Los Angeles Times

Reporter's Notebook: An eating contest? Pie not?

At the end of the table a hungry teen was eager to start and to my left a rowdy woman loudly expressed her excitement.

I wouldn't let them get me out of my zone. I was definitely in my zone.

The only thing I needed to focus on for the next four minutes or so was the boysenberry pie from Knott's Berry Farm in front of me. Well, half a pie.

Half pie, full pie. It didn't matter. I was going to devour it.

On Wednesday, seven Orange County Fair-goers and I sat at a long table atop a stage in the center of the OC Promenade. Hundreds of eyes locked on to us. We wore classy black trash bags to protect our clothes. This was going to be an epic pie-eating contest.

"I've never been in a pie-eating contest," Cathy Wallace whispered in my ear before we planted our faces into the pie tin. Her comment was followed by a deafening "Woo!" as she took photos of us.

As I stared at the pie glistening under the stage lights, I was reminded of the training I did last week.

Yes, that's right. I trained for this. Luckily for me, I had my colleague and pie-eating coach Lauren Williams to whip me into shape.

She told me to buy a pie and practice eating it without my hands. I couldn't find a boysenberry pie, so I bought a blueberry pie instead.

I brought it back to the office, covered my desk in newspapers and placed the pie in front of me.

My colleagues flocked to my desk when they caught wind of what I was doing.

Armed with their smartphones, they snapped photos and videos of me stuffing my face. I rolled my face in the tin, getting blueberry filling all over my face and makeshift newspaper bib.

Once the laughter subsided, I reviewed the game tape and took notes on how to better my technique. Now that I had the experience, I just needed Wednesday to roll around and unleash my pie-eating fury at the fair.

Before we started, Marshal Jeff gave us the rundown on the rules: no hands, no reversals and have fun.

With my face inches away from the boysenberry pie, I began to tune the crowd out with the exception of my colleagues, who cheered me on.

"Ready … Set … Eat!"

I plowed my face into the pie and started taking giant bites. It was much better tasting than the blueberry pie I bought from Stater Bros. However, the consistency was the same, so I was in familiar territory.

As I worked my way to the bottom of the tin, I found myself gasping for breath. I could barely breathe through my pie-filled mouth, and I soon found out that I couldn't breathe through my nose. It was clogged with berries, jam and crust.

That was easily fixed as I exhaled forcefully through my nose. I don't know where the nasal shrapnel went, nor did I care. I just wanted to win.

I received a boost of confidence when Marshal Jeff called me the "Kobayashi of pies," referring to the famed competitive eater from Japan. I was truly honored.

There wasn't much left in my tin, and I thought, "I got this. First place will be mine."

Then I glanced at the teen at the end of the table and his tin. Running Springs resident David Sireika, 18, didn't have anything left and before I knew it Marshal Jeff told us to stop eating.

Sireika won first place, I got second and Wallace third. I had been defeated, but I was far from upset.

I didn't expect to have so much fun eating pie with seven strangers and hundreds of people cheering us on. I should count my blessings that I was even picked to participate.

Knott's representatives chose eight contenstants at random for its daily adult pie-eating contest at the fair. According to Marshal Jeff, about 50 to 100 people sign up every day.

Ana Erdman, 26, of Santa Ana, has entered the contest since she was 18 and has yet to have her named called.

"I love pie and eat a lot of pie," she said. "I'm usually messy when I eat, so I have a feeling that I would be great at this. Plus I love boysenberry."

With our faces still covered with pie remnants, I took more photos with Wallace and talked to Sireika and asked him how he finished the pie with such ease.

He said it was his first time entering any kind of eating contest, and he signed up with his girlfriend and friends just for the heck of it. Apparently, he had been training for the contest subconsciously.

"This is completely on accident, but I like to eat at buffets and recently I think I've eaten at seven buffets in the last two weeks," Sireika said. "My stomach is pretty stretched and my mouth is used to eating."

He walked away from the stage with his girlfriend, two friends, a ribbon and a four-pack of tickets to Knott's Berry Farm. I couldn't have lost to a nicer opponent.

With my pie cravings satisfied for the rest of the year, I washed up, met up with my colleagues, thanked my coach and grabbed a Huell Howser dog from the Pink's Hot Dog booth.

As the late Huell Howser would have said, Wednesday night was amazing.

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