The Iditarod may be sports' most grueling race, where competitors eat whole sticks of butter for their calories, but Major League Eating has its own Iditarod and butter is not on the menu. It's known as The Triple Crown of the Chowdown -- three eating events in three days and only the strongest weapons of mass digestion survive. This weekend, the triple including Alabama Gulf Oysters (5 minutes), Creek Indian Corn Tacos (8 minutes) and corn-on-the cob (12 minutes). Its caloric intake rivaled only by the intestinal (and highway) miles travelled by several competitors. In the end, the triple would claim victim to the top ranked female gurgitator, cause a Boeing Executive eater to rely on shots of hot sauce to keep him awake for a 14 hour drive through the night, and cause me to lose the corn crown, the title of King of the Kernels, and push me to the brink of satiety and sanity. The triple is not for the faint of stomach.
Atmore, Alabama is a quaint town just over the Florida state line whose entertainment depends on the Wind Creek Casino and this year's first annual Foodabaluza Festival. BBQ, Blues, and competitive eating would provide the high rollers and slot pullers with life long memories long after the potato salad was digested. Kenny Wayne Shepherd may have had reservations about having a taco contest as his opening act but the casino crowd was all in (hey, Kenny, Major League Eating opened for Styx with the Ben's Chili Bowl Eating Championship and there was no on stage slippage from the Paradise Theater boys). Before we get to the culinary mash-up that is a Creek Indian Corn Taco, Friday night featured the salty goodness of the Gulf oyster. Each gurgitator had catering trays of ten dozen mollusk in front of them, stacked three high. Sonya "The Black Widow" Thomas, the Acme Oyster reigning queen with 47 dozen in eight minutes, was concerned that the short form contest of five minutes, would not allow her to overtake competitors down the stretch, when her "economy of motion" technique (four oysters to a fork, a dozen downed in roughly 12 seconds) would propel her to victory. Her concerns were unfounded as she quaffed 37 dozen to become the Baroness of the Bivalve. I had a good outing, downing 21 and ¾ dozen for a fifth place finish and $200 in prize money to be spent on a sizable Rusty Nail bar tab at the casino. Unnoticed by the crowd that night, was the petite soccer bodied Michelle "Cardboard Shell" Lesco who, lost out on the prize money by one oyster. Her face snarled, as if the salinity of the oysters literally rubbed salt into her wounded pride. She vowed revenge the following night, shaking her tiny fist into the purple Alabama twilight, as if to say, "I am a woman eater, hear my stomach roar!" Revenge, as it turns out... is a dish best served with sour cream.
A Creek Indian Corn Taco -- what is it? Take a doughy piece of fried bread and the contents of a sloppy joe sandwich and then add an overstuffed amount of taco fillings (tomato, cheese, lettuce, salsa, and sour cream) and have the three collide in a caloric three-car pile up weighing in at ½ pound each. This was going to be the messiest contest in history as each taco could barely be picked up without a firework explosion of fillings. If Jackson Pollock had eschewed the brush for the guacamole gun at Taco Bell, this is what he would have created. Eating all the fry bread first and then mashing the toppings into a mound and diving in was Nasty Nate Biller. Sam Barclay, the MC noticed that the mound on Nasty Nate's plate was bigger than his head (but not his stomach). Nasty Nate channeled Richard Dreyfuss' Close Encounters character and made a mountain out of a Móle hill. As she predicted, it would be Michelle "Cardboard Shell" Lesco who would eat with the fury of a jackal chasing its prey on the Serengeti. A brief pause to explain her nickname: She would often order out pizza delivery only to call and complain that each pies' slices 9 - 12 tasted terrible. Her local pizza joint insisted that each pie only had eight slices and it seemed that she was consuming the bottom of the cardboard box after the pizza was gone. The overall winner was Tim "Eater X" Janus, as his six-pack abs became a one pack with 10 plus pounds of taco and 1st place. Shockingly, for the first time in Sonya "The Black Widow" Thomas' 11-year career, she would lose to a woman. In 2nd place overall "Cardboard Shell" would beat Sonya by a pound and ½ with 16.5 tacos. Michelle, asked post contest if she wanted to rebrand herself as "The Brown Recluse" or "The Noir Widow" or "Widow, Black" she deferred and said she would stick to "Cardboard Shell" and promise to only eat the first eight slices of each pizza. Sonya, reeling from a loss and a sinus head cold, would bow out of corn the next day. The unrelenting triple would claim its first victim.
Erik the Red Denmark would drive through the night heading to the South Florida Fairground's Yesteryear Village for the corn-on-the-cob eating championship. He would arrive with a torn ACL, a dopey gaze of unfocused hallucinations, and if pro-eating refs could throw in the bib before the contest, ETR might have been counted out. ETR would finish third in the corn discipline changing his technique mid-contest from the "toilet paper roll" (circular eating) to the "woodchipper" (unfortunately similar to the Linda Lovelace method of eating corn). Despite me being a three-time champ and previous two-year-in-a-row winner, I would feel lockjaw at the eight minute mark and never recover. Notorious B.O.B with his wife yelling encouragement at him and heckling me ("He's looking at you BOB, he's worried") would use his weekends rest and "the Rake" to eat 35 ears of corn. My "manual typewriter" method would get me within one ear or 216 kernels away from victory. Emily Dickson described the moment in her poem, "Success is counted Sweetest." Its last lines are, "As he defeated -- dying -- on whose forbidden ear the distant strains of triumph burst agonized and clear" It seems all the scholars had missed that Emily was talking about an ear of corn.
The wrath of corn complete, I stumbled off stage as the triple crown of the chowdown claimed its final victim.