The Wurst Challenge: the magic of giant sausage brings the community together, quality arts programming to kids, and the nation’s attention to Ypsi

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    Thursday night’s philanthropic sausage eating event was incredible. Not only did we raise a hell of a lot of money for the FLY Children’s Art Center, but we had a damn good time doing it. Following are my somewhat disjointed and admittedly incomplete notes, interspersed with whatever images, audio and video I’ve been able to cobble together. I hope, when taken together, you’re able to get a sense, in some small way, of what it was like to have been in the room with these great athletes, as each of them choked down sausage by the foot in hopes of claiming a place in American history.

    ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS:

    This was a huge community undertaking and it never could have happened without the contributions of several brilliant, dedicated and generous people. First and foremost, we couldn’t have pulled it off without our 12 challengers. They’re the ones who raised the money and faced the prospect of swallowing a full intestine’s worth of sausage… Without Jay “The Kraut Konquerer” Zocher, Cre “Captain Pork-Link” Fuller, EMU President Susan Martin, James “Nom Selleck” Engman, Ypsilanti Mayor Paul Schreiber, Julian “Angry and Hungry” Weisensel, Jason “Knifebeard Sausagehawk” Youngs, Justin “The Brat Slaughterer” O’Neill, Melissa “The Bottomless Pit” Wingett, Jake “No Utensils” Morgan, Meg “The Tofu Terror” Miramontes, and Terrible Terry Londy, the Wurst Challenge would have just been a sausage-filled room of sadness.

    I’d also like to thank our sponsors: Jesse and the team at the Wurst Bar (who not only invented the technology making the 20 foot long bratwurst possible, but also contributed over $500 toward the cause, provided 240 feet of delicious sausage, and so much more), the folks at New Holland Brewing (who donated the sales of their Monkey King Farmhouse Ale to FLY, and also contributed toward the prizes which were awarded to our three winners), the kids at VG Kids (who printed our incredible posters), and our friends at Arbor Brewing (who contributed to the gifts we presented to our winners). Their support was instrumental in making this happen, and I can’t thank them enough for being a part of it… especially the folks at the Wurst Bar, who really set this whole damn thing in motion.

    And, lastly, the board members of the FLY Children’s Art Center. I’ve helped raise money for various charitable causes in the past, but I don’t ever recall a case in which the actual board members of a non-profit did so much. From Julian Weisensel (who not only made the website, but volunteered to be our first challenger), to Morgan Cox (who did a ton of press stuff, and pretty much ran the show on the night of the event), everyone pitched in and did more than their share. It was a pleasure to work with such a dedicated and talented group of people. From Linette Lao (who handled the majority of the design work) to Kristin Schrader (who was always there to do what needed to be done), there was literally always an over-qualified member of the FLY family there to do whatever task we had before us.

    And then there’s everyone else… Brad Perkins (who filmed the event for us), Chris Sandon (who interviewed our challengers as they ate, looking for signs of exhaustion, and concussion-like symptoms), and all of the folks who helped by taking donations, standing by with back-flow buckets, etc. (Back-flow buckets sounds better than vomit buckets, doesn’t it?)

    And, of course, all of you who contributed financially toward the operation of FLY’s downtown Creativity Lab by way of the Wurst Challenge website, and came out in person to cheer our challengers on.

    THE MONEY:

    We’ve decided to keep the online donation site up through the weekend, for those of you would would still like to contribute on the behalf of one of our competitors. As of right now, though, we’ve taken in $6,498 through the site. In addition, Jesse Kranyak, the owner of the Wurst Bar, who had told us that he’d donate “ten cents per inch” for all of the bratwurst eaten, has rounded his contribution up to $500. And we took in $253 from the sale of Monkey King. And, as if that weren’t enough, we also took in $486 in cash donations during the event. So, as of right now, if my math is correct, we’ve raised $7,737… Not bad, considering that it’s our first time out, and we did it all in less than a month’s time.

    THE TELEVISION COVERAGE:

    This morning, as I was removing my pants at the gym, a man approached me saying, “I just saw you on the television, didn’t I?” I knew, of course, that I’d done an interview the night before with the camera guy with the knitted beard who’d been sent out from Detroit, but, as I didn’t think I said much of interest, I didn’t assume I’d make the cut. But apparently they liked what I had to say about the probability of cheating, so they tacked it on the end, after a lot of great shots of enormous sausages being served to stunned challengers. Here it is, courtesy of the good folks at the ABC affiliate in Detroit:

    By the time I got to work, I had about half a dozen emails in my in-box, most of them making fun of my “alarmingly white, disgusting neck-beard.”

    Curiously, it’s the cheating that also most interested the interviewer I spoke with at WWJ. “I think we’ll have people try and cheat, and try and hand off pieces to their friends,” they broadcast me saying, “but we’ll have security there trying to stop that at every turn. You know, this is a serious athletic competition.” (We didn’t have any security.)

    RADIO:

    As I mentioned a few days ago, we weren’t getting radio coverage only locally, on stations like WEMU prior to the event, but also on radio stations as far away as Colorado Springs. Here, for the historical record, is the WWJ interview.

    SHOCK AND AWE:

    I don’t think our challengers, for the most part, knew what they were getting into. Based on a conversation early in the evening with one particular challenger, I’m not even sure they all understood that they’d each be getting their own 20-foot long sausage. I’m pretty sure this particular person was under the impression that our 12 competitors would each be chewing away at an approximately 2-foot section of a single 20-foot long sausage. So, I think he may have been caught a little off-guard. At some point during the evening, though, the enormity of the situation hit all of them. Even the ones that knew what they’d signed up for, I think it’s safe to say, didn’t really have an appreciation for how enormous 20 feet of sausage really is.

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    Most challengers, from what I could tell, were good up until they finished the first lap around the outside of the sausage spiral. I think that’s the point when, for the most part, they stopped for a moment and began to consider what lay ahead… Granted, each successive ring got increasingly smaller, but, having finished that first lap, they still had at least another seven to go. Personally, I would have started from the center and eaten outward, as I think the illusion of making more progress might have kept the depression from setting in, but no one, from what I could tell, approached it this way. I suggested it to one challenger, only to be told that my idea wasn’t practical, as the coil retains the heat, and warmer sausage goes down easier.

    THE DROPOUTS:

    Our Mayor was the first to walk away. I could see him out of the corner of my eye, walking into the audience and feeding the remainder of his sausage to his constituents. I told him that he’d been disqualified, like EMU President Susan Martin, who had brought a team of ravenous young students with her, in violation of the rules, but he didn’t seem to care. He was just there to have fun… I don’t know if he was kidding, but he told me that this was the highlight of his career in politics.

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    Once the Mayor was out, I think that Cre Fuller went next. He, as I understood it, had entered the challenge with a two pronged strategy: 1. eat as fast as possible, in hopes of getting as much in as possible before it registered in the pain center of his brain that he was ingesting terrifyingly large quantities of meat, and 2. coat everything in hot sauce. I’m still not clear how the hot sauce was supposed to have helped, but I think it may have been an attempt to psych-out the Tom Selleck impersonator sitting across the table from him.

    Speaking of our Tom Selleck impersonator (James “Nom Selleck” Engman), I think it’s due to him that we got ABC and FOX to send out a cameraman. When I first started pitching the idea to their producers, they didn’t really seem all that interested. I thought that, when I told them that we’d have our Mayor and the President of Eastern Michigan University together at a bar, each attempting to eat a 20-foot long bratwurst, that they’d be into sending out a crew. It wasn’t, however, until I added that they’d be sitting alongside a Tom Selleck impersonator, that they started to appreciate the enormity of what we were doing.

    As for Cre, he did pretty well for himself in spite of being an early dropout. He, after all, made it onto the FOX News site, which he says will make his dad proud.

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    THE BEST QUOTES OF THE NIGHT

    Panda Ypsilanti: “I know the moment I put the Mayor of Ypsilanti’s sausage in my mouth that it was love, true love.

    James Engman: “Too many people think it’s OK to just pat someone on the back after they just ate four pounds of meat. They don’t realize you’re pretty much a landmine full of pig shrapnel.

    Kristin Schrader: “Honestly, I feel bad for people not in Ypsilanti tonight.

    Jesse Kranyak: “I knew going into this that I’d loose 12 customers for at least the next 6 months.

    Morgan Cox: ““It’s time to measure each of your sausages. I know it’s not usually the case, but the one of you with the smallest sausage will be the winner.

    Knifebeard Sausagehawk’s Mother: “I taught my baby to clean his plate, and that’s what he’s going to do.”

    THE EMU PRESENCE:

    Yes, they cheated, but I think it was awesome having representatives from the university make it across Cross Street to be a part of this event, and I very much enjoyed my conversations with Susan Martin and her team. I know that, in the past, I’ve had some issues with the administration, but I found our exchanges very encouraging and look forward to exploring opportunities to work together in the future. (A friend from Ann Arbor approached me at the bar and commented how he wished that he lived in a town where the mayor and the local university president could get together for an event like this, and just hang out among locals. And he’s right. We’re fortunate. There’s still more that we can do, of course, but I’m encouraged.)

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    [The expression on the face of the designated eater next to President Martin in the above photo will haunt me for the rest of my life.]

    THE WINNERS:

    We awarded three prizes. One went to the person who consumed the most sausage. One went to the person who raised the most money. And one went to the crowd favorite. I don’t remember the crowd favorite, but Jason “Knifebeard Sausagehawk” Youngs ate the most sausage, having gone through 16.5-feet of the 20 which was placed before him. And Jay Zocher won the prize for raising the most money, having brought in a whopping $1,356. All three winners got big prize baskets full of gift cards, t-shirts, and beer related stuff from the sponsors I noted above. And, if I’m not mistaken, some of them will have their photos hung on Huron Street, in the window of the FLY Creativity Lab.

    By our calculations, a total of 157 feet of sausage was eaten.

    VIDEO DOCUMENTATION:

    I mentioned earlier that Brad Perkins shot film of the event, and that Chris Sandon interviewed our challengers. Here’s evidence of both.

    ASSORTED:

    • The Mayor told me before we got started that he’d once saved a person’s life by administering the Heimlich maneuver. When I acted surprised, he told me that I’d been there and seen it myslef. As I’d soon discover, he’d apparently given the Heimlich maneuver to someone in the audience of the local talk show that I used to host in puppet form. (I’d sit behind the stage, talking into a microphone, while my friend Naia would work Puppet Mark.) I got to explain to the Mayor that, while my puppet might have seen his act of heroism, the technology did not exist at the time for me to see through its eyes.

    • If I were a criminal type, I would have robbed all of our challengers the day after the event, as I know they were all likely laying curled up on the cold floors of their bedrooms, in digestion comas, like giant pythons that had just swallowed baby water buffalos whole.

    • Jesse said that he’d toned down the “spice profile” of the brats by over half, but, assuming we do this again, I think we need to go even further. Without the bun to counterbalance the spice, it really stands out, and, although it might work for the first five feet or so, I think it really starts to impede progress at a point, even at half-strength.

    • There was only one back-flow problem. After the end of competition, one of our competitors had a little bit of an issue. In the spirit of the event, though, this person never left the table, and began immediately drinking beer after the incident, without missing a beat.

    • I believe I’ve inked a deal with a local tap dancing troupe to serve the sausages next year dressed like giant wieners, assuming, of course, we decide to do this again.

    • The most surreal moment for me was when, walking by the Wurst Bar’s kitchen, Jesse pulled me aside and handed me the phone, telling me that someone on the east coast from the Associated Press wanted to understand what exactly it was that we were up to.

    • If we should do this again, I think we need to find a way to make it more tournament like, with people being able to compete in smaller rounds in order to qualify, kind of like how college basketball teams work their way toward the Final Four during March Madness. It’s just a rough thought right now, but I think it has some progress.

    • Not since we decided to retire the Shadow Art Fair have I felt the same kind of Ypsi energy. It was awesome. And, once again, I’d like to thank all of you who played a part.

    • In spite of the fact that no one finished this year, Jesse says that he’ll find a way to push things to 21 feet, if we do it again. He tells me that, with a year to figure out the science, he’s confident that he can do it.

    • I stole this photo from Panda Ypsilanti, but it really sums the whole thing up.

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    I imagine the Mayor is saying, “This is where I put the sausage.” And I like this shot of Cre as his usual bravado has completely fallen away in the presence of a 20-foot adversary he knows to be unbeatable.

    ONE LAST CHANCE TO GIVE:

    If you’d still like to contribute something toward the FLY Children’s Art Center, you can do so on the Wurst Challenge donation site through the weekend.

    This entry was posted in Food, Special Projects, Uncategorized, Ypsilanti and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

      6 Comments

      1. Posted March 22, 2014 at 5:43 pm | Permalink

        Congrats on the event and coverage, Mark! Personally, I think the mayor is saying “the blessing” as he points to his mouth, attempting to explain to Aunt Bethany that yes, Grace passed away 30 years ago, but they want her to say a prayer for Xmas dinner.

      2. Kelp
        Posted March 22, 2014 at 8:47 pm | Permalink

        You need to find people who can unhinge their jaws.

      3. Ypsi Greg
        Posted March 22, 2014 at 10:21 pm | Permalink

        Nom Selleck was robbed. Dude has sausages entering his face from two directions.

      4. charlie romeo
        Posted March 22, 2014 at 11:01 pm | Permalink

        They really pounded down the pork.

      5. Two Two Seven
        Posted March 23, 2014 at 11:36 am | Permalink

        You made gay marriage happen.

      6. Posted March 23, 2014 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

        I don’t know what to think of this event.

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      1. […] 2005  (37) September 2005  (36) August 2005  (51) July 2005  (13) Mark Maynard has a report on the 20 foot bratwurst eating contest held at the Wurst Bar in Ypsilanti, MI last week to benefit […]

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