Essential Viewing

There are 2 ways you can say this phrase: ‘Oh my god did you watch that?’ And the tone you use will pre-warn the person you’re asking of your own personal reaction to what you saw.

Try it – first in a tone of amazement, adoration. ‘Oh my god, did you watch that’ (great wasn’t it, I did too…)

Next, in a tone of disgust. ‘Oh. My. God. Did you watch that?’ (it was awful, I couldn’t believe what I saw)

This morning’s toast was left dangling from my gob when I saw the YouTube link to Dustin Johnson (not the golfer but the ‘Atomik Menace’ no less) scoffing his way through 122 Carolina Reapers.

My mind said those words to me ‘oh my god did I just watch that’, but even now I can’t work out which tone my mind was using.

Let’s digest that feat for just a moment. 122. One-hundred-and-twenty-two of the recognised Hottest Chilli Pepper in the world today. I use the word ‘feat’ deliberately as I’d begrudge calling it an ‘achievement’ (because my mind can’t determine what he was trying to achieve) nor ‘accomplishment’ (again my silly old head doesn’t know what he set out to accomplish). So while I’m not belittling the effort I’m trying really hard to answer some questions in my own mind.

Why stop at 122 I asked myself? Its certainly a lot to consume, fair play, 1.5lbs in fact, so was it simply that DJ/AM was full up at 122, or were there no more peppers available, for example? Surely heat capacity doesn’t come into play – if you can tolerate 30 of these peppers, 50, 71, 87, 103… whatever… then by 122 you’ve well-overcome that Scoville hurdle, right? So it couldn’t be that 122 was the tolerable threshold for the burn, I told myself.
My toast was going cold, and now unconsciously tapping it on my chin, I continued pondering…

Why the Reaper? If it wasn’t the burn threshold to be determined, perhaps volume or capacity were the key target? So if you’re going to eat 122 of anything, wouldn’t it be more satisfying to endure something less likely to illicit harm? Peaking at 2.2M SHU the Reaper is as potent as commercial pepper spray.
 Let’s not kid ourselves that our challenger loves the taste of the reaper so much he just fancied 122 of them. Or maybe I’m wrong. Come on mind, think.
OK brain, if volume was the driver here, why even use a chilli of any kind – why not 122 new potatoes or 1.5lbs of mini kievs? If it was a demonstration of how many somethings you can consume, surely those would be equally ‘impressive’, no?

Brushing the crumbs from my stubble, I decided to park the question of ‘why’. My brain wasn’t ready, clearly. Then I thought about the physical consumption. I began think about what it might do to the body? I know what it’d do to mine! And the scientific evidence tells us what that kind of volume and SHU level should be doing to Dustins. What makes him immune? The video clip I saw (and I reckon there a few different versions/edits online by now) shows him barely breaking sweat – he doesn’t even remove his cap until pepper 75, about 5 mins and 20 seconds in!
Then the cynical counter-argument pipes up in my head as I watch again. Wait a minute…I thought, is this video edited in such a way that these peppers are not actually eaten consecutively in one sitting? Pah! Is it even filmed the same day – maybe he’s taking a break after each one goddammit, yeah I bet that’s it. Have I been tricked? If so, why bother? That’s not worth anyone’s toast getting cold for. Nah it can’t be trick photography, let’s give the video editor – and of course Dustin –  the benefit of the doubt.

So taking camera Tom-foolery away, the question remains – how does he do it?
Up pops cynical me again, Mr ‘I-can-eat-4-scotch-bonnets-maybe’. I bet he’s got a condom on his tongue…. How do we know they’re real peppers, not something else, which I can’t think of,  something cheaty. Move on. OK If they are real peppers how do we know they’re not from a batch of runts? Pathetic, lame low-powered imitations of Carolina Reaper?
And actually that invokes another variable: The validity of the SHU scale and where these particular peppers fall within its range. While it peaks at 2.2 SHU, the official AVERAGE rating of a Carolina Reaper is 1.56 SHU. Taking the difference between average and peak (.64 SHU), and deducting the same value from the average (1.56) to find the lower end of the Reapers’ grading, my maths tell me that some of these peppers could bottom-out at around ‘only’ 0.92 SHU (920,000 scovilles). Still a punch, don’t get me wrong, but if this batch of pods were all around that lower mark, is that a true reflection of what pain I’m assuming this fella is enduring as I watch on. Should I feel swizzed if they are not ‘proper’ 1.5 SHU-ers, or above.

Time and again I convince myself that I’m clutching at straws. So time and again I return to the question of WHY?

Maybe I’ve answered it myself – because I can’t answer it myself. I can’t get it right in my own head, and maybe that’s it. That’s why it’s so fascinating, such click bait, such a crowd puller. It’s the incomprehensible, the subjective, It’s the intrigue of trying to understand why on earth anyone would do that, and how.
It’s that ‘can it be true’ element that chilli enthusiasts and industry peers love and hate in equal measure. When we look back at Sid completing 20 something peppers, brilliant!!  Shahina noshing 50 something, unbelievable. And now this… where does it take us.
Some onlookers will cream over this video, others will cringe. The higher that bar goes, the more it’s going to hurt when it falls, and if there comes a time that someone publicly gets hurt – really hurt – then as an industry we’re in danger of the authorities banging restrictions across the board, in the same way they regulate ABV% of alcohol, for example.
Make no mistake these feats are a spectacle upon which our chilli community thrive and – like watching a tightrope walker crossing the Grand Canyon without a safety net, the crowds will turn out in their droves to watch the competitions, the cyber audiences will keep clicking, and the questions will remain….

Oh my God, Did you just watch that?

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