VERMILION RESERVATION - This year it wasn’t even close.
Returning world-champion Indian Taco eater Geoffrey Esper came to Fortune Bay Resort Casino this past Saturday to defend his official …
VERMILION RESERVATION - This year it wasn’t even close.
Returning world-champion Indian Taco eater Geoffrey Esper came to Fortune Bay Resort Casino this past Saturday to defend his official Major League Eating (MLE) title— and as the contest was set to begin, he was optimistic about his chances for a repeat performance. Once again, the main competition came from the number-one-ranked competitive eater in the world, Joey Chestnut, 11-time winner of the Nathan’s hot dog competition, who downed a record 74 hot dogs (over 21,000 calories) in 10 minutes during the 2018 competition.
The third-ranked Esper had a very good year on the competitive eating circuit since his last appearance at Fortune Bay. The 42-year-old from Oxford, Mass., had six first-place finishes this year, including moon pies, pork roll sandwiches (50), pizza (83 slices and 19.25 pies in two different competitions), soft tacos, bratwurst, and ice cream (beating out rival Joey Chestnut after downing 15.5 pints, though the world record is held by female eater Miki Sudo, who downed 16.5 pints the year before).
Sudo, the top-ranked female eater, was on hand at this year’s Indian Taco event in hopes of eating her way to another record. She was “super-excited” to be on Lake Vermilion.
Crowd-favorite Gideon Oji was back for a second try. Oji, who hails from Nigeria and at six feet, nine inches, stands almost a head taller than the other competitors, came to the U.S. in college, playing basketball for Clayton State in Georgia. Oji has started to tally his own wins, including a first-place finish in the first-ever kale-eating championship, beating out the favorite, Joey Chestnut. He is now ranked sixth in the world.
Esper hadn’t come to the competition unprepared. An electronics teacher at a vocational high school, he had the school’s culinary department make him fried dough for practice eating.
Esper said his students don’t give him much respect for his many MLE championships.
“The kids aren’t impressed unless it’s a video game,” he said.
Chestnut, on the other hand, was not feeling as confident as he had the year before. He was busy stretching out his jaw in several very uncomfortable looking positions.
“It’s been a pretty good year,” he said “but I lost a few more than I wanted.”
Chestnut was understandably proud of his new world-record hot-dog record set on July 4.
“I am feeling a little older this year,” said the about-to-turn 35-year-old. “It’s taking me longer to recover after a competition.” Chestnut admitted he wasn’t getting out running as much as in previous years, and said he was planning on lacing his shoes up more often.
Mike Sullivan was this year’s MLE emcee. A product developer for a cosmetic company for his day job, he got his start in MLE after producing the top-rated (and only) podcast devoted to the sport of competitive eating. At the pre-start meeting, he reminded the ten competitors that this was a “heavy-debris” food that would require a lot of drinking during the competition, but that no food dunking was allowed, and then went over the rules for how the plates would be scored. The competition had a total of $5,000 in prize money, with $2,500 to the winner and the rest split between second to sixth places.
Sullivan got the crowd, which included a very dedicated front row, and many repeat visitors, roaring as he began to introduce the eaters.
“This is where heroes are born,” he said. “These 10 brave souls have come to the coliseum of consumption….for the battle of titans.”
Two locals graced the stage along with eight pros. Fortune Bay’s IT Director Alex Cook, along with newly-election Tribal Council member Pete Boney, were introduced first.
As Chestnut was introduced, Sullivan noted the one dark mark on his resume was last year’s loss at Fortune Bay. But he noted that Chestnut was used to “looking fear in the face.”
Sullivan led the crowd in the countdown to begin the eight minutes of eating, and contestants readied their drinking glasses, filled with either water or an assortment of brightly-colored fruit punch, while several adjusted their video cameras, focused in on their plates, each stacked four high, with five smallish fry-bread discs topped with taco meat.
Each plate held the same weight of fry-bread and seasoned meat. Banquet staff Danette Lambert and Sunshine Bundy had spent over six hours making the bread from scratch, and making sure each batch was the same consistency, thickness, and crustiness.
The eight minutes passed by in a flash. The eaters, at least the professional ones, were focused, and almost robotic as they alternated between handfuls of food and a quick swig of liquid, repeating the motions over and over.
The two local eaters mostly just had fun. Boney tried to sneak one of his fry breads onto Cook’s plate and was eating at a rather pedestrian pace (he actually only finished three of the small fry bread tacos). Cook downed eight. But both had a fun time and didn’t have to deal with the painful aftermath of massive consumption.
Sudo, who was clearly the crowd favorite, ended up finishing fourth, having downed 20 tacos.
Chestnut and Oji tied for second, at 23 and a half tacos, which was a disappointing performance for Chestnut, who downed 28 tacos last year.
It was clear from mid-race that Esper had the clear lead, as his stack of empty plates rose higher than any of his competitors. When the final tally was done, he was credited with 30.5 tacos, up 1.5 from last year’s winning number.
And while one might think that after eating that many fry bread tacos one would forgo dinner, you would be wrong. Esper, once the competition was over, was headed downstairs to try out the buffet.
“I still have some room left,” he said, noting he was hoping for some nice desserts.