CODY — Gulp after gulp, it seemed like the burrito sitting in front of Cordell Betters had hardly gotten any smaller despite his furious pace gulping it down for at least five minutes.
With each mound of shredded beef and tortilla that slid
This is the Michael’s Tacos burrito challenge, a gratuitous undertaking not only because of the size of the burrito — 5 pounds — but also because of the 15-minute time limit required to finish the gut-busting, yet tasty, entrée.
Those who win not only get their burrito paid for by Michael’s, but more importantly earn a special place in eating lore only granted to the select few who have managed to finish the dish in time.
A spot on the coveted wall of fame.
Betters admitted he was nervous going into the challenge, but didn’t hesitate when ordering: One Michael’s Famous burrito.
His waiter and referee Johanna Westagard delivered his beef burrito, making it clear she wouldn’t stand for any funny business.
“You have 15 minutes to finish, and that includes eating all the veggies,” she said.
Mind Over Matter
Betters knew he was in for an undertaking long before he sat down at Michael’s. He had already faced more than a few challenges in his life. A former high school wrestler, Betters is also an Army veteran who did two tours in Afghanistan.
He had some experience with eating large quantities of food too. He downed a 1-pound Fudrucker’s burger and participated in Carolina Reaper’s hot oyster eating contest in North Carolina in the past.
When the burrito was set before him on the table, Betters’ eyes grew wide, and he stared down at the dish that more closely resembled a wizard’s sleeve than one night’s dinner.
“Oh geez!” Betters’ 6-year-old daughter Hazel exclaimed when the burrito arrived, also observing it was bigger than her head.
With his two young daughters and wife Tiffany watching, Betters couldn't let a good challenge go to waste. He said the first bite tasted “pretty good."
“I hope you win Daddy,” Hazel cheered.
Tiffany was a little less enthusiastic.
“I’m worried about his health,” she remarked.
But she also kept egging her husband on, directing him to focus on the burrito and stop talking.
Perspiration steadily forming on his forehead, Betters fell into a distinctive rhythm, taking multiple bites, followed by big swigs from his lemon margarita to wash it down.
As the burrito gradually shrank, so did his appetite. With nine minutes and three seconds remaining, Betters said he was “starting to feel it."
By the time he was about halfway through, roughly 2 1/2 pounds down the hatch, Betters started to hit a wall.
"I should’ve worn sweatpants,” he remarked, wiping sweat from his brow.
“Five minutes,” Westagard coolly interjected.
Those sitting nearby started taking notice and turned their chairs around to watch the gluttonous attempt.
“I would never be able to do that big of a burrito,” said Tamara Simmons.
A Legend Watches
Keeping tabs on Betters’ progress from a distance was a man with a special connection to the contest and a real burrito eating pedigree.
Ralston resident Nathan Weil had successfully completed the burrito challenge multiple times, and even did so once in less than 10 minutes.
His go-to burrito is as bold as his accomplishments: cubed beef with red sauce and extra jalapeños.
“I’ll usually do it when I’m real hungry or have some extra money to blow in case I don’t make it,” he said.
That’s because if you don’t finish it in 15 minutes or less, the burrito costs nearly $25.
Like the confident master of his craft that he is, Weil only watched from afar, offering up a small head nod when Westagard introduced him.
The more Betters ate, the larger his audience in the restaurant became. The crowd watched more intently with each bite of food that disappeared before them. An excited murmur grew at the feat of first-world gluttony.
As the minutes started to trickle down, it became more and more obvious that Betters would not eat all of the burrito. His pace started to slow toward the end, each bite and stab with his fork more laborious than the one before it.
“I was having a hard time, I just couldn’t swallow,” he said afterward. “Chewing was getting more and more difficult.”
The Finish Line
Ultimately, Betters was not successful in his attempt. He ate about 80% of the burrito before his time ran out. He also never ate those veggies.
“They say you only tap into 10% of your muscle capacity, I guess I found my 90%,” he said.
As the crowd around him started to dissipate and go back to their own meals, Betters still had his family and close friends around him. Win or lose, he’s a champion in their minds.
Weil had a couple pieces of advice for Betters. The first was to cut out the margarita, which Betters admitted was a poor choice.
“No alcohol and less talking,” Weil said.
Betters kept up an active conversation with those at his table for most of the time he ate his meal.
“The bigger the bite, the better,” Weil added.
There are all sorts of tricks professional eating champions have used on their roads to glory.
Hot dog eating legend Takeru Kobayashi was known for drinking a large amount of water before his competitions as a way to stretch out the inner linings of his stomach. Betters pretty much took an opposite approach in his preparation. He ate a big meal of spaghetti for lunch.
But Weil commended Betters’ effort and said he did pretty good for a first-timer.
Betters for his part was in good spirits even though he failed the challenge, saying he did better than he expected.
“If I do a better preparation for lunch and breakfast, I might be able to,” Betters said.
Tiffany threw in a loving jibe, saying she would make fun of her husband when they got home, a place Betters was all-too ready to return to after consuming the incredible quantity of food.
Westagard described Betters' performance as “not bad.” For her, he was just another of the poor souls who walked away having to pay the $24.95 for their burritos.
“He could have been the seventh (to finish),” she said succinctly. “Darn.”
Leo Wolfson can be reached at Leo@CowboyStateDaily.com.