NORTH CENTER — The world's top competitive eater came to Ribfest's RibMania looking to out-gnaw his opponents and, there's no other way to put this, got beat by a girl.
Joey Chestnut, ranked No. 1 by Major League Eating, said he hoped to put down eight pounds of ribs in eight minutes, but could only muster a hair over 2.5 pounds in the truncated six-minute contest, good enough for just third place.
In a major upset, Miki Sudo bested the entire field, packing away 2.9 pounds of ribs and earning a $2,000 payday in the process. In an impressive display of girl power, Michelle Lesco took second place with 2.62 pounds.
"This is absolutely surreal," Sudo said of her victory, the smell of smoked meat still on her breath.
A special events coordinator in her real life, Sudo signed on with Major League Eating a mere six weeks ago. She's now turning her attention to the mother of all eating challenges, Nathan's Famous Hot Dog contest on the Fourth of July, where men and women compete in separate divisions.
"This is just going to motivate me to keep this up," said Sudo.
Ribs are the great equalizer of competitive eating foods, requiring more technique than simply cramming as much food into your mouth as quickly as possible, according to competitors.
"Part of it's luck, a lot of it has to do with the meat, whether it's falling off the bone," Chestnut said prior to RibMania. "You have to use your hands."
Rub's Backcountry Smokehouse, winner of the Best Ribs title at Ribfest 2012, supplied the ribs for the contest: 60 full slabs, 120 pounds in all.
"We made 'em softer than normal, but I don't make mushy ribs," said Rub's owner Jared Leonard.
The St. Louis-style ribs seemed to stymie the contestants.
"I can usually get a good rhythm going. These were a different consistency," said Sudo. Prior to the announcement of the winners, she correctly predicted, "I don't think anyone ate more than four pounds."
The petite Sudo readily admits she doesn't fit fans' model of the classic competitive eater — that's actually what inspired her to join the Major League Eating circuit.
After winning an amateur contest on a lark, she happened to Google her name months later, only to discover haters in online eating forums.
"They said I was a fake," Sudo recalled. "So I entered another contest." It happened to be ribs, and she won that, too.
"If people hadn't doubted me, I wouldn't be here."