There are about 5.6 million people living alone in South Korea, according to data from Statistics Korea, the country’s National Institute of Statistics. In 2010 something happened spontaneously on the South Korean streaming platform AfreecaTV: hundreds of young people began to sit in front of their computers and narrate their daily lives on camera while eating. Almost always colorful dishes of carbohydrates, and more and more of it. The spontaneous phenomenon was called mukbang, a term that combines the Korean word for “food” (muk-da) with “broadcasting” (bang-song). His triumph, almost instantaneous, had to do with the feeling of loneliness of a large part of his society. Millions of people felt that someone was having lunch or dinner with them every day. And since loneliness is as widespread as the love of junk food, the trend soon caught on in other countries around the world.
Watching someone consume thousands of calories in one sitting can be both fascinating and repulsive. However, as Sergio Barreda, CEO of the Madrid influencers agency Keeper Experience points out, “challenges have always worked, both on television and on YouTube. The success lies in the interest that is aroused in seeing strangers overcome a challenge, leave their comfort zone and, along the way, suffer a little. In addition, these types of videos have a humorous and entertaining connotation that gets viewers hooked.” In this, the American YouTuber Nicholas Perry, known online as Nikocado Avocado, has no competition. But there has been nothing funny about its evolution for a long time.
Vegan hero turns to burgers
Born in Ukraine on May 19, 1992, Nicholas did not have a happy childhood. As he told the controversial YouTuber Trisha Paytas – the other great heroine of mukbang, with 2.2 billion views on YouTube – on the podcast The Dish With Trish, as a baby he was adopted by a Pennsylvania family and “I was in and out of therapy since I was five years old.” In that same talk, he narrated how much it cost him to process the decision his biological parents made to abandon him. And that as a teenager he was diagnosed with OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder) and ADD (attention deficit disorder).
According to his first Twitter account, between 2011 and 2012 he made a living as a freelance violinist. His dream was to play in a Broadway orchestra, so in 2013 he moved to New York. I was vegan then and kept a healthy diet.
Just then, through a vegan Facebook group, he met a young Colombian man named Orlin Home. After months of chatting, they met in person at the WoodstockFruitFestival, an event for raw vegans that is held annually in the city of skyscrapers. The crush was immediate. At the beginning of 2014, Nicholas put aside his musical aspirations and settled with him in the South American country. In their first official video as a couple, they claimed that they only argued over food. It was the perfect prologue to what they became a few years later.
It was Orlin, who already had a YouTube channel, who encouraged Nicholas in 2014 to make his debut on the popular video platform. This is how Nikocado Avocado was born. In his older videos, still available on the Nikocado Avocado 2 secondary channel, he discussed both his workout routines with Orlin and the many benefits of veganism. Everything changed on September 1, 2016: that day he shared a piece titled Why am I no longer a vegan YouTuber, which currently has almost five million views, in which for just over 30 minutes he branded those who reject food of animal origin as “unbalanced, hostile and mentally unstable”. He received a barrage of comments, for example: “Here rests in peace the sane version of Nikocado Avocado.”
Within a few weeks, he had his first mukbang. The empanadas he devoured in that video did not contain meat, but the internet witnessed his voracious appetite for the first time. After that, in 2017, he introduced pizzas and other types of fast food. Always in industrial quantities. His alarmed subscribers sent him hundreds of messages, worried that he was suffering from an eating disorder. In the video My Compulsive Eating (not suitable for children) he denied that he had a problem.
Nikocado Avocado is not only popular for gobbling up obscene amounts of burgers, fried chicken or spicy noodles, his favorite dish, every day. On March 15, 2017, just a month after Orlin proposed to him – he hid the ring inside an XXL avocado – his YouTube channel turned into a soap opera, a shamelessly tabloid melodrama. That particular afternoon he talked about the problems he was having with his future husband and revealed, between sobs, that Orlin had tried to commit suicide by cutting his wrists. That video marked a turning point.
From there, he has overexposed all his personal miseries with a single goal: to achieve as many views as possible. Without going any further, on April 1, 2017, he stated that their relationship had ended because, while traveling, he was unfaithful to Orlin with 12 men and transmitted an STD to him. Within two weeks, to the surprise of many, they were married. And in October, as his marriage visa was rejected, he was deported from Colombia. Given the increase in subscribers and views – and, therefore, in his income – Nicholas decided to exploit his most histrionic and hyperbolic side. Since then, there is hardly a video in which he does not cry, scream or have a mental breakdown. In one called No one likes me, I’m finished, all he does is cry before a huge bowl of fried eggs with noodles while he shaves his hair and, at the end, executes a crucifixion as a performance. A special mention goes to his countless fights with Orlin, in which both men insult and physically attack each other, rubbing food in their faces. YouTube is full of compilations. They currently reside in Florida and are still married, but in these years there have been so many breakups and reconciliations that it is impossible to trace a reliable chronology of their marital comings and goings.
Given this, the million dollar question id: What is true and what is fiction? The answer was given by Nicholas himself in an interview he gave to MEL Magazine in 2020: “Everything is scripted. YouTube has been a way to create a character and offer entertainment. What you see on camera is completely exaggerated to get clicks. People watch wrestling and know it’s fake. They know reality TV is fake, but that doesn’t stop them from enjoying it. I’m smart enough to know that drama sells. Orlin has increasingly practiced these fake food fights, cheating crises, and breakups with me. It doesn’t reflect our relationship in real life at all.”
“I am always two steps ahead. This has been the greatest social experiment I have ever known”, he confessed on February 5 to his followers. And he added: “It is exciting to be a witness, to observe all these sick, unbalanced, disoriented beings, wandering the internet in search of stories […] I feel as if my life has positioned itself in the place where I am, monitoring ants in an ant farm. One follows another. It is fascinating. Just look at all these consumers, all these lost and bored people who consume whatever they are told to consume. I am the villain.”
“The character is almost the most important thing in this type of content. Above all, to somehow empathize with the public and create controversy. The audience expects to see show, not food”, says Barreda. “Since it is very viral content, it generates a very high retention in the audience. Therefore, the advertising they produce through the platforms themselves is already a fairly important source of income. Many restaurants hire this type of talent to overcome challenges in their establishments and gain publicity. Although, in his case, I don’t think this is his main income.”
Indeed, it is not. Aside from his six active YouTube channels (totaling more than 7.2 million followers), Nicholas has a Patreon account, an Onlyfans profile, and he sells t-shirts and hoodies emblazoned with his face. Likewise, he is one of the many celebrities that can be hired on Cameo: receiving a personalized message from him costs €139; a video call, €232.
The consequence of all this
“From a psychological perspective, this behavior could resemble that of a binge eating disorder,” says Julia Vázquez, a clinical neuropsychologist and researcher at the Vall d’Hebron Research Institute (VHIR) in Barcelona, Spain. “In this disorder, the irregular presence of binge eating carries with it feelings of discomfort and lack of control. But in his case, from what can be seen in the videos, these components do not seem present: he plans the food he is going to eat, the quantity or the moment. In short, the entire set. Likewise, it is also common for binge eating to occur in moments of solitude, and he often does it with a partner, either Orlin or another mukbanger. For this reason, it would not fit into that diagnosis. His compulsive eating behavior, used as a show and as a way of life, would be more linked to certain personality traits and to the belief that the economic benefits compensate for the damage to his own health.”
Regardless of whether his online dramas are farcical and appeal to clickbait, one thing is undeniable: he now weighs 368 pounds, about 166 kilos. Literally 100 kilos more than when he debuted on YouTube. “What is clear is that, if he continues on this diet, he will end up having many physical and psychological problems,” Vázquez predicts. “The physical symptoms of unhealthy eating, excess weight and obesity are high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol. All this can trigger cerebrovascular problems such as a stroke, some cancers, pain, mobility difficulties and, among others, muscle, bone or joint problems.
The first health effects are already a reality. Nicholas told Men’s Health in 2019 that he has erection problems, “something that never happened to me until I started doing mukbangs”, or that “I can’t fall asleep because I feel like my digestive tract is on fire.” And as much as he plays down the matter (one of his most recurring phrases is that he has gained weight because of the “weight of water”), his most loyal fans are very worried. Especially since at the end of 2020 he could be seen shopping at Walmart with an electric scooter for the disabled. Or, for example, when last September he shared that he had broken three ribs as a result of a severe cough.
Nicholas has been saying for some time that he would stop doing mukbangs once he turned 30. If that were the case, this retirement would take place in a few weeks. But knowing his history, and how he enjoys trolling left and right, nothing suggests that this will happen, so nobody should expect a new script twist in this tragicomedy that is followed by millions of people.