Everything you ever wanted to know about Wing Bowl but were too afraid to ask, Part 2

In this second installment of correspondent Leah Gallant’s Wing Bowl 2018 narrative, she takes on the main event — the eating contest itself. Read on for conspicuous consumption and a glimpse of what it takes to succeed at a sport which strains the capacity of the human vessel.

There is no talking.

They eat like machines, automatically.

The servers (all women) hover behind the eaters (all men but two) with plates of wings.

The eaters — wearing shirts that say, in all caps, EATER — consume in clean motions that contrast with what is happening around their mouths.

There is the fine-tuned move of arm to plate and up to mouth, then the accumulation of orange smear around the lips.

Body as eating machine

Molly Schuyler, winner of Wing Bowl 22 (2014, 363 wings) and Wing Bowl 24 (2016, 429 wings) is the most machinated of them all. Mother of four, reed-thin, her head is shaved on both sides and her face punctuated with piercings wherever there is flesh to pierce. There are twenty rings crammed into the real estate of each ear. I count and she is downing a wing every three seconds, maybe every two point five. Try to picture this, that in the time it takes to read the next clause — one-one thousand, two-one thousand, three — the wing is not just pushed into the mouth but the flesh is downed and the bones are placed back, stripped on the plate.

The motion has the deep familiarity of one rehearsed and finessed through long periods of use: a ticket–collector punching a ticket, a cook mincing garlic, a pizza-maker spinning a round of dough in the air without even looking at it. It is a motion known so thoroughly that it is muscle and not thought that motivates it. Here it is a collaboration of the hands, holding the wing and bringing it to the face; the mouth, vacuuming the meat off the bone; and finally, the invisible prayed-for capacity of the stomach, its ability to expand and keep a hold on its contents.

It’s a competition but not a body-contact sport

Like any other sport, competitive eating tests the limits of the human body in feats of incredible physical ability — strength, usually, or agility, or speed. Coordination matters, but so does storage capacity, emptiness, elasticity — how successfully the body serves as an empty vessel to be filled, and how successfully it holds what it has been given.

In other sports, there are bodies to watch moving across a field or court.

But this sport is no-contact, each Eater competes in isolation from the others; it is a fundamentally internal battle of alimentary canal vs. greased thing.

How to capture all this hidden action: an edition of Wing Bowl with Marilyn Minter (Ed. Note: Minter is an artist whose work often focuses on the erotic nature of a woman’s mouth) as chief videographer and the Jumbotron linked to a tiny camera in each competing stomach.

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Molly Schuyler, winner of 2018 Wing Bowl.

A sport for our age of plentiful meat and mass production

If this is a celebration of athleticism, of the trainability of the human body, it is also a sport tied to a particular place and epoch in which meat is so cheaply and readily available that the process of its production can be eclipsed by this spectacle in the moment of its consumption. The raising of chickens, the preparation and shipping of meat, are all processes that are made invisible. Only now, under the ultra-fluorescent light of the Wells Fargo Center, is each wing in focus between the plate and the mouth.

“Molly is going to attempt something no one has ever done in the history of humanity: eat five hundred chicken wings in thirty minutes,” the announcer says.

This is about something bigger than itself. This is a feat that belongs in the arc of human progress.

(Some games to accompany competitive eating in a new version of the Olympics for late capitalism: parkour, the specific regional parkour of the Eagles fan shimmying up the Crisco’d street pole, running up the down escalator, speed-texting, Supermarket Sweep, the game with the plexiglass box and the dollars blowing around in it that you have to catch).

The Wingettes at 2018 Wing Bowl.
The Wingettes at 2018 Wing Bowl.

The Wingettes don’t have much to do. They look up: either in prayer or just up at the jumbotron.

Referees pace the length of each table, arms held slightly away from the sides of the torso to keep the sauce off their jerseys. They rub their fingers in their blue latex gloves.

(Everyone’s behavior changes the moment the camera focuses on them. Their companions jostle them to point up to them on the big screen: when they see themselves up there the wingettes primp and wriggle with renewed vigor — the men in the crowds roar and pump their arms.)

Between the Rounds the maintenance crew cleans up

Round two is over. Molly is in the lead with 455 wings; Tiger Wings is in second with 382. The bottom fifteen eaters are out.

Molly Schuyler, winner of 2018 Wing Bowl in the final moments.
Molly Schuyler, winner of 2018 Wing Bowl in the final moments. Image by AP Photo via Boston Herald

During a brief respite, building services cleans up. The stage is spattered with confetti and chicken in various stages of chewed-up-ness. On the main stage, a giant check for $50,000 is presented to someone from the Fraternal Order of Police Survivor Fund. On another, smaller stage, some Wingettes are rated, exact criteria unknown. The winner receives, in giant check form, $5000 courtesy of Dr. Steven Davis of Davis Cosmetic Surgery.

The last Round and the Winner

Round three, the two minute round. Now Molly is averaging something truly supernatural, something like a wing per second.

Somewhere in her body, the parts of two hundred fifty chickens are being put.

I think of sci-fi writer Arthur C. Clarke who said that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. But Molly’s mouth, which is just a mouth, nothing invented, is a magical portal, a charmed pouch or a black hole; it expands to hold whatever is put in.

She is like an inverse Baba Yaga: instead of a witch inside a house on chicken legs, all the chicken legs inside of her.

She sets a new record. She wins with 501.

Read Part 1 of Leah’s Wing Bowl saga.