The Contest has been a learning experience for everyone this week, including — and maybe especially for — yours truly. I didn't expect to spend my limited time here demonizing a fruit whose name I can no longer type without breaking into hives. I didn't imagine that Dunkin Donuts Munchkins, as delicious and perfect as they are, would become enshrined on the fly as part of The Contest's ersatz scoring system and now beckon contestants a strategic game-changer on Day Five. The rules and scoring matrix, such as they are, were designed to be broken, or at least liberally reinterpreted as events on the field unfolded. Yet here we are.
All of which perhaps explains why this tweet from an Eater reader a few days ago grabbed my attention:
I think #TheContest should have a rule reversal and on day 5, Dunkin' Donuts is automatic lost points and bananas are added points @Lock— Yvo (@feistyfoodie) July 17, 2015
The thinking behind this reader's suggestion is not wrong. It may, in fact, be exactly right. But as beautifully semi-random as The Contest's scoring has been, throwing a spitball like this to the six players still standing at the end of a well fought week feels even too capricious for me. Perhaps I've gotten soft. Perhaps a future judge of The Contest will think and act differently, throwing the game into chaos as it nears its conclusion. But this year, this time, know this: all scoring rules laid out at the start of The Contest, as well as those introduced in the course of the week, stand today.
The final day.
Way back on Day One, everybody tipped Eater's Cheap Eats maestro Robert Sietsema as the prohibitive favorite to take home the gold. (Actual reward to the winner: $50, paying back the maximum $10 spent daily by each player. The Eater reader winner, announced yesterday, earns $50 plus a meal with Sietsema and Eater editor-in-chief Amanda Kludt.) At the close of Day Four, any bets on Sietsema are not looking stupid: he stands atop the leaderboard with an impressive 56 points.
Still, a mere six points below him lurks human lightning strike David Yee, a gentleman clad in obscure, faded t-shirts who's demonstrated incredible instincts as he improbably clawed his way into the main event on Day Three and then moved to within a touchdown of the lead at the close of Day Four. Three more Eater editors sit further back at 36, 30, and 28 points, respectively. Victory for any of them is not at all out of the question. Why? Beside the 10 points awarded to Eater rookie Vince Dixon at the start Day One, no scoring judgements have yet been rendered on the self-created and self-selected themes that several players carried through the week. Those point judgements will, at last, be rendered today. (Notably, both Sietsema and Yee chose to exclude themes from their gameplay, Sietsema explaining his thinking in his now-legendary Day Three line, "Spontaneity is a gift where budget dining is concerned.")
Crooked numbers will be hung on The Contest scoreboard today, comrades. This is it: Day Five. It's do or die, or perhaps both. It's the finale of #thecontest, and you're invited. Brace. (And, to get the party started, a very special +2 for everyone left standing in the main event this morning; Lord knows you've earned that extra extra point, not to mention our rapturous applause for seeing this through.)
Let's get this out of the way off the top: no Contest contestant dined on a banana in Day Four, and I don't expect any but the most foolhardy to so on Day Five. That's because my first scoring judgment didn't drop on Eater until Thursday morning, and the players left in the game are nobody's fools and scrambled appropriately:
@Lock I have tossed / the bananas / that I purchased yesterday / and which / I was planning / to eat / later / Forgive me / your stupid scor— David Yee (@tangentialism) July 16, 2015
Still very much in play are all the lines on the scoring matrix — several of which have yet to be awarded at all, and one of which (Line of the Day, +15) has only been handed out on Day One. (That's not an oversight. A line of the day has to sing a pretty tune, and if it's not there, it's not there.) Also in play today are the new canon rules created in the course of the week: +1 for a perfect $10 daily spend, +5 for consuming a Dunkin Donuts Munchkin.
Human nature is such a predictable beast — ain't it grand? And so it is that two active players, along with one pledged to compete furiously in the Consolation Bracket on this last day, make The Dunk part of their Day Five breakfast. Jarret Meskin, still mired in last place at 14 points, 42 points behind the leader, snags a DD egg white patty on flatbread. Yes, it's not Munchkins, but respect the strat: +5. Eater managing editor Sonia Chopra — 36 points, a mere 19 points off the lead — closes out a well planned breakfast of a bagel with shmear at Russ and Daughters (+0, though if any bagel maneuver might have broken my pledge not to award points to the little bastards, it would have been this — actually, c'mon, it is this, +3), and then a trip to an unspecified Dunkin outpost. There, what she terms a "LOOPHOLE ALERT" but what I think might better be categorized as a Jedi Mind Trick deployed on the woman behind the counter, nets her a free Munchkin (+5) and the chance to crow: "Problem solved, rules abided, doughnut hole acquired. Game on."
Consolation Bracket player Hillary Dixler rounds out this morning's Dunkin' trio, nabbing three Munchkins (+5) and then, energized by "sugar, pure joy, and an insatiable will to win a contest I've already been disqualified from," waits 45 minutes outside Hoyt Street's Fast & Fresh Burrito Deli to buy what looks to my eyes to be a fantastic looking vegetarian tostada "topped with perfectly ripe avocado, spicy salsa, and enough iceberg lettuce to make the whole thing taste like Taco Bell (in all the best ways)." Hillary, why didst thou forsake The Contest? You're a natural, as an additional +7 Deliciousness scoring confirms.
Vince Dixon, in fifth place after Day Four with a respectable 28 points, declares his quintessential New York eatery type of the day (that's Vince's theme, if you're just joining us) as pizza joints. At Bravo Kosher Pizza at Broadway and 37th, he buys an almond cookie for $2.50, good enough even in its flavorless state for +1 on a day when the judge appears to be handing out points like candy to children on Halloween. Greg Morabito, alone in fourth place at the start of this day with 30 points, has heroically battled through his uninspired Greenpoint situation all week, and makes it count now. Greg picks up a fine looking $1 ciabatta square (+1) from Bakeri, then makes it really count by photographing his adorable cat clawing at it. Hey, don't freak: The Contest has been waiting all week to be exploited that way in this Buzzfeed world (+5).
Finally we come to The Contest's top two. David Yee, sitting just six points back of Sietsema, makes a power move for what he terms "the best bagel, egg, and cheese this side of the river," at Murray's. Having loosened my bagel scoring grip during Sonia's scoring earlier in this breakfast, I'll say with no regrets that more credit is due here. A top-flight NYC bagel turned into a lustful breakfast sandwich? Who amongst us would not start every day this way, if we could? +5. David Yee is very much in this.
Except, finally, this: "When I was a kid, Danish was a magic word. It betokened" — (+1) — "a whole range of coffee cakes and sweet rolls, sweet, buttery, flaky, nutty, and squired in squiggles with a white frosting we adored, and sometimes tried to lick off first. Turns out Danish was a misnomer — these were really Viennese pastries that were called Danish only because they contained gobs and gobs of Danish butter. Time has not been kind to these pastries."
Sietsema's pastry ring of dreams — his, yours, and mine — yields from a street cart run by an Afghani man who sources them from "an old German bakery outside Paterson." I don't have words to add to what Robert writes — he's taken all of the good ones — but at a price of $1.25 and with a description so joyous and desire-inducing that it nearly causes me physical pain, I do have points. +10.
Main player scorecard after Day Five's breakfast:
Robert Sietsema 69
David Yee 57
Sonia Chopra 46
Greg Morabito 38
Vince Dixon 31
Jarret Meskin 21
[Hillary Dixler is rocking a 25 in the Consolation Bracket.]