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May 30—FAIRMONT — Competitive eating is just better in person.

The West Virginia Three Rivers Festival welcomed back the annual pepperoni roll eating competition to the main stage of Palatine Park Saturday night. After around a year off of in-person speed-eating, Major League Eaters returned to Fairmont with a rallying, “we’re back.”

Sam Barclay, the emcee for Saturday’s competition, led the evening with enough energy to fill the park, as the competitors took to the stage readying themselves to eat as many pepperoni rolls as they can in 10 minutes.

Joey “Jaws” Chestnut, 37, of San Jose, California, is the current reigning champion of the pepperoni roll eating contest and also holds the world record for the most pepperoni rolls eaten in a 10 minutes period at 43 rolls. A record which he set at the 2019 festival.

Chestnut was back this year to defend his title and win the belt again, but he was having trouble in the first few minutes and said it was his nerves getting the better of him.

“I really didn’t do that well,” Chestnut said after the win. “It was like I was a kid again and I was nervous to be in front of people again. But I got over it and got back into it.”

Chestnut and the Major League Eaters took a year-long break from competitions in front of crowds. This first of the 2021 season took place in West Palm Beach, Fla. and Saturday’s competition was their second of the year. The pepperoni roll eating contest was Chestnut’s first-event with a crowd in over a year.

“It’s so different doing it in front of a crowd,” Barclay said. “All the energy is different, not just for me hosting it, but for the eaters as well.”

And it certainly made a difference for Chestnut.

“It’s so weird to eat without anybody watching,” Chestnut said. “It feels so much better when you have people watching and yelling for you.”

Chestnut was the favorite to win the event, being the No. 1 overall eater as ranked by the organization, Major League Eating, and despite his nerves, he pulled ahead and won the event, eating 33 pepperoni rolls in 10 minutes.

Second place went to Geoffrey Esper of Oxford, Mass. who is second overall on MLE’s rankings. He ate 30 and a half rolls in 10 minutes. Third place went to Nick Wehry of Tampa, Fla. with 24 and a half rolls.

Fourth place was Brett Healey of Memphis, Tenn., who ate 16 rolls. Fifth place with 14 and a half roll was Michael Whities of Brandon, Miss.

Chestnut wasn’t the only competitor of note at the competition. Eric “Badlands” Booker, a competitive eater and YouTube star also participated and placed sixth out of 10 and ate 14 rolls. Booker has just under 3 million subscribers on his YouTube channel, BadlandsChugs.

Reach David Kirk at 304-367-2522 or by email at