The crowd on Darlington School’s Chapel Lawn was loud and proud as they cheered their teammates on to victory in a rather challenging eating contest.
For one weekend each January, the houses — Summerbell, Thornwood, Regester, Moser, Neville and Cooper — compete in the Rumpus. Day students often spend the weekend in their houses’ dorms and the school is alive with competitions, cheering and camaraderie.
The Rumpus includes a series of events, such as a lip-syncing competition, The Gauntlet, which is a long obstacle course, a trivia contest and dodgeball.
Of course, the first event this year — Fear Factor — was definitely the most challenging to the taste buds. During Fear Factor, the house team has to consume either gross combinations or large quantities of food as quickly as possible.
Large garbage cans are set up behind each team table as a precaution against the upchuck factor.
Also, the event is not just for students, as teachers do get involved. Of course, Thad Mathis qualifies as both.
“I’m a fourth-grade teacher and an alum,” Mathis said. “I drank the Happy Meal Milkshake.”
The Happy Meal Milkshake is exactly what it sounds like: A McDonald’s Happy Meal, minus the toy, blended into a chocolate smoothie.
“It was not that bad,” Mathis laughed. “It was kind of like having a burger, fries and chocolate shake all at once. The worst part is how thick it was.”
Mathis, as the teacher on the team, was the final leg of eaters. He also managed to win the event, giving Summerbell House an early lead.
This wasn’t the first time Mathis competed for Summerbell, he said.
“Yeah, this was my event in school,” he said. “I had to eat pickled pigs feet and I had to drink this vinegar and mayonnaise mix one time. I did not make it through that one, it was terrible.”
Mathis said he enjoys participating and that he’s seen a huge growth in the involvement in the Rumpus.
“My freshman year was the first year, it wasn’t a big deal,” he said. “Now, you see a lot of day students stay for the weekend, too. It’s not just the dorm students anymore.”
The student body has spent the week developing house themes, making banners and deciding on events and choosing teams to participate in each competition. No student ever participates in more than one competition to make sure everyone has a chance to play, according to Tannika Wester, Darlington’s director of communications.
Emily Taylor, prefect of Regester House, said the Rumpus is an exciting time to be on campus.
“We plan a lot, we have these 7 a.m. meetings and try to explain to the younger students what it’s about,” she said. “Everyone sees each other in a different way this weekend, because it’s more like a sisterhood, supporting your house.”
The Fear Factor competition has gone through some changes, she said.
“We used to just do gross food, but we decided to make it the Hunger Games, too, where it was a lot of food,” she explained. “We had some of each this year.”
This year’s selections — prepared by the Darlington School dining hall staff — included the first challenge of eating Ramen noodles with mayonnaise, mustard and yogurt. The second was two loaded burgers with fries. The fourth was four doughnuts and a liter of mango soda. The fifth was a large quantity of olives and spaghetti. The sixth and final was the Happy Meal Milkshake.
The best part is keeping the crowd going, Taylor said. “I think the noisy atmosphere gets the team going,” she said. “They know they don’t want to throw up and they don’t know exactly what they are eating, so that helps.”
Taylor admits it makes for some funny expressions. “You can look at them, and you know they are about to lose it,” she said. “You can see the pain in their eyes.” However, the most encouraging thing to see is how the houses support each other, she added.
“When one team finishes, they all go over to watch the teams that haven’t yet,” Taylor said. “They cheer each other on.”
Events continue today, with a relay at 8:30 a.m., trivia at 11 a.m., The Gauntlet at 3 p.m. and the lip-sync competition at 7:30 p.m. The schedule may be found on the Darlington School website. Alumni, parents and lower and middle school students are welcome to attend and cheer, Wester said.