"I think what captivates people's imaginations is that we all can't dunk like LeBron, we all can't drive like Jeff Gordon or something like that, but I think that we all love to eat," said Richman. "A great many of us do, at least, and I think it's a skill set that people can point to, go, 'I can do that, I have a fork and knife and teeth and gums. I'll go for it.' I think it's accessible, it's exciting."
And excessive, maybe?
"It may be, but I think that that's just a person's opinion," Richman said. "It would be excessive if you made it a lifestyle choice, but if you make it a once in a blue moon..."
"Man v. Food" is a little discordant with the great national dialogue on fighting obesity, eating healthy and portion control.
I asked Richman if his show was sending the wrong message.
"Absolutely not," he said. "I think that were I to advocate eating like I eat, or eating what I eat on this show, as a lifestyle choice, would be foolhardy, it would be reprehensible. I think the bottom line is we're showcasing really once-in-a-blue-moon indulgences."
Incredibly, Richman has not put on pounds shooting the show, he said.
"I am proud to say, I am very proud to say I am wearing the same size jeans I did at my screen test," he said.
As far as training, Richman's background doesn't exactly scream "competitive eater."
"The one thing is, people are like, 'OK, you went to Yale Drama, and now you're eating seven-pound burritos, and there's a disconnect,'" said Richman. "And I get that."
That's right: The 36-year-old Brooklyn native is a classically trained actor, an alumnus of Yale's drama school. But he has always loved to eat.
Now that he eats a ton for a living, Richman exercises all the time -- and counts on some outside assistance.
There was the time in San Antonio, Texas, when he squared off against a particularly daunting burger.
"In San Antonio I wasn't going to win that challenge if it wasn't for that crowd," Richman said. "I'm being completely honest with you. It was a burger with the four hottest peppers on earth on one hamburger, and it was excruciating, and I literally looked over my shoulder. And to see a whole room of strangers so feeling what the show is about and so in my corner, it's the best thing in the world. Sometimes it's tough when their overexuberance leads them to patting me on the back when I'm four pounds into a seven-pound burrito. That can sometimes be compromising, but I know it's all done with love."
Amazingly, Richman has never gotten sick doing this. That's the part I was most interested in when I idiotically agreed to try the Stupid Wing Challenge at Caliente.
"These are some of the hottest wings I have personally ever faced, and I gotta tell you, I have so much admiration for you," said Richman. "So many people will talk to me about the challenges, interview me about me or the show. You are the first person that's actually gone toe-to-toe with the beast, and I have to say, I admire that tremendously."
Greaaaaat. But what will this small pile of fire actually do to me?
"A lot of spicy, it will increase your heart rate, you'll feel almost like pins and needles... and you get hiccups," said Richman. "If you can control those three things, you will win."
Winning was an afterthought. SURVIVING was the ultimate goal.