Second Time's the Charm 

Failed Competitive Eater Redeems Himself

When last we checked in with amateur competitive eater Joe Collver, he was squaring off with a 72-oz. hunk of steak at Sayler's Old Country Kitchen, trying to eat the whole thing in less than an hour. He failed.

"I'm more about intensity of spice than quantity," Collver stated at the time. Pretty sure this claim was the trumped up defense of a losing performance, I decided to make Collver practice what he preached. And so we headed to Fire on the Mountain for another eating contest.

There's really no way to prove that Fire on the Mountain's "El Jefe" buffalo wing sauce is the spiciest edible material served in Portland, but if it isn't, I fear what is. Made from some sort of unholy chili pepper concentrate, the stuff burns the eater just like real fire would, beginning with a spark and building to a raging inferno, spreading blinding pain across the tongue, down the throat, and into the stomach. I experienced extreme discomfort from sampling one crumb-sized globule of El Jefe (which translates, fittingly, to "The Boss"). Collver entered Fire on the Mountain aiming to eat 40 buffalo wings coated with the stuff—in one sitting. The old record, set by one Paul Kashaul, was 32.

As we waited for the 40 wings to arrive, Collver discussed his strategy.

"It's good to do it quickly, to block out the pain. And, you must keep as much of the sauce away from your lips as possible."

"Will you pause to blow your nose?" I asked.

"No, the snot will cool me down," said Collver.

The wings arrived, a big basket of steaming, lava-colored El Jefe wings. Collver tore into them greedily, pausing only for swigs of cooling rice milk. True to his word, he did not wipe his running nose, and thin lines of mucus ran freely down his upper lip and even onto some of the wings as they entered his gaping maw. At 12 wings, he stopped to breathe.

"My nose hurts," he said. "My mouth and stomach are fine."

At 16 wings, Collver's blue eyes began to water, and sweat trickled down his brow.

"It's going to be uphill from here," he said.

At 27 wings, Joe's face was bright red, his eyes bulging in their sockets. His consumption had slowed considerably.

"Oh my god," he said. "It hurts to breathe air."

"I've seen that look before," said an older gentleman, "from people I've gone deep sea diving with as they sit next to the rail, looking down."

"That's how I feel," said Collver.

And then, with a heroic flourish, Collver snarfed down nine more El Jefes. The crowd cheered as he devoured the 33rd wing, breaking the record. Spurred on by their enthusiasm, he managed three more, finally stopping at a shattering 36. A big foam buffalo wing hat was placed atop his head, his picture taken for website immortalization. He sat back and grinned through the tears, his cheeks stained with enough El Jefe to kill a lesser man. A loser no more, he had reason to be proud.

"I think this is it for me," he said. "My competitive eating days are over. Although I did hear about this hotdog eating contest next week..."

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