Have you ever been to a chilli eating competition before? If you’re a regular fan, we can see why. If you think it might not be for you; don’t underestimate the power of watching a chilli make a grown man cry.
We’ve wandered to the Life Fire stage, an area that sets Black Deer apart from so many other festivals. You can come here to eat whilst a gospel serenades your brunch, to be taught how to cook ‘perfect pork chops with charcoal and responsible woodland use’ – or to watch ten adults line themselves up on the stage to voluntarily eat some of the hottest chillis in the world.
So here are the rules:
You have to eat the chilli right down to the stalk. Don’t try and con us with that ‘I’ve left the top of the pepper on you can’t eat that bit malark’ – when you’re playing with heat like this, every bite counts.
You will go out if:
You tap out. Which you can do at any time! But the audience will pressure you to stay.
If you fail to eat the chilli. Take too long, and a timer will be imposed.
If you vomit. Delightfully, those closest to the front of the stage are welcomed to the ‘splash zone’.
If you drink any of the ice cold milk in front of you. And yes, you will be judged.
The ten contestants, eight men and two women, are introduced to enthusiastic applause. One has already reached for his vomit bag; this may not be the competition for him. The host explains to us that chilli heat is measured in Scoville units; the higher the number, the hotter the chilli, and we’re starting with the Turkish chilli, small and green, around a third the heat of a Jalapeño, and 1000 units. Most take their time, delicately chewing these large peppers, clearly settling themselves for the long haul. Round two brings the much smaller green Jalapeño, between 3-5,000 units. We still have ten contestants in.
The host brings us a variant of the Jalapeño for round three, a 5-8,000 unit Early chilli. At this point, Elijah who is sat on the right hand side starts to cry. David further down the line is starting to bounce in his seat a little. Hold on to your hats chaps, because there are many chillis yet to go!
We see our first red chilli for round four; the Red Jalapeño. This is sweeter and tastier, but a hotter 8-10,000 units. Contestant Ollie’s face has turned the colour of his chilli and he’s looking reluctant to continue, Elijah hesitates twice but pushes valiantly on, Penny has her own cheering squad to motivate her, George and Susie seem un-phased, and Troy looks like he may already be hallucinating.
The crowd are loving it! The chillis come out thick and fast, and each time a contestant looks like they may be regretting their life choices, we chant their name and shame them into staying for another round. ‘3, 2, 1, EAT!’ We all yell, tears streaming down our own faces – but from laughter rather than heat.
The Bullet chilli joins the table, rated 10-12,000 units. Ben starts to clench his fists… and he’s out! The first to go. We lean back as he leans into his blue bag, and we’re not sure if he’s spat it out or been sick. He’s directed to the welfare tent regardless.
Ollie looks like he may cry at the sight of the next two chillis, 15-20,000 units, and before we know it both he and David are drinking their milk. ‘And then there were seven’ cries the host. Troy accuses him of hating him as, next to him, Elijah is slapping his own face. It’s carnage.
Round seven: the Cayenne Pepper. Sweet, fruity, smoky, and 20-30,000 units. George sways gently at the end of the row. Elijah spits his out, and we’re convinced he’s finished – but he picks it up and eats it again! That’s dedication to the competition, and we’re cheering him on.
Over the next four rounds the contestants face chillis between 30,000 and 225,000 units, and all eyes are on Elijah. Clutching his sick bag, wiping sweat from his brow, he keeps trying to leave but the audience are having none of it and cheer ‘one more round’, as he beats his chest against the pain. Notice we haven’t mentioned either of the women yet, as they continue to chew their chillis in one tasty mouthful. Their baths are hotter than this.
By round eleven we’re introduced to ‘the game changer’; the Scotch Bonnet, a chilli so hot it can allegedly cause people to black out. George is slowly starting to shake and even Susie is hesitant, whilst Penny slaps the table to give herself encouragement.
Round twelve: the Yellow Hanernerat, 300-350,000 units. And Susie has vomited! Sheeee’s outta there! Penny is now representing the ladies, and her friends go wild. George drinks his milk, leaving Sam, Ollie and Penny – but we’re really not convinced about Sam.
Have you seen that episode of the Simpsons with the Ghost chilli? The next round isn’t quite that dramatic, but we’re still impressed at the unit size of 800,000 to one million. (Remember that we started on 1000?) Penny, a warrior, eats hers in one, but we lose Ollie to the countdown. We’re down to the final two, and the crowd have a clear favourite: who won the world? Girls.
At 1.4 million, the Trinidad Scorpion chilli has Penny rocking. Sam eats his – but then, takes the milk! We have a clear winner, and when asked how she’s feeling, responds with a nonchalant ‘I feel fine’. What a hero. We’ve loved her energy, her victory twerk for the audience, and now we’re all off for a curry somewhere else in the festival. (Or maybe not.)
Pics by David Court, Words Becca Bates