Before trying to set a Guinness World Record by eating 50 of the hottest chile peppers on the planet, Mike Jack set up a picture frame featuring two photos atop a table at a brewery in London, Ontario. One was of Terry Fox, the Canadian activist who in 1980 ran more than 3,300 miles on an artificial leg to raise money for cancer research. The other was of Thich Quang Duc, the Buddhist monk who doused himself in gasoline and set himself ablaze to protest the Vietnamese government's alleged persecution of Buddhists.
"I just look at these two people who have done these incredible feats, and it just makes what I'm doing kind of smaller and more manageable," Jack told The Washington Post.
Then, Jack turned his attention to 50 Carolina Reapers, which themselves hold a Guinness record for being the hottest peppers on the planet. His goal: to eat them as fast as possible.
When the plate was empty, six minutes and 49 seconds had elapsed, Guinness World Records announced this week.
"I wanted to do something that was bigger," he said, noting that he'd already broken records for eating the most peppers in two or three minutes. "I felt like I was known as the speed guy who could eat peppers fast but maybe not the guy with the endurance. I wanted to show I could eat a massive amount."
Jack, 41, didn't eat spicy foods growing up. In college, his roommates introduced him to mass produced hot sauces like Sriracha and Frank's RedHot, which he thought were "pretty hot" at the time. Jack liked them and started eating more and more as his tolerance grew. When he had "almost more hot sauce than food on my plate," he knew he needed to graduate.
But 20 years ago, specialty hot sauces weren't easily available, he said. He went to a local Mexican restaurant called Under the Volcano, which had El Yucateco hot sauces. They were the first hot sauces he'd found that were made from habanero chiles.
"At the time, I thought they were crazy hot," he said.
A familiar pattern emerged. Jack would start by adding a few dabs on whatever food he was eating. When his tolerance grew, he added more until hot sauce once again flooded his plate, leading Jack to seek out something even spicier.
Around 2015, Mucho Burrito, a Canadian chain of Mexican restaurants, began offering a hot sauce made from ghost peppers. After he'd gotten used to that hot sauce later that year, Jack learned about Ed Currie, the creator of the Carolina Reaper. Jack ordered hot sauces from Currie's business, the PuckerButt Pepper Company. Again, dabs of hot sauce turned to splashes, which became pools.
"Eventually I could just use some of the world's hottest hot sauces like people use ketchup," he said.
Foray into YouTube
Then, around 2017, a friend familiar with Jack's affinity for the hottest of hot sauces told him that people were eating chile peppers on YouTube as a sort of internet spectacle. He thought Jack should give it a try. Jack did, eating his first Carolina reaper. It was hot, to be sure, but Jack didn't think it was that hot.
So he made more videos, eating three, five, 10 then 20 peppers at a time. He started his YouTube channel "Mike Jack Eats Heat!" which has since amassed nearly 30,000 subscribers and 3 million views. At one point, he researched the most reapers that anyone had eaten in a sitting and found that someone had done 25 during an event in Australia. So Jack set up a charity event for the Hunger Project and ate 30.
Seeking ever higher mountains to summit, Jack started looking into Guinness World Records related to eating hot peppers. He discovered that most of them centered on how fast someone could consume small numbers of them.
Jack started practicing speed eating and, in 2019, broke his first Guinness record by eating three ghost peppers in less than 10 seconds. He went on to break 11 more and still holds five of them. (They include the spiciest kiss, which he and his wife did in February when they locked lips for more than 15 minutes after both eating habanero peppers.)
Last year, Jack set his sights on something more ambitious. He'd beaten Guinness World Records centered on eating as many of a certain kind of pepper in a short period of time, like when he ate the most Bhut Jolokia peppers in both one- and two-minute time limits.
Eating 50 Carolina reapers
He contacted Guinness to pitch the company on a new record, and ultimately, the premier keeper of world records agreed to create one that Jack felt would test his limits: eating 50 Carolina reapers as fast as possible.
On November 5, Jack set up an event at Forked River Brewing Company in London, Ontario. He wore a red headband and a matching tank top advertising his YouTube channel. On his way to a table with a plate of 50 reapers, Jack snapped on latex gloves like a doctor prepping for surgery. Before sitting down to eat, Jack grabbed the microphone to address the dozens of supporters who'd come to watch him make history.
"No one's done this record before," he told the crowd, "because it's nuts."
Jack gave the mic back to the emcee, slapped his face repeatedly to psych himself up, sat down and pulled up his chair.
"Go!" the official timer said.
Jack started stuffing his face with a pepper that averages 1.64 million Scoville heat units, more than 200 times the humble jalapeo. He swallowed the first in six seconds. At a minute, he'd downed eight. He hit 16 at two minutes, 23 at three minutes and 29 at four.
The crowd started chanting, "Go! Mike! Go!"
He'd eaten 36 by the five-minute mark as the crowd egged him on.
Six minutes: 43 peppers
Before the seven-minute mark, Jack stuck out his tongue to prove to the timer that none of the 50th Carolina reaper remained in his mouth. He'd set the record: six minutes and 49 seconds.
Jack's wife, Jamie, handed him a towel, which he used to wipe his nose, mouth and, pushing away glasses, his eyes. Then, 29 seconds after he'd set a new Guinness record, Jack started in on a second plate stacked with another 50 Carolina reapers.
At about 11 1/2 minutes, he matched his personal best of 60 reapers. At 32 minutes, Jack finished his 100th and another plate of 50 appeared. He kept going.
After he'd spent an hour and eight minutes eating 135 of the hottest peppers in the world, Jack called it a day. Although he fell 25 short of breaking the record, he'd more than doubled his previous personal best.
He said he simply didn't have any more room in his stomach.
He'd achieved his goal of the day, which was to go until "my body gives out." That's why he does what others might seem insane.
"I like to push myself," he said, "and see how far I can go with things."