Saturday’s 31st annual St. George Island Regional Charity Chili Cook-off had the makings of a colossal disappointment for the Nunn family of Fort Pierce.

The family patriarch, Paul Nunn, hoped to repeat his win at last year’s 2013 Gulf Coast regional, a victory that earned him a berth in the October 2013 world chili championship in Palm Springs, California, where he captured the $2,500 runner-up trophy, the best finish of any St. George Island winner in the three decades of the cook-off.

With three generations of his family in tow in a vacation rental on the island, the retired building contractor was all set to showcase his talents and take a shot at repeating his 2013 win.

But on the eve of the competition, respiratory distress sent him for observation at Weems Memorial Hospital.

With his wife, Theresa, at his bedside, Nunn was forced to scratch from the field. His eldest son, Jeff, who had gotten the family started on the chili circuit nearly 25 years ago, stepped in to anchor one of the three Nunn Better teams that would compete.

There was Nunn Better Too, led by son Tim, a sheriff’s deputy in Baker County, and his wife Donna.

There was Nunn Better Also, led by granddaughter Alyssa Jones and her husband Macon, from Jacksonville.

And there was Jeff’s team, Nunn Better the Original, which got the family affair rolling in 1990 when Jeff’s girlfriend convinced him to compete at the college where she worked, and he won, and went on to take part in St. George Island’s seventh-ever chili cook-off.

Together with Paul Nunn’s daughters Sherrie and Cynthia, the entire Nunn family worked diligently on their three entries, as they kept in touched by phone with mom and dad at Weems, where he was under the care of nurses Courtney Alford, RN, Jennifer Ruic, LPN and a host of others.

Whatever it was – the extra effort by the children, the prayerful imaginary aroma of Theresa Nunn’s rarely entered “Holy Ghost” chili, or just a doggone good recipe – when it came time for competition coordinator Grayson Shepard to announce the winners, the Nunns didn’t do badly.

Happily, the Nunn Better Also team of Alyssa Jones won $200 for third place.

Then, to the family’s surprise, Jeff’s Nunn Better the Original team took home second place, and pocketed $300.

After that, to widespread shock and amazement, Tim’s Nunn Better Too team won first, and $500, and a return trip to the world championships this fall.

“I called dad in the hospital and he’s beside himself,” said daughter Cindy.

“He was so happy, he was so proud of them,” said nurse Courtney Alford Monday. “He told me ‘That’s even better than me winning it, for all three to win it.’”

Tim’s first place chili – made with tri-tip sirloin and described by judges as “awesome,” “perfect,” “good texture,” and a “good blend of spices” – was completely gone, but the family brought Jeff’s runner-up blend, deemed the hottest of the three, for the Weems staff to taste, before they sent a recuperating Paul Nunn back home Sunday to Fort Pierce.

Out of the money, but still finishing fourth, was the Spice Boys team commandeered by J.G. Carver, while fifth place went to Wanda Gangswich’s “Three Sheets to the Wind” team, which “filled an inside straight,” so to speak. In 2009 she finished fourth, in 2010 second, in 2011 first and in 2013 third.

“I don’t have a recipe,” she said. “I pour stuff in there, same way I cook at home.”

Carver’s Evil Daddy Pork Chop Salsa took home $100 and a plaque when it won the island cook-off’s first-ever salsa competition.

Carver’s homemade blend was tops among the eight entries in the salsa category, judged by representatives of Sometimes It’s Hotter. Including mango, Carver’s salsa was described by judges as having great color, kick and heat, although one said it needed more cilantro.

“Need more cilantro? Are you kidding me?” Carver said. “You can’t get any fresher. It’s still growing.”

He said his recipe called for roma tomatoes, one onion, two jalapeno peppers, tomatillo, yellow, green and red bell peppers, half-cup cilantro, balsamic vinegar, salt, and a teaspoon of local tupelo honey.

Finishing second in salsa was the blend by the Hot Lips team led by Kim Poole, while Larry Underkoffler’s LEU's Q-Crew’s black beans and corn salsa finished third.

The “amateur” free-style crockpot chili competition was won by Bobby and Patti Entrekin, of Savannah, Ga., with Michael Miller, of Atlanta, finishing second and Karen Andrew and Lois Hauff, of St. George Island, taking home third.

Ticia Lipscomb, the cook-off’s treasurer, said event drew a little more than 3,300 paying visitors on Saturday, up by about 400 from last year, with the auction bringing in about $20,000. She said the entire event will gross about $110,000, before expenses, for the island’s volunteer fire department.

“We still have stuff coming in,” she said. “I think it was a fairly good turnout, but not a record turnout.”