If Friday nights are any indication (whether you’re slaving away in Lamont or drinking away at the Bell Tower), excess at Harvard is not a sin. Students here love to compete and love to win. So what happens when you challenge a handful of them to race across campus and indulge their appetites for hangover HUDS? FM presents Chickwich Challenge 2010: 12 dining halls, 12 chicken patties, one hell of a competition. Last Saturday, five fearless students mustered up the courage to throw down (and throw up) for glory: Johnny F. Bowman ’11, Helen E. Bradshaw ’11, Neil T. Curran ’12, Collin A. Jones ’12, and Matt C. Jones ’12. Their task was simple: to tear through Harvard’s campus, one House dining hall at a time, starting with Currier. The first one to finish a chickwich from the Mather grill would be declared victor, but even reaching Cowperthwaite Street would prove to be more than some could handle.
“Guys. I worked at Chick-fil-A for 18 months. I’m from the dirty South,” Collin A. Jones ’12 said. He was sitting with three other Chickwich Challenge competitors in Currier dining hall, waiting for the contest to begin. “I’m not nervous,” he added. “I’m hungry.”
Paper cups filled with barbecue sauce and water were scattered across the table. It was 11:47 a.m., and 13 minutes remained until the kitchen would open and war could begin. The participants sat, consumed by thoughts of vomiting and victory.
Justin Bieber’s song “Baby” blasted from Collin Jones’ iPhone, and three other competitors began some aerobic stretching to warm up. Johnny F. Bowman ’11, sporting a button-down and a sweat band around his head, arrived carrying six small bowls of various sauces and placed them down at the head of the table. Preparation, it would seem, is everything.
Bowman’s propriety seemed especially absurd when looking at the other contestants. As Collin Jones continued singing along to “JBiebs,” Neil T. Curran ’12 reclined leisurely in the geriatric-chic Currier dining hall. “I normally eat 12 chickwiches on Saturdays, so I’m not nervous,” said Curran.
On the other side of the table, Helen E. Bradshaw ’11, the only female contestant, expressed a bit more concern. “I will probably never eat a chickwich again,” said Bradshaw.
Just before the contest began, the rules were explained to the participants one last time. Matt C. Jones ’12, looking rather enlivened, shouted, “Yes! No buns!” In the crowd of nearby observers, someone asked, “How many chickens do you think that is?” Unclear. But according to FM’s calculations, even without buns, each patty is 250 calories. By the end of the competition, contestants—the successful ones, anyway—consume 3,000 calories in chickwiches.
Some participants had more experience than others. The three participants from Quincy were all members of the “Saturday Lunch Club,” a group devoted to food consumption. Their monthly extreme eating activities include “Kill the Grill,” in which teams of five work together to finish two of each HUDS grill item, and the “Dunkin’ Donuts 5K,” where participants run to the three nearby Dunkin’ Donuts, consuming a set number of doughnuts at each one.
In the final minutes before the competition, the Saturday Lunch Club participants huddled together. Peter D. Davis ’12, a resident of Currier House and Collin Jones’ self-described “eating coach,” announced, “Collin’s gonna win. There’s no point in even covering anyone else.” According to Jones, Davis gives him pep talks and eating exercises. “He took me on pro bono as well,” said Bradshaw.
At 12:03 p.m., the infamous Chickwich Challenge began.
AND THEY’RE OFF
From the start, eating techniques varied among the contestants. Collin Jones, Matt Jones, and Curran folded the hot patties over in their hands, submerged them in water to cool and soften the meat, and practically inhaled the chicken. Bradshaw ripped it with her fingers into smaller scraps. “This will help get it down, guys,” she assured.
Meanwhile, Bowman neatly cut his chickwich into bite-size pieces with a fork and knife, daintily dipping each piece into a different sauce. Bowman’s style stood in stark contrast to that of the rest of the competitors, who finished their chickwiches in a matter of moments.
While Bradshaw and Curran tried to finish their chickwiches (as Bowman made a third cut into his patty), Collin Jones sprinted ahead out of Currier and toward Pforzheimer with Matt Jones closely following him. As crowds of Currierites gathered, Jones and Jones continued sprinting, indifferent to the onlookers and nearly bowling over a few people at the door.
Collin Jones slid into Pfoho, gaining a slight lead as Matt Jones scrambled to find his ID for swiping purposes. Collin’s lead was short-lived, however—once Matt burst into the dining hall, he downed the chickwich effortlessly and bolted through the exit toward Cabot, leaving the other Jones chewing at the table.
Already a full stop behind, Bradshaw meandered into Pfoho as Matt Jones ran out of Cabot in a blur, with Curran and Collin Jones following soon thereafter. “Ew!” shouted a girl in the Cabot dining hall as Curran dipped his third chickwich into a cup of water, swallowed, and went on his way.
As Curran and Collin Jones began their jog, Bradshaw wandered out of Pfoho looking defeated. “I can’t do this. I’m done,” she announced. “I just started eating meat last spring—I was a vegetarian before that. I just can’t do 12. Two chickwiches are enough for me.”
THE LONG TROT
Adams was the first of nine River Houses on the Chickwich Challenge’s route. Three of the contestants made the trek on foot from the Quad to the River, but Bowman was nowhere to be found. “Oh, I saw him slowly strolling from Currier to Pfoho,” Bradshaw recalled when asked where the Pfoho senior and UC President had disappeared to. For the record, FM is still unaware of his whereabouts. He may still be competing.
The stretch between the Quad and civilization is long enough without the shuttle, but unimaginably miserable with a stomach packed tight with chicken patties. Collin Jones later admitted, “I started gagging in some bushes on the run from Cabot.”
Nevertheless, the three remaining contestants rapidly took care of business in Adams and moved on to Quincy. Once the chickwiches were ready at the grill, they began forcing them down. The pace was notably slower now than at the Challenge’s start, but Curran consumed his patty with relative ease. Collin Jones took a little more time, but Matt Jones, looking absolutely sick, ground to a halt.
“He isn’t looking so good,” observed Collin Jones, his expression a mixture of concern and amusement. After a hearty—but ultimately fruitless—attempt at finishing his fifth chickwich, Matt Jones waved the white flag and decided not to continue the competition, leaving only Collin Jones and Curran battling it out for the win.
Curran was the first to arrive at Lowell, gaining a five-minute lead over Collin Jones (who is from here on out the lone Jones in this story). Curran looked visibly frustrated as he waited for the chickwiches to be ready; clearly, he still wasn’t full after finishing five.
Jones ran into the bright yellow dining hall—making sure to swipe first—and struck up a conversation with Lowell House Master Diana L. Eck. “We’re doing the Chickwich Challenge,” he told her.
Her only advice? “Don’t hurt yourself.”
The chickwiches arrived and Curran—having waited a full five minutes—confidently folded the steaming patty and dipped it in a cup of water. He chewed for half a second, swallowing the tough brown disc, and then chugged the remaining water in the cup. With a look of determination, he sprinted off toward Kirkland without Jones. Jones stared at his chickwich for a moment before willing himself to eat it. “I’m gonna throw up in the next few Houses,” he said.
As Jones struggled at Lowell, Curran’s composure in Kirkland and Eliot was so collected that few people in the dining halls seemed to notice that they were witnessing the Chickwich Challenge. At most, they were in awe at the size of Curran’s mouth. How can that much chickwich fit? As Curran exited Eliot, he spotted Jones finally leaving Kirkland, bent over and gasping for air.
“No way, man,” shouted Jones, gaping as Curran sprinted by. Curran continued toward Winthrop, and Jones slowly proceeded into Eliot dining hall. A cluster of girls standing outside the main door asked what he was up to. As Jones took time to explain (and possibly stall), their expressions changed from interest to disgust. “That’s so gross,” said H. Louise Hindal ’12.
Always jogging, Curran ran into Winthrop’s dimly-lit dining hall, looking neither tired nor phased. “Yeah, I’m starting to feel it,” he said, in spite of his composure. While waiting for the patty, Curran refused to sit. He was refusing to lose any momentum. The chickwich arrived, and a moment later he had already finished his eighth patty and turned for the door.
THE FINISH LINE
Before eating his third-to-last patty in Leverett, Curran began to look forward to his next big meal—Sunday brunch, to be precise. With this gastronomical dedication (and shockingly expandable stomach), Curran sauntered toward Dunster, the penultimate stop on the Challenge. Jones was still struggling back in Eliot, attempting to force down another patty.
At 1 p.m., less than an hour after the start of the competition, Curran arrived at Mather, the last and final stop, to eat his 12th chickwich—an unofficial new Chickwich Challenge record.
“This is disgusting,” he admitted.
“So close, Neil, so close,” said one cheery onlooker.
After swallowing his last bite of chickwich, Curran asked for a glass of Powerade. Hydration is important for competitive athletes of every variety. Curran was declared the victor.
A few minutes later, Jones staggered into the Mather dining hall wearing a look of incredulity. He had terminated his run after Winthrop House. “They made me stop. It was for health reasons,” he said. “I was literally hugging the trash can outside Cambridge Commons, gagging with my mouth wide open. Asian tourists were taking pictures of me.”
A dozen chickwiches and 3,000 calories later, Curran, this year’s Chickwich Champion and the Challenge’s new record-holder, was given his prize: a $30 gift certificate to the Kong. Sitting in Mather after taking in more than a day’s calories in under an hour, Curran continued to ponder the next day’s brunch menu. “Oh, but I also have a 10-mile run tomorrow morning, so I’ll have to eat after that,” he remembered. “I’m training for a half-marathon next weekend.”
Jones opened a large bag of Swedish Fish, the prize for the runner-up, and began to chomp loudly. “Anyone want any candy?”