I was about 25 wings into the Wing King Challenge at the West End Tavern -- fifty wings in thirty minutes -- when I realized I wasn't going to be able to finish the second half of the bucket of wings in the ten minutes that remained. I was starting to feel a strange sense of shame at being unable to complete this disgustingly gluttonous challenge when manager Chris Curtis stopped by to offer an oddly comforting bit of encouragement.
"At least your hands aren't shaking," he said.
I looked down at my sauce-covered hands. He was right: The pounds of chicken in my stomach had not given me the tremors, which Curtis says is a common affliction. Somewhat renewed, I slogged through the last ten minutes and managed to down a total of 31 wings. Failure is failure, but I felt a small sense of pride that I hadn't come down with the shakes or exhibited any other outward displays of the damage I'd done to my body.
Curtis says the Boulder restaurant introduced the challenge about a year and a half ago. Contestants take on fifty wings -- at least five pounds of chicken -- and can't take any breaks. Eat all the wings and you get a shirt, a picture on the wall of fame and a free dozen wings, assuming you ever want to eat wings again. Fail and you buy the wings at the rate of $50 -- sorry, Westword. You're also disqualified if you vomit while at the West End.
The fastest contestant, a professional eater, had finished in a super-human eight minutes and forty seconds, Curtis told me. And 57 people have managed to inhale all fifty.
Still, another reason I didn't feel like a total embarrassment is that I was only five wings behind the pace of professional fat guy and Man V. Food host Adam Richman, who took on the challenge last year. Richman's appearance has driven a lot of delusional eaters to the West End. "Right now the success rate is about 20 to 30 percent," says Curtis. "Every time that rerun shows, we get that influx of people coming in and the success rate drops."
The success rate drops because it's a lot of damn food. I'd never tried a speed-eating competition, but as a wing-lover, I thought I could eat fifty wings. I just wasn't sure I could do it quickly.
After the first ten wings, I was fairly confident I would finish: I was keeping a quick pace and still liked wings. After about twenty, I had serious doubts about finishing...and I hated wings. The advice Curtis gave me turned out to be staggeringly prophetic.
"Try not to chew that much," he said, just before I started chewing for thirty consecutive minutes. "Once you hit that twenty-minute mark and you've been chewing for twenty minutes straight, you forget how to chew. When you forget how to chew, that's when it sends the signal down the line and you start getting that reflex."
That would be the gag reflex. Sure enough, about twenty minutes in, every wing seemed to be overcooked and stringy. Each time I swallowed, it felt like I'd just triggered my gag reflex and was about to fill the wing bucket with more than bones.
The last ten minutes were surely a sad sight: I sat, covered in hot sauce, slowly chewing wings and looking pissed off while Westword photographer/music scribe Britt Chester intermittently chuckled at my defeated posture and chided me to "pack it in."
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Once I had, I didn't feel painfully full; I've done more damage at Thanksgiving dinners. But the smell of wings was stuck in my nose for the next day and a half, and the pain of defeat lasted about the same amount of time.
But at least my hands weren't shaking.
View the Nuclear Roll challenge here and leave suggestions for other challenges in the comments section.