Did I ever mention that competitive eating is my favorite sport?
I’m going to guess “no” considering that this is only my second entry.
Well then, there is something you should know: competitive eating is my favorite sport.
Period. (Exclamation point.)
This year the world of competitive eating was turned on its head. For years there was one dominant name in the sport, the great “Tsunami” Takeru Kobayashi. He was the undefeated hot-dog eating, hamburger-eating, whatever-else-you-want-to-throw-in-front-of-him eating champion of the world. In fact, he had never before been beaten by a human (although once he was beaten by a bear…but if you youtube up the video it’s apparent that if there was a rematch today there is no doubt he’d win…). All of that changed earlier in the year when Kobayashi began to suffer from jaw injuries. Although he did manage to compete at seemingly full-speed in the Fourth of July hot-dog contest at Nathan’s, he was edged out by Joey “Jaws” Chestnut and the hot dog crown (or mustard belt) was brought back to America.
Kobayashi was supposed to battle it out at the Krystal Square Off to defend his title and reclaim the number one spot as a competitive eater. However, with persistent injry he decided that it was best to step back, lending the way for the guarantee of a new burger victor.
The real matchup for Krystal Square Off IV would now be between Chestnut and Patrick “Deep Dish” Bertoletti (my personal favorite due to his home base of Chicago and adorable mohawk). Both showed strongly this year, both beat the other this year, both managed to beat Kobayashi this year (weeks ago Pat surprised the world by out eating both Joey and Kobayashi in a Vegas Wing battle). Though Joey was favored to win, it really could have been anyone’s burger.
The event started at noon with Free Krystals, games, live music… They gave out free t-shirts, “thunder sticks”(those are these inflatable poles that you bang together to make a thunderous noise, which, btw, I am completely inept at using…), and pompoms. The crowd was a circus of support for the little square burgers and the little not-so-square eaters (seriously, how do people that thin eat that much?)
Spectators lined up along the street waiting for the contestants to arrive via hot little sports cars. All convertibles, except for the one carrying Sonya Thomas who, for some reason, was cramped into a hard top. One by one they were driven down the street and then escorted bunnette-style to their autograph booth where they signed posters, shirts, and skin for adoring fans. Unfortunately their time there was short and only a small fraction got their signatures, as the eaters were rushed backstage to mentally prepare to gorge on the all-beef patty, onion, pickle, mustard, bun combos that awaited them in droves.
The stage show started with the bunnettes (cheer squad meets tally counters) followed by the amateur competition (a race for teams of two beginners to finish twelve burgers between the two of them as quickly as possible.)
And then we waited in anticipation for the burger battle to begin…and waited for the ESPN-televised bowling match to finish so we could get on with our show…
Finally someone somewhere won their bowling match and the real competition could begin…
One by one the competitors took their positions:
The fry bread eating champion of the world.
The Houdini of cuisine.
Acivil engineer by trade but an eater by disposition.
The birthday-cake eating spam-eating champion of the world.
A teenage mutant ninja turtle.
The cheese cake eating hard boiled egg eating champion of the world.
The shoo-fly pie eating champion of the world
The one whose true identity is concealed by a painted mask.
The ice cream eating key lime pie eating chocolate eating champion of the world.
The number one ranked eater in the world.
They took their places, prepping their Krystal cups with water or fruit punch or Crystal Light or whatever their beverage du jour happened to be. They were prepared to follow the rules of the game. Separating the burgers is allowed and dunking the burgers is allowed and they’d have eight minutes to eat as many Krystal steamers as they could.
And then. The Countdown.
And the eaters were off. The numbers shot up immediately as eat gurgitator stuffed soaking burgers and buns into their esophagus, shook them down, and grabbed another. Within two minutes some of the eaters had consumed almost forty. The pacing of intake for any of the eaters was nothing short of amazing. The burgers were wet, some reddened with Kool-Aid. All had particles dripping from their mouths. Joey and Pat were right up there along with an underdog: “Humble” Bob Shoudt, a vegetarian who only eats meat in competition.
And holy processed cow meat! With 30 seconds left to go Joey ate his 98th burger, breaking the previous record of 97. With twenty seconds on the clock he reached the seemingly impossible, he reached 100. For the last twenty seconds his pace slowed as he seemed to stop taking food and instead chose to take in the moment. He had it in the bag.
Pat “Deep Dish” Bertoletti tragically ended up in third with 94 and “Humble” Bob came seemingly out of nowhere to capture second with 95. But 103 put Chestnut on the map showed that he deserves the number one spot.
Who knows, maybe Joey could even eat more hamburgers than a bear.
And that was the Krystal Square Off, one of many IFOCE events throughout the year and something that every Silly American should witness, whether you catch it on ESPN, watch a small-town hero at a county fair, or crazily take a ten-hour road trip to witness eating history.
Event: Krystal Square Off IV
Location: Ross’s Landing, Chattanooga, Tennessee
Date: October 28, 2007