Rock County Fair eating contest brings variety of strategies

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Jason Smathers
Saturday, July 31, 2010
— Maybe it was the kid in me, but this challenge was too hard to pass up.

I’d have 15 minutes to swallow 15 doughnut holes, 20 cheese curds, a cupcake, a corn dog, an egg roll, a pulled pork slider, two handfuls of cotton candy, a slice of cherry pie, a bag of fried potato chips, a chocolate milkshake and a dollop of cookie dough. If I succeeded, I’d receive a cooler, tickets to the Wisconsin State Fair and a gift certificate to Old Country Buffet.

My stomach pleaded with my mouth not to do this.

My empty wallet, however, had different plans. This poor college student has to make rent; a trough of free food could keep me full into next week if it didn’t stop my heart first.

So I thought, “Why not. It will save my girlfriend the trouble of cooking dinner for me tonight.”

Her shrimp sounded good, but gluttony sounded better.

Before I jumped headlong into the men’s division, I studied the younger competitors’ techniques. Four boys stepped up to the plates nonchalantly, eager to demonstrate the black hole that is a growing kid’s stomach. Jake Bennett was one of them, with his family reminding them that his family’s pride hangs in the balance.

“Just shove it in your mouth!” his friend Laura Prentice yelled.

They slowly made their way through, using milkshakes as lubricant. The mixture of cherries, cotton candy and chocolate left him looking like a clown from the nose down.

But it’s all for naught. Bennett lost and the winner, Dylan Witte, was handed top honors for his intestinal fortitude.

“I think I need a trash can,” he said, stumbling out of the tent.

The girls were made of harder stuff. Prentice showed Bennett the proper technique: She packed as much food as possible into her mouth. What followed was 14 minutes of the most grotesque balancing act: How much do you stuff in before it starts coming out?

Her competitor strolled leisurely around her plates, picking off each item in a timely manner. When the 15 minutes were up, she was the one with only 10 cheese curds left. Laura came in fifth, just missing the boat on those tickets.

After a quick cleanup, it was my time to gorge.

With nine other competitors on all sides, I quickly devised a strategy: Get foods I won’t like that much out of the way. If I’m limping toward the end, the corn dog is going to look the least appetizing, so that would be the first down my gullet.

The timer started, and I hit the corn dog. Surprisingly delicious.

Another contestant complained “The egg rolls are cold!” I don’t know what he was on; mine were perfect. With that down, the pulled pork was next. Everything was delicious.

That could be dangerous.

Chuck Bennett might agree. He told me an hour earlier that he was “thoroughly prepared.” Instead, he bowed out.

I would not be deterred. I compressed the cotton candy and shoved it in my mouth, as the two clumps quickly dissolved, with some small pieces falling to the floor. Rock County 4-H Queen Anne George was quick to point out that the food belongs in our mouths.

No matter. The cherry pie was already going down. But with the crust caking up my upper gum line, it was time for the milkshake.

Heed this warning: Dairy will be the end of you. The milkshake immediately wreaked havoc, bringing me to a sudden halt. After a brief sigh, I continued.

But those cheese curds devastated me. The ones I’d had earlier in the day were smooth and creamy, leaving me wanting three more cups. The Tuesday Optimists’ offerings, however, may as well have been Play Dough.

The milkshakes did nothing but test my gag reflex.

Tim O’Grady managed to finish first. The man in front of me with the hilariously appropriate Pink Floyd “pigs” T-shirt was proud to announce his victory. He was happier still to have some water.

But that was it for me. With only four curds remaining and the doughnut holes untouched, time expired.

There would be no trip to the state fair for me. Of course, given the heart-stopping banquet I indulged in, perhaps that’s a good thing.

Last updated: 2:14 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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