Not to make light of an unfortunate situation, but I think there’s a lesson to be learned here: pace yourself. According to spectator Matthew Boylan, the deceased was noticeably faster than the other competitors. “It was like he’d never eaten before,” he told the Fresno Bee. “He was just shoving the tacos down his mouth without chewing.”
As it happens, I know a little something about taco eating contests. Thirty years ago, I was part of a four-man team representing the EWU Marching Band against the KZZU Breakfast Boys at the now-defunct Taco Time in downtown Cheney. There was one simple rule: Eat as many “crisp tacos” as you can in one hour.
The first 59 minutes went about as you’d expect: a feeding frenzy for the first 10 followed by a 49-minute descent into sweaty torpidity. As the seconds ticked down and the scoreboard showed a tie, I looked across the room at the KZZU deejays and sensed weakness. I turned to rally my teammates, but it was too late. One stared off into the distance, a piece of iceberg lettuce dangling from his lower lip; another was slumped forward in his seat, one hand clutching his belly in pain while the other held onto the edge of the table for support; the third appeared to be mumbling to himself, but it turns out he was just praying for deliverance.
It was up to me, then. With 8 seconds remaining, I grabbed the nearest taco and jammed it into my mouth, chewing and swallowing simultaneously as pieces of shell and bits of meat cascaded down my chin and onto my sweat-stained shirt. I resisted a sudden urge to vomit—an urge that persisted for the next several hours. My head grew heavy and my sight grew dim, as it were, and I had a vision of my dead great-grandmother.
“Nana?” I asked. “Is that you?”
The timer went off. It was over. The judges approached the two tables, examined each of the contestants’ mouths, and huddled briefly before rendering their verdict: EWU Marching Band by half a taco.
I don’t want to toot my own horn or anything, but I was responsible not only for that crucial final half taco, but also for 27 whole ones during the hour-long contest. That’s nowhere near Joey Chestnut’s world record of 126 in eight minutes, but still—not bad for an amateur.