Janese Clark might have been late to the show Friday, but that didn't stop her from nabbing the $1,000 grand prize in a grocery-bagging competition at Ray's Food Place in Central Point.
Clark, of Prineville, was running behind on her way to the store, so she missed the eight competitors before her, all vying for the cash and a trip to Las Vegas to attend the National Grocers Association convention early next year.
The contestants advanced from Ray's Food Place stores across Oregon and California. The nine contestants already had won regional contests and gathered in Central Point for the final, according to store spokesman Grant Lunde.
"We decided to bring the grocery-bagging competition back, and everyone seemed to really enjoy it," Lunde said.
The contestants were given about 30 pounds of groceries to fit into two bags.
Points were awarded for speed, style, even-weight distribution, and the ability to keep fragile items such as eggs from breaking open and causing a huge mess.
They took a spot at the end of a checkout stand and began whipping items into the bags at the click of a stopwatch.
"They are really impressive," shopper Daniel Crable said Friday. "I would break everything."
Survivor's iconic "Eye of the Tiger" blared over the sound system as each contestant snatched bags of potato chips, chicken-flavored Ramen, and light bulbs, expertly stashing them in the bags.
Everyone was accompanied by his or her store manager and an optional personal cheerleader.
"Be the bag!" was chanted from the gallery.
Clark, fresh off the drive from Prineville, had no sooner strolled into the store when she was ushered to the checkout stand to make her play.
Clark, a three-year Ray's Food Place employee, said working a cash register and bagging prepared her for the competition.
However, she didn't get much time to practice before heading down to Central Point.
"I have two grandchildren that I take care of, so I don't have a lot of time," Clark said.
After the winning name was announced, Clark let a tear of victory fall.
"It was overwhelming," she said. "I've never been to Vegas before."
Clark will fly to Las Vegas in February to compete against a nationwide group of grocery baggers, all with the intent of snatching the $10,000 prize.
"I watched last year's winner on Letterman," Clark said. "He was really fast. I'm going to need to practice."
Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 541-776-4471 or firstname.lastname@example.org.