WHAT IS IT: The World’s Largest Gummy Skull (~5 lb.), in red cherry flavor
WHO TRIED IT: Maria Yagoda, PEOPLE.com writer-reporter, @mariayagoda
WHY WE DID IT: Because she loves gummy candy — and adventure.
What does it mean to lose in a scenario where eating a 5 lb. cherry-flavored gummy skull, a task that no one assigned to you, is considered winning?
This was the question I asked myself as I sliced cutlet after cutlet of sweet skull to put on my tongue, chomp and swallow. It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon, of which I knew nothing. What was sun? Grass? Food that a body understands? All I knew was my life with this red skull, both of us perspiring, flushed. Riding the ups and downs of our relationships, we were enjoying a high, however manic — Six hours in, the cloying cherry flavor had begun to taste good again, like the gummy candy of my youth. My mind wanted me to finish this thing, so it hopped on board, cheering, Yeah, you like this. This is your favorite.
How did I get here? We could rewind to my childhood to find out what made me so willingly self-destructive, but let’s start with last week, when a colleague emailed me the link to the World’s Largest Gummy Skull — a “five-pound edible candy cranium” — and proposed that I eat it. I was at once moved and mortified that she had spotted a fluorescent corn syrup cranium and thought, “Hey, hey I know a girl that might agree to eat that in a day,” and the dual exhilaration of being moved-mortified propelled me to act immediately. After spending $39.99 on the human-baby-sized confection, I read the description of the product, which I was now legally bound to consume by virtue of a) buying it b) telling one person (who was probably kidding) that I’d do it.
“This hyper-realistic depiction of the human skull is made of solid gummy, weighs over 5 pounds, packs over 7,000 calories, and is 100% edible,” the description reads. “Each highly-detailed and gluten-free World’s Largest Gummy Skull is handmade in the USA and is currently available in three flavors: red cherry, blue raspberry and grape.”
Okay, so it was handmade — i.e. artisanal. And 100% edible, which, I’m not too proud to admit, beats most food I eat. My colleague and I decided that I had no choice but to eat the thing in a day, or else nothing would be worth anything and I might as well move back home with my parents.
More privately, I wanted to know what it was to set a goal, any goal — in this case, put the world’s largest gummy skull (arbitrary task) into my body over the course of a day (arbitrary time frame) — and accomplish the hell out of it, without doing something insane like a 5K or juice cleanse or even juice for a meal.
I also loved gummy candy. Even, more than chocolate, controversially. And even more than most people.
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The morning I’d marked in my calendar to eat the world’s largest gummy skull, I woke to the heavy sensation of dread, made heavier by the heavy sensation of hangover. I’d gone out the previous night, not thinking to stay in and load up on nutrients to prepare for the intoxicating trio of chemicals, red dye and regret that would terrorize my Sunday.
I hobbled to the fridge, where I’d been storing the skull to prevent it from sweating in my room, and schlepped the back into bed with a glass of water. First, hydrate. Then, bite.
I held the head in my hand, glaring at the round red choice I’d made, squeezing it and poking its eye holes, asserting my dominance. I then attempted to take a bite out of that choice, a move fraught with metaphorical significance, but couldn’t free the flesh with my teeth. The skull, like me, resisted — because it had been chilled, the candy flesh was particularly firm. So I hobbled back to the kitchen to grab a knife (“hobble” is the only appropriate action verb throughout this whole ordeal — I was not well.) In bed, I sliced a few cutlets off of the skull for breakfast, which I nibbled on quickly — my frantic pace suggested I was hoping to finish the skull in one go.
The words, “I’ve made a huge mistake,” looped in my mind as I stared at the wall and chewed rhythmically. Chomp, chomp, chomp, breathe. Chomp, chomp, chomp, breathe.
The flavor was the sort of off-brand artificial cherry that asserts its off-brandedness — I clearly wasn’t dealing with a Dots or a Sour Patch or even a prime gummy bear kind of flavor. I tried to outsmart my body, eating quickly to exploit the fact it takes a stomach 20 minutes to realize it’s full. A couple fist-size chunks digested, and I succumbed to a sleepy daze, just chilling in Heartburn Town.
I drifted back to sleep and woke up a few hours later. I wasn’t hungry — the chemicals in the skull had filled the crevices of my stomach, firmly locking in a bloat — but I craved substantive nourishment. I didn’t want to eat real meals because I had to budget for 7000 calories, and I was still trying to get bikini ready because the body goals I set for late March have still not been met.
I rung up a few episode of Happy Endings and continued chomping away at my new life companion, slice by slice by slice by slice by slice, hobbling to brush my teeth every fifteen minutes. At a certain point — and I couldn’t say when — I began bringing Hector with me to the bathroom to place on the sink. I also started calling the gummy Hector, and I couldn’t tell you when that began, either.
The mid-afternoon seemed to stretch for hours, the way mid-afternoons do. But I felt sick, full, depressed. I wanted an apple, a celery. I felt fat. My stomach was grumbling, furious about its lack of say in the matter. What was the point of all this? Why did I care? The refrain kicked in: What does it mean to lose in a scenario where eating a 5 lb. cherry-flavored gummy skull, a task that no one assigned to you, is considered winning?
Yet, a deeper impulse resisted my fleeting impulse to belittle the mission. This task was bigger than me — it was about the human experience, and agency, and post-modernity. Only by eating this skull — all of it, ever last shred of gelatinous fructose — could I assert the strength of my mind (read: all minds) over my weak body (read: all bodies).
I had a dinner party to go to.
I took another bite of skull — it began tasting good again, a phenomenon that came in waves. I packed the skull, cutting board and knife in a bag, along with some carrots and hummus and sausage, foods I could share with my friend, because I could not share Hector, a friend with whom my fate was intimately intertwined.
Hector and I commuted to Murray Hill — because you can’t choose where your friends live — and the three of us took a seat on my friend’s balcony. I moved swiftly to explain the premise of my day.
Hey, good to see you, I’m eating the world’s largest gummy skull and it’s actually all I can really eat here it is brought the cutting board and a knife I also brought some human food for you but I can’t share Hector with you.
At this point, I’d say I had consumed two and a half pounds of gummy — about half. And while I’d arrived prepared with my knife and cutting board and spiel about how I had to do this for myself, family and nation, my heightened nausea had convinced me I’d reached the end of the line.
My friend ate a normal plate of food, and I ate several hundred carrots. My body was nutrient-starved; all day, it hadn’t recognized the gummy as food, but rather a benevolent poison. I took a few joyous pictures with Hector, the general feeling being: Hey, it was a good run. We’d arrived at the point of the movie where Hector and I would gallivant around the city, trying on goofy hats and smearing ice cream on our faces, in a montage sequence to “Girls Just Want to Have Fun”. I was still nauseous and suffering from my hangover-birthed, sugar-sustained headache — yet in that sickness, I found profound comfort. I was proud at how far I’d pushed myself for an arbitrary cause. Imagine how far I could push myself for something that mattered! Mostly, my surge of goodwill came from remembering how much I enjoyed human company. Despite the memories we’d shared — and how much of him I’d put in my body — Hector could never provide the warmth and camaraderie of a human friend. And, yes, I did need to go through an absurd and irrelevant mission to be reminded of that.
I returned home at 9 pm. I brushed my teeth for 5 minutes, threw out the toothbrush, found another, and brushed for 5 more. I looked at myself in the mirror, face puffy, eyes as red as Hector’s.
Could I really finish this thing?
Hell, yeah I could, I decided. So many people do so many kinds of things.
I hopped back into bed and began slicing. The sweet started tasting good again; it started tasting normal. This is my life now. This is our life now.
I don’t know when it happened, but I fell asleep.
Hours later, I woke up with a pounding headache and that uncomfortable tingly tooth feeling. I looked to my left — sleeping sweetly next to me was a handful of Hector. It was 2 a.m. The day was over. I had failed. What was I worth?
But then, I crunched some numbers. I remembered that there are 24 hours in a day. And if I started the challenge at 11 a.m, I still had time — a full 7 hours. I may win this thing on a technicality, I thought, rushing to turn on the lights.
The exuberance of this realization pushed me through the final stretch. I stopped slicing and just started pushing the thing in my mouth — the sweet flesh had grown soft and cushy over the day, likely due to the heat and weird moisture of my old-time-y bedroom. I crammed it in, not letting myself taste or feel a thing. I snapped into robot mode, and when I snapped out, victory (and sugar, oh god, so much sugar) coursed through my veins. I had taken home the prize. I had taken home the prize!
I remembered there was no prize. I remembered that Hector was gone. I ran to the bathroom to vomit, but nothing came out. I brushed my teeth. I hobbled back to bed, put the cutting board on my bedside table. I had lucid dreams.
When I woke up, I was quite literally 50% gummy candy, 50% human. I couldn’t even fit into my chubby-day shorts because my bloat was so unwieldy.
But guess what? I was 100% hero.