Jell-O wrestling conjures images of hardbodied coeds in little bikinis, engaged in a slippery-limbed struggle to pin their opponent and to prevent a boob-exposing wardrobe malfunction in a tub of Jell-O. Meanwhile, drunken men cheer them on, secretly hoping the girls will fail in the latter regard.
One would suspect males from Hialeah to Kendall flocked to Jell-O Wrestling Night at Churchill's Pub the first Wednesday of August with similar hopes in mind. Some preppy guys seemed out of place at the bar, home to punk-rock regulars who night after night fill the air of their "beloved shithole" with guitar riffs, drum rolls, and cigarette clouds. The event's poster might have lured the outsiders. It depicts a mound of red gelatin with a red-bikini-clad girl as the topping. Or maybe it was just the promise of killer live music and good cheap beer, which Churchill's Pub, known as the CBGB of the South, delivers.
The spectacle of women grappling in a tub of jelly returns to Churchill's tonight. If you're asking yourself, Jell-O wrestling? Really? In 2013?, we were right there with you. So we checked it out for ourselves.
The flyer, designed by one of Churchill's female employees, advertises the event as a sexist flesh-fest. But like many advertisements that portray women as goods in our consumer-driven culture, it was slightly misleading. Instead of pin-up girls in skimpy bikinis, the pub's female bartenders, wearing sporty outfits, battled it out in the goop. The bar's "lovelies" -- Sonia, Rebecca and Elena -- among others, looked strong, wearing sports bras, gym shorts, and knee-high soccer socks to complement their toned physiques. Some girls engaged the theatrics of pro wrestling by sporting masks with white eagle wings around the eye holes.
A large inflatable pool filled with red Jell-O was placed in the pub's outdoor stage area, a dilapidated patio next to the shack that houses owner David Daniels' residence. Around the pool, folding chairs were filled to capacity, so many onlookers stood vulnerable to blobs of Jell-O, which splashed out of the pool. MC Nicky Bowe teased the crowd by calling out one of the wrestlers: "Sonia. Come out, Sonia. Where are you?"
As the speakers blasted Kelis' song "Milkshake," Bowe introduced the wrestlers. The girls smiled and giggled as they wobbled into the pool, balancing themselves carefully like gelatinous acrobats. At the MC's direction, the contestants pushed and pinned each other in efforts to be named champion, a title bestowed by the audience's noise level.
The bartenders' close friends and pub regulars sat in the front rows, cheering them on with applause, whistles, and hoots of "yeah" and "hooray!" It seemed almost like a family event -- a very strange family event for a very strange family. Pub regular Beatriz Monteavaro, artist and drummer of experimental noise band Holly Hunt, attended the spectacle. Dressed in a T-shirt and jeans, with her dark, unkempt hair down, while smoking a cigarette and drinking a beer, she sat onstage. Asked what she thought about female Jell-O wrestling, she said with a kind yet serious stare: "I'm morally opposed to it. But I'm here to support my friends."
Female Jell-O wrestling and other events of a similar nature, such as mud-wrestling, are controversial. Critics consider them degrading, sexist, misogynistic, and inappropriate entertainment for 2013. Advocates counter that the contestants participate of their own free will and have a good time. Some have even called for men's Jell-O wrestling to take place too. In fact, at one point during Churchill's festivities, the MC prompted shirtless males to jump into the tank for all "the feminists in the audience." A muscular guy, with a ripped chest and six-pack abs, wearing tight black biker shorts jumped right in, much to the delight of the ladies present.
But is this tradition outdated and sexist?
Daniels, owner of Churchill's Pub, said, "The girls are not being degraded. They want to do it. It's a win-win situation. Everyone has a good time, and the girls leave with a ton of cash in their hands."
Ian Michael, event booker at Churchill's, agreed. "Our last Jell-O wrestling event in July was a fundraiser for the Fort Miami Women's Rugby Club. The bartenders had a lot of fun and asked to do their own Jell-O wrestling event."
One of the bartenders, Sonia Przulj, a pretty tattooed girl with an Australian accent, said, "I don't feel degraded. I feel comfortable enough with everyone at the bar to do it. It's a lot of fun."
Overall, we agree with Przulj. It was fun. Between matches, as the contestants prepped, patrons rushed indoors to refill their beers and enjoy sets from local bands Dyslexic Postcards and Tonight We Kill. Some people remained seated at the bar, preferring to watch the "sport" from a drier location, on the flat-screen TV sets hanging above them.
But there were cringeworthy moments too. During one of the breaks, someone got on the mike and yelled, "Come back to see some tits and ass!" A few girls looked at one another and shook their heads. We've come a long way, baby, but not far enough.
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The success of the Fort Miami Women's Rugby Club fundraiser in July and the bartenders' party earlier this month have led the pub's event organizers to bring it back regularly. Tonight, Wednesday August 28, at 8 p.m., Churchill's will feature bikini-clad models wrestling in mud. (The event comes with its own equally pervy flyer, above.) Admission costs $10; the chance to jump into the ring yourself costs $15. The event is a fundraiser for a thesis film, Dawn of the Sheriff.
Meanwhile, bartender Przulj is organizing another Jell-O wrestling competition to take place Wednesday, September 25. Visit churchillspub.com.
-- Monica Torres