The West Palm Beach man who died after winning a roach-eating contest “was hamming it up for everyone” on the night of the competition at a reptile store, its manager says.
Edward Archbold was the life of the party at the Ben Siegel Reptile Store in Deerfield Beach on Friday, manager Billy Leonard said.
"Everyone is terribly saddened, it was a complete shock,” Leonard said of Archbold’s death. “Eddie seemed like a great guy, we only met him that night, he wasn't a regular customer.”
Archbold, 32, ate 26 bugs, mostly discoid roaches, on his way to winning the contest. Shortly afterward he got sick and later collapsed in front of the store, authorities said.
He was pronounced dead at Broward Health North, the Broward Sheriff’s Office said.
"The craziest part of that was we had 30 people competing and Eddie was the only one who had a problem, the guy who came in second ate just one less bug than he did,” Leonard said.
The roaches are bred as feed for various reptiles, but humans eat them too.
"They're eaten the world over as a protein source,” Leonard said.
Archbold won but did not get to take home the grand prize – a female ivory ball python. The snake retails for between $800 and $1,000.
Siegel’s attorney said Monday that everyone who took part was aware of what they were doing and signed waivers before the contest. Leonard addressed the same point Tuesday.
"There was nothing inherently dangerous, everybody signed waivers, everybody was doing it of their own volition,” he said.
What made Archbold participate in the contest is a bit unclear; he had eaten bugs before, said his girlfriend. He had planned on giving the python to a friend if he won.
Natasha Proffitt, 27, of West Palm Beach, said Archbold told her about the contest just hours before it started. When she asked him if it was a good idea, he said "it was not a big deal."
The medical examiner's office said Tuesday it has sent samples of Archbold's remains for testing, but results are not expected for another week or two.
"Eating insects in a contest is a recent, 'Fear Factor' phenomenon," said Coby Schal, a professor of entomology at North Carolina State University. "But I have not heard of anyone having that type of response."
Schal said people may have allergic and asthmatic responses to cockroaches, when homes are infested with roaches, for example. Dust from roaches' wings and exoskeletons often triggers asthma in people.
"All insects, if you are allergic to a particular insect, you can have an allergic response to it. Whether he had an allergic sensitivity to a wide variety of insects or just to roaches, there is no way of telling," Schal said.