Excellent thread! I am a cook and a CBJ and here is an experience that hapened to me this year. I went to a contest to just hang out with a couple of teams on Friday and stick around for the awards to cheer them on. I even slept (well Ok passed out in a chair but thats another thread) under one of the team's tent. I had no intentions of judging.
Saturday morning the contest organizer asked if I would judge since he had 15 judges that were no shows. I told him I would and from that point forward I avoided the teams until after judging. I might also add that I did not help cook or offer advice to any of the teams.
Yes the judging is blind, however I knew a couple of these teams very well and have cooked with some of them or they have cooked with me in the past. I was very concerned that I might recognize an entry but didn't - until the brisket came around. As soon as they opened the very last brisket box I immediately recognized it. I thought about disqualifying myself but that would not have been fair to any other other competitors. I decided to continue judging and feel that I judged ALL of the entries as impartial as possible. The brisket I recognized was OK but not great and I judged it accordingly.
If this were to happen to me again I wold turn down the offer to judge - simply because of the negative perception that some people could have had. I think that if a Brother is judging that it is certainly acceptable (and EXPECTED) to stop buy other Brethern teams on Friday night and hang out - eat, drink and enjoy. However as soon as that team starts to prep their meat or otherwise get ready for the contest it is time to leave. Stop by on Saturday but only to shake hands and introduce yourself - don't hang out while the entries are being prepared. Several Brothers judged the Hermann, MO event this year that I cooked and all of them stoped by for an introduction. I would have loved to have them come in for a drink or two but one, I was busy, and two they were judges.
I think most of us can maintain our impartiality but as others have mentioned - perception is reality - at least in the eyes of the perceiver. I think there are some judges that have recognized an entry or two. The "no marking" tries to prevent that but as you become familiar with some of the teams you just know what their product looks like. Hopefully when this happens the entries are being judged fairly.