The Travel Channel has a few gems. Anthony Bourdain is quite entertaining to watch and brings more than just a bratty attitude to his food show. Andrew Zimmern will keep you interested for the entire episode. Samantha Brown has the best job in the world (and I’d like it next, thanks). These are shows that cater to the older demographic on the whole – with the exception of some Bourdain episodes that walk the line between edgy and trying-too-hard. They are devoid of rabid screaming, silly attempts at overcoming pointless obstacles, and a bloated stomach - nine times out of ten.
Thankfully for us buffoons and frat boys, there’s Man vs. Food.
Man vs. Food was on the Food Network – or so I thought as I watched it. The travel theme isn’t woven into the flow of every episode like Bourdain and Zimmern’s two shows. It’s sort of an extra detail noted in the introduction or at the end. Host Adam Richman plays a lovable portly host that wants you cheering for him as he battles challenges of speed, heat and quantity using only his digestive system. Spoiler: he’s nowhere near as fat as I thought he’d be.
The skeleton of each show is as such: here we are, I’m trying to win this type of challenge, and here’s another 20 minutes of fluff to get you acquainted with the location and food history before I attempt my challenge. Seriously – hours of watching season one hasn’t shown me any other formula. It’s a comforting thing to watch a guy that looks like your older brother’s chubby and well meaning lump of a friend get chummy with the locals and then use their mob-like energy to scarf down 8 lbs. of burrito under 30 minutes. In fact, every wing challenge conjures up sepia-toned memories of my old indoor soccer team attacking 75+ wings at a time. Richman could probably eat all 75 by himself and chalk it up to the insatiable appetite we all have for comfort food.
That’s exactly what this show is. Comforting. Although you must get past the American act of competitive eating, overeating, overindulgence, and extreme wastefulness (think of all the people who tried and failed to win eating challenges), once you do Adam and his writers do an excellent job of making you feel welcome.
They hit up obscure locations in random states along with big cities and memorable challenges. Six increasingly hot sushi rolls? Done. Ghost chili, habanero, Serrano and jalapeno cheese burger from hell? Done. Pizza the size of Ames, Iowa? Yep. Something called the Kodiak Arrest Challenge in Alaska? Delicious devoured. There’s a variety of food involved in Adam’s challenges – ranging from breakfast omelets that can feed four people to cheeseburgers and sandwiches weighing more than your dog all the way to ice cream and milkshake battles. It should gross you out – but it doesn’t.
Adam happens to be hilariously aware that what he’s doing will not make the world a better place the way Mother Theresa did. He’s fun, he’s cute, and he’s not trying to make him work self-important. He quotes ‘300’ a lot and has unleashed hell all over the US. The jokes and metaphors cause more eye-rolling than laughing, but he commits to the silly side stories 100% (who invented the original Jucy Lucy being a favorite moment when he obsessively, almost ‘Family Guy’-tangents from his original challenge to shed light on a feud involving two restaurants and one mouthwatering cheese-filled burger). By the 14th episode (counting repeats because this show is ALWAYS on) I was not only an Adam supporter, I damn well wanted to watch each show because the man is a likable celebrity personality. And I that’s something I rarely say.
There are moments that show his utter vulnerability as a human being as well. They’re not pretty. Lumping all the times the camera’s zoomed in extra close to show what a bloated man looks like just halfway into a challenge is one such moment. The profuse sweating and crying hot and spicy challenges cause is another. Not so flattering is the life of a host whose job is to try and eat like bulimic without any purging. My favorite ‘wish-they-would’ve-edited-that-out’ scene came when he triumphantly threw his arms into the arm and stood on his chair after winning a challenge – and we were exposed to the inner tube of flesh exploding out from under his shirt. That happened once – now you’ll only see an inner tube of undershirt barely holding back the troops as they prepare to attack Camp Seams-of-Pants. The next option is overalls…
Season Two is already underway. Check it out on the Travel Challenge Wed. at 9 E/PT and try hard not to wish Adam was your brother’s best friend.