Contests Contested

The rousing spirit of competition is as American as apple pie and escargot. Yet there is a sinister underbelly (probably caused by too much apple pie and escargot) beneath the cummerbund of most formal competitive proceedings that would set the world spinning on its ear (if it weren’t so overladen with apple pie and escargot).

I speak, of course, of the suspicions that arise when a questionable champion is crowned amidst worthier opponents, for example, when a dyspeptic landlubber walks off with the trophy at a trout eating contest. Clearly, something is fishy.

One need only look at the popular survival-themed challenge shows that currently capture the American fancy to realize something is amiss (namely the contestants’ clothing, as askew attire appears to be a prerequisite for success).

The eyebrow-raising proceedings are predictable to the public by now: A sinewy hulk the size of Sasquatch - with architectural skills rivaling Frank Lloyd Wright plus the camp-craft savvy of an Eagle Scout - is curiously defeated by a wispy n’er-do-well who couldn’t light a match with the help of a blowtorch, much less locate sustenance without a trail of breadcrumbs leading up to a buffet line.

If we have learned nothing from the game show scandals of the 1950’s (other than that people sweat profusely in isolation booths) we have been awakened to the possibility that the odds may not be pointing in our direction (unless we are drawing straws for the designated driver on New Year’s Eve).

Shocking examples abound:

The boss’s hirsute daughter wins the Bathing-Beauty contest at the company picnic.

A voluptuous, yet tone-deaf chanteuse captures the singing prize.

 “Teenywhiz” the racing Chihuahua is knocked off the track by a rival resembling a denuded St. Bernard.

Malfeasance at bug eating contests is so legendary as to require no further comment here.

But nowhere is injustice more apparent than in literary competitions where scholars are often pitted against upstart amateurs who possess only a cursory knowledge, or even mocking disregard for the subject matter at hand.

A case in point: Dr. Desdemona Guildenstern, whose Brilliant Bard contest entry, “Benvolio’s Verisimilitude” (so subtly nuanced as to be initially mistaken for a lost masterwork by Ben Jonson), was passed over by judges in favor of a demented monosyllabic rant entitled “I See London, I see France, I see Shakespeare’s Underpants.”

Regrettably, as evidence later revealed, the winner had been selected on the basis of living two subway stops from the awards banquet location, thus eliminating the expense of airfare, taxi and tips, and freeing up funds for refreshments (like apple pie and escargot).

In an ironic twist of fate, the respected Dr. Guildenstern, reduced to performing street corner soliloquies from her rejected essay while drowning her sorrows in pints of ale, was recruited by the Literary Barfly Association, thereby enabling her to win the annual Stratford-upon-Avon Mead Hall Chug-A-Lug Challenge.

Heartfelt congratulations go out to Dr. Guildenstern! (last seen face down in a plate of apple pie and escargot).