I must’ve been pretty hungry when I saw the announcement of the Mr. Gatti’s Pizza challenge; within the same minute I stumbled upon it, I put out the call to my fellow RG’s to see who would go into battle with me. Before I’d even fully come to the realization of what I was signing on for, two of them had enthusiastically stepped up and just like that it was already too late to claim I'd been only kidding. 5 pizzas, 3 men, 1 hour- the prize: Free Pizza for a year for any teams that could finish. It seemed tough but doable.
As the runt of the would-be trio at 5’10”, I issued the disclaimer that I thought I’d personally max out at 1 pizza, maybe a few additional slices at best. Being the troopers that they are, Doug and Brimmy agreed to take the brunt of it and our gameplan was in place.
...soon we'd find out Mr. Gatti’s had other plans.
When we got there it was packed. The contest was part of the Mesquite location's 1st anniversary celebration and likewise, it seemed to be the first time they were figuring out some of the details. After signing waivers that we forgot to even read, we were instructed to pack-in between a row of tables and the wall and form lines behind our “Primary Eater”.
I believe it was my brother who snagged a picture of my face as I realized that the phrase "primary eater" meant only one of us could eat at a time. As more of a "endurance eater" I was not enthused by the development; I'd been banking on the slow and steady approach and this was a harsh blow.
Next the pizzas got carted out, and more stipulations along with them.
SURPRISE - the pizzas weren’t sliced.
SURPRISE – they were far thicker than standard Gatti’s pizzas
%^&$@#*'n SURPRISE – There weren’t just the advertised 5, but 6 pizzas.
Mr. Gatti would not be giving away his year’s worth of pizza without a fight.
Despite these added hurdles, Doug wanted first stab at it and he'd earned it by prepping the most of any of us. Brimhall's coach-like certainty that we could still win this thing didn't waiver despite the introduction of that 6th 'za. I followed their lead knowing if I could fake half their confidence we still had a shot.
Adding to the already claustrophobic situation we squeezed into the mostly undersized free t-shirts they handed out and started in.
Once the cheese began to fly things were largely a greasy blur. Doug's method of folding the pizza in half like a giant taco seemed the way to go. It made me all the more glad he led things off and displayed a successful strategy for me to follow. When Brimhall wasn't killing 360 degrees of crusts he was staying vigilant refilling our water cups which became more and more essential as the pizza got colder. During my turns, my personal method was to let my eyes glaze over, block everything out and stare off in the distance as I chewed. The enthusiasm of our small cheering section kept the dream alive.
A bespectacled girl who looked about twelve was parked directly in my sightline several times just intensely staring at me and as I slipped into pizza madness I started to become unsure if she was really there or if I was hallucinating the Bee Girl from the Blind Melon music video. Nevertheless I kept rhythmically tapping my foot along with my chomping to keep my pace up and tilted my head every direction trying to get all that crust down my gullet- I looked and felt like a baby bird on speed.
A bootleg Ninja Turtle action figure I brought sat shotgun throughout as our pizza-scarfing good luck totem. Anything to tip the scales of the Pizza Gods in our favor.
As we reached the 5 minutes remaining mark they informed us that NOW we were allowed to all start eating simultaneously. We had just slightly over 1 pizza left but it was too late in the game to matter much; for lack of a better term, the pizza was starting to push back. As time eventually ran out we looked down at what equaled about 2/3 of a pizza remaining in an ugly unfinished jigsaw puzzle of scraps. 10 of the 15 teams had dropped out along the way but we had stayed the course and reached our goal of beating the original 5 pizza challenge. It was a proud moment despite the pizza pregnant feeling. Only one team (who happened to be right next to us) finished all 6 and it took them every single second to do it.
Luckily an even better prize than pride alone came soon after time expired - the Gatti's crew informed us the 6th pizza didn't actually count- all teams who finished their 5 would indeed get their year of free pizza. WE DID IT!
We were too lethargic to really celebrate at that point, the odd 6-for-5 switcheroo had robbed us of as fully victorious a moment as we deserved, but nonetheless, we won and no one could take that away from us.
Aside from the pressure brought on by all the unexpected twists, the Pizza Challenge was pretty fun stuff- (though I may have told you differently right as it ended) in any case it was definitely a day I won't soon forget. I'll be proudly wearing my "I'm Just Here for the Pizza" shirt until it disintegrates, happy to regale anyone who wants to hear the tale of how I became a Co-Pizza Eating Champ.
If nothing else, someday the story of that day should at least earn me some Cool Dad points.