FREE SUSHI FOR ONE YEAR.
That's what I was competing for when I entered the RA Sushi Showdown, an event held annually around the time of March Madness. Instead of chowing down somewhere in LA, I participated in San Diego's Gaslamp District hoping to get some home-court advantage.
I had competed in two smaller eating contests before, but this... this was BIG.
The structure of the tournament went like this: two 3-minute heats > 12 eaters in each heat > top 3 from each heat advanced to final round > winner crowned after a FIVE-MINUTE CHOMP FEST!!
What sushi were we eating? Uncut rolls of Tootsy Makis, RA's signature sushi roll consisting of kani kama crab mix, shrimp, and cucumber topped with tempura crunchies.
The day before the event, I had actually practiced inhaling sushi rolls just so I could get an idea of the pace I should be moving at. I made 3 replica rolls of RA's Tootsy Makis at home and timed myself as I chomped away. In just 3 short minutes, I learned how difficult the task at hand would be... but I also felt more determined than ever.
Once I got my hands on that first roll, wooo baby it was ON! With the crowd cheering loudly and lights flashing annoyingly in my peripheral view, my adrenaline kicked into high gear. I probably devoured my first roll in about 30 seconds.
Feeling good, I looked up and glanced a smile to my awesome friends.
I didn't want to let them down...
2 rolls down...
3 rolls down...
The rolls were disappearing right in front of my eyes (well... they usually do when I'm eating sushi, but this time at a much faster & disgusting rate).
My jaws felt fine and my stomach was barely full.
"I'M ADVANCING TO THE FINAL ROUND!!"
...or so I thought.
I encountered one critical mistake, one that could only be experienced in the heat of the moment — I literally bit off more than I could chew.
My esophagus was jammed for a split second and it stunned me because I feared that I was going to choke. My eyes watered as if I saw Mufasa falling for the first time and I mustered all my focus into making sure there would be no splash zone on the table in front of me.
Eventually, after a few seconds, I regained my composure and kept on going.
However, those precious moments cost me.
When the final whistle blew, I had consumed 4.25 rolls in three minutes, just a couple bites away from placing third and advancing.
I was so disappointed, but seeing my friends afterwards made me feel instantly better; their support made me feel like I had won the whole darn thing.
Since that day, I entered only one other eating contest — a pie eating contest at the fair. I lost in that one too, to a 40-something year old P.E. teacher with faded khakis and a camo fanny pack, and I took that as a sign to call it quits.