Paihia man Josh Shotter has endured a trial by fire to emerge as the New Zealand chilli-eating champion.
The 34-year-old made it sound like it was all in day's work after claiming the title for the second year running at the Sweatshop Brew Kitchen in downtown Auckland, where he eventually emerged as the last man standing after 17 rounds.
Nine men and two women qualified for the final from dozens of wannabes who lined up in heats around the country.
In the first round of the final the contestants took on a Scotch Bonnet Big Sun chilli, rated at 150,000 Scoville units (a measurement of intensity, about 30 times hotter than the average Jalapeno). They had to chew each chilli given to them in each round for 30 seconds then swallow it, followed by a break for a few minutes to allow the chilli to do its work before progressing to the next round.
Each chilli was hotter than the one before, and the contenders were not allowed to eat or drink between rounds.
The competition took almost two hours to complete before Shotter finally emerged as the champion, fending off allcomers by downing a Carolina Reaper, estimated to range somewhere between 1.5 and 2.2 million Scovilles, give or take a few hundred thousand.
"Just handled it," he said nonchalantly, conceding that it hadn't all been plain sailing but suggesting that he probably had a higher pain threshold than most.
The burning sensation in the mouth upon chewing a raw chilli ignited nerve receptors, some people being more sensitive to the sensation than others.
Josh said an Auckland radio station DJ, challenged to eat a Carolina Reaper after the championships, was left "crying and dribbling and spluttering".
One of his major tricks (formerly a secret but the word was now out) was to eat a tin of Watties creamed rice cold beforehand to line his stomach. He also understood that apart from being hot, chillies were otherwise "pretty healthy".
The sixth annual national chilli-eating championships were organised by Clint Meyer, from the Hokianga-based natural chilli sauce manufacturer Fire Dragon Chillies. This year's event was staged in conjunction with the first annual New Zealand Hot Sauce Festival, which attracted more than 14 hot sauce producers from throughout the country and featured more than 100 different sauces.
Clint said he worked with some very hot sauces, but he could only shake his head at some people's ability to eat intensely hot chillies.
"They don't seem to have the same receptors as the rest of us normal people," he said.