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Florida Man Games: just like the Olympics but funnier, drunker and stupider

America’s sunshine state has a hard-won reputation for grotesqueries, and a proudly silly new competition will only add to it

Advance notices for last weekend’s Florida Man Games billed it as the wildest, most insane competition on Earth. Difficult to argue with that claim when the extravaganza promised such unique sporting contests as “Eat the Butt Challenge”, “Weaponized Pool Noodle Mud Duel”, “Evading Arrest Obstacle Course” and, of course, “A Catalytic Converter, Two Bikes, A Handful of Copper Pipes, and a Race Against Time”. In a world where the dastardly billionaire behind PayPal recently announced plans for a doping-friendly version of the Olympics (which sounds a lot like the five-ring circus we currently have), here was a much more down-home alternative.

With small print assuring prospective entrants that “being athletic is not required”, and footage of husky characters in cut-off jeans and tank tops suggesting many took organisers at their word, the inaugural edition of the games attracted 16 teams of five. At Francis Field in historic and quaint downtown St Augustine, these redoubtable sporting pioneers were watched by thousands of paying customers, some forking out $45, others $145 for the VIP package. It takes some audacity and/or knowing your audience to offer a VIP anything when the fare on offer includes burly men delightedly sumo-wrestling on a trampoline while wearing flotation devices and cradling steins of beer.

“They’re calling these events,” said James Gordon, a Florida native who triumphed in the eating-barbecue-pork-butt-and-sausage showdown. “I’m calling this sh*t Tuesday afternoon.”

Even before it became synonymous in recent years with enthusiastic book-banning, mind-boggling attempts at history-denying, and laws prohibiting teachers from saying “gay”, the sunshine state had a hard-won reputation for grotesqueries. defines “Florida man” as a “generic descriptor for a person who commits bizarre or idiotic crimes, popularly associated with – and often reported in – Florida.” In an obvious attempt to own that very brand of idiocy and embrace the state’s self-made infamy, Pete Melfi, a radio broadcaster and podcaster, dreamed up an entire day of festivities celebrating the peculiar type of criminal stupidity that launched a thousand memes.


“We kind of give a person an opportunity to live a day in the life of ‘Florida Man’ without ending up in a cop car,” said Melfi, who attracted a slew of sponsors including, somewhat fittingly, Ripley’s Believe it or Not. “There’s typically drugs and nudity. But the city frowned on it when I asked for drugs and nudity.”

As a hirsute dude in a vest did a Hendrix impression of the national anthem on a lone electric guitar, a lot of those gleefully taking part looked like they grew up gorging Jackass, the MTV television show where skateboarders and their pals put their bodies on the line doing madcap stunts. One team brought along a five-year old iguana as their mascot, a perfectly appropriate addition, and all seemed to relish the chance to emulate their childhood heroes. Where else could they throw themselves with reckless abandon into something in which the rules of one test of strength had to change in a hurry because somebody stabbed the inflatable kiddie pool housing the “Mud Duel”?

“Florida has become The Joke State, the state everybody makes fun of,” wrote Dave Barry, the celebrated newspaper columnist, in his book, Best. State. Ever. A Florida Man Defends His Homeland. “If states were characters on Seinfeld, Florida would be Kramer: Every time it appears, the audience automatically laughs, knowing it’s going to do some idiot thing.”

One contestant in the “Florida Ma’am” beauty pageant wore beer cans as hair curlers. To critical and popular acclaim. Many spectators proudly donned T-shirts showing a map of the state as a hairstyle accompanied by the slogan, “Florida – America’s mullet”, as men waited anxiously for judges to figure out who on site had the best version of that timeless cut. Those not formally competing in true tests of resolve and skill such as “Category 5 Cash Grab” (simulating trying to gather stray dollar bills during a hurricane) were entertained by “Chicken Coop Bingo”, a reworking of the game in which two pecking birds picked the numbers.

Books have been written and academic studies conducted into Florida’s apparently bottomless capacity for weird crimes and jaw-dropping misdemeanours. Some argue the state is actually no different from any other place except its freedom of information laws ensure local media can garner more colourful detail about offences and offenders than their journalistic counterparts elsewhere in the US. In any case, these games are merely the latest iteration of the locals leaning into the stereotype and the mockery, having fun with rather than bristling at their public image.

The extent of the media coverage was such that it wouldn’t be a shock to see the event coming to national television in some form. Soon. In recent years, ESPN and its competitors have broadcast Spikeball (a beach game involving a ball and a small trampoline net a few inches off the sand), Cornhole (a backyard pursuit where people hurl bean bags at a target on a slanted wooden board), and Quidditch (a modified version of what Harry Potter and his pals did on brooms at Hogwarts). Against that background, it’s not beyond the bounds to see some network recognising the reality-show vibe and comic fodder of athletic contests involving grown men clambering through shop front windows while being chased down by fake cops brandishing handcuffs purchased at a sex shop.

Just like the Olympics. Except funnier, drunker, stupider.