S1: And I sort of just fell down this rabbit hole, sort of trying to distinguish what was real, what was not real and what was for show, and it’s just an incredible hall of mirrors.
S2: Hi, I’m Madison Malone Kircher
S3: and I’m Rachel Hampton and you’re listening to I see. Why am I
S2: in case you missed it?
S3: Slate’s podcast about internet culture.
S2: Rachel, I’m going to break the cardinal rule of podcast taping. Take out your cell phone. Oh, find it and then take it out.
S3: Up here it is. Found it. Found it. Got it. All right.
S2: So how do you hold your cell phone? Like, what’s your your go to resting in palm position?
S3: Well, when I had a pop socket, I had it between my first two fingers, but I no longer have that. So now it just kind of rests on my pinky with my three middle fingers just on the back of my thumb on the power button.
S2: OK. That’s exactly what I do, which is why I was really freaked out when I saw this viral tweet this week. All about smartphone pinky. Did you see that?
S3: I did. I saw it. I felt red. I felt seen.
S2: The tweet reads, I don’t know who needs to hear this, but when you’re using your phone, stop using your pinky as an anchor. It’s destroying your wrist and aggravating your ulnar nerve. And I read that and did no further research. I consulted no additional sources. I did not seek a second opinion. I just read it and thought, Yes, my hand does hurt when I use my big ass phone. That must be true.
S3: No, exactly. Like, there’s the anecdotal evidence of my hand hurts. And then there’s like a scientific sounding word like Olmer. And I’m just like, obviously accurate. This is this is how I get all my information.
S2: Honor is a word I know exclusively in the context of crossword puzzles and nothing else.
S3: You nerd.
S2: Speaking of nerds, though, Shannon Paula’s Slate’s science editor, did all of the things that I did not do. She consulted an expert. She checked in with a hand surgeon who says that the viral tweet is actually bullshit
S3: like bullshit and in what way? Because, like, my hand is currently
S2: in pain so that pain is real. You’re OK.
S3: You’re not validating my experience. Thank you for listening.
S2: No, no. Basically, the hand surgeon Shannon talked to said that the bit about your ulnar nerve is what’s crap and that holding your hand with your pinky has absolutely nothing to do with that nerve in particular. However, there are a whole bunch of other things you can do to fuck up your wrist and thumb and pinky and neck and back my neck, my back. Where do you take this? My pinky and my iPhone screen crack.
S3: I was hoping you were taking it in the direction, as our lord and prophet here meant us to take it.
S2: But this is a wholesome podcast. I’m going to take some time to
S3: strike you and
S2: occasionally we’re wholesome.
S3: So what I’m hearing is my hand is still fucked up, but not in the specific way. That viral tweet says that it’s fucked up.
S2: That would be correct, Rachel. Would you like to shift gears?
S3: Sure. Car mechanic.
S2: Totally normal transitional phrase.
S3: Mm endgame. Well, today we’re introducing a new segment called Wormhole. Wormholes, a segment where we invite another internet obsessive, a learned scholar of the hell hole that we call the internet onto the show to tell us all about the digital news that they’ve spent maybe too much time in. Speaking of too much time, Madison, I won’t put you on the spot, what’s your digital wormhole?
S2: Surprising to know on an internet wormhole that I have fallen down so far and so many times I now think I could teach a college seminar on it. Is The Tumblr Chronicles or a hypothetical relationship? Big air quotes aren’t hypothetical between one Taylor Swift and one Karlie Kloss.
S3: While this is the least surprising thing you’ve ever said to me, there
S2: are charts, there are maps. There are grainy photos of a tiny cabin in Big Sur that they may be staid one time, and that proves they’re dating because the description of it on the hotel website describes it as a great place for lovers.
S3: OK, but is there a PowerPoint slide?
S2: If you want it, it exists. I will show it to you. You will need at least eight hours. Only eight. That’s for like a topical surface level.
S3: Like, that’s the one on one level course.
S2: Yes, that is the one hundred level like if you studied this in high school, you could probably place out. Yep, your app Taylor score. What is yours?
S3: My app cause is on. I feel like kind of an almost adjacent topic. Have I told you this before? Have I disclosed this on the podcast? Well, at one point I was I was really into one direction and not in an era where I should have been like, This is not a middle school. This was college like freshman year.
S2: One Direction didn’t exist when you were in middle school. OK, you’re not only Rachelle,
S3: but I’m just saying I was a little too old for boy bands. This is this is my I’m not going to say secret shame because I’m disclosing it on this podcast. But like I knew a lot about One Direction and the college course I could teach is on the many signs leading up to the day that Zayn Malik left One Direction and what they meant.
S2: This is interesting, I really thought you were going to disclose your your time spent as a Lima’s Tumblr teen.
S3: Oh, I could also teach a class on all the homoeroticism and Lamers, but I feel like my class already exists.
S2: Yeah, I’m pretty sure I took that one in college. All right, so One Direction, Taylor Swift and Karlie Kloss. But for the inaugural installment of Wormhole, we’re going to talk to our colleague and senior producer of the Slate podcast Decoder Ring, Benjamin Frisch, about the phenomenon of mukbang YouTuber and drama magnet Nikocado Avocado, and why the internet is convinced that he’s killing himself by eating himself to death.
S3: We’ve wanted to talk about Nick for a while on the show, but he’s not our particular wormhole, which is why we were extremely thrilled and mildly concerned to learn that our colleague Ben has spent. I’m sorry, but but a
S2: lot Dragonfly is our
S3: a lot of ours becoming something of an expert on one Nikocado Avocado.
S4: Hey everyone, it’s me, Nick Avocado. Today we are going to be having some cheesy, spicy carbonara ramen noodles a bye week.
S2: This is a story about vegans, about eating copious and possibly dangerous amounts of food. It’s a story about concern, trolling and ultimately an algorithmic evil genius, Orlan.
S3: We’ll be back with Ben after the break.
S4: Know. Welcome back to the challenge, the great Shannon. This is the crazy channel bombers, and they don’t do it like I do. OK.
S2: We’re back with our newest segment wormhole. And just a quick heads up today on the show. Going forward, we are going to talk about extremely disordered eating and diet culture, so please listen with caution.
S1: My name is Benjamin Frisch. I am a producer at Slate Magazine. I co-created Decoder Ring with Willa Paskin, and I’m chronically online.
S3: Welcome. You’re in good company.
S1: Fellow Thank you. Thank you. I’ve actually I’ve brought, you know, several dozen cheeseburgers and a giant vat of cheese with which to dip them in. So I’m right at home, you know, with my boy Nikocado Avocado.
S3: Oh, oh, what you’re hearing right now is a YouTube video called extra cheesy McDonald’s Mukbang from a couple of years ago, and it has over four million views. The man you hear kind of going to town on these extra cheesy McDonald’s burgers is the aforementioned Nikocado Avocado. Wow.
S1: So, so in this video, you see, Nikocado, he’s dipping a what looks like a whopper, I would guess.
S2: I think that’s a big Big Mac.
S1: Sorry, guys. Um, so he’s he’s dunking what looks like a Big Mac into a giant vat of cheese and then just sort of stuffs it into his face and the cheese is sort of smearing all around his face.
S2: And one Big Mac and hand, there’s three more in front of him.
S1: Oh yeah, it’s a whole display, and they set up the camera in such a way. So the food is like very much center stage, like most of the frame is taken up by food.
S2: How would one describe Nikocado Avocado?
S1: So Nikocado Avocado is a shrieking gay eating clown, I think is probably the best way to put it. So, so Nikocado is maybe he’s he’s one of the most famous mock bangers on YouTube. If you don’t know, a mukbang is an eating show, they come from Korea. Originally, in the last half decade or so, these eating shows have really taken off and become sort of genre in themselves. Nikocado Avocado He started out as a vegan bar, and the reason he has his name, Nikocado Avocado, is because he used to eat a lot of avocados.
S2: My favorite place on the internet vegan YouTube.
S1: Well, and he he dramatically left vegan YouTube. He claimed it was full of drama and also it was making him sick, which is perfectly plausible. And so what happens is that he leaves the vegan community and just starts doing sort of regular muck bongs. And he finds, I assume that fast food does well. 2016 is when he switches from being a vegan mukbang banger to a more typical monk banger. The physical transformation is just astonishing. Over the last several years, he’s gained 200 pounds, I guess. Last I checked, he likes to weigh himself on camera as part of the show.
S4: At eighty two point three hundred fifty two right now.
S1: The eating is only part of the Nikocado experience. There’s also what you would sort of describe as re-occurring skits and sketches and themes, including things about him doing an inventory of his closet for some reason fights with his husband, which is a bit like a major theme. He’s sort of weirdly obsessed with like pooping. His bed is like a joke that just like keeps reoccurring over and over and over again.
S4: Sure. Oh my God. I mean, I feel bad.
S1: It’s a little bit hard to kind of glean his popularity because he has four sort of separate main channels. But I did a little bit of math, and overall across these four channels, he’s got a little over five million subs and a little over 1.1 billion total views. So, so it’s a lot. Nick is releasing at least one or two videos a day, but he’s producing a an enormous amount of content which involves eating huge amounts of food.
S2: Nikocado Avocado was in the news recently after he was called out by another YouTube creator who goes by the name Moist. I’m sorry, moist, critical and slash or huge Charles. His video about Nick has been viewed nearly 11 million times at this point. It’s called This YouTuber is slowly killing himself for views.
S5: He’s well aware that he is throwing away his health, his wellbeing, his happiness for the sake of some YouTube views because his audience continues to eat it up, much like he eats up a million fuckin cheeseburgers every couple of days
S1: and this happens every once in a while. They’ll just be like a whole cycle of Nikocado content that sort of ripples across YouTube. And, you know, Nikocado, you know, makes his own response videos in which he’s very upset about this. But it’s also very clearly like this is generating content for both of them. They make responses to the responses, and it seems like sort of everybody wins in the end.
S4: I just I don’t have the right to exist because I happen to be because I happen to be a little overweight and this is an odd, fluffy person. I’m fluffy.
S5: He is never out of character anymore, it seems. So this response is not him being genuine or taking it seriously. It’s him playing his character and completely misunderstanding what I was saying in my video.
S2: It seems like people are suddenly very concerned about Nikocado Avocado. This idea that it’s floating around the internet that he is killing himself is the phrase that that is getting been bandied about.
S1: I mean, I don’t think that most of these people making concerned videos about Nick, you know, really care about Nick’s health. I mean. It’s I’m just very cynical when it comes to this stuff, having seen it play out over and over again. It’s just a way to sort of create drama and views. You know, it’s I would be lying if I didn’t say that, like watching Nick. Even from the time that I’ve been watching him, Nick has gained considerable weight. It can feel concerning to see that. But I don’t know. Nick Nick’s health is his own business. Well, at the same time, it is totally fair because he’s like now playing up this whole angle of himself for a long time. He’s done my new diagnosis and sort of hinted that he has diabetes, and he wears what seemed like the pressure socks that you like. Oh, you know, he’ll walk around wearing those. That seems sort of an intentional thing that his body is sort of degrading. So he’s like playing up that stuff himself. And again, it’s not clear to me how much of that is, like, totally made up. Like, clearly the CPAP machine is real. I think that it’s just for sleep apnea or something.
S2: We’re going to play a little bit of a clip from a more recent Nikocado video. The title of which is I’m disabled data diet Taco Tuesday, where he talks about his recent broken ribs injury for you.
S4: Make fun of me. Please try to put yourself in my shoes. I cracked my ribs from coughing excessively for over two and a half months and by obesity, all 350 pounds of force.
S2: Ouch. And you can hear this the CPAP machine he is wearing over his nose in this
S1: video, and it should also be noted he’s wearing a bright red shirt. Bright red is sort of his color, and this shirt is has patterns of his shrieking face sort of all over it.
S3: Yeah, I mean, there’s this way in which he’s turning disability and fatness into a joke, a joke. And like you’re saying, grotesque, which is, I mean, that’s kind of the flip side of feeder fetish in some ways in that it is people are turning what seems like disgust into lust. And that mixture happening with this, like Nikocado, Avocado seems to be very much playing and blurring that line in a way that strikes me as fat phobic.
S1: I think it’s kind of fair to call him out for, you know, perpetuating stereotypes the way that he has gained all this weight in order to kind of play the character of a fat keiron like on camera, like that’s the character that he plays, and he does insist that this is a character, although at the same time, it also feels like. There’s some merging of the real Nikocado with this character over the last few years. He complains about service workers all the time and not getting his order right. He has this whole running joke about Nancy, his lawyer, and all of these people that he’s going to sue. His relationship with his husband is a huge sort of running theme in these videos, which is sometimes very playful. A lot of times they just like, throw food at one another. But the storyline is that they sort of hate one another, which to me is like, it’s just a little bit weird because it’s like they’re throwing things at one another. They’re hitting each other with pool noodles all the time. There’s sort of this like subtext of domestic violence going on, but played as comedy. That I find a little bit uncomfortable is Orlen.
S2: Is his husband in on the joke, you think?
S1: You know, one of Nick Ocado’s channels used to be Orlean’s channel like they’re clearly in business together. Like, this is a team effort, at least to some extent. Who knows what’s really going on behind the scenes? But yeah, Orlean is clearly involved in most of the videos. It’s like, I have to say, Orlen is not a great actor, and so like, it’s pretty obvious when he’s just like slinging, you know, prepared insults at Nikocado. But then every once in a while, there’ll be a video where it just feels like there’s something really dark going on. I want to play something for you, actually. Nick is holding the camera, pointed at his husband. All-In is sort of sitting on the floor by the washing machine and seemingly like kind of having a bit of a breakdown the way
S4: you’re doing it. But are you still ordering what I will? What are you? Watch any other dishes? Because I don’t mean to. There’s no rush. You rush yourself. There’s no this shop, you what you sell. But they’ve always been there. You care what you sell will give you it. It’s all good. Hey, hey, you
S2: know this is hard to watch.
S1: To me, this reads not like the kind of breakdown they have in front of the camera, typically, which is sort of obviously staged. There’s something about this that feels really raw and the most I’ve ever heard him be really forthright and kind of relaxed and sort of normal is from an interview that he did. I think at the very end of 2019 or early 2020, with Trisha Paytas actually on one of Patricia pages as podcasts in which they sort of talk about all this stuff and Nick’s pretty real about it. I’m just so
S4: like, my channel is a reality show in itself where it’s like a guy could eat on camera and it’s not going to be competition because so many of my viewers are here for me in my viewpoints, on my show that goes on my life. Yeah, you have.
S1: You have one thing that I notice. I wonder if you guys have seen this too, but it seems like when people play themselves online over time, they sort of become the character of themselves more and more. Earlier on in his Oov, it’s it’s easier to distinguish, you know, the videos when he’s just like having a nice time or being serious used to make these like travel vlogs, which are much more produced, that sort of thing. And now it’s just this like kind of. I mean, he describes it as a reality show where the membrane between what’s real and what’s fake is sort of intentionally blurry, and that’s how he’s made his living.
S3: I mean that blurring the line makes videos like the one you just showed us where he is filming his husband crying on the floor next to a laundry machine where they’re clearly in the middle of some kind of fight that is emotionally affecting his husband. But if the lines are so blurred between Nick as a person and Nikocado as a character, then it makes watching those moments particularly hard because you don’t know whether or not this is an act and you don’t know whether or not this is an incidence of like, not domestic violence, but at least like domestic distress that we shouldn’t necessarily be witnessing is entertainment.
S1: Yeah, and
S3: it’s a reality television show. It gets into the issue of like all the things we’ve seen like the Kardashians go through on television where you’re like, Maybe I shouldn’t actually be able to see this. Maybe this should be private.
S1: Yeah, I think that that’s totally right. And it’s the kind of thing where you watch one Nikocado video and you’re just like, Huh? This is kind of funny. And then you watch 10 and you’re like, This is a little bit weirder than I thought it was. And then you watch like a hundred and then you you start to see some real cracks, I think, which just makes him more of a cipher to me. Like, I really don’t know who he is. And that’s kind of what generates the sort of freaky tension of, uh, of his whole shtick.
S3: It is incredible how YouTubers manage to put out, I mean, YouTubers like Nikocado, Avocado, Malone. Should put out so much content that says so fucking little. And I do think that’s why we we watch so much of it.
S1: Oftentimes when you have these. YouTubers or tech talkers or whatever, who don’t who don’t have really much of a perspective or but are trying to be funny, what they just do is they just like shout or they just like, say the same things over and over again. Libby literally just say the same things. And then just like increasing or decreasing tones of voice, and it just made me think of Nikocado. That’s like very much his thing.
S4: It’s time to imitate like all these people are waiting for. Here we go. Walmart, Walmart, Walmart, Walmart, Walmart. My, my, my, my, my, my mom.
S3: I mean, this kind of thing where people say things and the cadence of a joke without it actually being a joke.
S1: It has the rhythm of humor with none of the actual.
S3: I think that it does. I mean, but that’s the point, because if you’re a cipher or if you’re kind of a blank slate saying things in the cadence of a joke, people can project whatever they want on to you. And that gives both hate cloaks and love clicks. And so if you manage to operate in the in-between, you can stay around forever.
S1: I do think that there is another character in this that that is really important to talk about, and that is the YouTube algorithm like Nikocado is as much a product of the YouTube algorithm. I think in that, as I said, is so good at following the currents of what works on YouTube like, that’s probably his single most relevant skill. He knows how to release videos. He knows how to release them across his different channels to generate the most attention. Like, you will see that so many of his videos, like literally just have the exact same title. Nick will make a video, and then if it’s especially successful, he will just iterate over and over and over again on that video, like he had this whole series in which he got married. Over and over again, he’s been married to his husband for a while now, but they just have this bizarre. It’s like this is him at his most like stagey, over-the-top nonsense where he just like, comes out in a wedding gown just like him, wrapped in a sheet with a veil like a tablecloth over him holding like, I don’t know, like some like fake flowers or something.
S4: My, he hasn’t. Oh, here comes my bride. He doesn’t fit. It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t fit. We have to get married because we do get married. I have nothing to wear. I’m supposed to marry you.
S1: And then you just did that for like five days straight. And I think it’s just this extremely stark example of how these algorithms can kind of create incentives that did not exist. There was no incentive to do this 10 years ago. And if you look at it one way, this is sort of a piece of AI generated art. You know, like it’s invented a genre of art, which are these eating shows which, you know, run this whole gamut. But if you
S2: look at it the other way,
S1: if you if you read it the other way, it’s like it’s like incentivized people to make careers out of an activity, which I think is probably fair to say, unsustainable in the long term.
S2: It’s funny hearing you bring up how the silent character in this is the YouTube algorithm. I’m thinking back to my first job blogging where part of it was just any time Matt Stoney, who is a competitive eater and YouTuber, posted anything of him eating like an obscene amount of food. It was like, Well, you must blog this now because it was just guaranteed clicks. It was such an easy, sure thing.
S1: Do you have a sense of why people like watching people eat? Because I truly don’t. I do not know why. I think it does absolutely nothing for me in any dimension.
S2: It almost has a built in like competitive aspect for you, the viewer. I don’t know if you feel this way like obviously Nikocado Avocado is competing with himself to see if he can consume all of this food. I am competing with my brain to see how much of this video I can watch before it becomes like turns my stomach and I have to turn it off.
S4: Mm hmm.
S3: I mean, I think that’s a good point there. You’re getting to right there. I think that a lot of it is fueled by disgust. I mean, think about like there are shows like my six hundred pound life or even just like the bear premise of like fear factor. Like, we as a society, just love watching people do shit that we think is disgusting and also because of how just fat phobic American society is. I think a lot of it is just that the idea of someone eating massive amounts of food has this like almost forbidden level to it. Like, you’re never going to do that in your real life. You’re never actually going to want to be around someone who’s going to do that in your actual life and watching someone else do it. I think satisfies this weird itch in a lot of people’s minds. And also, in the case of Nikocado, Avocado probably makes some people feel superior about the things that they’re eating like it’s. The way we think about food is deeply fucked up, and I think like mukbang videos just kind of tread in that area without really explicitly. Talking about that dynamic,
S1: I think that’s 100 percent true for Nick, for other channels, though, I’m not sure that that’s totally the thing because many of these mock bombers are, you know, yeah, our thin sort of surprisingly thin.
S3: But I mean, I think that also gets to it where it’s like, you’re watching someone. I mean, we just talk about them Emily Moroka episode where you’re watching someone who is thin do this behavior that is not associated with thinness. And there’s this like weird kind of dissonance in that that I think fascinates people.
S2: Mm hmm. But I’m curious, what do you see as the next like iteration of Nikocado? Where does he go from here?
S1: I really don’t know. So Nick has said in the past that, you know, when he turns 30, which is actually very soon. I believe when he turns 30, he’s quitting mukbang, so he’s going to do something else. Nick has stopped saying that in the last year or so. Uh-Huh. So I don’t know. I wonder what his long term plan is. So it’s maybe why I’m still hooked on the Nikocado Avocado cinematic universe.
S2: Well, now that we’re all thoroughly sad, grossed out impressed a lot of feelings about Nikocado Avocado Ben, thank you for joining us.
S1: My pleasure anytime. Glad to share this rich text! In case you missed it.
S2: But once again, that was our colleague, Benjamin Frisch. Ben is the senior producer of Slate’s podcast Decoder Ring. All right, that’s the show. We will be back in your feed on Saturday, so please subscribe. It’s free and the best way to make sure you never miss an episode. Plus, this weekend’s Halloween. So it’s going to be spooky. Spooky. It’s not going to be spooky. Follow us on Twitter We are at ICI. Why am I underscore Pod or send us an email? I see. Why am I at Slate.com? We’d like to take a moment to shout out listener Rachel, because apparently there’s only one name allowed on this podcast, and it’s Rachel who sent us a sample soft launch photo inspired by our episode last week. Rachel A-plus work also, if you happen to have a wormhole that you’re obsessed with. Tell us we might just have you on the show.
S3: I see why I am. I was produced by Daniel Schroeder and Samira Tazari, our supervising producer starring John Force Workman and Allegra Frank. Our editors and Alicia Montgomery is executive producer of Slate podcast Sie Online
S2: or in a Wormhole. My neck, my back, my pinky, my half was green, crack, my neck, my back. This is fun. A good
S3: time. I’m glad one of us is having fun.