"It's like a car wreck," said University of Pittsburgh Engineering Student Council President Nate Phillips as he lined up for the "Mystery Eats" gorge-fest -- perhaps the most colorful of the annual interdepartmental School of Engineering contests.
The 50-year-old E-Week event, which concluded March 26, included a soapbox derby, a poker tournament, all-night float-building (followed by an early morning parade) and an Office Space homage, where students demolished old computers with large steel rods as rap music played. The competitive climax was likely the March 23 Mystery Eats at Pitt's Benedum Hall. Positioned across four long, plastic-covered tables, three eaters from each department team stared down the two-dozen questionable food items -- the spicy pickled cauliflower, the shot of hot sauce, the cupful of large-curd cottage cheese, the "cheese bologna."
"It's semi-normal food in unreasonable proportions," shouted E-Week Chair Janie Haven. After gorging an inhuman amount of cottage cheese, Philips was the first of many to lose it.
"It's not even the taste, it's the fact that you have to swallow huge clumps of it at once, and that's why you want to puke," he explained with peanut butter smeared all over his face. Nearby, another competitor's face contorted as he shoveled in mounds of raw tofu, intermittently keeling over. One eater, like a winter-bound chipmunk, stuffed his cheeks full of banana chips. Chuck Jeward, a Mystery Eats veteran renowned for boldly swallowing Rollos with the wrappers still on them last year, piled a ball of white bread into his mouth.
"Swallow it all!" the crowd bellowed.
Toward the end two teams, material science and biological engineers, found themselves in a vomitorium neck-and-neck, wolfing down the last few items -- a tomato, two juice drinks and powdered donuts -- at a feverish rate. On the final stretch, Patrick McCarthy shotgunned a Faygo soda can with his pen and won the competition for the Material Science team. "It feels great," he said, thin lines of red drizzling down his cheeks onto his shirt.