Stuff.co.nz’s very first video, a Creme Egg eating competition, has gone missing. Image: Archi Banal
Stuff.co.nz’s very first video, a Creme Egg eating competition, has gone missing. Image: Archi Banal

MediaApril 14, 2022

A Creme Egg catastrophe: The search for Stuff.co.nz’s first video

Stuff.co.nz’s very first video, a Creme Egg eating competition, has gone missing. Image: Archi Banal
Stuff.co.nz’s very first video, a Creme Egg eating competition, has gone missing. Image: Archi Banal

In 2006, a room of journalists attempted to find out how many Creme Eggs you can eat in five minutes. What happened to the historic footage?

Stomachs churned, sweat dripped off foreheads and teeth munched through sweet, sticky goo. And mounted on a tripod in the corner of the room, a camera captured every moment. Shortly before Easter on a weekday morning in 2006, half a dozen office workers filed into a Wellington boardroom, sat down, and began stuffing as many Cadbury Creme Eggs as they could into their mouths.

It wasn’t pretty. “All that caramel and chocolate just becomes gloop in your mouth,” says someone who was there. Tasked with eating as many of the sickly sweet Easter treats as possible in five minutes, he managed “four-and-a-bit” before bailing. By that point, he says, “swallowing is really not fun.”

Like everyone else who participated, he walked out of that room broken, regretting his life choices, wondering whether what he’d just done was about to be posted onto the internet for eternity. It was. “I have never been a big Creme Egg fan,” he says. “I wasn’t before and this experience certainly didn’t change that.”

Why was he there? What were they doing with all those Creme Eggs? And where has the footage from this historic occasion gone?

Six months earlier, big plans were being formulated. It was the end of 2005, King Kong was coming to town, and the newfangled internet news site I’d just joined was going to be there. A camera was purchased, a microphone was found, and media passes to the premiere were acquired. We were going to break new ground. We were going to film a monster – the very first video to make it onto Stuff.co.nz.

Shoved into a corner of The Dominion Post’s Boulcott Street office, the 2005 iteration of Stuff was a humble affair. Today the site has hundreds of journalists covering news around the country around the clock. But back then, the Wellington-based website had just eight editors who swapped shifts, smoked too many cigarettes and checked Fark.com too often. On windy nights, those working late shifts napped on couches, rocked to sleep by the swaying building.

In those early days of online journalism, we were pretty much left to our own devices. We acted like it, running wild with any crazed whim that came into our minds. We started live concert coverage, then kicked off a gossip column. No one stopped us. “It was a time when we were able to have a bit more freedom to do whatever took our fancy,” remembers Dylan Thomsen, the site’s deputy editor at the time.

What took our fancy was a movie premiere, the second biggest to come to the capital. After the final instalment of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy premiered to 100,000 people in 2003, Wellington was set to do it all again. On December 14, 2005, the A-list cast and crew of Jackson’s big budget blockbuster King Kong were going to celebrate the film’s premiere in the central city.

King Kong
Naomi Watts and her boyfriend in Peter Jackson’s 2005 film, King Kong.

We planned to be there. Armed with expensive, box-fresh video equipment recently purchased on a company card, we were going to film every second of the red carpet action, then turn it into Stuff’s first video. It felt like we were levelling up. Excitement was high. As one of the only online news sites in the country, we had little competition.

A practice run was organised, but it didn’t go to plan. “I’d never used a camera like that before in my life. I had no training,” says Thomsen, who’d been tasked with covering a TradeMe announcement. He came back with footage but no sound. “[I sat there] trying to figure out why it was a silent movie.”

Still, we were undeterred. On premiere day, I was one of two editors casually handed a camera worth thousands of dollars and told to talk to as many people as possible on the red carpet. My online journalism career was in its infancy. I wore the one shirt I owned, then paired it with sneakers.

I’m from Whanganui. I’d never seen so many people in my life.

Here’s the good news: If you’re holding a camera at a movie premiere, everyone wants to talk to you. Peter Jackson, on his way up to the refurbished Embassy cinema, stopped by for a chat. So did producer Fran Walsh, and Adrien Brody and Andy Serkis, the film’s stars. “Naomi Watts was too far away,” remembers Lesley Reidy, an online editor pulling director duties at the time.

Once it was over, loopy with joy, dusty with celebrity fever, we ran back to the newsroom with our camera. A memory card was ejected, and the footage handed over. Yes, we’d plugged the microphone in correctly. With a little editing, it was all set to become a triumph of digital over print – a moving, pixelated miracle of the modern age.

Stuff.co.nz
A news story on the old version of Stuff.co.nz reporting on the King Kong premiere

Hours turned into days. The video didn’t appear. “Why did it take so long?” asks Reidy, who was one of two editors tasked with editing the footage. “Because we didn’t know what the fuck we were doing.”

There was no example to follow, no formula to copy. Those editors sat side-by-side for five full days, learning how to use editing software downloaded for free on the fly. Fresh from journalism school, Reidy was coached through her video voiceovers. “It was quite stressful at the time as there was quite a lot of expectation around it,” remembers Reidy. “We’d used our tiny budget to buy a camera.”

Finally, the footage was ready. But King Kong fever had passed, and the finished file was too big. Posting it to Stuff would mean crashing the site. It couldn’t be used. Instead, a screen was set up in the office, and the video played to select staff. “We went down to where the bosses hung out, played it on a big screen and had a glass of bubbly,” remembers Reidy.

Applause was muted. We had succeeded, but we had also failed. Stuff had bitten off more than it could chew. We needed to start smaller. We needed a video concept that was easier to film, quicker to edit, and wouldn’t crash everyone’s browsers.

We needed to film a Creme Egg eating challenge.

A few months into 2006, the King Kong debacle was long forgotten. Stuff’s expensive camera was kept safe in a locked cupboard. As Easter neared, Dylan Thomsen began eyeing it up. A lot of money had been spent on it. It felt like it should be used. Then an idea occurred to him. Stuff’s editors had become fixated on Creme Eggs, and wouldn’t shut up about them. “They were talking about how much they loved them, how much they thought they could eat,” he says.

Thomsen requested exact figures. “People were chucking out some huge numbers. People were saying they could smash 10, easy. I thought, ‘I don’t think you can, I think they’re a lot harder to consume than you think,'” he says. “There was a lot of bragging and bravado going on in the newsroom over how many you could smash in a few minutes.”

Creme Egg
The sickly sweet Cadbury Creme Egg

As things tend to do in newsrooms, the idea snowballed. “Someone said, ‘If we’re going to do it, why don’t we film it and put it on the site?'” says Thomsen. “Genius, or madness, was born at that point.”

Thomsen ran around the Dominion Post newsroom asking for volunteers. He got plenty, but many baulked when they heard about the camera. “There were a lot of people who were all talk beforehand, but didn’t want it filmed and broadcast anywhere.” It’s definitely why I declined the opportunity when it was offered to me.

A boardroom was booked and the cursed camera set up on a tripod, with bowls of Creme Eggs dotted around the table. Curious onlookers showed up, and those who had agreed to take part nervously entered the room. Stuff’s sports editor at the time, Cameron McMillan, remembers declining the invitation to take part, but watched proceedings with enthusiasm. “I had strange values back in 2004.”

Due to lack of numbers, Thomsen stepped up, and roped in a mate who happened to be in the neighbourhood. When they sat down, Thomsen realised there was another problem. “You’ve got half a dozen people sitting in a circle all eating chocolate,” he says. “It was really hard to film well with one camera. The production values were not great.”

Contestants were given five minutes to eat as many Creme Eggs as possible. They started with a flurry of unwrapping and munching, learning quickly to chomp through one egg while their fingers removed the tinfoil wrapper from the next. “The first one or two are pretty good. From that point, it starts to kick in and gets a lot harder,” says Thomsen.

His prediction, that it would be more difficult than it appeared, quickly came true. “Those things are a lot harder to get down than you think.” After they’d all eaten about three eggs each, the complaints began. Breathing got heavier. Sweat dripped down furrowed brows. Many bowed out. Thomsen managed four, then quit.

Then a frontrunner emerged. Jim Kayes, a Dominion Post sports reporter at the time, led the pack. Thomsen watched him down Creme Eggs like a demon. “I do some dumb things sometimes and this was one of them,” remembers Kayes. He was surprised to get a phone call about this moment in his career, and has regrets.

How many eggs did he eat? “I think it was six.” Thomson remembers it differently. He thinks Kayes managed at least “seven or eight” before being crowned the winner. Afterwards, Kayes returned to his desk, his stomach doing somersaults. “You know how you get that sugar rush afterwards? I just felt terrible afterwards,” he says.

“It was good for about 10 seconds… [then] I felt rotten.”

So where is the video, firm evidence that this egg-stravaganza took place? Why has this achievement not been celebrated more by the country’s biggest news site? Despite lengthy efforts to locate the footage, including much searching of the internet archive site Wayback Machine, no evidence of Stuff’s Easter Creme Egg challenge could be found.

“Omg that sounds really funny and gross,” the site’s former editor Kristine Garcia messages from New York. She’s the one who must have okayed the spectacle, but has “zero” memory of it happening. The incident didn’t warrant a mention in this retrospective of Stuff’s 20-year history, published in 2020.

Jim Kayes has no idea where it is either. “It’s a long time ago,” he tells me. Patrick Crewdson, Stuff’s editor in chief, says Stuff doesn’t have active “institutional archives”. After multiple site and content management system changes over the past 16 years, it’s probably evaporated into the ether of the mid-2000s internet. “I’m afraid I can’t help.”

Thomson, now a spokesperson for the AA, confirms all five minutes of the footage definitely made it onto Stuff in time for Easter. He remembers watching it, giddy at the site’s achievement. That means a depraved and gigantically gross Creme Egg eating competition really was Stuff’s very first video. “People watched it. It was good, engaging content,” he says.

“It was the sort of thing that people were able to look at and go, ‘Seven? I can do a lot more than seven.’ I’m sure it inspired some copycats.”

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Mad Chapman, Editor
Aotearoa continues to adapt to a new reality and The Spinoff is right there, sorting fact from fiction to bring you the latest updates and biggest stories. Help us continue this coverage, and so much more, by supporting The Spinoff Members.Madeleine Chapman, EditorJoin Members

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