POULSBO — Unlike Sampson, perhaps hair is the antithesis of Eric Perkins’ source of power.
In 2001 facial hair was the lutefisk wolfer’s downfall, but the crowd-pleaser returned the next year clean shaven and took home the championship.
This year, a goateed Perkins stepped up to the codfish plate against nine other competitors and struck out once again.
But this time in the first round and to a girl.
After the champ’s downfall, there was plenty still to see in the competition between Viking Charles Jensen, blond newcomer Dara Speer and the bearded Lowell Dietz — three competitors so unique that the crowd’s affections were certainly split.
Speer appeared an underdog in the first round as the only woman among such seasoned competitors as Perkins, Dietz, Charles Jensen and even long-time competitors and no-time winners Jeff Jensen and Matt Richardson. There were even whispered rumors that Franz “the kid” Steele, who didn’t quite reach the 18-year-age limit (or the floor for that matter) might even be the dark horse in the competition.
But it was Speer who took the early lead as she gingerly diced up her lutefisk into tiny pieces and then ditched her fork for the two-handed approach. She finished her first half-pound serving with plenty of time to ask around about a handi-wipe for her fishy fingers, which she never received.
“It was tough competition,” commented the pre-diet John Popper-esque (complete with hat) Jensen. “Particularly that Dara. She intimidated me right out of the gate. She had the looks and boy could she eat.”
But if the young lady was intimidating Jensen, he didn’t let on as he received shouts of support from his daughter and niece, who held a sign declaring, “Lutefisk tis no challenge for Charles.” Four-time lutefisk contest competitor Jensen also brought with him a cabbage-patch-style dance that he did each time he finished a plate. Jensen preferred to leave his lutefisk in large chunks, which he popped into his mouth and gulped down with gusto.
Dietz was also making his fourth appearance against the best of the ‘fisk finishers. He began each round by pounding his fist on the table and shouting “lutefisk,” then steadily picking his way through each gelatinous pile with the precision of a brain surgeon. He finished each dish by slurping up the last flakes without so much as a speck falling into his massive beard.
It would be round four that would put the competition down to two.
For nearly three rounds Speer had plowed her way through servings with mirthful gulps and even a little trash talking. But finishing her third plate was a chore, and Miss Viking Fest and the princesses stood by with a garbage bag for what they feared was the inevitable. Speer finished in time, but looked shaky.
“I feel like I’m gonna puke,” Speer said during the break between round three and four.
The start of her fourth serving found Speer paler and taking more time between bites. All the while, Jensen and Dietz continued their same pace. Once, against cheers from the crowd to “Puke the fish,” and “Eat more,” Speer pushed her plate away and mouthed the words “no more.” With two minutes left, she resumed, took two more bites and turned two more shades of green. Dietz leaned over and said something into her ear.
Fatherly advice? Encourage-
“Truthfully, I was trying to make her puke,” Dietz admitted afterwards with a giggle. “But she started it. She really knew what this competition was all about.”
Without “purging,” Speer bowed out of the competition and earned herself a third place finish.
Down to two in the fifth round, both competitors seemed to sag under the weight of the codfish they’d ingested, but both kept up. With a couple of deep breaths, Jensen managed to finish his fifth serving with time to spare. Then, in an unexpected move, Dietz decided to throw in the towel halfway through his fifth portion. He stood up and heartily shook Jensen’s hand to concede.
Dietz said it was not fatigue that beat him, in fact he stood finishing his last serving after receiving his second place
“When I go to the Sons’ lutefisk dinner I eat that much so I figured I’d eaten as much as I normally would,” Dietz explained of his bow-out. “I think it’s great I came out $15 ahead for it. I usually have to pay to do this.”