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Tears, Machismo and an Underdog Victory at Chichen Itza's Habanero Eating Contest

Grown men rarely cry in public. These occasions seem to be the exceptions: At funerals, in hospitals (when reacting to very bad or very good news), and when eating very hot chilis. Yesterday's Habanero Eating Contest at Chichen Itza drew a crowd of nearly 200. Most of them stood and angled for a good view of the contest under the shady patio at Mercado Paloma, just south of downtown. Over bowls of orange chilis the size of ping pong balls, more than a few tears were shed.

Out of dozens of entrants, Chichen Itza picked 12 contestants to participate in the chili-eating contents. Contestants sat in a row at tables in front of the crowd. They were each given a bottle of water, a plate of Chichen Itza's Cochinita pibil tacos, a cup of milk, a bowl of rice and beans and, of course, a bowl of 10 habenero chilis. Participants were given 20 minutes to finish as many chilis as they could.

There were two women contestants in the group, and they quickly surprised the crowd by calmly taking large bites of chilis with small sips of milk in between. Some of the men tried to keep up by scooping up rice and beans with hollow chilis and eating the whole stuffed chili at once. By the seven minute mark, two men were in the lead, with Anayeli Suarez, one of the women, not far behind. Halfway through the contest, Suarez had taken the lead by eating 20 chilis in 10 minutes.

Next to Suarez was Guadalupe Rodriguez, a stout man whose lips grew redder with each bite of chili. He teared up throughout the contest while Suarez remained stoic, taking large sips of water between eating whole chilis. Rodriguez and Suarez were locked in a dead heat for the next several minutes.

At the 17 minute mark, another contestant, Vincente Mata quickly caught the attention of judges. Mata had suddenly taken the lead over Suarez, having just finished 27... and then 28 chilis. As the final minutes counted down, Rodriguez consumed his 29th chili in front of cameras and judges, and wiped his brow. Suarez reached her limit at 27 chilis and sat back in her chair, shaking her head and sipping water while friends, family and fans cheered her on. Mata popped another chili in his mouth, quickly followed by yet another. With 10 seconds left, he finished a 30th chili, winning the contest. The contestants each won a gift card to Chichen Itza. When asked how he felt, Mata accidentally let out a burp, "I'm sorry, good, good," he said, patting his belly. [EaterWire]