Not that there weren't some ranked eaters there - there certainly were. Crazy Legs Conti, Adrian Morgan, Damon Wells, Kevin Ross and a guy nicknamed Wrecking Ball (who proposed to his girlfriend before the event - she accepted) were among the competitors.
Preparing to get their feast on...
For some reason, I've always found the world of competitive eating fascinating - but no more so than any other of my long list of fascinations. What can I say? My mind cycles through many different interests, but when it settles on something, it has my full attention. So, I went a bit early, thinking the place would be swarming with spectators. I wanted a good spot on the 2nd floor rail to watch/video tape the event from. Turns out I didn't need to worry, really... it was nowhere near as packed as I thought it would be.
That's me, in the hat, in case you couldn't tell! With me are the Wagner Girls and Erick, friend of family.
They had a kids round before the main event, but that consisted of kids eating a single hotdog, with ketchup and/or mustard, with one hand in 2 minutes, and the cleanest eater won the prize. Then they took a good long while trying to whip up the meager crowd, introducing the main event eaters, listing qualifications and impressive records. The PA system wasn't all that effective, so I couldn't really understand much of what the MC said - it was too garbled.
The combatants had 10 minutes to eat as many hotdogs as possible. The closer a person stood to the center of the table, the higher the rank he was. So Crazy Legs Conti, being ranked #14 at the moment, had the center spot. For some reason, they put the trophy right in front of his spot before the event began.
I fired up the camera to get the initial countdown to begin, and my LCD screen informed me that I needed to clean the heads on the camera! Are you kidding me! All this time waiting, and now that I'm ready to tape, I can't! WHAT THE! I didn't have the head cleaner with me, and the contest began, so instead of getting crazy-pissed, I ejected the tape, popped it back in, and hit record. After a moment, it seemed to be working, so I just left it record the rest of the time. I wanted to post a video of the whole ten minutes, but alas, the first minute or two is not recorded.
Eat! Eat! Eat! Eat!
So I just did my thing, moving the camera up and down the table, watching the eating machines do their thing. I noticed something odd about Mr. Conti... first, before the event began, he took great pains to set up about a dozen cups full of a dark liquid - a tea of some sort, I supposed. He mixed things into the cups, like a mad scientists [EDIT: which I thought was very cool, actually]. I figured, being the front runner, he must know some secrets about what to drink (other than water) to help it all go down. I know enough about the contest to know that many of the eaters dunk their dogs to moisten them before cramming them down.
I didn't think anything of it until I watched him cram his mouth full and then appear to spit great mouthfuls of food into the dark cups of liquid, and then immediately cram more dogs into his mouth. From my angle, I could see how full the cups were he was picking up, and the angle that he tilted the cup, and how wide he opened his mouth when he "took a drink" seemed obvious to me that he was spitting food into the cups. This seemed confirmed when I saw big chunks of bread floating in the cups afterwards...
Check out this close up of the cups in this picture... Conti is the one in the hat, with the dreads...
Yeah, I know, it's gross... still, you can see the bread in those two cups there, at least. He fished them out after the contest ended, and appeared to fold them into one of his gloves as he removed it.
Anyway, the contest ended, and I just kept the film rolling, zooming in to look around. Everyone else stopped eating, but Conti seems to take another minute or so, working on getting the last mouthful to go down his gullet, including a couple moves to a cup. Everyone else milled around, while he hovered over his station, picking things up, brushing things onto the floor, checking out his station. Seemed really odd to me, but really, I didn't think much of it until I came home to review the tape.
Well, check it out for yourself. Here's the video I edited together. I was going to make a tight two-to-three minute clip, but I thought I'd keep a lot of the more suspect behavior in the clip, just to see what you think...
Maybe the whole Competitive Eating world is structured like Wrestling, where it's a mix of sport and show, with certain outcomes determined ahead of time. I mean, the judges were all volunteers, who signed up on the spot, to get a free T-shirt, I suppose. Just folks from the crowd. And really, in the grand scheme of things, who cares, right? Still I feel bad for the third place finisher... the top two will go to the big July 4th event in NY. If they checked those cups, I'm quite sure they would have found a good amount of food in the bottom. It wasn't water, it was dark, like tea. If Conti was spitting food out into the cups, he should have been disqualified, and the third place guy should be going to NY next month, not him.
It just seemed odd. One suspect move I could dismiss. So many of them? I don't know how seriously they take the rules in the world of Competitive Eating. If they do take them seriously, I think they should review my footage! I feel like an investigative reporter! All I was doing was grabbing footy for my blog! You'll have to call me Scoop Wagner now!
Anyway, afterwards, they tossed frisbees out to the dwindling crowd (Middle Daughter got one) and also gave away the rest of the hot dogs they'd cooked (wifey snagged one for me)...
I finished with one hot dog down!
All in all, it was a cool event. I'm glad the video camera worked for me. It's silly to think people might cheat at something like this - and maybe he didn't. Or maybe it doesn't matter. But it was a curious wrinkle to the event nonetheless...
And that, as they say, is that!