By Cleo Tobbi
Matt Bell gets paid to eat. But due to the unusual and unique style of eating the foreign delicacies, snacks, and drinks, the consumption almost always ends regurgitated into a bucket. Bell tapes the encounters with the odd foods and posts them onto YouTube. It is no surprise that Bell cannot stomach a lot of the foods he has tried, especially when they are items like durian and balut. Durian is a Chinese fruit that is so pungent, it is illegal to open in a Chinese hotel because of the “rotten trash” scent it sends throughout the building. Balut is a fertilized duck embryo and is a delicacy in the Philippines.
Bell, however, does not bask in the puke-stained limelight alone. He shares it with a handful of his friends, especially Chris Collins, also known as, ‘Chris Wreckless’. Bell and Collins have been finding hundreds of unconventional foods to consume and often times regurgitate for their 13,289 subscribers on YouTube. Their channel is called “Wreckless Eating” (WE) and is named after Bell’s partner, Collins. The show has been providing this form of entertainment for thousands around the world for about a year and eight months.
Bell, shaking his black and red baseball cap-covered head and frowning, recalls the encounter with his most abhorred item he ate on the show. Surströmming, known as a delicacy in Sweden, was one of the most requested foods Bell’s viewers asked to see eaten on camera. Bell’s hands shape an imaginary can as he describes his least favorite item on the show.
“What Surströmming is, is this fermented, rotting fish that has been placed in a vacuum-sealed can for a year,” Bell says, “What they do is take this one type of fish, which is apparently really fucking gross to begin with, and have it rot for about six months and then have it ferment in a can for a year before they sell it. It’s fifty bucks a pop and it’s the worst thing I have ever eaten.”
Explaining with a slight grin, Bell recalls the memory of seeking the rotting fish. This product is not commonly found in the states and the transportation is risky.
“It was the biggest pain in the ass to find for the show because many airliners won’t ship it. They think that it explodes because it’s pressurized and it can, like, turn into shrapnel if it were to explode. It never has exploded [on a flight] but still. I finally found one [an airline] that would though. They didn’t care about the safety of their passengers.”
The benefit of eating something like Surströmming, which caused everyone involved with in that episode to vomit, is tens of thousands of video views. Bell’s paycheck, which cannot be revealed due to contract agreements with Google, is all determined on the number of views his videos receive. Episode nine, where WE eats Surströmming, is still the fan favorite at 67,886 views. WE currently has over 13,200 subscribers, and the channel’s 3,411,862 video views grow every day. The average rate of new subscribers is about 20 on a normal day and 60 on an active one.
Bell, 27, had been on unemployment for the two years before he started making money off of YouTube videos of his friends and him eating unusual foods and throwing them up. Two years is the maximum amount of time for a U.S. citizen to be receiving unemployment from the government. Bell’s options were slim. However, he had not entered the circle of cyber employment on purpose. What began as another way of bringing his friends together, turned into a job for Bell.
At the start of every “main event,” a monthly event where the WE team gathers to consume strange foods like superworms and shrimp paste, a sound bite of squeals of repulsion from later on in the episode plays.
“Oh God. Oh no, don’t eat it! No! Don’t do it! Ughhhh! Oh God! Ughhhhhhhh,” is the typical precursor of many screeches to come.
After the stream of disgusted grunts and cries, Bell goes on to welcome his viewers. Stinky tofu, cheesy Vegemite, snake wine, and cow hearts are a handful of the items that have been ingested on Bell’s show. Although it is not the goal, vomiting up these curious cuisines is a side effect of Bell’s job. Fortunately for Bell, his video views and paycheck skyrocket when there are series of excessive regurgitation.
Since WE’s viewership has reached well into the thousands, Bell and his friends make sure to keep the show interesting. The show is no longer limited to consuming unusual items like yogurt soda and The Source Hot Sauce, a sauce so spicy that its packaging comes with a complete disclaimer. The WE team also performs various drinking challenges that are both widely known and made up.
He and his friends have done various “power hours,” with different forms of alcohol. The object is to take a shot of whatever drink once every minute for an hour. The prize for completing the challenge is personal glory and if there is enough vomiting, substantial amounts of video views.
“The wine power hour was my favorite. We all got hammered and had a great time,” Bell said.
Although someone typically throws up during a taping of a main event, the proper health precautions are taken to ensure the safety of those attempting any consumption on the show. For example, Bell refuses suggestions like ipecac, vomit-inducing syrup that is constantly requested by viewers. However, there was a case where someone was sent to the hospital.
Once on the show, Mike Beardon, a friend, came on to try a new concoction of WE treats. This concoction was called a “skank shake.” The shake is comprised of each item on that month’s show and blended together with vanilla ice cream. On this occasion, cat food was added into the mix as well, which ended in the first and only hospital experience for the WE team.
“…He got some weird bacterial infection. Apparently you’re not supposed to eat cat food, which none of us thought was really going to be that bad,” Bell discloses.
Bell has lived the majority of his life in Glendora, Ca with his parents Mike and Kathy and his older brother Kristopher. His picky, all-American diet growing up would make one question how he considers stomaching items like sea squirts and Atomic Horseradish.
“I hated most stuff when I was younger. I hate veggies, especially onions and lettuce,” Bell says.
Bell also grew up with a number of recurring faces seen in many WE clips. A mutual fascination with World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) brought Bell and his friends together. As a teenager, Bell, always accompanied by his friends, would attempt to recreate the gravity-defying wrestling stunts he grew up admiring.
After his graduation from Glendora High School, he went on to enroll in Citrus Community College. Bell did not receive a degree from the college after his two years of attendance and eventually dropped out. Bell held jobs at UPS and Verizon Wireless. Unfortunately, due to downsizing, Bell was forced to go on unemployment. He remained on it until it ran out.
Despite his several jobs, Bell still made sure to keep the same friends who had cherished the same adoration for WWE. What began as a handful of attempts at wrestling tricks, later developed into weekly mock-WWE events held at the Bell household. The brutal events were always taped and, although they gave him a mere fraction of the subscribers he has today, were the real start to Bell’s YouTube fame.
“We had to stop because we got too old and started ‘Wreckless Eating,’” Bell says.
Even though Bell grew up considering a burrito exotic, the idea to consume strange foods and post them on the Internet was entirely his. WE was also Bell’s effort to keep his friends, who were getting older and starting new lives, together. Each main event tapping brings Bell and his friends together to enjoy each other’s company and of course, participate in the odd consumption.
Among his World of Warcraft-playing, Wrestle Mania-shirt-wearing friends, Bell is easily spotted because at 6’4”, he usually stands almost a head taller than many around him. Bell has short, spiked black hair that he notoriously hides beneath a baseball cap on most days. He can also be picked out by his distinct cackle that erupts from his large body and echoes across a room when anyone around him makes a joke.
The WE fan-base is evident of the team’s success. WE has fans all over the world including Japan, China, Sweden, Norway, Canada, and Germany. The WE fans are not just involved with the channel on a virtual level. Many send Bell foreign products to eat on the show, others design WE t-shirts to sell on the site, and one dedicated fan produces the graphics found in the introduction to the main shows. All of this help is free of charge. Some WE fans have even guest starred on the show due to lucky proximity to the town of Glendora, Ca. The show was even fortunate to have professional eater, Naader Reda, who enters food-eating contests in hopes of prizes. Reda began as a fan, went on as a guest, and is now a regular on the show.
Although the Surströmming video ranks as WE’s most watched video because of the excessive amount of vomiting on the episode, it does not mean that the only thing the WE team eats are foods that will be quickly regurgitated after consumption. There are many eccentric specialties and drinks that Bell makes sure to showcase. Some foods are typically seen amongst select groups of people. Caviar, for instance, would not frequent Bell’s refrigerator but it had a place on the show. However, because the fish eggs are so common in Japanese cuisine and gourmet dining, the WE gang decided to alter the way they would eat the caviar.
“We didn’t just have it on a cracker like the way you’re supposed to eat it,” Bell says, “We each took a big spoonful of the stuff.”
Some foreign items turn out to be a surprising treat and become part of Bell’s regular diet.
“Oh I loved the aloe vera drink we did a couple months back,” Bell exclaims as he throws his long arms into the air, “I didn’t think I would actually like it! But now I’ll actually go and buy it,” he says.
The goal at the start of WE was simply to entertain; now it is to go viral. Having over 3 million video views and over 13,200 subscribers are minuscule to the handfuls of those deemed as “YouTube stars.” Jenna Marbles, a blonde woman in her mid twenties with shapely figure, posts videos of herself ranting about miscellaneous topics. She has 2,759,122 subscribers and 460,306,850 video views.
“It’s like going into the NBA,” Bell says, “A bunch of people go into it but so few actually do well.”
When understanding the odds of going viral, not many would dedicate their lives to posting homemade videos online. There are few chances of gaining as much hype as the famousKony 2012 short film, highlighting the efforts of the Invisible Children organization, which circled the virtual globe overnight. Some trends of becoming an Internet sensation involve a shout out from an already popular site, being attractive, eating repulsive things, having a lot of money, or owning a cute animal.
WE has fulfilled two of these trending stepping-stones on the way to becoming viral but the battle is not over yet. The channel has received two substantial shout outs that have caused for his channel to surge in subscribers and video views. WE’s large support first came from Brad Jones, also known as, “The Cinema Snob.” Jones makes his living off of reviewing B-movies from the 1970s and 1980s.
“We jumped to 1,200 subscribers in a few days after the shout out,” says Bell, “He was a great help. That’s when Google started to notice us. We started getting paid after that.”
The second shout out was from Jeff Smith, also known as “Cutlerylover.” Smith’s channel has 84,096 subscribers and 48,607,387 video views for his dry, videotaped reviews of various forms of cutlery. Both Jones and Smith had the most influence on the number of subscribers and video views the WE channel currently has.
Google makes it so easy to become employed in an economy with an 8.3% unemployment rate. All that is required to watch a video on the site is Internet access. But the thousands of people making substantial money off of the site have one more obstacle, registering a YouTube account. There is no need for a college degree, a resumé, or an awkward interview, just an email account.
Although Bell enjoys what he does and loves the fact that he can be surrounded by his friends at work, Bell scoffs when asked if he would suggests this line of work those without a job.
“It’s a great time and we have a lot of fun but no,” Bell says, “I don’t recommend this to anyone.”