Free hot dogs, with a price

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By MIKE EDDLEMAN

The empty chair at the end of the table is not meant to alarm contestants as they line up for the Hot Dog Eating Contest at the Independence Day Spectacular, but they should be aware it is reserved for the defending champ, just in case.

That chair is reserved for champion Trevor Ogden who has moved away since last year, but is contemplating a long-distance return.

He loves the Independence Day Spectacular, and has a good laugh when he talks about his two years on the big stage of Liberty Hill competitive eating. There were no grand plans for victory when he first sat down at the table in 2017.

“It was more being an idiot and telling my girlfriend I was going to do it,” he said. “She said I wasn’t, so I did it just to show I was. I literally signed up the day of the event the first year just to see if I could do it.”

But he ended up tying another competitor with 15 hot dogs total and returned last year with a little more focus on winning. He did take the trophy, but found it much more challenging to down those hot dogs in year two.

“The first year was so much easier than the second year,” Ogden said. “I really thought about trying to do some things and some strategy, and that first year I just went right into it. I don’t know if last year I could have eaten 15 if my life depended on it.”

Thankfully, for his sake, the totals being put down last year were not as high.

“Last year I quit at eight because everyone else dropped off,” he said. “There’s no need to make myself miserable when everyone else has quit.”

He even got some help easing the burden with a polite word from his chief competitor.

“There was one other gentleman I was kind of afraid of who might do it. He was younger, I thought he might have the potential to out-eat me,” Ogden said. “He tapped me on the shoulder and said ‘I’m done, just stop, there’s no way I can catch you.’ That was the best news I’d had all day.”

The win was great, but Ogden just loved being part of such an exciting community event.

“It’s all about the community involvement,” he said. “Going and eating some hot dogs is a way to support what the City and The Independent and the great thing they do, so I’m all in.”

Competitors all have their own motivations for pulling up a chair at the table, and Ogden remembers one participant sitting down with mustard and ketchup, intent on just enjoying a few free hot dogs.

“Good for you, man,” he remembers telling him. “Just do what’s fun and enjoy it.”

Last year, the competition was on the big stage, or at least right next to it, and Ogden said having a big crowd cheering the competitors on made it much more fun.

“The first year we were off by ourselves,” he said. “You were just there eating hot dogs. Last year, they made that the featured deal. Kyle Park is a good buddy of mine and I gave him a hard time, telling him we’d get more people watching us eat hot dogs than watching him on stage. It was packed around us with everybody cheering, and that made it a lot of fun.”

As far as tips and strategy, Ogden said it’s best when you don’t overthink it, and he admits that when he decided to dunk the buns in water – a common competitive eating strategy – it became much less fun.

“Those guys that are eating 70 or more in competitions, that’s their profession,” he said. “I’m out there just to have fun.”

He also enjoyed the dogs more the second year, but believes how they were cooked made them harder to eat in large numbers.

“The hot dogs were boiled the first year and grilled last year,” he said. “They are so much better grilled. But you get some of that grill taste and it’s a little bit tougher to eat that than the boiled because it fills you up a little bit more. I just think going into it and free-wheeling it is so much easier.”

Even eating nearly twice as many the first year, he remembers feeling worse after only downing eight last year.

“It really wasn’t that bad,” he said of the first time around. “The first year I got done and I was still like hungry. I don’t think I had time for it to sink in and register that I was full. We went and had a snow cone. But last year, I couldn’t wait to just sit down because I was done. I felt like I ate a lead balloon.”

Regardless of whether people plan to fill up on hot dogs or just cheer from the crowd, Ogden said the Independence day Spectacular is the place to be July 3.

“Forget going down to Austin or anything like that,” he said. “What the City and The Independent do for the community is incredible and lots of fun. Get out there and have fun in a great community event. Save a seat for me, because you never know if I will show up.”

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