Politicos and armchair pundits likely went to bed on Thursday thinking the most amazing thing that happened in Sarah Palin’s (amazing!) America that day was the former governor calling in to a local radio morning show to break her long local silence on Alaska oil tax policy and dish about the upcoming gubernatorial election.
Those people are wrong.
The most amazing (American) thing that happened in Sarah Palin’s (amazing!) America on Thursday was Jerry Carroll attending a duck call contest.
This week’s episode of The Sportsman Channel’s “Amazing America with Sarah Palin,” the half-hour reality show featuring our former fearless leader, is all about Americans who play just as hard as they work. As an illustration of playing hard, field host Benny Spies travels to Houston, Texas, for the Great Bull Run.
Started by a couple of guys aiming to recreate the experience of Pamplona’s running of the bulls (without the troublesome and expensive international flight), the Great Bull Run invites spectators to look on as participants run down a muddy racetrack chased by about a dozen bulls. Kind of like The Color Run, but with a greater chance of getting gored.
“All those people in the stands -- they don’t want to go out there and see people run with the bulls and be safe,” the event’s co-founder tells Benny. “They want to see people get clobbered by the bulls.”
While Benny doesn’t give the crowd what they want, instead making it to safety, at least one person does appear to get legitimately trampled in the Houston event. But it looks like maybe he manages to roll off the course once he gets out from under the hooves. (The cameras don’t catch up with him afterward.)
Post-race, Benny participates in another messy event, Tomato Royale, essentially a massive muddy brawl featuring 15 tons of tomatoes. But it’s more than a food fight, Sarah explains:
“The Great Bull Run isn’t just about people running from bulls and throwing tomatoes at each other. It’s a place where folks can conquer their fears and push themselves past their limits and join a sense of community and celebrate an old tradition that’s been given new life.”
Which is cool, I guess. Except mostly it looks like it’s about paying $50 to $75 to run from bulls and throw tomatoes at other people, which is also amazing in its own way.
The highlight of the episode, though, is comedian and field host (and my new best friend) Jerry Carroll’s trip to Stuttgart, Ark., for the World Championship Duck Calling Contest.
Yes. This is an actual thing.
Stuttgart, the duck capital of the world and “epicenter of duck hunting culture,” according to Sarah, claims to harvest more mallards than any other place in the country. And they celebrate the start of duck season with an epic duck-calling showdown. And carnival. And trade show. And the World Championship Duck Gumbo Cookoff.
I repeat: Duck. Gumbo.
Why have we not thought of this in Alaska?
Not only is there duck gumbo, Jerry shows us as he eats his way through the festival, there are duck tamales. Duck eggrolls. Duck pie.
“Boy, that right there would make a puppy pull a freight train,” Jerry hollers as he tries a cup of duck gumbo.
When Jerry and I talked recently, he admitted to me that the day had gotten a little long.
“Seventy-five people doing duck calls for seven and a half hours,” he said. “If I never hear a duck call again in my life…”
But on screen, he’s a good sport, interviewing competitors and talking to craftsmen selling handmade duck calls.
“What makes this the bad-ass duck call?” Jerry asks one vendor.
“It’s bad-ass,” the vendor replies.
Jerry then tries his hand at using some duck calls, providing a running commentary of his own attempts:
“That’s more like Daffy Duck.”
“That’s a wounded duck.”
“Mine sounds like a duck got run over by a truck.”
Later, he introduces himself to a life-size duck character, confesses he’s spent all day eating the duck’s relatives, and then says: “I want to ride some rides later. I hope I don’t upduck.”
True to Jerry’s description, the duck calling contest itself features more than 70 competitors and a half-dozen rounds of competition. And people for real gather in front of a stage in camp chairs and watch this. For hours. And hours. And hours. Until “way late dark-30,” as Jerry puts it. Until the sun goes down and the lights come up and the duck gumbo gets cold.
Duck calling, it turns out, sometimes sounds a bit more like beatboxing than anything you might expect to hear in nature. Especially after you’ve been listening to it for a while. Although you can’t say duck callers don’t have a sense of humor. Speaking to Jerry after the competition, three-time world champ Brad Allen offers his top tip for duck calling success.
“First thing: You have to be full of hot air.”
Because it’s “Amazing America,” there is, of course, an amazing moral to the story, delivered by the former guv in a talking head. And this week it’s all about how amazing are the traditions of (amazing!) America.
“Our individual traditions make up our history in America,” Sarah says, beaming.
And they also make us, for whatever reason, want to throw tomatoes at one another and sit in the dark listening to grown men pretend to flirt with waterfowl. God bless (amazing!) America.