Is MrBeast the world’s most controversial YouTuber? Meet the 22-year-old famous for giving millions to strangers and opening a free restaurant during Covid-19
At just 22 years old, Jimmy Donaldson – better known as Mr Beast – is one of the most viewed and highest-paid creators on YouTube.
He is known for such stunts as reading every word in the dictionary, turning a backyard into a ball pit, buying everything in a store, and giving away a million dollars – but only giving people one minute to spend it. His ambitious challenges and cash giveaways have helped him grow his channel to almost 62 million subscribers.
Still, not everyone loves Donaldson. The New York Times recently published a damning article about the star, in which former employees described a toxic work environment – a stark contrast from his public image.
Here’s how MrBeast rose to fame.
How he got started
MrBeast was born as Jimmy Donaldson on May 7, 1998.
The YouTube star and his brother, CJ, grew up in eastern North Carolina in the city of Greenville. In 2016, he graduated from Greenville Christian Academy, a private senior school in the area.
Donaldson uploaded his first ever YouTube video in February 2012, when he was just 13 years old.
The teenager began his YouTube career posting videos under the username MrBeast6000. For the first few years, Donaldson attempted, unsuccessfully, to master the YouTube algorithm by creating the content he thought would attract the largest audience.
As MrBeast attempted to game the platform’s algorithm, the aspiring YouTuber went through stages of trends on his channel: funny compilations of highlights in playing Minecraft and Call of Duty, estimating YouTubers’ wealth, offering tips and tricks to aspiring creators, and commentating on YouTuber drama. But in the early days. MrBeast made very few appearances in his videos.
MrBeast started to gain a following in 2015 and 2016 thanks to his “worst intros” series of videos, which rounded up and poked fun at YouTuber introductions he discovered on the platform. By mid-2016, MrBeast hit 30,000 subscribers.
In late 2016, Donaldson enrolled in college, although details of his higher education are hard to come by. The YouTuber said he lasted only two weeks dropping out, telling his mum: “I’d rather be poor than do anything beside YouTube.” His mother nevertheless made him move out of the family home in North Carolina at 18 because, “She loves me and just wanted me to be successful,” Donaldson later said.
MrBeast first went viral in January 2017, when he uploaded a video showing himself counting to 100,000 – which he later revealed took him 44 hours. “I just really wanted it,” he said later of the challenge. “I had dropped out of college, I wasn’t really making much. I knew it would go viral.”
After that first video went viral, MrBeast found what the YouTube algorithms liked. He quickly amassed more views with similar stunts, like spinning a fidget spinner for 24 hours and watching Jake Paul’s It’s Everyday Bro music video for 10 hours straight. By November 2017, his channel had reached 1 million subscribers.
Now, MrBeast has a few types of videos that serve as his bread and butter on his channel.
He still puts on exhausting, hours-long stunts – which have been referred to as “junklord YouTube” – as well as last-person-to-leave challenges in which he gives out thousands of dollars. These videos’ titles range from Going Through the Same Drive Thru 1,000 Times to Last To Remove Hand, Gets Lamborghini Challenge.
He also does stunts that benefit others
MrBeast also puts on attention-grabbing donation and charity stunts.
He once opened up a car showroom where he gave out cars for free, and is known to dole out thousands of dollars to small streamers on Twitch and YouTube, as well as to waitresses and Uber drivers in person.
As Donaldson has grown his channel, he has been able to hire four of his childhood friends – Chris, Chandler, Garrett and Jake – to work for him and the channel.
The group often makes cameos in some of MrBeast’s wildest last-person-to-leave challenges, and each one has become a name in their own right.
By December 2018, MrBeast had given out US$1 million via his outlandish stunts, earning him the title of “YouTube’s biggest philanthropist”.
MrBeast is a product of his own viral content: he’s only able to give away such huge amounts of money thanks to the six-figure brand deals that fund his in-video ads.
MrBeast has been credited with helping to launch a new style of expensive stunt videos on YouTube, in which creators pull off elaborate challenges and large-scale sponsored giveaways.
Accusations of homophobia and a toxic work culture
However, MrBeast’s success hasn’t come without controversy.
In 2018, The Atlantic unearthed a series of old, since-deleted tweets from Donaldson in which he uses homophobic slurs and the idea of being gay as a punchline for jokes. At the time of the article, his Twitter bio read: “Just because I’m gai doesn’t mean I’m gay.” The YouTuber defended himself as “not offensive in the slightest bit in anything I do”.
MrBeast has also been accused of giving away fake money after critics found that bills used in a November 2019 video were not legal tender.
MrBeast later said he gave out fake bills to mitigate the risk of a dangerous rush of people clamouring over free money, and claimed he later exchanged the fake bills with real checks for people in the video.
Over the years, MrBeast has revealed a few details about his personal life
The 22-year-old has shared that he has Crohn’s disease, a chronic inflammatory bowel disease. In June 2019, MrBeast first shared on Instagram that he was dating Maddy Spidell. “I don’t want mr beast for his money, just want a bf with good taste in anime who can make me laugh,” Spidell wrote on Twitter the month before.
In late 2018, MrBeast harnessed his notoriety for elaborate stunts to throw his support behind PewDiePie, the popular YouTuber who was locked in a battle to have the most-subscribed-to YouTube channel (a title he’s since lost to T-Series).
In true form, MrBeast pulled out all the stops: he recorded a 12-hour video saying “PewDiePie” 100,000 times, and turned up at the Super Bowl in “Sub 2 PewDiePie” shirts.
Roping in the rich and famous to help him plant trees
In late 2019, MrBeast launched – and successfully completed – a fundraising campaign called #TeamTrees to plant 20 million trees by the end of the year.
MrBeast was one of the most viewed creators on all of YouTube in 2020.
He is accrued more than 10 million views on every video he’s uploaded in the past two years, displaying just how good he is at going viral. YouTube put him as the top creator of 2020, beating out other viral sensations like Dream and James Charles. His net worth isn’t publicly available, but he’s said that most of his US$1 million donations are funded by brand deals.
2020 was a big year for MrBeast, with two of the largest collaborations that he’s ever attempted on his channel
Streamed in April 2020, Donaldson gathered 32 of the world’s biggest influencers to take part in a rock, paper, scissors competition for US$250,000. That stream was watched 38 million times in under a year but he wasn’t content with just one event. In October of that year, he put on a US$300,000 influencer trivia tournament that was won by the D’Amelio family. Mild controversy broke out after online viewers accused the family of cheating by having multiple people take part in the contest.
In December 2020, MrBeast opened a restaurant that would pay people to eat at it. Weeks later, he launched his own MrBeast Burger franchise in dozens of cities.
Donaldson opened up more than 300 delivery-only locations across the United States, allowing fans the chance to order a MrBeast burger from an app or UberEats.
And he’s not letting up. So far this year, MrBeast has continued to upload several outlandish and expensive videos.
Donaldson’s most recent videos have him buying all the items in five stores and spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on expensive food.
Donaldson spoke on the app about how to succeed on YouTube, which brought in a massive influx of new downloads and users for the app. Too many, as it turns out.
However just this month, past employees of Donaldson told The New York Times that he created a “hostile work environment” and that he made “unreasonable demands”.
Eleven employees shared their experiences with the paper, saying that Donaldson’s “demeanour changed when the cameras weren’t around”.
Donaldson has also revealed that he strives for perfection so much with his videos that he scrapped at least three videos in 2020 that he spent US$100,000 on producing.
- He convinced Elon Musk and Twitter’s Jack Dorsey to donate money to his fundraiser to plant 20 million trees and is known as ‘YouTube’s biggest philanthropist’
- He currently has 62 million subscribers and consistently clocks 10 million viewers per video – but staff have recently spoken out his ‘toxic’ work culture