Who is MrBeast, why is he in Australia and what do I need to know about this YouTube phenomenon?

<span>MrBeast now has 288 million subscribers on YouTube and is in Australia after launching a brand of chocolate bars.</span><span>Photograph: MRBeast</span>
MrBeast now has 288 million subscribers on YouTube and is in Australia after launching a brand of chocolate bars.Photograph: MRBeast

As someone who really just uses YouTube for at home yoga workouts, I have mostly missed the Mr Beast phenomenon. So who is he?

Jimmy Donaldson, better known as MrBeast, is the biggest YouTuber in the world, with over 288 million subscribers to his channel. The 26-year-old American from Wichita, Kansas is mostly known for videos consisting of huge stunts or challenges, or massive giveaways of cash or prizes.

You might have seen some of his most popular videos like creating a real-life Squid Game (before Netflix did it) which has 623m views on YouTube and cost US$3.5m to create, large-scale competitions where people of all ages go up against each other, or a competition where people are locked up for 100 days to win money.

He reportedly makes tens of millions of dollars a year, has a philanthropic organisation, and is generally seen as a positive influence on YouTube compared with others who have come to prominence for their toxicity. As the Guardian previously reported, he invests much of what he earns back into his videos, as well as charitable efforts.

That said, some have criticised his videos as “poverty porn”, arguing people only benefited – through cash, other prizes or gifts – because they featured in his content. This was most pointed when he was aiming to fund 1,000 people to get cataract surgery to restore their sight. His efforts were met with praise by charities working in that sector, however.

So just how popular is he?

This month he became the most-subscribed YouTube channel – something he told Forbes was more of his whole life than just a job since he first rose to prominence in 2017. He was already the most-subscribed individual, but overtook an Indian music label this month.

Aside from devoting his life to making YouTube videos, he attributes his success to carefully studying the YouTube algorithm to determine what works best. He also keeps a close eye on the analytics to figure out what works. He tends to skew towards a younger audience.

Is that your way of telling me I had barely heard of him because I’m too old? Actually don’t answer that. I must admit my awareness of him comes mostly from seeing his chocolate bars near the checkouts at the supermarket. What’s that about?

His chocolate line, Feastibles, has been available in Australia for the past few months. It’s not unusual for influencers to work with companies for sponsorship or promoted content, but MrBeast is definitely taking it further with his chocolate bars.

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He has partnered with companies for food before, although that hasn’t been without issue. He runs MrBeast burgers across locations in the US, UK and Australia through “ghost kitchens” used by food delivery companies. But last year he launched a lawsuit against the company behind the brand, alleging the food was inedible and tarnished his brand. The company has countersued MrBeast for US$100m, and has said the claims were “riddled with false statements and inaccuracies.”

So what’s he doing in Australia this week?

He’s here ostensibly to promote the chocolate, but will also be filming a video here and an event in Sydney on Wednesday.

He’s giving away 10 cars to people who buy the chocolate and register for the competition. According to EFTM, the cars include a Lamborghini, a Porche, a Mercedes, a couple of Teslas, a BMW, and a couple of Scooby Doo/Jurassic Park-themed cars.

It looks like it’s partly a promo for Woolworths, as the press release only mentions Woolworths. There was also a video shot inside a Woolworths with another influencer dressed in a Woolies uniform.

So secret chocolate prizes and giving away cars … Is he Willy Wonka or the Gen Z version of a media mogul from another era?

I guess you could say he’s the closest thing YouTube and Gen Z have produced in terms of a media mogul like Oprah.

It’s a bit of Willy Wonka-esque golden ticket type competition, but replacing the golden tickets with QR codes and a chance to win a car.

And of course he’s done a video recreating Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory in the past.