Nothing brings friends together more than a good ol' eating competition. With the ThinkYouCanCompete.com Taco Throwdown #1
fast approaching, I thought it might be fitting to see just how painful the consumption of mucho tacos can be. Fourteen tacos and one gordita later, they had a winner.
Part One: The Challenge
Last night I finally took on Zen Matt in the long-promised taco eating competition. My friends all said I was crazy to do it, and it's true, my reasons for doing so were sketchy at best. I've generally been responding to queries with: "Well I'm a Midwesterner. We like food. We like competitions. It's the best of both worlds." But secretly I was hoping I would be good at this, that there might be an untapped talent there. I've never been good at sports, and I've never had the smarts to be, say, a chess champion. I'm good at Scrabble, but not great. But eating, well, I've always been good at eating. Maybe this could be my thing. Maybe I would finally find myself a home.
I arrived at Taco Bell early to find my competitor and his girlfriend already waiting. He stood, and we shook hands, and then I began to ask him questions about the history of the event. It seems in his group of friends, one large, sort of jockish guy, once teased Matt about his appetite. Matt, who while not a large man is not the smallest man I have seen either, took offense - the insinuation of a small appetite is an assault on one's manhood - and he challenged his friend to an eating competition. I would be his sixth competitor, and the second woman to do so.
The reigning champion, Zen Matt
We agreed between the two of us to kick things off with a Gordita, and move into the 10 taco (hard and soft alternate) spread. If necessary, we would buy more. Now I knew going into this that if I wanted to get near him, I was going to have to eat at least 15, because that was his proven record, and he clearly wasn't going to back down. So I was certain we would have to purchase more.
Our first order arrives. The ceremonial kickoff Gorditas and the tie-breaking taco (which I also referred to as the "Spirit Stick" of the event).
We certainly made those Taco Bell employees earn their minimum wage last night.
Have you ever looked the devil in the eye?
As we waited for pick-up, my competitor generously gave me a back rub and instructed me to "shake it out." "You can't be tense if you want to win," he said. I had to admit I was a bit nervous, sometimes from excitement, and sometimes because I was afraid I was going to puke. I am not a known puker, but that doesn't mean there can't be a first time.
Part Two: Game ON
The Ceremonial Handshake.
The Ceremonial Scorekeeping. (Yes there is a lot of ceremony involved.)
My strategy was to keep pace with him, and I decided to do this for a few reasons. One, there was the intimidation factor. I wanted him to see me as an equal. Two, I wanted to cram as much into my mouth as possible before I started to feel full. (Cat informed us that it takes twenty minutes for your brain to realize how full you are.) And three, I didn't want to think too hard about what I was doing, because seriously? Those tacos started to seem a little gross.
A few notes on the process:
In the beginning you have no desire to know how many tacos you have eaten, you just want to focus on continuing. By the end you are in constant need of information. The more data, the better. How far ahead is he? How long have we been doing this? How many tacos did the other female competitor eat again?
While initially the soft tacos are tastier than the hard tacos, after a while you begin to loathe the soft tacos because they're chewier. That's right, your jaw starts to give out on you. I think in the beginning I was practically swallowing everything without chewing, but I couldn't take it after a while, and that's when I realized the true trap of the soft taco, at first so friendly and mild, but then, a big puffy mess of chew.
Eating contests are sort of boring after the first six or so. Cat left early and Matt's girlfriend started knitting in the corner. How interesting can it be to watch two people painfully chew?
You feel high pretty much as soon as you start the fourth taco, and you stay that way till you're home in bed. Tacos 5-10 you're actually capable of being funny and holding conversations, and then after that, there's nothing funny about it at all.
Part Three: Good to the Last Bite
Taco Ten (well, ten for me, and twelve for him, because he "taco'd" me twice, which is on par with lapping someone in a foot race) really was the turning point. Look at how miserable we are:
I didn't feel like I was going to puke, but I didn't feel good either. And I was starting to realize that I wasn't going to win. I have to admit I egged him on a bit through a brief bit of dramatic eye contact and probably got him to eat one more taco than he should have. I also destroyed his stack of neatly folded empty wrappers by throwing one of my crumpled up wrappers on his pile, but that was the extent of my taunting or "gamesmanship" as the audience was calling it. Matt's strategy was an endless stream of philisophical thoughts. I do remember him using the word "solipsistic" at one point, but the rest is just a blur.
It's hard to tell in this photo, but I seriously did mess with his neat little pile of wrappers.
I also realized this - and I had realized this last week actually, but it was confirmed - that I didn't really want to win, after all was said and done, because I didn't want to ever have to go through this again. When you're a winner, you have to take on every challenger who comes your way. When you're a loser, you get to say you tried and you failed, and sometimes making the effort, well, that's just good enough for me.
I gave up after twelve tacos and one gordita. Matt, the champion now and forever, was at fourteen tacos and one gordita.
Was I in it to win it? Sure. And I think I did win a little something that night. I won the respect of my peers, and by my peers I mean a bunch of other people who had gone through the same hell for no particular reason, and I won the respect of myself, and by myself I mean the girl who used to smoke a bunch of pot in college and eat massive amounts of leftover pizza at 3 AM, laughing my ass off with my roommates like a complete idiot. I didn't think she'd come back to me, and yet, there she was, grinning at me under the fluorescent light of a fast food chain on 3rd Avenue. And I thought she was gone forever.