Monday, June 4, 2012

Meeting "Atlas" in Washington

(NOTE: Over the last month, I got a chance to meet a couple of professional eaters. Today's entry highlights Randy "Atlas" Santel. Tomorrow, a four-part series chronicling "OregonMania" with Naader Reda commences.)

Late April and early May was an exciting time for yours truly. After learning I actually passed the Washington Bar Exam, I made preparations to head to Washington to watch Randy "Atlas" Santel conquer some food challenges. Randy set out to conquer six challenges in three days. While I wouldn't be on hand for all of them, I still wanted to meet this larger-than-life athlete.

Santel, a former offensive lineman at Missouri State University, won a Men's Health Spartacus Transformation Challenge and appeared on "Spartacus." After that, he delved into the world of food challenges. Since his first challenge (a team pizza challenge on March 19, 2011), Atlas has over 100 challenge wins in multiple states (11 at the time of this post). He's devoured pizzas, burgers, BBQ dinners, ice cream, pancakes, and much more.

First up was a burger-and-fries challenge at The Loose Wheel in Tacoma, WA. Dubbed the "What Were You Thinking?" burger challenge, the meal is six pounds total, with grilled cheese sandwiches for buns. A delicious-looking display of food porn that I'd need at least two meals to finish. Not for Atlas, who cleaned his plate in 11:59. Yeah, under 12 minutes. WTF.

Next was a quick 1-pound doughnut conquest in Auburn, WA, at Legendary Doughnuts. Even after just dispatching food at The Loose Wheel, Santel inhaled the monstrous glazed doughnut in 1:46. Under two freakin' minutes?!

I tried to get here to witness the challenge, but took a few wrong turns and gave up looking for the place. I came back on my return drive to Salem and found it that time. Turned out that I wasn't too far from Legendary Doughnuts on my initial attempt. Glad I went, though. Their "Oprah" doughnut was excellent.

After going on a few adventures of my own in Seattle (both good and bad), I finally caught up with Santel at Wing Central, near the University of Washington. There, he battled the 22" Big Dawg challenge, a gargantuan hot dog inside a baguette, then smothered with chili, onions, and jalapenos. Oh, and why not add a couple mounds of fries to everything? You only have 22 minutes to eat it all. Again, probably a challenge I'd fail.

Randy walked in dressed in his "Atlas & Zeus Promotions" attire, almost like he came straight from basketball practice. No real fanfare, just a 6'5" dude who came to eat. He got in touch with the owner, who got the challenge going. Santel set up his video equipment and changed into his food challenge gear. After a few photos, he went to work on the Big Dawg.

I have no clue how Santel destroyed that one. Not surprisingly, he set a new record at just over 12 minutes. Seriously?!

Big Dawg Challenge on the menu
22 minutes?! Yikes....
Randy setting up his equipment
Big Dawg Challenge looks delicious!
Just give me a couple meals, though....

Winner! Needed just slightly over 12 minutes!
Just to show Randy I can handle spicy food, I ordered the "Hell Wing" at Wing Central. At the time of my visit, the record was eight wings. I didn't take the challenge, partly due to how expensive the challenge would get and partly because I didn't want Chernobyl going off in my stomach on my drive home the next day.

"Hell Wing" advertised on the menu
Yes, they have a waiver for you....
Hell Wing
(Wing Central on the Ave)
The wing has a tasty sauce that, according to the owner, exceeds 6 million Scoville units. Obviously, that means extract is involved. Honestly, it wasn't too bad going down, but it was hellish later that night. Capsaicin cramps made it pretty uncomfortable. And that was just ONE wing. Very rare for that to happen to me, so you know it packed a lethal punch.

Randy's next challenge was at Kobe Wellbeing Tonkatsu, a sushi bar and restaurant I previously reviewed. Much like at Wing Central, Santel walked in and inquired about the challenge. At first, things looked bleak, as the staff didn't know if they would be able to offer the challenge that day. Massive orders reduced the amount of food available in the kitchen. After a few minutes, Randy got word he would be able to attempt Kobe's challenge: three liters of ramen.

You have 30 minutes to take it all down -- including the broth
If the bowl was in front of you, this is probably what it looks like

Smashed another record time! Damn.
Oh, did I mention you also have to drink all that steaming-hot broth?! I'd be a damn bloated panda halfway through. Despite never having ramen before in his life, Santel powered through the delicious dish in 14:26, shattering the previous house record. Only a handful of others had ever completed the 30-minute challenge, and all needed a good 26-29 minutes to get it all down.

Santel loves giving back to charity, donating his $100 gift card that he won to the Boys & Girls Club in Bellevue.

At that point, it was my time to bid farewell to Randy, but I promised to follow his other Washington challenges from home.

That night, it was yet another challenge at Wedgwood Broiler. The 72 oz. steak challenge had previously gone unbeaten for over 50 years. And believe me, when I saw the picture of the meal, I shook my head and thought it was an impossible task for a mere mortal. A great-looking spread, but just so much of it.

Randy had one hour on this challenge, which had a ton of chewing involved. Atlas only needed a shade over 41 minutes to be the first winner. Not surprisingly, it gained serious press in Seattle and back in the Midwest (just do a Google search or something, and you'll probably find a few links).

The last day of Santel's adventures started at Burger Madness in Seattle. This time, a 3-pound burger with a pound of fries. The picture on Randy's page shows a 12-patty stacked cheeseburger with sesame-seed bun, plus a separate basket of crinkle fries. Lots of protein and a few carbs! An easy win for Santel, at least compared to some of the others he had on this trip. Only eight minutes and 20 seconds for his 99th career win. The panda still shakes his head in disbelief.

The final challenge was a burrito challenge at Masa Tacoma, fittingly held on Cinco de Mayo. Six additional pounds of yummy goodness there. In a fitting conclusion, that burrito became Atlas' 100th victim. Again, cue the head-shaking panda.

On a related side note, I ordered a $20 5-pound burrito at one of the Taco Del Mar locations in Salem that day. It was a food challenge, but I didn't take it because I knew better (I'd miserably fail within the allotted time limit, which I believe was 30 minutes). Lots of beans and rice stuffed that burrito, but hey, I got chicken to make it a bit healthier and lighter. Despite having just eaten another meal (another reason I knew I woulda been screwed), I got through half of that burrito in one sitting, then polished off another 1/4 of it by the end of the night. The rest was gone by morning. It's an OK burrito, just not over-the-top awesome. Typical of most national chains.

Anyway, Randy consumed about 34 pounds of food on his Washington trip, a staggering number over just three days. That likely doesn't include all the liquid he drank to help finish each challenge.

I think the only thing I didn't see on this trip was the "challenge chair" I saw Santel use for a good number of his early challenges. I assume the chair couldn't fit in Randy's luggage.

My limited time with Atlas was a very positive one. Just an all-around nice guy who loves working out and eating great food. Since Randy ultimately wants food challenge wins in all 50 states, I hope to see him again, probably when he hits up Oregon or Hawaii.

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