Every week we ask everyone who hangs out around here to answer a tough question. This week:
What’s your favorite competition you’ve ever participated in?
Rules are simple: You’ve competed. You’ve spent time trying to best those fools that call themselves your peers. When did you get closest to victory? When did you smote your enemies? One of our victories is “eating a lot of ice cream” so we’re not exactly out to one up LeBron James, or anything. But still: Any win is a victory. What’s your favorite one?
Last year we started a charity event: The Super Nintendo Charity Challenge. Every November we’re dedicating 72 hours to streaming Super Nintendo out of a living room to raise money for Child’s Play, a charity dedicated to buying games and toys for sick kids in hospitals. We raised over $2,100 last year, but my favorite part of it was the $25 I lost on a bet during it. When you play Super Nintendo with nine people for 72 straight hours with almost no sleep, you need to keep morale up. You do this by setting little goals: beat this in X hours, get this done in Y time, etc. I said I could beat Super Punch-Out!!, a weird boxing game I loved as a kid, in under 30 minutes. I put $25 up as a donation, and I fell short by 47 seconds. I’ve eaten spoonfuls of spices and drank gallons of milk and cases of beer and everything else you do when you’re feeling competitive and full of gusto as a stupid kid. Losing that $25 was the best part.
How can we call this Reading at Recess without a spelling bee story? I was in 6th or 7th grade and had made it to the school spelling bee finals. The whole school came to watch it in the cafeteria. And while it’s not like I would have won the whole thing, I’m still upset about the fact that I got knocked out because of a southern accent. At this point in my life I had lived in the south for only two years, so accents still threw me off. I was asked to spell “repent” but with a southern drawl I had heard “rampant.” And with that, my chances of being a subject of the Spellbound documentary were over. Yes, I could have asked for a definition. Yes, I could have asked for it to be used in a sentence. Yes, I could have asked for the word to be repeated. But this was middle school and I only cared about getting home from school and playing my N64.
This is going to sound really nerdy, but my favorite competition was German poetry recitation at the University of Memphis Foreign Language Fair for high school students. I competed four years in a row in German, proudly representing Houston High. Our German teacher was this awesome lady who taught me a ton about poetry and life, in addition to the German language. One year in particular, we had to learn “Der Panther” by Rainer Maria Rilke, a beautiful poem if there ever was one. I memorized it in this seductive way, as the poem is, on a very simple level, about a panther pacing behind the bars at a zoo. The judge was this very old German professor, I can’t recall his name to save my life. He eyed me up and down sternly, as if I was a horse he was inspecting. He nodded that I start, and I gave the best, albeit weirdly erotic, reading of a poem I’ve ever given. He gave me this weird stare when I finished; I think I was blushing. In any case, I won first place. Erotic poetics win every time.
In college, I participated in a Fear Factor challenge. I was (and am) an incredibly anxious person in social situations and this was an opportunity to not be an introvert. There was the typical nonsense you’d expect at a student-run gross out context. Bugs were involved. I don’t remember how, but whatever happened to them was definitely not humane. I got called up to do a mayo eating contest. I hate mayo. It’s disgusting. But a $20 Target gift card was on the line. I was against two other people and finished the small tub in front of me with 20 seconds left. The crowd was applauding my disgusting display and cheered for me to keep going. So I grabbed the tub next to me, away from my competitor, and finished that too. I won the gift card and lost some self respect. But those frozen pizzas I bought were worth it, dammit.
My favorite competition in which I’ve ever participated is one in which I technically did not participate at all, and in which two of the writers on this site were intimately involved. Vermonster 2k4.
If you don’t know what a Vermonster is, you should probably eat one with 12 of your closest friends. It is two liters of ice cream from Ben and Jerry’s, and it is delicious:
Two of the most competitive people I know (excepting me) met, planned it out, trash talked like hell leading up to it, and then announced the contest date. Rules were simple: teams of three, no holds barred, consume the entirety of your bucket before the other person. I showed up, thought “Hey, this sounds cool,” and called a couple of my old cross-country buddies to come join me. They liked the idea, so we sprinted to Target to buy giant spoons, got our own Vermonster, and dug in.
On one team, one contestant almost immediately puked, and the other refused to eat the chocolate that impregnated the entire construct. The trashtalker, the only one left, sat there, not giving up, eating alone and full of rage. It was impressive to see one person attack a Vermonster. Alas, they lost.
On the other team, they tucked in ice cream admirably and won the contest with a time of just under an hour.
On my team, we demolished the entire thing between eight and nine minutes (I do not remember the exact time), and then ran and got Wendy’s combo meals that we ate while watching the others suffer their way through two liters of ice cream. We did the Wendy’s thing because we were, all of us, assholes.
One of the other contestants found out we ordered all frozen yogurt and told us that disqualified us. We did it again later, with all ice cream, and set a faster record.
I love this contest because of the impressiveness of my teammates and the joy I felt at ice cream seemingly magically disappearing as the other teams struggled. I love it because we did it a second time, and we did it faster. Mostly I love it because the official winners logging a time of just under an hour and then us coming in with a sub-10 minute time then eating a meal is like Roger Bannister running the four-minute mile and then, while all the television cameras are on him, some dude wearing jeans and smoking a cigarette running it in 43 seconds.
The National Geographic Geography Bee. Complete fluke. It was middle school, and my social studies teacher was in charge of the Bee, so he let myself and another student skip the prelims and jump straight to the written competition. We beat out the rest of the school competitors with a tied score. So, as tie-breaker, we had a geography trivia-off. This lasted over an hour, with both of us guessing for the most part. The final question was in relation to canals. He guessed Panama, totally wrong. The ONLY other canal I remotely knew of was Erie, thanks to folk songs about it. I said it, and won the competition. I still have the medal.
Do not try to have me locate anything on a map or globe, as I am a winner by pure trivia, not concrete knowledge. I didn’t have time to be nervous about preparing or competing, and there was absolutely nothing at stake. But I won, and I pretty much haven’t won anything since.
The competition I most enjoyed spanned two days and two competitions, one of which I was a participant in and the other I was a “spectator” in. The first competition was at Bradley University and it was a case race where the music kids and the news kids challenged one another to drink…cases of beer. I wasn’t really a part of either group, but was friends with both so I went to take in the spectacle. One thing you can’t idly do is watch people drink, so my friend Matt and I went to the liquor store and picked up a handle of Captain Morgan. Matt and I have been and probably always will be hyper-competitive, so as we are sitting with our red solo cups we start draining this bottle. This starts off well but as we won’t let the other outdrink the other and we bought far too little Coke to mix with things turn into straight Captain Morgan swallows. Unfortunately, due to this lack of foresight and abundance of testosterone I failed to pay attention to most of the case race and Matt and I managed to finish our handle much much faster than the beer-drinking folk beside us. We managed to be the drinking undercard to a main event of alcoholism, polishing off a handle in around 35 minutes. We were both belligerently intoxicated, yet functioning, and the remainder of the evening was a blur.
The second competition took place the following morning starring my roommates, and that was a campus wide Guitar Hero tournament. We all looked like we had faced demons the previous night and almost slept through this event. We went on to be rowdy and belligerent at this Guitar Hero competition, goading all comers and naysaying when we lost. We all fell but Matt, and he ended up winning (seated in a chair no less) with all of us being his drunkover cheerleaders. We celebrated with Wendy’s and a Best Buy run which were both the best trophies one could get.