60 minutes. Before Richman, 1,300 hopeful eaters had attempted the challenge and only four had succeeded.

Richman started the challenge out strong, gleefully gobbling half of the burger within the first 20 minutes. Within another 20 minutes, however, the fearless foodie had slowed down. Richman stood up to catch his breath before throwing in the towel with about a quarter of the burger still on the plate. Since the episode aired, more than 4,000 have attempted the challenge, and only 23 have finished it.

Austin, Texas: Don Juan Challenge

Down in the central Texas town of Austin, Richman faced the Don Juan Challenge on season one, episode five. The tex-mex trial took place at Juan in a Million, an unassuming Mexican eatery that has been a eastside breakfast go-to since the '80s. The Mexican restaurant is renowned for its Don Juan El Taco Grande, a hearty, one-pound pile of potato, egg, bacon, and cheese wrapped in a warm, six-inch flour tortilla.

To beat the Don Juan Challenge, Richman had to break the record held by the previous champion, Christopher "Hong Kong Hero" Huang. Huang, a student at the University of Texas at Austin, had devoured a whopping seven tacos in one sitting.

In attempt to consume a record-breaking eight tacos, Adam took advantage of the fact that the competition had no time limit and took a lengthy siesta after his fourth taco. He started on taco number five two hours into the competition, and eventually realized he wouldn't be able to finish it in time for closing. Not wanting to keep any of the staff late, Richman nobly ceded the competition. The owner's son, Juan Jr. Meza, graciously awarded Richman "Celebrity Host Champion" for his valiant efforts. Currently, the record for the Don Juan Challenge is nine tacos for men, five for women, and four for celebrity hosts.

Atlanta, Georgia: Carnivore Challenge Pizza

Just outside Atlanta, Georgia, Richman went head to head with the Carnivore Challenge at Big Pie in the Sky. The New York-style pizzeria challenges two-person teams to scarf down an 30-inch, 11-pound meat-covered pizza in under an hour.  At the time of taping, the challenge had never been bested by a duo before.

For his partner, Richman enlisted the aid of a contest veteran Drew Middlebrooks. Richman devoured a good portion of his half of the pizza within a half an hour, with Drew turning pale and lagging behind. Drew eventually went outside behind the building to throw up, officially disqualifying their team at 44 minutes into the challenge. Richman congratulated his partner for his courageous attempt, declaring "Today, against our judgement, two warriors entered the realm of combat against the beast known only as 'The Carnivore'. I left it all on the battlefield, as did my partner… he also left some behind the building."

Since Richman's attempt in episode seven, season one, the Carnivore Challenge has been defeated by seven teams. First to beat the challenge were Erik Unger and Anthony Reganato, competitive eaters from Birmingham, Alabama who finished the challenge in 33 minutes.

Las Vegas, Nevada: B3 Burrito Challenge

With many food challenges, the prize is comprised of having your picture posted on the wall of fame and perhaps a free T-shirt. With the Big Badass Burrito (B3) Challenge at the now-closed NASCAR Cafe in the former Hotel Sahara, the stakes were a little higher: The prize entailed a lifetime pass to the Sahara rollercoaster, Speed: The Ride… in addition to a wall of fame photo. 

To conquer the B3 Challenge, participants must finish off a two foot-long, six-pound burrito in under 90 minutes. The beefy burrito wraps four flour tortillas around shredded beef, beans, onions, and is topped with nacho cheese, enchilada sauce, and huge scoops of sour cream and guac. The burrito clocks in at over 5,000 calories and gets announced over the loudspeaker once it leaves the kitchen, like a fighter entering an arena.

When Richman attempted the challenge in season two, episode two, only two people out of more than 200 had successfully shovelled down the burrito in the allotted time. Richman demolished nearly two-thirds of the burrito within the first 15 minutes. About 35 minutes in, however, Adam hit "the dreaded wall." Adam is ultimately unable to finish off the final pound of the burrito and gets awarded a pink "certified weenie" T-shirt, which he dons with pride.

Honolulu, Hawaii: M.A.C. Daddy Pancake Challenge

While most visitors to Hawaii head straight to the beaches, Adam Richman made a beeline for its kitchens when he visited Honolulu in season two, episode six. After sampling local burgers and traditional Hawaiian cuisine, Richman got down to business.

For his Honolulu challenge, Richman was to try his hand at the M.A.C. Daddy Pancake Challenge at M.A.C 24/7. Located inside the Hilton on Waikiki Beach, the 24-hour pancake joint is famous for its jumbo pancakes.

The challenge entails finishing a 14-inch, four-pound tower of pancakes and toppings in 90 minutes without leaving the table for any reason. It's worth noting that Adam has been on record as naming "starchy challenges" as the toughest kind," and that only four people had successfully completed the M.A.C. Daddy challenge out of nearly 400 hopefuls. During Adam's crack at the contest, he wolfed down nearly three pounds of fluffy, pancakes and gooey blueberries before his time ran out.

New Brunswick, New Jersey: Fat Sandwich Challenge

Later on in season three, our hungry hero journeyed to New Brunswick, New Jersey to take on the Fat Sandwich Challenge. The challenge was dreamed up by RU Hungry, one of Rutgers University's iconic grease trucks. The mobile eatery is known for their Fat Cat sandwiches, which are packed with hearty fillings like mozzarella sticks, chicken fingers, and beef salami.

To beat the Fat Sandwich Challenge, contestants must finish five (for males) or three (for females) Fat sandwiches of their choosing within 45 minutes. When Richman took a shot at the challenge, around 100 Rutgers students skipped class to witness the food titan in action. For his sandwich, Richman chose the Chicken Fat Cat, Veggie Fat Cat, Fat Romano, and two Fat Kokos, which all together weighed over seven pounds. But even with an audience of college truants on his side, Richman was unable to finish the five sandwiches in time. By the time his 45 minutes was up, the celeb had only finished four sandwiches.

Boulder, Colorado: Wing King Challenge

Richman's first greasy defeat of the third season took place during episode two in Boulder, Colorado at West End Tavern. The local watering hole runs a Wing King Challenge, where contestants must consume all the meat off 50 wings — around five pounds — in under 30 minutes. When Richman partook in the competition, 90 other competitors had tried and only 15 had prevailed.

The ravenous warrior had taken on many spicy chicken wing challenges before, but the Wing King Challenge would be his first quantity trial. Richman's strategy was to gobble down wings at a pace of one wing per 30 seconds with the help of copious amounts of blue cheese. Richman was right on pace at 25 wings at halfway point, but quickly started to slow down soon after. In the end, Richman is unable to eat the last 14 wings before he runs out of time. But at least he didn't start getting the shakes — which apparently is a common side effect experienced by participants after downing so much poultry.

The Man v. Food episode drove plenty of Wing Challenge hopefuls to the tavern, and to date, nearly 100 contestants have finished — including the current record-holder who devoured all 50 wings in just over 12 minutes.

Tempe, Arizona: Ultimate Slider Challenge

For the sixth episode of season three, Richman journeyed to Arizona to to battle it out with giant sliders at Chompie's, a time-honored New York-inspired deli. At the restaurant's Tempe location, the champ took on the Ultimate Jewish Challenge. To win, participants have to eat a dozen of Chompie's Jewish sliders and a heap of fried onion strings in under 30 minutes.  The sliders pack challah buns with lean brisket, mini potato pancakes, and jack cheese and are paired with brown gravy for dunking. With the pound of onion strings included, the challenge totals five pounds of food.

During Richman's stab at the challenge, he annihilates all but one of his sliders before running out of time. In the Q&A session after the challenge, Richman laments the fact that he started out slowly, trying to savor the delicious sliders without keeping an eye on the clock. Since the Man v. Food attempt, a handful of customers have gone on to beat the Slider Challenge.

Barranquitas, Puerto Rico: La Vaca Acostada

Immediately after Chompie's, Richman faces another defeat: this time, in Puerto Rico. The culinary conqueror ventured up into the mountains of Barranquitas to La Vaca Brava in order to take on the Vaca Acostada (or "sleeping cow") challenge. The Vaca Acostada is a nine-pound pile of sirloin steak, french fries, cheese, and mushroom sauce with bacon, onions, and chorizo. When Richman undertook the feat, only three out of 100 contestants had successfully taken down the Vaca Acostada within the allotted 40 minutes. It was "more food than I ever faced before," the chubby champ noted.  

As always, Richman started with gusto, cracking jokes, clapping with the crowd, and washing the meal back with wine. Less than third of the way in, however, our man was hit by the "meat sweats" and begins perspiring profusely. The timer runs out with only a few pieces of steak and around half the fries left on Richman's plate.

Kansas City, MO: Ultimate Destroyer Challenge

In the 10th episode of the third season, Richman visits Papa Bob's Barbecue in Kansas City to give the Ultimate Destroyer Challenge a go. The meaty challenge entails consuming a 12-inch hoagie stacked with the following: a half-pound of pulled pork, a half-pound of hickory-smoked sliced pork, two slices of bread, a half-pound of hickory smoked ham, a half-pound of hickory smoked turkey breast, two more slices of bread, three half half-pound hickory smoked hamburgers, a half-pound of hickory smoked brisket, and a half pound of lean, hickory smoked sausage. The whole thing is doused in Papa Bob's signature sauce, and paired with one and a half pounds of fries and four dill pickles or jalapeno peppers. To triumph over this mammoth pile of meat, contestants have to finish the whole meal within 45 minutes without bathroom breaks or dipping the food in drinks.

If it sounds like an impossible endeavor, it was — at least for our intrepid host. Richman managed to get down a little more than half the meal before the time ran out

Niagara Falls, Ontario: Italian Challenge

Up north in Niagara Falls, Richman dropped by Mick & Angelo's Kitchen & Bar to try his luck at the Italian Challenge. Started by the Mediterranean eatery over 15 years ago, the challenge involves consuming seven pounds of Italian food in under 90 minutes without leaving the table. What type of Italian food, you ask? Practically every classic Italian-American dish you can imagine, including lasagna, spaghetti with meatballs, hot Italian sausage, chicken Parmesan, manicotti, cannelloni, a whole loaf of garlic bread, Italian wedding soup, a salad, and apple crisp with ice cream for dessert (because who can forget dessert?). Every dish comes showered in sauce, cheese… or both. At the time of filming, 300 people had attempted the Italian challenge, and only 20 had succeeded.

When Richman took on the 10-course Italian dinner in season three, episode 15, he started out by combining different dishes to accelerate the eating process, stuffing the garlic bread and chicken Parm together to create a chicken sandwich. Within 30 minutes, Richman had demolished five items. At the 40 minute mark, however, the courageous competitor hit a wall and switched to the apple crisp dessert. He was able to finish the dessert before realizing he couldn't finish the spaghetti, when he was 65 minutes in. With a heavy heart, Richman admitted defeat and hung his photo on the wall of shame.

Sarasota, Florida: Fire in Your Hole

For our last competitive eating tale, let's go back to season two, episode seven, to Richman's most controversial challenge — the Fire in Your Hole challenge at Munchies 420 Cafe in Sarasota. Before Richman, the challenge had a 95 percent failure rate.

So perilous was this food feat, the staff refused to tell Richman or the crew what the contest entailed beforehand. Once the camera was rolling, the challenge was revealed to be five ultra-hot wings slathered in ghost chili sauce. The ghost chili pepper is among the hottest in the world, and over 100 times spicier than the average jalapeno.

Richman valiantly finishes two wings before forfeiting the competition, saying he is "on the verge of passing out." Even after taking a surrendering sip of milk, the foodie remains visibly in pain, his eyes watering and his lips red.

As it turns out, Richman may have been a victim of foul play. The crew had miked the employees, who revealed they'd poured an entire bottle of Jet Black Ghost Chili extract in the sauce in order to "blow him out."

"The reason why I'm especially mad, it's not because of my record, I don't give a s**t about that," Richman said later in an interview with Hot Ones on First We Feast. "It's that it's cavalier and very dangerous. They weaponize ghost chili extract in police grenades in India."

Richman has a pretty successful track record with spicy challenges, another factor that likely made the loss extra disappointing. His only other heat challenge loss was the Suicide Six Wing Challenge, which he later rectified in a rematch.