Dive into the heart of the fitness world with an exclusive interview with Ben Tatar, a seasoned attendee of the Mr. Olympia Expo.
This year’s event surpassed all expectations, marking a triumphant return to the grandeur of fitness expos with its array of celebrities, groundbreaking competitions, and a palpable energy that signals a new era post-pandemic.
Tatar’s firsthand account promises to reveal the dynamic evolution of the expo, offering insights and anecdotes that capture the essence of this iconic gathering.
How was this year’s Mr. Olympia expo compared to last year or even years past?
Ben Tatar: This year’s Mr. Olympia expo was superior to last year’s! This year’s was so good that I can’t wait for next year’s! Last year’s was also so bad that I ended up having a two-hour lunch, but this year’s was so good that I skipped lunch!
This was the first event since Covid where I felt like fitness expos were back to normal and back to their full glory. There were tons of celebrities, models, bikini models, freaks, and incredible athletes. This event had more competitions than any earlier Mr. Olympia expo in history. And to top it off, there were model searches happening outside the expo. The event was seriously mind-blowing and an absolute blast!
As far as comparing this year’s Mr. Olympia to the past, I gotta say, the expos were at their peak about 10-15 years ago. But, hey, despite that, this event still felt incredible because it totally surpassed my expectations! It’s just hard to compare expos from different eras because they’re so different.
Here are five differences:
1.) Ninety-eight percent of the people at this year’s expo in attendance were completely different compared to the expos from 10 years ago.
2.) It used to be all about magazines and one-on-one emails. Now, people are more focused on public social media. Times have changed!
3.) The events used to have better attendance. However, now it’s easier to get a front-row seat to the Mr. Olympia contest at the expo or for any contest at the expo.
4.) Nothing is rare anymore! Like, back in the day, when you saw a 350lbs bodybuilding freak years ago, it was like, “Whoa, ‘this is different!” Now, all that stuff is normal. I mean, I was talking to Mike Westerdal, and I used to think, “I gotta get a picture with this person ‘because nobody has seen anything like it!” However, now, it’s like, “this is all normal.” Both Mike and I agree, models and freaks feel right at home at these events.
5.) It’s more laid back now. There used to be more people at the booths.
Personally, it’s a different vibe. I feel like all the lifters who have passed away are right there with me in spirit at these events, and I always feel a big energy that’s off the charts. When I was younger, I used to see these events more like, “Whose dream can I make come true on this trip?” I have enjoyed both eras in their own ways.
Lastly, I used to see more people I knew. The attendance used to also be higher. However, there are still similarities. For example, the best of the best from around the world attend these events, regardless of the time.
As far as the question goes, “was Orlando a good location?”
BT: When it comes to Orlando versus Vegas, most people don’t think Orlando is the best location for the Mr. Olympia ‘cause it doesn’t have the same nightlife like Las Vegas. Orlando is more of a family-friendly destination.
So, I was asking people which place they liked better, and I got to say, only about 20% of them preferred Orlando. They liked that it didn’t have that crazy Vegas party vibe or the pressure to stay out late. It keeps the focus on the event itself, which is cool!
You know what’s cool about Vegas? everything is super close. However, in Orlando, you got to do a bunch of driving or Uber riding to get to Disney, Universal, and Downtown Orlando. This is because everything is so far away from each other.
Even the different Disney parks aren’t connected to each other. The Orlando convention center, also known as The Orange County Convention Center, is the most centralized spot among these places, but it’s still not that close.
Orlando worked well for me because I stayed at a hotel connected to the convention center. This was hard for people who didn’t stay in walking distance to the expo. One of my friends had trouble getting an Uber or a Lyft to the event in the morning! It’s not like there are 24/7 taxis or constant shuttle buses like in Columbus, where they go to the event all day. A couple of my friends who stayed in Disney Springs or Universal Studios struggled more with transportation.
This was one of my all-time favorite Mr. Olympia events! With all the changes in the world, I was really missing the good old expo days! This was the first year where I felt like things returned in a big way. It was the first event where people weren’t wearing masks and people were just more comfortable with people. Also, the quality of models, freaks and celebrities were much higher than last year!
This event made such a big comeback since Covid, and seeing Mike Westerdal there was amazing. The quality of people at the event and the energy was amazing!
How was seeing Mike Westerdal, the founder of Critical Bench, at this year’s Mr. Olympia different versus seeing him at the Mr. Olympia back in 2010?
BT: Well, seeing him at both events were worlds apart. Back in 2010, I saw Mike Westerdal, his wife Courtney, Dave Ruel, and his wife, Karine Ruel. I also went out for an amazing dinner with Mike and his wife. We walked all around the Vegas strip and had a blast. I also went to Mike’s suite, and we went out for an all-time great dinner!
I felt like 2010 was an amazing era! I just got back from Palm Desert California after visiting my grandparents. My dad was in Vegas, but he could self-entertain himself and he didn’t go to the expo or to the dinner with us. The celebrities of the 2010 era were great, as I was having fun with the top name celebrities who were in their primes.
Also, I was seeing all the people I was interviewing. I just thought 2010 was just the ultimate time, and I had a blast with Mike.
However, seeing the founder of Critical Bench, Mike, at the Mr. Olympia in Orlando was huge, but in a whole separate way! Mike and I, we’ve been making waves with Critical Bench since the nineties! So, for me, it felt like this major celebration of everything we have ever done.
There was a nostalgia vibe in the air because we go way back. And I have to say, the 2023 Mr. Olympia? It was like the perfect embodiment of all that history and awesomeness!
Mike and I saw lots of wild stuff and we noticed how much the industry has changed.
Mike and I took a couple of pictures together. We also took pictures with WWE superstar Batista! I have been seeing Batista at the Mr. Olympia going back to 2007! We also snapped pics with champions in the world of fitness, and even ladies who had the biggest knockers in the world. It was wild!
Mike found it to be too much to take in all at once, and he found lots of it interesting. But me? Hahaha, I was still more like the kid in the candy store!
Mike and I had two dinners. One at the expo and one after the expo.
We played arcade games at the end of the night! I remember doing Tough Mudder with you and Mike. I remember Tough Mudder kicking my ass, but I kicked its ass right back. When I saw Mike in Orlando, I had to power through with only one functional arm. At the expo, after beating the Diamond Dallas Page curl challenge, I hurt my arm. I could not extend my arms or anything. So, I was battling the whole time, hahaha! However, I still loved it.
Mike and I played all kinds of games in the arcade, from shooting games to racing games, for a long time. Mike was a pro, probably because he had lots of practice with his kid and intellectual superpowers when it came to so many of those games.
By the end of the night, we had won tons of tickets, but I didn’t really need a giant stuff animal or anything since I have got my own pets. So, here is the inspiring part: Mike gave all those tickets we won, in addition to the tickets my Executive Assistant bodyguard won, to a kid! Everyone with us saw how generous Mike was!
The kid’s parents were so happy that they got emotional, like they had won the lottery. Haha. It was a genuinely nice deed by Mike. The parents and the kid will always remember it.
However, yeah, seeing Mike at the 2023 Mr. Olympia was beyond cool. And I am so glad it all happened, and I give you a big thanks for setting me up with the media press pass this year, Chris!
Last summer, I was not even sure if I was going to make it to the event because it was so bad last year, but it was amazing this year and I got to see Mike. I wasn’t acting fast enough with the hotels or press pass, so having everything worked as well as it did, seemed like kicking a field goal, hitting the uprights, and then successfully winning a championship based on how it all worked out in the final seconds. Haha and the trip turned out to be one that I can always look back and smile about!
People might wonder why it was bad last year. It was so small last year that I walked around the whole expo in a half hour and already had talked to everyone. This year I was able to entertain myself throughout the entire expo for both days.
Name any glaring disappointments or best moments at this year’s Mr. O.
BT: The biggest glaring disappointment was the WPO competition and how small the stage was. It used to be the main event on the Arnold stage, and now it was just in this little section with hardly any spectators. Mike Westerdal was like, “my powerlifting competitions had way more spectators than this.”
The biggest glaring disappointment in a literal sense was the sumo wrestling. I don’t think the sumo wrestling had a great attendance. It was hard on people’s eyes. People did not want to glare at the sumo wrestlers like the models. However, I will say that I have bench pressed a sumo wrestler before and now they have women’s sumo wrestling in addition to men’s sumo wrestling.
People absolutely loved the actual Mr. Olympia competition! Ronnie Coleman was like a superstar, and people went crazy for him! He was incredibly popular! There was a massive line for Ronnie Coleman, but there wasn’t a line at all for the top WWE champions. I think to most people the WWE wrestlers are super popular, but I think at Mr. Olympia, most people grew up liking Ronnie Coleman.
List a funny moment, crazy moment, and / or a moment that inspired you.
BT: Funny moment—-I saw a guy getting into verbal fights with the models. You will have to email me for the full story at moc.liamgnull@retsnomratat because I cannot share it here. Haha. Nobody likes getting made fun of by a model. Haha.
Crazy moment—I went to the Diamond Dallas Page booth. He is a well-known WWE and WCW wrestler. He had this thing called ‘blood flow restriction training,’ going on. We had to wear the PowerCuffs around our arms. I did every set to beat his challenge with extra reps each time. But here is the crazy part: the next day, I couldn’t come close to fully extending my arms! I could not even go to the bathroom without doing insane yoga. I just lost all range of motion in my arms for a while, and that was crazy. At least I had an assistant executive bodyguard help me with my bags and my suitcase.
Also, a guy I knew went to take a picture with a model and the model goes, “ewww…you have too much nose hair.” The guy then got all mad at the model. Sometimes, models try to sell products for appearance.
And then there was this one clueless older guy who seriously thought he could get all these ladies one-third his age pregnant. It is common to see people with such crazy behaviors at these expos. But hey, I guess with the rise of YouTube pranksters, people are more guarded.
There are crazy people at these events. It is where the greatest freaks on the planet like to attend.
Inspiring moment—it is cool to see everyone there, including all the participants from the Special Olympics. It’s great to see the event return in such a big way. I will always remember this expo as one of the all-time greats.
Any big celebrities make it to Orlando?
BT: The celebrities were much improved from last year. Shaq was there! Batista, who plays Drax the Destroyer in Marvel, was there too! He has been in other movies and is an all-time great WWE star. I have known Batista since 2007 and have seen him at other events in the past! Other WWE wrestlers like RVD and Eliah were also there. All the bodybuilding greats from Chris Bumstead to Ronnie Coleman were present, and all the top lifters were there. I even hung out with Mountain from Game of Thrones at the buffet, and I got to spend some quality time with Phil Heath at the hotel. This event was rocking with star power.
Plus, the accessibility with the celebrities was much greater because we are all at the hotel linked to the convention! We aren’t scattered everywhere in Vegas or at a club that’s completely packed where the celebrities walk in with their security posse.
What made this event memorable? Was there anything NEW at the 2023 Mr. O?
BT: It was in Orlando! I had a blast throughout the entire weekend, and I’m so glad I got to go. I want to give a special thanks to Chris Wilson for the press pass. I had an amazing weekend filled with memories that I will always cherish. This event was so unique because I was surprised by how well it went, especially compared to last year’s Mr. Olympia. I felt pumped the whole time! I will always value my memories!
Closing thoughts or words?
BT: It was an amazing week and weekend. I’ll be attending next year’s Mr. Olympia as the event celebrates its 60th anniversary in Las Vegas! If you’re reading this interview and if you’re going, say hi! See you all there.