To read Day Five, Part One of The Contest, please head this way.
"When we were originally discussing strategy for #thecontest, I proposed the idea of visiting the food court at Costco. As the Costco food court is available to all, not just members, it was deemed fair game. So, to keep up the theme of eating pizza for lunch, I ordered one slice of pepperoni."
That's Jarret Meskin, rounding out his week of only-pizza-slices-for-lunch at what one presumes to be the Costco in East Harlem. It seems a strange thing to travel from the East Village to East Harlem and then eat at Costco, but Jarret's a strange man who moves in mysterious ways. (Aside: Harlem, and Upper Manhattan in general, were seriously under-explored territory over the course of the week. Neighborhood bonus points were not part of The Contest's scoring mix this go-around, but I could see adding them to a future edition to encourage less dining in Midtown West.) Jarret's SliceCountTM for the week: 11.
The weirdest part of Jarret's lunch is that he also buys a hot dog, threatening the fidelity of his pizza theme. He finds himself unable to eat it and pockets it for later (+0). Another close call. Anyone else feeling especially jumpy as the finish line approaches?
It's unclear, but some are certainly feeling the pain. "I'm not in peak physical or mental condition right now," writes Greg Morabito. "Like, I would fail a standardized test and drive a tractor into a grain silo." (+5 one L=liner). "I've also been hungry for approximately 55 percent of my waking hours this week." Greg's also going pizza for lunch, and she's a beauty: a white pizza slice with bacon, chicken, and ranch dressing from Joey Pepperoni's on 39th Street. "This was the most delicious dish I ate this week," he concludes (+5). Vince Dixon also grabs slices for lunch — pizzerias are his theme of the day — though his photo makes it hard to get excited (+1).
Far more exciting is the grilled cheese sandwich Hillary Dixler procures at the Downtown Brooklyn Shake Shack. "I was surprised that nobody in The Contest had gone off-menu at Shake Shack," she writes (burn, +5). At $3, this "buttery delight" looks delightful indeed, and tallies +5. Alas, Hillary is toiling not for true Contest glory, but instead consolation bracket domination. Still, with the 12 points she picked up at breakfast today and another 10 points here, she's bolted past Amanda Kludt into second place in Losertown with 35 points, trailing Daniela Galarza's 52. Can she close that gap at dinner?
Two players — Sonia Chopra and David Yee — independently hit upon the same idea for lunch: Mamoun's. On St. Mark's Place, Sonia scores a cup of lentil soup (+1), while at Mamoun's Village location, Yee nabs a falafel sandwich with extra falafel (+2). In a clear move to curry favor with the judge, he poses for a photo with his falafel in front of Keith McNally's Minetta Tavern, one of the very best restaurants in the history of Western civilization. While some might see Yee's ploy as desperate, I view it as a proper and fitting tribute to a New York City icon, clearly worthy of a whimsical +10.
Two more critical scoring notes while we're on the topic of David Yee, who's currently running close behind Sietsema in second place. It has been brought to this judge's attention that Yee's profiterole hack at the end of Day Four should have been awarded whimsy points. Here let me just say that this has been a long week for your judge too; The Contest is taking its toll and even as I type these words, I am unconvinced that this judgement I am in the midst of penning will ever end. Yet after sober reflection, I am admitting my error and correcting it. Instead of the +3 bonus given to Yee as part of the original profiterole scoring, I've adjusted it to a full +20 for whimsy, matching Daniela's whimsy score from Day Two as the biggest in The Contest.
And finally, Yee's report on his Day Five lunch reveals that he did not, in fact, eat the bagel breakfast sandwich from Murray's that earned him five points for today's breakfast. Those points are deducted from his tally. All of which, after a bit of math, puts David at a whopping 81 points.
Over to Robert Sietsema, our leader. His lunch is a very good-looking corn dog (+3), and his opener really sells it: "For lunch today I decided I needed something fried and phallic." (+5 one liner). Sietsema's picking up eight more points, boosting him to 77.
With only one meal left to go, The Contest has quite a battle shaping up for the bronze, with Greg and Sonia neck and neck for third place.
Oh, and we've got a new leader, too.
Need we say it?
Main player scorecard after Day Five's lunch: Yee 81; Sietsema 77; Morabito 48; Chopra 47; Dixon 32; Meskin 21.
"Like the amicable resolution of a Shakespearean comedy, all rivalries fell away as the four of us chowed down at Sheng Wang on noodles, noodles, and more homemade noodles," Sietsema writes. The Contest's coda begins.
It's the dinner hour of Day Five, and the last meal of this unforgettable week is upon us. In a show of grand unity, Yee, Sietsema, Morabito, and Kludt gather together in Chinatown and pool their bucks for a final feast. It's a glorious affair — the peel noodles with egg and baby bok choy are "a sentimental favorite" of Robert's — that earns a grand +10 for deliciousness to all four players.
Meanwhile, on St. Mark's Place, Sonia Chopra (the player who unlocked the power of the group meal most successfully this week) closes out her Contest with a veggie dog at Papaya King. "The veggie dogs here are a whole dollar more than the non-veg versions, but they come with unlimited toppings, the two sweetest words in the English language," she writes. Her toppings are a crazed melange of cheese sauce, jalapeños, crispy little onion bits, New York onions, ketchup, and curly fries. "It was just a damn good veggie dog," she concludes. Sure seems so (+8).
Per The Contest's scoring matrix, theme adherence/fidelity can score anywhere from 10 to 50 points. These points are awarded at the end of The Contest, which, hey, now!
That veggie dog puts a wrap on Sonia's intertwined themes for the week. She sought to enjoy a different cuisine with every meal, which she did. She sought to only eat vegetarian, which she did. And she sought to only dine at places she'd never been to before, which...well, I will never get over her outlandish Day Four claim that Mission Cantina on the Lower East Side counts as a new restaurant even though she's dined there before because it, somehow, changes? Absurd. We step and do not step into the same river, but very much step into the same restaurant with the same name above the door.
Despite her unforced error on Mission Cantina, overall this week has featured incredibly impressive theme fidelity from Sonia — a masterwork of organization befitting Eater's managing editor. While many players gravitated to uninspired spots near Eater HQ or in their home neighborhoods, Sonia created a spreadsheet of restaurants that allowed her to branch out and stay on theme even during lows like her disastrous Day Two lunch. Her spreadsheet will surely end up one day in The Contest's Hall of Fame, its theme bonus points displayed proudly alongside: +25.
Vince Dixon's theme for the week had him eating a different kind of quintessential New York City eatery every day, such as delicatessens on Day One and pizzerias on Day Five. I liked the concept of the theme enough to award him 10 starter theme points on Day One. With a greater focus on iconic restaurants, this theme could have killed. But the uninspired pizza choices made throughout Day Five — culminating in Hell's Pantry with meh slices from two different joints (but, garlic knots, +1) — were indicative of the almost-but-not-quite-there-ness of Vince's theme. Still, he gave it a shot and got it done, good for an additional +5 and theme points totaling 15.
That leaves Jarret Meskin, the man who ate plain pizza slices every day for lunch, to round out our theme-centric competitors. As themes go, Jarret's is so mediocre that it's wonderful. But it's also a one-meal-only theme. And it's also just cheese and tomato sauce on bread. So: +10.
And then, it was the end. Back to Sheng Wang, where three top competitors — and Kludt — are dining tonight. It's a meal evocatively described in the final filing for The Contest by Robert Sietsema, and only by Robert Sietsema. Sietsema's chief competitor, current leader David Yee, elects not to file a single world about his last meal in The Contest. It's seppuku on Eldridge Street.
And, all-in, that's a final reminder that in the sphere of Cheap Eats, it's Robert Sietsema's world; the rest of us are just nibbling around in it. Robert heroically carries his competitors across the finish line at one of his favorite Chinatown restaurants — a final, game-ending +10 power move — and with it, himself, to victory.
The winner of The Contest 2015 is Robert Sietsema.
THE CONTEST FINAL STANDINGS
Robert Sietsema 97
David Yee 91
Sonia Chopra 80
Greg Morabito 58
Vince Dixon 38
Congratulations to the five finishers, each heroic and worthy of our praise.
Daniela Galarza 52
Hillary Dixler 40
Amanda Kludt 37
Jarret Meskin 31
Devra Ferst 10
Helen Rosner 6
Kat Odell 5
In a final, head-scratching twist, Meskin tapped out of the game on Friday night, a mere one meal away from crossing the finish line. He finishes the game in the Consolation Bracket.
Hillary locks up second place with her very last words of The Contest: "Imagine that with my remaining $1.27 I bought a bunch of bananas only to throw them one by one into the trash. This contest isn't about bananas." (AMEN. +5. Exeunt all.)