In the Battle Between Jimmy John's and the World's Toughest Eaters, the Sandwiches Have Already Won
|Photos by Patrick Michels|
|Nate Biller, left, and Pat Bertoletti do their best to keep up with the local sandwich assembly talent.|
A sizable crowd stuck around at the foot of the stage to watch, taking refuge from the weekend crush of motorized mobility chairs and doublewide strollers. One bearded guy in the front of the crowd, who had to be some kind of plant, channeled Zach Galifianakis from the front row, fist-pumping, cheering and waving a Jimmy John's sandwich as the eaters were introduced.
George Shea, the godfather of modern competitive eating, made the introductions in his trademark hyperbolic style, beginning with North Texas' own "Nasty" Nate Biller, who was competing in his second local contest in as many weeks. Next up, Pat Bertolleti, the mohawked chef from Chicago, who's ranked third in the world. Finally, dropping his voice to a low rumble, Shea introduced the reigning Nathan's hot dog eating champ, "the eater of the free world ... Joey 'Jaws' Chestnut, the greatest eater of all time."
As a promotional gimmick, the setup probably works even better than a standard contest -- riffing on the chain's "freaky fast" slogan, and reining in the gross-out potential in big events -- but for pure spectacle and excitement, it was a poor substitute for the raw drama of a full table in a sloppy, half-sick race to see who's hungriest for the win.
Jimmy John's and MLE have been putting on this contest for years, with different sets of eaters all around the country, riffing on how quickly the sandwich chain delivers and sticking the eaters with almost insurmountable odds. The only time the eaters have taken one of these races, in fact -- in a Denver contest two months back -- Bertoletti led the charge. Biller had a hometown crowd cheering him on yesterday, and having Chestnut out there gave the team the best chance they could ask for.
The five-minute contest began as soon as the workers had a sandwich sitting in front of each eater, and while Chestnut, Bertoletti and Biller raced to down their first couple subs, it wasn't long before they each had a pair of sandwiches wrapped up in front of them. By the time Shea shouted for the sandwich makers to stop, they'd made 23 sandwiches. With 45 seconds left to even out the one-sandwich head-start, the eaters still had seven sandwiches left to tackle; when time was called they'd combined to eat a total of 17.
|'Makers' assemble the day's first sandwich.|
|Sandwich makers celebrate their win as the contest ends.|
|Chestnut, with disappointment and mayo written all over his face.|
|Emcee George Shea carries the championship belts to the sandwich makers.|