BOONVILLE — They call him Eater X.
Tim Janus walks into the Isle of Capri Casino and Hotel in Boonville wearing his signature mask. It consists of white and gray paint that covers his face like a Roman warrior helmet. Emblazoned on each cheek are his trademark “X’s.”
The intricate design takes him 40 minutes to complete, but it is necessary to maintain his mysterious persona. It is said on his Major League Eating profile that the mask hides his inner torment.
Janus, or Eater X as he is known on the Major League Eating circuit, is the sixth-best eater in the world according to the International Federation of Competitive Eating (IFOCE). He is a professional in one of America’s oldest pastimes – gorging on large quantities of food. Saturday, Janus, is competing in the boneless wing-eating contest at the Isle of Capri Casino and Hotel. The contest involves eating as many wings possible in 10 minutes without throwing up (reversal) for the grand prize of $2,000.
Janus makes his way across a crowd of more than 100 people catching T-shirts and eating wings, and talks to some of his competitors.
“From Kansas City to St. Louis our next eater knows where to find the best chicken wings,” the announcer said. “When he was just a little baby his parents put tiny bits of chicken wings into his baby formula and that has prepared him for today. A human eating machine, here’s Greg Degeneffe.”
Janus stands with his hands in his pockets sometimes taking them out to clap or cover his mouth during a yawn. Janus said he is more relaxed today because Bob Shoudt, the second-best eater in the world, couldn’t make it to Boonville from his home in Philadelphia.
“It’s always disappointing when good eaters show up,” Janus said. “I would love to have a contest all to myself. I’m not one of those guys who says ‘Oh they brought out the best in me.’ I bring out the best in myself.”
After the announcer calls out his name, Eater X takes over. Sprinting onto the stage he crosses his forearms in the shape of an X, to the cheers of the crowd.
Eater X has a stomach that never seems to get full. He looks more like someone you would find running around on the track at the local gym than at an all-you-can-eat buffet table. In fact, many of the competitors look nothing like someone who has the ability to eat enough food to feed whole families in one sitting. Sonya Thomas, the fifth-ranked eater in the world, only weighs 105-pounds, and the seventh-best eater, Ben Monson, is a dietary advisor.
"They think it's very interesting and they have no clue how I stay in shape," Monson said of the reaction he gets from his clients.
After a 10-second countdown, the main course began. Armed with two plates, each loaded with two pounds of buffalo wings, the eaters began. The gurgitators started shoveling wing after wing in their mouths completely disregarding their manners. It would make even the most relaxed mothers grimace. Many of the amateur eaters glanced over at Eater X and Monson and shook their heads in disbelief.
“I was halfway through one plate and they were on two plates eating three or four times as much,” first time competitor Greg Degeneffe said. “I couldn’t believe it.”
Halfway through, the orange buffalo sauce started to cover Eater X’s mask. His jaws became slower and he bobbed his head trying to both get the wings down and make room for the next batch. At one point Eater X gagged.
“When you're doing it, it's easy after a few minutes to get grossed out or get discouraged and ease up, and when you ease up you're not eating as much," Janus said. "I have had those moments in the past and I try to remind myself to keep eating."
After 10 minutes both Eater X and Monson finished nearly four plates of wings. It was like watching a garbage disposal grind up food. The two competitors ate enough food to make even the spectators feel full. The only thing that stood between them and a $2000 check was the weigh-in. After more than five minutes of waiting, it was announced that the eaters both ate six pounds seven and a half ounces of wings.
Janus said he wasn’t excited for the showdown because he didn’t want to feel full.
“I feel like I have the capacity to beat people in overtime,” Janus said. "But I hate getting there.”
After the final two-minute eat-off Eater X emerged victorious holding the world record in most boneless wings eaten. He finished with a total of seven pounds and 11.5 ounces of wings. Finally full.
After an extremely brief autograph session, a hunched over Eater X had only one place to go after his victory.
“I can’t wait to lay down,” Janus said, and waddled off to the lobby.