Chickwich Challenge!

After a five year hiatus, two unlikely contestants emerge as competitive eating champs

Rachel M. Douglas

It was a struggle for everlasting glory and honor, a fight to the death.

The task was simple: Eat twelve chickwiches in twelve dining halls (and at least one bun). The competitors were not brawny, hulking men but two petite women: Katherine Y. Tan ’10 and Michela C. DeSantis ’10.

DeSantis, who had never eaten a chickwich before in her life, took on the Challenge to make up for missing out on the Harvard-Yale Chicken Wing Eating Contest.

Tan’s chickwich philosophy was simple: “I’ll just eat them slowly. I don’t use utensils.” Forks and knifes are for the weak.

The race started at Kirkland House at 12:24 p.m., when it became clear that the other 11 challengers (large, football-types) had truly “chickened” out.

DeSantis had her bun at Kirkland, where Tan, who ate only the chickwich, gained an early lead. But DeSantis remained calm and posed instinctively for a picture as she gloriously swung open the door to Eliot.

At Eliot, DeSantis flavored her chickwich with a mixture of mustard and ketchup. “They’re good!” she remarked. The chickwich, which resembles a giant flattened chicken nugget, looked devilishly appealing. But not for long.

Also at Eliot, with the home-court advantage, Tan decided to tackle her single bun requirement. “I think bun expands in your stomach,” she said of her decision to finish it early. She consumed her chickwich in style, with the bun upside down.

The competitors then trekked to Winthrop through the cold drizzling rain. Neither seemed bothered by the lackluster weather. Tan proudly sported her Chickwich Challenge orange number “1” on her back in lieu of any rain gear.

Inside, both girls confessed that they didn’t have a game plan prepared. “I was going to fast the day before,” Tan said, “but I forgot.”

At Leverett, the pace declined, as the competitors realized that crossing the finish line would be tougher than they had imagined.

The two walked side by side to Mather. Arriving at the entrance to the concrete low-rise, DeSantis chivalrously opened the door for Tan. The two entered, together.

The Mather House grille worker, Kecia Pugh, laughed when told how the products of her labor were being used. “I do think they will be sick,” she said, “but it’s worth it—they taste so good.”

By Dunster, Tan and DeSantis had slowed down. Tan paused over her single chickwich, wondering which condiments to select from the dining hall. She returned with a small piece of jello to cleanse her palate. “It’s starting to taste really disgusting—not gonna lie,” she admitted.

Meanwhile, in the Dunster courtyard, a goat (feet and all) rotated on a spit. “Ugh,” sighed Tan, “That’s really not something I need right now.”

At Lowell, Tan switched condiments, choosing to moisturize her dry chickwich with a healthy spread of applesauce. She said it “kind of” helped, “but then it tastes really funny.” To the side, she kept orange jello and a mixture of blue and yellow Powerade, adding some color to her steady diet of white meat.

“I feel like there’s this dull, dazed look in my eyes,” Tan said. But already more than half done, the ladies couldn’t succumb yet.

By the time the contestants reached Quincy, they were fading quickly, and a new rule was instituted: each is permitted to approach two strangers and ask them to take one bite out of her chickwich. Though both contestants hesitated to demand this favor of strangers, the thought of less chickwich ultimately won.

DeSantis walked to the end of the dining hall and patiently explained her predicament.

“Is this for some kind of experiment?” asked one doubtful diner.

“No,” DeSantis quickly assured, hoping that the kind soul would agree to her offer.

He did.

Even with the introduction of the one-bite rule, the competitors felt a little queasy. They were ready for the Pepto. DeSantis shook the bright pink bottle vigorously. “Ready to rip a shot?” she asked Tan. The two clinked paper cups and downed the syrup. DeSantis grimaced. With antacid in hand, it was time to head to the Quad. Two chickwiches from Adams were taken to go.

With the dining halls about to close, FM pre-ordered six chickwiches from Currier so that they’d be waiting by the time the participants reached the Quad.

On the shuttle ride, plenty of innocent passengers were entertained by the fierce ongoing challenge, responding with various degrees of amusement. “This is filling—this is not like salad,” said Melissa Hoyos ’10 as she sympathized with the contestants’ increasingly-full stomachs.

“You’ve been doing this for two hours?” asked an incredulous bystander. DeSantis nodded grimly—no words were necessary.

Still on the shuttle, Tan approacheed two students seated side-by-side and asked if they would take bites for her. After exchanging perplexed glances, one finally said, “I’m actually pretty hungry,” and the other responded encouraging, “Do it! Do it!” Tan returned to her seat successful, with her chickwich more than half eaten.

Meanwhile, DeSantis sat in her seat at the back of the shuttle, musing on her plans for the night. “No way I’m going out,” she said. As an afterthought, she added, “And if I do, I probably won’t get drunk because I ate so freakin’ much.”

Sitting in the Currier dining hall, DeSantis recieved a call from a friend. “I’ll call you when I get to Cabot,” she said. “Shower... it’s going to be a while.”

Tan stayed optimistic even as nausea began to set in during her tenth chickwich. “I think I might try the boot and reboot strategy,” she said, determined to complete the rounds. But when DeSantis offered “if you want to stop, I’ll stop with you,” Tan immediately retorted with a vigorous “No!”

As the weary contestants slowly approached PfoHo, Tan clutched a garbage bag, but still refused to quit. “You can’t have a type-A Harvard student do this. Even if they die, they’re gonna finish,” she said.

At one point, it looked as if the vomit is imminent. Maintaining her sense of humor, DeSantis noted, “That would’ve been a great shot.”

Finally on the last leg of the race, DeSantis, a Cabot resident, called her roommates to come cheer her on. “You’ve been eating lukewarm chickwiches?!” Tori E. Dantono ’10 asked in disbelief. The battle-weary pair ignored the skepticism.

Tan and DeSantis took their last triumphant bites at 3:07 p.m, and hugged each other affectionately.

At a small table in the middle of airy Cabot dining hall, the two contestants sat in awe of the epic challenge they had just completed.

And then, as abruptly as it started, it was over: Tan slowly walked to the shuttle, and DeSantis wandered up to her room to sleep off her twelve chickwiches.

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