2 minutes, 28 seconds: Miki Sudo has eaten 30 wings
Bleach blond and lean, Sudo’s the only woman in the Wing Bowl; the only contestant clocking in under 130 pounds; the only opponent who, between rounds, bends over a baby blue Hello Kitty pocket mirror to check her gold eye makeup. Flawless.
3 minutes, 38 seconds: Miki Sudo has eaten 41 wings
An older woman is first to rush the stage, pitched forward and speed-waddling with elbows akimbo, barking EAT, EAT, EAT! There’s $5,000 on the line. The reigning champion, two-time undefeated, entered the arena with title belts bent over his shoulder. Now, he’s losing.
7 minutes, 4 seconds: Miki Sudo has eaten 76 wings
It’s three rounds: 10 minutes, 5 minutes, 2 minutes. The most wings you can cram. There are about 30 contestants, and there’s strategy in the long game — a balance between eating enough to advance, and no more than you can keep down. You must swallow everything in your mouth. You must suck the meat clean off the bone. You must not leave the eating area. You must not vomit. Vomiters are disqualified. Vomiters are guaranteed.
9 minutes, 59 seconds: Miki Sudo has eaten 96 wings
Someone, someone with a microphone, is making retching noises. Over and over. “Reeeeetch, reeeetch.” The audience, crowded up against the stage now, mimics. “Reeeetch, reeeeetch.” A contestant drops to his knees.
10 minutes, 48 seconds: Miki Sudo has eaten 108 wings
Behind every contestant there are monitors wearing plastic gloves, inspecting bones for a clean eat, waiving their arms to summon more wings, more wings, more wings. This is Round 2. Fifteen contestants. You can see them sweating. See them slowing down. Less than a minute in, two bow out. “Reeeeeeetch!” Sudo, who’s 27, jerks her high ponytail from side to side and shovels wings in with both hands. Under a glistening mask of sauce, you cannot see her chew. Her nearest competition is 24 wings behind — a flock. From the sidelines, an eliminated contestant yells: “She’s so hot, man! She’s so fucking hot!”
11 minutes, 57 seconds: Miki Sudo has eaten 130 wings
Another contestant stops, stares slack-faced into the casino crowd. This is “Demolition” Denney Shinn. He’s eaten 86 wings, and he’s fighting it hard. A video camera zooms tight on Shinn’s face, simulcasts it on a big screen flanking the stage. “Heeeeeeee’s gonnna puuuuuuuke!” Shinn fights it. Squints. Swallows. Fights it. “Reeeeeeetch! Reeeeeetch!” Strobe lights kick on, someone hands Shinn a garbage can and, just like that, Demolition Denney’s disqualified. Footage of Shinn vomiting is looped back and played again. Offstage, Shinn laments: “A lot of my wings were undercooked, man.” He would have made Round 3.
15 minutes: Miki Sudo has eaten 134 wings
They’re too hot. The wings are too hot. We can see Sudo wince as she grabs them with all 10 thin fingers and packs them into her mouth. Scorching wings are slowing Sudo down. Her spotter has two replacement trays at the ready and slams them down as Sudo finishes each plate, ponytail jerking, crowd shrieking, then reeling. Sudo has an entourage; they’re wearing matching T-shirts and filming her every bite. “I showed up to fight,” Sudo says, “and I’m gonna fight to the end.”
15 minutes, 42 seconds: Miki Sudo has eaten 138 wings
The third round is down to three contestants: One makes a show of slowly licking his fingers clean, the other is still bent over his hopeless pile. Sudo stands up now. Final wing in hand, she rattles the bone around in her mouth and — pop! — pulls it out clean, presents it to the crowd, then runs both hands down her sides, one part full-body wing wipe, one part minx.
17 minutes: Miki Sudo has eaten 147 wings
The title belt is too big; it could circle Sudo twice. And the novelty award check is an arm span. Sudo’s red high tops slide across the floor as she signs her winner’s paperwork, the tax documentation and the fine print. She’s dancing. What will she do with the winnings? Her roommate can only guess: “Probably pay the rent.”