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MrBeast changed YouTube and launched an entire genre of expensive stunt content

A true pioneer

MrBeast has accomplished a feat that no other individual creator has achieved in YouTube history: surpassing 10 million views on every single video he’s posted for more than a year straight. Now people are trying to imitate his rise to the top.

In early 2017, MrBeast, real name Jimmy Donaldson, began to skyrocket in popularity, his videos growing bigger and more ambitious alongside the new viewership. Donaldson started publishing 12-hour videos of himself performing lengthy but mundane tasks (like reading every word in the dictionary), and he has progressed into much showier stunt performances. He’s become known for large-scale, exhausting, and expensive challenge videos, with premises that include “Paying People $10,000 To Eat Ghost Pepper,” “I Bought Everything In A Store,” and “Last To Remove Hand, Wins House.” They’ve helped his channel grown from 100,000 subscribers to 25 million subscribers in less than two years.

YouTube has shifted under Donaldson’s influence, with grandeur challenges and sponsor-fueled money giveaways becoming an overnight sensation. Other YouTubers, like Azzyland and MindofRez, have also run with Donaldson’s ideas, adding their own takes to some of his more popular videos or sometimes going one step further to parody them. In one instance, the channel Tiana published a video reenacting the exact same challenge Donaldson did five months earlier. The video, “Last One to Leave the Slime Pool,” netted Tiana more than 2 million views. Another YouTuber, Carter Sharer, copied Donaldson’s “Last One to Leave Roof” challenge and pulled in more than 12 million views in the process.

Challenges are only one part of the formats Donaldson has popularized. Other videos include buying as much of one product as possible and using it in an absurd way. For example, one of Donaldson’s most popular videos is “I Put Millions of Pennies in my Friend’s Backyard.”

This style of video is something longtime YouTuber and Smosh co-founder Anthony Padilla refers to as “junklord YouTube.” Effectively, a creator will spend an exuberant amount of money on an absurd amount of product — 1 million red Lego blocks or 10,000 pounds of dry ice — that’s meant to be used for one video, and the sheer extravagance and oddity pull in curious viewers.

“It doesn’t matter what the item is, or the topic of the video anymore, really,” Rob Wilson, a YouTube creator and analyst at VidIQ, told The Verge. “They’re just fascinated in what [Donaldson] does. He has the ideas of a 12-year-old and he turns them into a reality in a way YouTubers haven’t done before.”

No one has perfected the model like Donaldson, but that hasn’t stopped others from trying. One creator, in particular — Morgan “Morgz” Hudson — has attracted ire from the creator community because of his attempts to copy Donaldson’s stunts. Hudson has used extremely similar thumbnails while re-creating some of Donaldson’s most viral videos, including spending a night in prison as part of a challenge. Members of popular YouTube collectives like Faze Clan have shouted out Donaldson in their own versions of his videos, including stunts like, “Paying for Everything You Can Carry.”

“There’s something in the human brain that is just, ‘Oh my god, there are so many of these things, I have to see it,’” Padilla said in a video examining the rise of MrBeast copycats. “There’s no doubt that watching someone waste a whole bunch of money, doing something ridiculous with a whole bunch of things, is fascinating.”

People have an inherent fascination with watching the extreme, Wilson said. While most creators can’t match Donaldson’s spending habits — most of his money comes from brand deals — nor can they pull in the same viewership numbers, there’s enough of an incentive to try, according to Dallas Korol. Korol is a longtime YouTuber who has known Donaldson since 2012 when they played Xbox Live together. While Korol believes YouTubers who try to perform the same stunts as Donaldson do find some joy from producing that specific type of content, he also believes the potential to make money, in the long run, plays a major factor.

“If I were to assume what the minds of most YouTubers think, it would be mainly just to get views because I don’t think anyone really likes spending $10,000 on a video,” Korol told The Verge. “But you have to have some passion and want to actually do it because it would reflect off your video if you’re not having a fun time. It’s still definitely 90 percent wanting to get views.”

This happens with every burst in popular content, Korol said. Donaldson’s over-the-top-stunt-content-meets-philanthropy is just the latest trend. When Minecraft became a big focus point on YouTube, non-gaming creators found ways to rack in those views. Others have dropped their channel’s mainstay content to focus on becoming drama vloggers or commentators. Borrowing formats isn’t entirely frowned upon, but the YouTube community appreciates it when creators bring enthusiasm and an original approach to the mix so it doesn’t just feel like they’re doing it for the views.

“Ultimately, I think anybody can do it because MrBeast has proved that this is a successful model,” Wilson told The Verge. “It’s probably going to be harder to replicate because it’s not a unique idea anymore. No one is doing it bigger or better than him.”

Conversation has shifted within the YouTube community away from “who will become the next MrBeast?” into “what comes after MrBeast?” There’s no doubt that YouTube viewers have an appetite for the gargantuan style of videos he makes, but looming concern about burnout, the financial cost of constantly trying to best his most popular videos, and incoming competition all point toward an inevitable change for Donaldson.

Many top YouTube creators have felt that same pressure to adapt. Felix “PewDiePie” Kjellberg went from being a gaming creator to reviewing memes and back to a gaming channel over the last decade. Wilson points out that YouTube, like fashion, is cyclical.

“If and when the cycle ends, and if it does become a stale topic, MrBeast is probably intelligent enough to transition,” Wilson said. “He’s survived and thrived on YouTube for years. That’s no coincidence.”