The Crazy Things Americans Do for Money

If it involves prizes, beer, or bragging rights, the answer is almost anything.

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Pass the hot dogs — They call him “The Locust.” At 63, Rich LeFevre of Henderson, Nevada, is the oldest member of an elite community of speed eaters that make up leagues such as MLE (Major League Eating) and the International Federation of Competitive Eating, whose crest includes a soft-serve ice cream cone and winged lions devouring a hot dog from both ends. According to EatFeats.com, the five-foot-six, 130-pound retired accountant scarfed the following in last year’s competitions: 3.24 pounds of ham in 8 minutes, 3.39 pounds of turkey in 8 minutes, 2.74 pounds of chicken wings in 8 minutes, 104 burgers in two 8-minute contests, 120 Jalapeño peppers in 6.5 minutes, 51 tamales in 12 min, 4.3 pounds of ribs in 12 minutes (in which he lost a tooth), 34 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in 10 minutes, 5.05 additional pounds of pork ribs in 12 minutes (see video), 4.19 pounds of chili cheese fries in 10 minutes, and a total of 131 hot dogs during four 12-minute qualifiers for Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest. The Locust ranked ninth overall among his gluttonous rivals in 2007, with winnings of $6,725. Alka-Seltzer anyone?

Free beer? Depends. — For the past three years, to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, Nomad World Pub in Minneapolis has offered revelers all the free beer they can drink, with one caveat: They’ve got to be inside the bar at a designated hour, at which point the doors close. After that, nobody enters, nobody leaves, and nobody goes to the john. A competitor who breaks the rules shuts down the tap for everyone. “It’s green beer, and it’s probably not your favorite brand,” notes owner Todd Smith, who borrowed the concept from the now-defunct Red Onion in Aspen, Colorado. But the crowds flock nevertheless. The contest has no official name—last year they called it the “Break the Seal Challenge.” (Event fliers depicted a padlocked privy.) Prior to this year’s challenge, Smith notes, the record was 3 hours, 50 minutes. “The shortest time was 1:16, ” he says. “Some dopey chick didn’t know why she was here, and walked into the bathroom before patrons started hovering near the facilities. “No one wants to be The One,” Smith notes. “In the same light, only a dedicated few will wear Depends. Bladder bags are not allowed.”

Long-haul truckers — It sounds simple: Keep one hand on a new Nissan pickup longer than a couple dozen rivals and it’s yours. The brainchild of a worker at Joe Mallard Nissan (now Patterson Nissan) in Longview, Texas, the Hands on a Hardbody contest inspired a 1997 documentary by hometown boy S.R. Bindler that garnered the dealership worldwide attention (see trailer). The contest is physically grueling, despite five-minute breaks once per hour and 15 minute breaks once every six, but the real key to winning is extreme mental fortitude. That is why, says Mike Maris, a retired advertising salesman who’s judged the contest almost every year since its 1992 launch, contestants younger than 30 rarely prevail. The record holder, a Texas state trooper named Warren Hearne, lasted more than five days in 2000 (participants say they start to hallucinate after about two). “I’ve seen people take their hands off the truck and walk away and not even know where they were,” Maris says. “I’ve heard some say, ‘But I don’t know why I’m here; I don’t know why I’m keeping my hand on the truck.'” (Successful contestants have friends and relatives on hand around the clock to remind them.)

For 13 years, the contest remained a brilliant publicity stunt, ensuring the dealership annual press coverage and luring countless onlookers to the lot, but it all came to an abrupt end in September 2005. That’s when, early on the contest’s third morning, a 24-year-old FedEx employee named Ricky Vega walked from the pickup to a nearby Kmart and smashed its window with a trashcan. Vega entered the store and got a shotgun, which he turned on himself when confronted by local police.

Hold Your Wee for a Wii — In January 2007, a woman who identified herself as Eva called radio station KDND-FM in Sacramento, California, and warned the hosts of the Morning Rave, that their on-air contest might kill someone. “Yeah, we’re aware of that,” one said. Another laughed, “Yeah, they signed releases, so we’re not responsible; it’s okay.” Jennifer Strange, it turned out, was not okay. The 28-year-old was one of more than a dozen contestants competing to see who could imbibe the most water without throwing up or going to the bathroom. She hoped to win the grand prize, a Nintendo Wii game console, for her three children. Each round of the contest brought an eight-ounce bottle of water that had to be finished in two minutes. After eight rounds, those still in the game were given 16-ounce bottles. One participant told the Sacramento Bee she saw Strange drink 10 of those, meaning she would have consumed nearly two gallons in a short time. When only two contestants remained, the emcees convinced Strange to quit by offering a pair of tickets to that night’s Justin Timberlake concert as a consolation prize. Asked how she felt, Strange remained in good spirits, but told the emcees that her head hurt and that she felt light-headed. Strange was found dead at her home a few hours later from water intoxication. The three hosts and seven others were ultimately fired.

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We've never been very good at being conservative.

And usually, that serves us well in doing the ambitious, hard-hitting journalism that you turn to Mother Jones for. But it also means we can't afford to come up short when it comes to scratching together the funds it takes to keep our team firing on all cylinders, and the truth is, we finished our budgeting cycle on June 30 about $100,000 short of our online goal.

This is no time to come up short. It's time to fight like hell, as our namesake would tell us to do, for a democracy where minority rule cannot impose an extreme agenda, where facts matter, and where accountability has a chance at the polls and in the press. If you value our reporting and you can right now, please help us dig out of the $100,000 hole we're starting our new budgeting cycle in with an always-needed and always-appreciated donation today.

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