Sophomore Mike Radzwilla had only three more bites of the sandwich and half a bowl of fries left to complete the Fat Chick challenge at Benchwarmers. But with 10 minutes left on the clock, he couldn’t eat any more.
“Everyone else was pacing themselves, and I didn’t stop eating for 15 minutes,” Radzwilla said. “There was a point when I realized if I ate any more food, I would throw up.”
Radzwilla and his friends spent Friday night attempting the Fat Chick challenge at Benchwarmers. The challenge is one of a few in the area, offering prizes from shirts to cash for eating excessive amounts of food.
The Fat Chick was introduced about five years ago at Benchwarmers. The sandwich, according to the restaurant’s menu, is “20 ounces of breaded chicken breast, way too much grilled bacon, loads of melted Monterey jack cheese and a mound of sautéed onions served on a toasted Kaiser roll,” served with a heaping helping of french fries. Those willing to take the challenge must eat the sandwich in 30 minutes to earn a T-shirt proclaiming “I Ate A Fat Chick.”
Benchwarmers Manager Thomas Yengo estimates that about one out of 10 students who try the challenge actually complete it. He said going out to eat in college is a social experience and started the challenge because it would be fun.
“It’s amazing what college kids will do for a T-shirt,” Yengo said.
Radzwilla went in a group with three friends, freshman Joey Kaz, Steve Hill, the college’s Catholic Community campus minister, and Mark Martin, a second year graduate student, to try the Fat Chick challenge.
Hill said he has done eating challenges before to test his own limits.
“It’s for us who used to play sports but now can’t because we weren’t born with enough talent to go on to the next level,” Hill said. “It’s a way to live out your being a boy instead of being an adult.”
While all four started the challenge at the same time, with other friends cheering them on, none were successful in finishing the plate.
Senior Nate March tried the challenge twice, failing the first time and succeeding in his second attempt in winter 2009. He won the T-shirt but refuses to wear it out, calling it “pretty tasteless.” He said the spontaneity of the second try helped him finish all the food.
“I didn’t psych myself out the second time because it was such a spur of the moment decision to do it,” March said. “My stomach was empty. My metabolism was really high. It really wasn’t as painful the time I succeeded as the time I failed. The time I failed, I got done and was about to explode. The time I succeeded, I was like, ‘Yeah. That was pretty good.’”
March said even though he tried the Fat Chick, he finds eating contests disgusting.
“Competitive eating in general is just so unhealthy,” March said. “It’s something I don’t mind doing every once in a while, doing something really extreme. But come on, America. Take care of your body.”
If the Fat Chick sandwich isn’t appealing, the restaurant also offers the Suicide Wings challenge. Participants in the challenge must first sign a waiver because the sauce is hot enough to blister the mouth. The challenger gets 30 minutes to finish 10 hot wings, with no drinks allowed. If they finish the challenge, they get a T-shirt that says, “I ate the Suicidal Wings at Benchwarmers and all I got is this stupid T-shirt.”
Similar to Benchwarmers, Ithaca’s newest wing place, Buffalo Wild Wings, has its Blazin’ Challenge, in which a person must finish 12 Blazin’ wings, the restaurant’s hottest, in six minutes without drinking or wiping his or her face. If completed, an individual gets a T-shirt with “Blazin’ Challenge Survivor” written on the front.
Junior Mike Muraco did the Blazin’ Challenge while on a trip to The Ohio State University in the spring of 2010. He said doing the challenge wasn’t all fun.
“If you’ve ever watched the cartoon shows when steam comes out of your ears, I actually felt like I had vapor coming out of my ears,” he said. “My eyes were just watering. I was bawling. It just felt like my face was on fire.”
Muraco said though the challenge was painful, the thrill of finishing was worth it.
“Whoever’s doing them, the spotlight is on them,” he said. “It’s just sort of funny. It’s just fun. Even though it’s painful, you feel proud of yourself and people are just laughing at a good time.”
Wings Over Ithaca holds a competition every September, where the restaurant gives away a $1,000 cash prize for the person who eats the most boneless wings in three minutes.
Mitchell Blimm, manager of Wings Over Ithaca, said the contest isn’t limited to students, but many participate for the cash prize.
“A thousand dollars to start the semester off is a pretty good way to get yourself ahead,” he said. “So a lot of the guys come in and really want that money.”
Blimm said food and eating contests have become more important because it’s not only a social event but a basic human need.
“Food is something that drives the economy, and it drives people,” Blimm said. “You get up in the morning and you try to figure out where you’re going to eat for the day, and what you’re going to eat.”
Radzwilla said eating contests and overeating has carved itself a niche in American society.
“Eating is American,” Radzwilla said. “It’s sadly taken on part of the culture, so it’s sort of like a sport in a twisted way.”
While Radzwilla, Hill, Kaz and Martin all failed the challenge, all of them agreed it was fun to try and was worth their money. And while Kaz and Martin said they would never do an eating competition again, Radzwilla already has his next one planned.
“Buffalo Wild Wings is next,” he said.