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Gooey Girls Gone Wild for Wings

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MC George Shea, the hyperbolically hilarious evil genius under the boater hat and behind the 4th of July Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest, and other Eating events around the world, insists his International Federation of Competitive Eating is not only a sport, but mankind's ONLY sport.

"Competitive Eating is the most fundamental sport now practiced by mankind... it is man and food. The very essence of what it means to be an animal on this Earth, which is to succeed, which is to eat and to win. All other so-called sports are fatuous. The only sport potentially more fundamental than competitive eating would be competitive breathing... which is not as exciting to watch and has the potential for hyperventilation." Eat or be eaten.

That is why, for the past 12 Labor Day Weekends, Shea and his odd gaggle of Competitive Eaters have descended on the birthplace of the Chicken Wing: to give the Buffalo what every sports town wants -- A World Championship.

Since it's invention/discovery by Theresa Bellissimo in 1964, Buffalo has claimed this flaming former chum as its favorite son, and now stages a greasy Two-Day bacchanal to celebrate the Wing in all its sizzling glory.

According to Fest organizer, Wing King Drew Cerza, 4 tons and over 145 different flavors -- raspberry garlic, Nuclear, Pesto -- were sold this year. That's a lot of Frank's Hot Sauce.

But fans don't come just for the wings, you can get them anywhere -- especially in Western New York. The 50,000 faithful that come through the turnstiles wearing wing shirts, shorts and foam wing hats, turn out to see the carnage wrought by 'world class' eaters like Joey Chestnut, Sonia "Black Widow" Thomas, Eric "Badlands Booker" and "Joey Deep Dish." These Gods of Gluttony, waddle down from on high, to gulp & gurgle their way to victory. And the fans eat it up.

Each eater has their own mythic backstory -- and theme music. But they all share the same goal: to ingest more chicken wings in 12 minutes than any human on Earth, thus earning the World Championship.

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This year rookie 100 lb. Miki Sudo ate 178 wings for a new World's Record. She was a model of efficiency - each wing inserted, then quickly pulled back out across the teeth, shredding the meat off the bone, like a piranha stripping a wandering calf. The next time you're watching The Big Game, try eating 21.3 wings/minute for 8 minutes in a row. You can't. You won't. 'Cause you're not The Champ.

"I channel what is going on in the mind's of the eaters for the audience," explains Shea. "I get inside their heads and speak for the eaters... because they can't speak, they're eating."

Yes. Yes they are. The only real question is why. It ain't the money, the 10 gastronauts split a prize purse of only $4,300. Which means most of the aspiring gurgitators do it... for the free T-shirt. Well that, and a shot at fame.

And yes, just like any other sport, there are groupies. But not offering meaningless post-game sex - do you ever get down Thanksgiving night?

No, in this sport, groupies offer... pie and victory cupcakes. This year, a groupie gifted a pot roast to her Eater-Crush just moments after he'd finished off 133 chicken wings. Love IS all about timing.

Gut Groupies wear t-shirts with their eater's face ironed on the front. They scream slogans and chant rhythmic grunts - like the guy who yells the count to the rowing team from the back of the boat- pacing their eater to the promised land. They get to be part of the show, but without all the bloating.

Detractors whine that these are eaters not athletes, gluttonous carnies traveling from town to town eating everything that's not nailed down. But each eater goes to great lengths to assure the media, and their young fans, that this is NOT their everyday lifestyle. They exercise and eat healthy all of the time... except the weekends they binge on 20 pounds of Buffalo Wings. Or hot dogs. Or fried okra. Yes, aside from that, they're just like you or me, though we probably can't share outfits.

"Like the Swallows return to Capistrano," pontificates Shea, "the 'swallowers' return each year to Buffalo," to participate in two major eating events; Saturday's Buffet Trough (5 pounds of pizza, roast beef on wick sandwiches and chicken nuggets eaten out of a metal pan) and the main event, Sunday's famous Buffalo Wing World Championship."

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Cerza also stages an amateur event: the Wing Bob. 3 hands-free bobbers in goggles root around in a kiddie pool filled with blue cheese dressing, searching for 50 submerged wings. The bobber who, like a loyal hunting dog, retrieves the most wings wins... a T-shirt. And a medal, suitable for framing, (once you rinse it off.)

Truthfully, the reason I've been back to Buffalo three times and counting now, is the same reason the fans show up. The Spectacle. The raw carnage. The experience for which words alone can not do justice. Sometimes, you just gotta see it to believe it:

See you in Buffalo SEP 1, 2014.

Hear George Shea's hilarious complete interview on our iTunes show,
A FORK ON THE ROAD. Episode #21.

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Learn the Top 50 recipes in America, in Mark's Best selling Road Trip Guide:
"A Fork on the Road: 400 Cities, 1 Stomach." www.markdecarlo.net

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