Raising his fist in victory, JJ Maiers was one of the competitors who ate two of the Carolina Reaper-infused chips at Salsa Fest Night Market. Photo by Jay Taylor

The “One Chip Challenge” at Saturday’s Salsa Festival and Night Market had a little bit of everything prior to competitors eating a ridiculously hot tortilla chip.

Before the chip, there was bravado, calm confidence, trepidation and curiosity.

After the chip: squirming, sweating and survival.

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The challenge was the brainchild of Brian Petersheim, a Realtor with Maricopa HomeSmart Success, and sponsored by InMaricopa. The chips, made by Paqui,” are individually wrapped and must be opened while wearing gloves so you don’t get fire in your eyes.

Each chip is seasoned with the world’s hottest pepper on the Scoville Scale, a measurement of the pungency, or “heat” of chili peppers. The heat rating is based on the concentration of capsaicinoids, among which capsaicin is the predominant component. The Carolina Reaper pepper registers between 1.4 and 2.2 million Scoville Units. Jalapenos, by comparison, rate from 2,500-8,000 units and a ghost pepper is rated from 855,000-1.041 million units.

At Saturday’s sideshow, contestants who ate their chip and made it through 10 minutes without drinking milk or eating a cracker had to eat another chip to stay in the running for prizes, which included gift cards to local restaurants Native Grill and Roots Eatery. Some were unwilling to take the challenge to the level of a second chip, but others, including JJ Maiers, said it wasn’t even the hottest thing he’d ever eaten.

“It was close to it, but no,” he said. “I’ve had some extracts that were hotter. The second chip took about a minute-and-a-half or two minutes to kick in. The first one wasn’t all that that bad but the second one really hit me right away. The first one gave me the hiccups but the second one just kicked my a–.”

“I can feel the spice in my tears. My tears are on fire.”

Claire Femmer, who participated in the challenge with Jesse Padilla, said she doesn’t usually eat spicy food. But she said he goaded her into taking part.

“I don’t eat jalapenos or anything,” she said. “It was hot right away, but it was OK after about the two-minute mark.”

Claire Femmer, who never eats spicy food, took on the challenge at the urging of her friend, Jesse Padilla, who also competed. Photo by Jay Taylor

Asked why she would take on such a fiery challenge when she doesn’t even eat spicy food, Femmer said, “I don’t know, it just sounded fun.”

Padilla said, “I pushed her to do it. I’ve done this before but this one was a lot hotter. This was another level. You’ve got to be really careful when you eat it. I’m surprised she lasted that long.”


Lupe Huante feels the burn during Saturday’s One Chip Challenge at the InMaricopa tent. Photo by Jay Taylor

Reinforcing his position that this Chip Challenge was at another level from others he has taken, Padilla was overheard saying during the event:

“I can feel the spice in my tears. My tears are on fire.”