On a day when millions of Americans were gorging themselves on munchies of all sorts, a group gathered in Kasilof was taking eating to the max on Sunday.
In a matchup mirroring the battle between a longtime underdog and a team of proven champions playing on television in the background, this year's fourth annual Kasilof Mercantile and Rocky's Caf Eating Contest pitted every contestant against one man -- Joseph Robertia.
The Kasilof resident, who works as a reporter for the Peninsula Clarion, has won the event for the past three years. This time around, Rocky Laster, one of the caf's owners and the organizer of the contest, drew a target on the champion's back, offering a $50 bonus on top of the $100 prize to anyone that could take down the champ.
"He keeps squeaking by and someone needs to take this punk out this year," Laster said earlier in the week. "I think this will be the year that Robertia meets his match."
Laster said the free contest featured spaghetti its first two years and ice cream last year. Due to a large amount of "brain freezes" and toothaches reported last year, Laster said he decided to go with sliders this year.
According Mark Gaissert, a cook at Rocky's who grilled up 120 of the miniburgers, the petite versions are typically served up as a 1.5-ounce patty sandwiched between two small, but doughy, buns with onions, pickles, mayonnaise, salt and pepper.
For the competition, the burgers were simplified to 1-ounce patties and onions, making the buns seem even bigger.
With 10 competitors, an executive decision was made before the start to make the winner the first person to mow down 20 burgers, or whoever ate the most in five minutes.
At their disposal, competitors had all the water they wanted and a bowl they could fill up with ketchup for dipping purposes.
Laster said he knew in advance the buns would be a tripping point for everyone.
As Gaissert and Laster started piling up the burgers on plates, the eaters gathered at a long table, siting side-by-side as if at some perverse family reunion. Each had a plate of six sliders, with water and ketchup in front of them.
Laster counted down from five, and the sprint-style race launched. As expected, the buns proved to be a major hang-up. For nearly every wide-mouthed bite, competitors took back big swigs of water and soaked their sliders in ketchup.
In the final seconds, newcomer Levi Morris, a 23-year-old Kasilof resident, beat out Robertia, putting away 10 1/2 sliders as Laster yelled time was up. The three-time champ trailed by one.
Morris came with no vendetta or agenda, though. While some of the eaters avoided breakfast in an attempt to work up an appetite, Morris said he had a full breakfast that morning and was just tagging along to the event with his cousin.
While at least one eater nearly sent his sliders the wrong way during the event, Morris still had room in his gullet to clean his plate of the remaining burgers after the race was over. He guessed he had another dozen in him if the clock had been allowed to run.
It wasn't easy though.
"I used up quite a bit of ketchup," he said, gesturing to the now empty mug he'd used. "You've got to use liquid to get them down."
Don't expect to see Morris sitting alongside international hot dog eating sensation Takeru Kobayashi, though. Morris said this talent is one he'll reserve for his own table.
Afterward, Laster couldn't help but note how events in Kasilof seemed awfully similar to those in Miami, where another relative newcomer found themselves crowned victor in a surprise turn of events.
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