LOS ANGELES -- This is hard to watch.
After inhaling a layer of seafood that included shrimp, salmon, tuna, roe, sea urchin and more in under a minute, Johnnie Excel has been struggling with a volleyball-sized mound of rice for far too long. The 29-year-old's hopes at beating the record time on the Bikkuri Don challenge at Wakasaya in downtown Los Angeles are gone, and now his hands are shaking as he just tries to finish and avoid a $50 tab.
For Excel, part of getting into competitive eating was a numbers game. As an accountant, he saw a lot of promise in not only getting to eat a lot of food, but also potentially making some money as well.
His first challenge was just a couple years ago in Mission Viejo. Excel took down 18 dogs, made it to the finals and walked away with $500. He impressed the professional eaters on hand and was told he could have a future if he worked at it.
That's exactly what he's been doing, not only practicing, but building a persona including the nom de guerre Johnnie Excel. He prefers the stage name because of "too many weirdoes on the internet." It also helps keep apart his two lives -- the mild-mannered mathematician and the over-the-top gurgitator.
"At work I have to be very quiet, talk money, finance, and be real serious," Excel says. "This is my way of letting it all out."
This hobby turned second job has led to some interesting experiences. In April he went on "The Tonight Show" with Jay Leno to recreate a mayonnaise eating stunt that had gained a lot of attention through YouTube. Excel has also served as a technical adviser on television shows, including an episode of "Bones" where it was his task to make the competitive eating storyline look as real as possible.
He's currently training to take on the king of competitive eating Takeru Kobayashi at the Crif Dog Classic on July 4th in New York City. He's already faced the world's most popular eater in several contests and has a healthy respect for the legend.
"Right now, I don't consider him competition because I'm nowhere near the same league as him," Excel admits.
That doesn't mean he's not bringing his "A" game to NYC on Independence Day. Excel has been practicing hot dogs on top of competing in other challenges. Later this month, he and five other eaters will attempt to devour a 50-pound pizza. But there's work to be done if he has any chance of besting Kobayashi and walking away with the any share of the $25,000 purse.
Excel's showing at the Bikkuri Don challenge wasn't up to his expectations, despite finishing nearly four minutes under the 15-minute time limit.
He might not have had to pay the bill, but there were flaws in the technique used to consume roughly five pounds of sashimi, rice and miso soup.
"I messed up," he confesses. "I started to panic a little there in the middle, and you start thinking about choking. I should've drank more water to help get it down."
Still, Excel triumphs where more than 350 people have tried and failed. He also sets himself apart from the 20 people who have completed the challenge by ordering dessert.
"I just needed something sweet," he says.
Like one day taking down Kobayashi. Excel will tell you the Japanese sensation is a standard deviation better than everyone else.
But it takes a special kind of competitor to fight through two near reversal of fortunes and slowly enjoy a bowl of mochi and ice cream.
-- Adam Watson is the food czar at ThePostGame. You can follow him on Twitter @AdamKWatson.