Maxim Alter is the Digital Content Manager at WCPO.com.
CINCINNATI -- My hands were shaking.
I was on slice four when I realized I was having trouble swallowing and my face was sweating. Or maybe that was the grease from the cheese. I’m still not sure.
The cooks had loaded the dough with onion slices, which were hardening with the extra layer of mozzarella. The spiciness of the tomato sauce was growing less subtle with each bite. Even the spinach was misbehaving as it tangled itself down my throat.
This pizza felt like it was biting me back.
None of that hurt as much as the potential shame I would face if I couldn’t finish. I had bragged for two days about how I could win this battle at Mount Lookout’s Ramundo's Pizzeria. And finally, there I was, face-to-face with this monstrosity of dough, cheese, sauce and toppings.
I was taking on the 26-inch colossal pizza challenge, one of the insane local food challenges WCPO.com wrote about this month in our ‘Top 9” series.
The rules: Two people have 10 minutes to eat an 8-pound pizza. It includes extra cheese, a pound of sauce and two toppings of your choice.
It sounds easy, right?
Let me explain.
Trust Me, I’m A Pizza Expert
After reading our story, “The top 9 gut-busting local eating challenges,” a light bulb went off.
“I can do some of these,” I thought, carelessly.
I scrolled through the nine options as if sorting through a menu from hell. When I spotted the Ramundo’s challenge, I knew there was no turning back.
I was doing this.
Before you start shaking your head, there are three things you should know about me.
No. 1: I love pizza. No, seriously, I’m obsessed. I’ve had conversations about pizza that have lasted two hours. Some of those were just with myself.
I’m from New York, so I’m a total snob when it comes to where I’ll sit down for a pie. And when I commit, I freakin’ commit. Eating an entire pizza solo – sometimes multiple pizzas – isn’t out of the question.
No. 2: I’m a man of extremes. In May, I consumed only fresh fruit and vegetable juice for 15 straight days. It was a way to test my limits. I wanted to see if I was capable of not chewing solid food for more than two weeks.
Day 15. So. Effin. Close. Must. Eat. Chicken. @JoetheJuicer pic.twitter.com/Srbc7Wp457
— Maxim Alter (@MaximAlter) May 31, 2015
Not only did I succeed, I ended up losing about 20 pounds.
No. 3: I eat way too fast. My mother always scolded me as a child. “Slow down, Maxim,” she’d repeat. She would be two bites into her dinner while I was already onto seconds.
In summary: I’ve been training for this pizza challenge my entire life. So when I decided to take it on, I got a little cocky. I made sure everyone in the newsroom knew failure wasn’t an option.
I really wish I hadn’t done that.
My Partner In Pizza
In order to compete, I needed a partner. I won’t name names, but I asked several large men if they’d eat this pizza with me.
I heard answers like:
“If I didn’t have to run tomorrow, I would join you.”
“I just started eating healthy again, so I need to pass.”
“My girlfriend said I’m not allowed.”
You all know who you are.
But one person overheard my plea. Her name is Anna. She’s about 5-foot-4 and 130 pounds (yes, I got her permission before posting that), and she loves pizza.
And for a reason I’ll never understand, she was willing to gorge herself to help me out.
We marked our calendars for Friday night, ate several small meals that day, chewed lots of gum (it strengthens your jaw!) and watched some tutorials online about how to eat a jumbo-sized pizza in under 10 minutes.
We were ready. Or so we thought.
The Moment of Truth
I don’t even remember the timer starting.
Like animal instinct, I rolled my first slice into a burrito – a pizzarrito, if you will. (I saw someone do it in one of those online tutorials.) I had that first slice down in under a minute.
I eyed slice two. It was a big one, but I kept the pattern going: roll, bite, chew, swallow.
It was working until I felt the sting from the onions. There were so many of them. And, oh man, that sauce. It was all just sitting there at the bottom of my throat, spicy and hot like lava.
“Think about something else, Max,” I screamed in my head. “Think about anything other than pizza.”
Then I looked down, and all I could think about was pizza.
That’s when it happened. My eyes darted with fear as all the laughter and cheering around me turned into silence.
I had puked in my mouth.
Don’t worry. I forced it back down.
Sadly, this valiant effort wasn’t enough. In the end, we lost.
Out of the eight slices, I had eaten about five. Anna ate one and a half. There was only one full slice left on the table.
I know what you’re thinking: “I could totally crush this pizza.”
You probably can. I believe in you. But before you try, here are some pro tips:
- DON’T PICK ONIONS. Stick to easy things like tomatoes, mushrooms, green peppers or spinach. Avoid meats and anything salty.
- This challenge is a team effort. Don’t be afraid to eat from the other person’s half. Keep your partner motivated. The only way to win is to win together.
- Don’t brag about winning before you actually win. It makes the whole experience a lot more stressful and terrifying.
- Bring Tums. A whole roll of them. And maybe one of those little portable fans, too. In case you get sweaty.
In the box below, tell me which challenge I should try next. (DISCLAIMER: The winning challenge is not a binding contract. I may or may not do it because some of these look terrifying.)
Video edited by Jason Law