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The competitors formed ranks not at folding tables on a small Iowa main street, but in Zoom windows.

They sported not full Lycra suits and the musty smell of sweat and sunscreen, but pandemic hair and the funky fragrance of work-from-home Day 10,047.

They came with a ravenous hunger not just for the flaky perfection of pie, but for the honor of winning Rhubarb Rumble V, the annual pie-eating contest pitting journalists at the Des Moines Register against National Public Radio reporters in a one-slice-per-person relay race for greatness.

And when the crumbs settled, I am thrilled to report that Team Register has again not only claimedglutenous glory, but ensured the Golden Roller stays in Iowa for another year. With our fingers licked and our blueberry-filling-stained chins held high, the Register has officially established a Pie-ynasty, winning four battles to their one fluke.

“All I can say is hats off to the Register team,” said a dejected Scott “Fork User” Horsley, leader of Team No Pie Refused (aka Team NPR). “It was an impressive performance.”

And to think this crusty combat almost didn’t happen.

In April, our host, the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa — better known as RAGBRAI — was canceled due to concerns about the spreading coronavirus pandemic, leaving the fifth edition of the tart tradition in peril.

But Horsley and Team Register, led by Brian “Pecan” Powers, refused to stand by as bellies remained empty and competitive energy un-exerted on sugar sweats (a saccharine cousin to the meat sweats). The teams rallied, vowing to do battle with hands and, uhhhh,forks, I guess?,(eye roll, Scott, eye roll) in the socially distanced way to which we’ve all recently become accustomed.

“It’s important that cultural institutions such as this can endure despite all the challenges this year,” Kyle “Pie-Owa’s Prizewinner” Munson gushed.

Founded in 2015, the speed pie-eating began when Munson, a former Iowa columnist at the Register, challenged NPR's No Pie Refused team to defend their name in an official capacity in a three-on-three battle. They didn't, and the Register won with a clean sweep that year and in 2017. (Both teams agreed to a truce in 2016 as eaters were otherwise engaged in election coverage.)

Then came the dark days of 2018, when Register eaters were embarrassed by Camila Domonoske, a business reporter at NPR and vegan weighing 100 pounds soaking wet. Although a nail-biter to the end, the Register’s trusty closer Michael “Meringue” Morain was bested by Domonoske, who didn’t seem to breathe or bite, but rather inhaled her slice — a response, scientists believe, to her body ingesting lard for the first time in years.

The Register regained the title last year, though the victory wasn’t as sweet. Domonoske, the Kerri Strug of pie-eating, wasn’t in the competition.

Butin 2020, the rivalry was back on, as Morain and Domonoske lined up (metaphorically) across from one another.


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