SAY WHAT? - Because evidently nothing is sacred, Alaska’s Katmai National Park officials for the first time uncovered nefarious ballot-stuffing by unknown persons (probably Antifa) in this year's wildly popular Fat Bear Week before crowning a chonky new winner: salmon-scarfing, 1,400-pound Bear 747, aka "Bear Force One." Amidst the world's sorrowful ecological news - like the recent World Wildlife Fund's Living Planet Report that found a devastating 70% decline of wild animals since 1970 in what has become a "fast-emptying ark" - wildlife officials fete the Fat Bear contest as a welcome "celebration of success and survival," a tribute to "the resilience, adaptability and strength of Katmai’s brown bears," along with the park's flourishing ecosystem. Begun as Fat Bear Tuesday in 2014, the contest has blown up into a week-long, knock-out, march-madness-style battle that last year drew almost 800,000 impassioned votes to determine which bear has bulked up the most to prepare for winter. Each spring, the bears emerge hungry and emaciated from hibernation, when they can lose up to one third of their body weight. Each summer, Katmai officials explain, "Bears gorge on the richest and most easily obtainable foods they can find. In Katmai National Park, that most often means salmon" - up to 500 pounds of it, mostly at the salmon-teeming Brooks River where dozens of bears regularly gather to plump up before entering their dens. For bears, they say, "Fat equals survival."
The contest, presented by Katmai and multi-media Explore.org, allows online fans to learn everything they ever wanted to know about their fave bears. There are "Meet The Bears" bios, complete with before/after photos: 151 Walker "is a skilled angler at fishing the lip of the falls...As a young adult, 151 used to play frequently, but now he prioritizes fishing over play." 435 Holly "has reared several litters of cubs...A bachelorette's life this summer afforded her the opportunity to concentrate on her own needs." Etc. There are live chats, chances to donate, park bearcams to watch the dozen candidates doing their bulky thing. Some have descriptive text: "The wide-bodied bear submerges his broad shoulders in the river. He rests his head on a river rock, and a rear view of him slowly laboring up a hill." (The struggle is real.) Through daily voting, there's also fervent cheerleading - "Get ready to rumble!...Time is running out to make your voice heard!...If you're not following #FatBearWeek, are you really living your best life?" - and breathless, alliterative updates on the "Titans of Tonnage" and "Hulking Hefty Heroes": "It's down to 901 and 747...Both of them are fat, but only one can be the ultimate Fat Bear!" Most strikingly, for an election, both candidates and voters decline to indulge in the kind of lies or rancor the electoral process has come to inspire, maybe because the former are too busy stuffing their faces and the latter are too busy being giddily distracted from the woes of the world by bears stuffing their faces.
But these ugly days it seems we can't have nice things, even bears. During last week's contest, in the only real-live, non-imaginary electoral fraud in recent memory, organizers for the first time uncovered voting irregularities that skewed the results of a key semi-final. As 747 seemed headed to victory, Holly the "bachelorette" suddenly overcame a 6,000-vote deficit to take the lead with a whopping 9,000 votes - a swift comeback one official called "not unheard of (but) very uncommon." Holly was the 2019 champion - "She is fat! She is fabulous!" - in a legit win, but an investigation revealed someone stuffed the ballot box this time in what (kinda shocked) organizers called "a Fat Bear Week scandal for the ages." After officials re-tallied - and added a spam-prevention feature to the site - 747 advanced to the final, where his opponent was young upstart, "occasionally mischievous" Bear 901, “a medium-small yet quickly growing adult female with a voracious appetite (maybe) heightened by pregnancy." Still, the 1,400-pound 747 - "one of the largest brown bears on earth," a “skilled and efficient angler," Katmai’s most dominant bear and 2020 Fat Bear champion - prevailed. He was declared winner - "THIS 747 IS CLEARED FOR LANDING” - and got his own video: "747 shows that skill and size equal success in the bear world." Many fans celebrated: "Long live our chunky king!", "You may be fly, but you're not 747 fly," etc. Neither Holly nor 901 whined about a recount, but others griped: "Rigged! Holly - or reigning champ Otis - was robbed! There are 11,780 votes missing in Georgia! Fake salmon news!" Messy democracy, we salute you.