- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 2, 2002

Just because bizarre people are willing to do outlandish things on television, should you turn a camera on them?

That's the question viewers will be left pondering if they watch "Gut Busters," an inspid Discovery Channel documentary about eating contests and the "athletes" who participate in them. The hourlong show airs at 9 tomorrow night.

"Gut Busters" takes viewers into the world of competitive eating. Most Americans probably don't know such a world exists. They're better off that way.

"Gut Busters" introduces us to people like Donald "Moses" Lerman, a New Yorker who considers himself the Michael Jordan or Tiger Woods of competitive eating.

Mr. Lerman travels across the country entering eating contests, stuffing his face at different stops with matzo balls, hot dogs and steak.

At each outing, his heavily bearded face ends up covered with food. It's never a pretty sight.

We also meet some of Mr. Lerman's peers, including "Krazy" Kevin Lipsitz, a rookie eater who trains for competitions by sharing hot dogs with (what else?) his pet dogs. The camera lingers way too long on Mr. Lipsitz while he and Fido share a frankfurter.

Viewers also meet George Shea, a slick contest promoter with the world's best poker face. He and his brother, Rich, run something called the International Federation of Competitive Eating. The federation's seal features crossed ketchup and mustard bottles and two dragons holding up a hot dog with their mouths.

Mr. Shea says he believes Mr. Lerman and Mr. Lipsitz and their ilk are "at the dawn of a new sport."

Mr. Shea's signature event is a hot-dog-eating contest held every Independence Day at Nathan's Famous restaurant on Coney Island. It attracts hundreds of spectators.

"This is about patriotism," he says of the contest.

No it's not. It's about money, and Mr. Shea is probably making a ton of it by exploiting such people as Mr. Lerman and Mr. Lipsitz.

"Gut Busters" would play like a broad "Saturday Night Live" sketch if it weren't so dumb.

Like some other Discovery Channel documentaries, this one looks as though it's produced on the cheap. There are plenty of cheesy graphics, including animated pizzas that float across the screen for no apparent reason other than to make the whole affair seem whimsical.

It would have been nice if the producers had bothered to at least mention the dangers of overeating. After all, this is the Discovery Channel, right?

Instead, the producers attempt to pass this off as educational programming by trotting out a thick-accented physician to explain the science of human digestion.

Through X-ray imaging, we get to see food chewed in the mouth of a competitive eater and slide down his throat and into his stomach.

Let's not kid ourselves, Discovery. This isn't educational TV. It's not even entertaining.

The show also features interviews of competitive-eating fans, most of whom look as if they just wandered out of the audience of a professional wrestling match.

One fan, interviewed after a Japanese eater wins the Independence Day hot-dog-eating contest, talks about how the United States isn't "spending enough time training" its eaters.

"I'm disappointed. I'm having a hard time celebrating the Fourth of July today," he says.

Oh, shut up. If that is the kind of thing that dampens your holiday spirit, you're in desperate need of a civics lesson, pal.

Perhaps the most repulsive moment in "Gut Busters" comes at the end, when Mr. Shea laments the loss of the competitive eating title to the Japanese. He suggests somehwere in America, an overweight youngster is sitting down at a dinner table, unaware that he may be his nation's next "champ."

"There is a Mozart to competitive eating who has yet to reveal himself," Mr. Shea says.

Please, somebody stop this man before he exploits again.


What: "Gut Busters"

Where: Discovery Channel

When: 9 p.m. tomorrow


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