The Prey of the Black Widow
blog by Ben Tsujimoto • September 02, 2011 @ 8:05am
The Black Widow devours her prey at a furious pace, scooping up morsels and swallowing them whole before gulping down fluids and repeating the act. Winner of the Buffalo Chicken Wing Eating Competition the last four years, Sonya Thomas has hands so fast that her performance mirrors a whirring machine, ripe with efficient repetition.
Housing five pounds of spicy chicken meat doesn’t faze the Black Widow, as she admits to rarely being full after a competition. You read that correctly—she was still hungry after packing down 181 wings at the 2010 fest. Still, she’s only ranked as the fifth best eater in the world.
“There’s not a lot of pressure on me,” Thomas admitted. “In other eating contests, [the other top eaters] like Joey [Chestnut] and Pat [Bertoletti] are better than me. With chicken wings, though, I feel confident in myself.”
Thomas has every reason to be confident in winning her fifth straight wing eating competition at the 2011 Buffalo Chicken Wing Festival. The Black Widow credits her technique—a combination of fast swallowing, active hands and big gulps of water—for her persistent success.
“It’s little food,” the cheerful Thomas said. “You must use your hands. Women [generally] don’t have the jaw strength of men, so we find ways to compensate.”
When asked if she sets a numerical goal before each competition, Thomas noted that, while she likes to challenge herself, the preparation of the wings determines the quantity consumed.
“A hotter wing is easier to eat,” Thomas said. “The meat also needs to come off the bone easily; if it’s been cooked too long, it becomes tough and much more chewy.” Like us non-competitive eaters, the Black Widow likes warm wings with tender chicken, but given the 50 tons of wings that have brought to the festival, she realizes perfect food preparation isn’t always in the cards.
One particular goal that Thomas has set is to drink more water, so if you see her gulping away furiously on Sunday (4 p.m.), know that it’s not panic—just part of the plan. Moistening the esophagus is crucial, particularly when swallowing food for 12 straight minutes, and the quicker she can swallow, the better.
While Chestnut will be relaxing before Sunday’s contest, Thomas plans to participate again in Saturday’s IFOCE Buffalo Buffet Bowl, where 12 competitors inhale chicken wings, roast beef and pizza for 10 minutes. As someone who’s dabbled in a pizza eating contest before, the Buffet Bowl does not sound enticing.
The Buffalo Chicken Wing Festival is Sonya Thomas’ moment in the sun. She remains the heavy favorite despite weighing just over 100 pounds. Her ability and achievements—records in oysters, quesadillas, cheesecake and deep-fried okra, to name a few—boggle our minds, and her wing gobbling prowess pits Joey Chestnut in the unfamiliar “underdog” role. Will she five-peat? Find out Sunday.