For three years, I have watched doughy bon vivant Adam Richman take on some of the coolest food eating challenges across the country as part of my guiltiest of TV pleasures, the Travel Channel's celebration of colorful, challenging eateries called Man v. Food.
But just as the show is about to feature Tampa among a double-barreled dose of episodes in its fourth-season debut tonight, there is a snag. A ringer, if you will.
Richman, a guy who once faced a 5-pound nacho challenge in Michigan and a 72-ounce steak in Texas, has hung up his fork for television, recruiting local people to tackle the eating challenges for him, rechristening the series Man v. Food Nation.
For longtime fans, this is a little like showing up for a Beatles reunion and finding a local tribute band. Richman has said he's responding to the fans' desire to join in his fun, but I suspect that the sometimes actor (he has a master's in drama from Yale University; who knew?) wants to cut back on the carbs a bit.
Still, in the Tampa Bay area, Richman finds a colorful substitute: local wrestler Jerry Sags, better known as half of the Nasty Boys champion tag team.
Sags steps in for an epic battle, taking on the Davy Jones spicy wings challenge at Rapscallions, an island-themed eatery in Land O'Lakes.
During tonight's episode, Richman hops around Clearwater's Nastyville School of Pro Wrestling (owned by Sags' partner, Brian "Nasty Boy" Knobbs), coaching Sags to keep his hands clean of the wings' burning sauce and to strip the meat off beforehand to keep the caustic juice from smearing his lips.
Sags needs all the help he can get, facing 10 wings doused in sauce so hot that Rapscallions' owner, "Captain" James Morgan — not that one — prepares the wings wearing rubber gloves. ("It smells like pain," cracks Richman about the sauce, made from habanero peppers and capsaicin extract so powerful that some kitchen employees wear face masks)
Sags gets 30 minutes to eat 10 wings, with five minutes reserved for the "afterburn" — meaning, if all of the wings are consumed, the diner must wait five minutes before drinking anything to ease the pain. No spoilers here, but Sags secretes so much sweat, spit and other substances, this may be the least appetizing show about good eating I've seen in a while.
Regardless, Richman has lots of fun visiting two other colorful Tampa Bay eateries; Skipper's Smokehouse and Aguila Sandwich Shop in Tampa.
At Skipper's in Tampa, Richman samples barbecued ribs made from alligator meat, loosing an expletive to express how good the meat tastes. Later, he explores how the Aguila family makes "Cubano" sandwiches, calling them the best in town (direct irate rebuttals to the Travel Channel, folks).
Still, it is a little disappointing to see the master keep his fork holstered for Tampa. Perhaps, if we beg enough, he'll consider a rematch?