The Viking tries competitive eating: “The King of Palo Alto”


Paul Bienaimé

Rowan devours the second half of his first cheesesteak. In addition to the two cheesesteaks, the challenge also required consuming a large side of fries, a large drink, and a Tastykake.

Rowan McEvoy, Staff Writer

Cramming 30 inches of cheesesteak and a few sides into your stomach probably isn’t the best idea. But Viking Tries is not necessarily about the everyday activities of the average Paly student. Armed with the moral support of staff members and a stomach that had only ingested half a bagel in the last 15 hours, I set out on a journey to the Palo Alto branch of the Cheese Steak Shop to try the King of Palo Alto challenge.

Completing the King of Palo Alto challenge is not an easy feat by any standards. Challengers must finish two 15-inch double meat cheesesteaks with onions and hot peppers, one large side of fries, one Tastykake and one large drink of choice in less time than the reigning record (currently 50 minutes). Although the challenge costs $20 to try, it is free to anyone who completes it.

As specified by additional contest rules, I sat alone at a table as my first sandwich was cooked up. Despite the lunchtime hour, the store was devoid of customers except for the one man quietly eating his own cheesesteak at another spot in the restaurant. With The Viking crew and the cashier looking on, I was served my first sandwich and I attacked it like legendary competitive eater Joey Chestnut.

Eight minutes into the ordeal, I was going strong and had finished one half of my first sandwich. Loaded with double meat, onions and hot peppers, the behemoth sandwiches were sided with large steak fries and an extra-large cup of water, which I used to wash down the heat of the last few peppers. My chances looked promising, but I wasn’t even a quarter of the way done.

Sandwich half number two proved to be slightly more of a challenge than the first. I was starting to fill up and was now juggling two foods, the sandwich and the fries. Both very hot, I was forced to drink much more water than before, piling on to the growing mountain in my stomach. But as any athlete knows, performing at a high level always requires some mental toughness. I concentrated on the food, continued to inhale cheesesteak, and finished off the first sandwich along with some more fries. As I consumed the last of the gargantuan sandwich, I called over to the cook, ready for sandwich two.

It was sandwich half number three where I hit the wall. In retrospect I probably waited too long between sandwich halves two and three, but by the time I got going again I no longer tasted the food. I was about halfway through the food but I was slowing down exponentially. Small bites of sandwich or fries permeated the long periods of blankly staring off into space. I was spent.

In my last effort to finish as much food as possible, I swallowed a few fries, gulped down my remaining water, and stood up for the first time in 45 minutes. I plodded over to the counter and picked out the final piece of the challenge, a Tastykake, or a prepackaged dessert in the form of two chocolate cupcakes. I headed back to my table and slowly stomached the dessert. As the clock hit 50 minutes, my Cinderella story hit midnight. I passed the record time of the reigning King of Palo Alto and resigned, happy to stop eating. I had totaled one drink, one Tastykake, one and quarter of the sandwiches, and half my fries.

Though it took me the rest of the afternoon to fully recover from the monstrous meal, I went back a few days later to talk with the story manager Robert Kellogg about some of the challenge logistics. Afterwards, I felt much better about my failure. According to Kellogg, only two of the 60 or 70 brave souls to try the challenge at the Palo Alto or Sunnyvale stores have managed to complete it. Despite the low success rate, Kellogg explained that challenge is fun for all that try it.

“Everyone has a great time, they get their money’s worth” Kellogg said. “For 20 dollars, it 36 dollars worth of food…so you’re fed, you’re stuffed, you’re not going to be hungry for a long time.”

Well, the meal definitely filled me up. Despite eating almost nothing for half a day beforehand, I was not hungry again until lunchtime the next day.

“It’s good clean fun,” Kellogg said. “You get your buddies around you rooting you on and you can say ‘hey I tried’ and ‘maybe next time’.”

Although I can’t support the clean part of the challenge (I used quite a few napkins), I tried my hardest. Still, not earning the title of the King of Palo Alto, I can sum up my experiences in similarity to Julius Caesar. I came, I saw…I did not conquer. For the next couple weeks I plan to improve my diet and give my arteries time to recover. As for now, I will have to settle for the title King of Salad.