Matthias Clamer for Rolling Stone

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Is MrBeast for Real? Inside the Outrageous World of YouTube's Cash-Happy Stunt King

Jimmy Donaldson built a $54 million empire on elaborate pranks and eye-popping giveaways. Next up: Becoming the most popular creator on the planet

In an undisclosed location in North Carolina, Jimmy Donaldson is about to show me a million dollars in cash.

Donaldson, a.k.a. MrBeast, is the biggest YouTuber in the country and possibly, by the time this story is published, the world. Rangy at six feet two and clad in a gray Nike sweatsuit, Donaldson has been walking me through his company’s warehouse, showing off the detritus of various videos made under the MrBeast banner, a melange of stunts, pranks, and eye-popping cash giveaways. In one area, there are piles of GameStop merchandise from a video where he promised to buy everything a contestant could fit into a circumscribed triangle (“He just wanted cash instead,” Donaldson says); in another, crates stuffed with inflatable dinosaur costumes for a video titled “Walking Into Random Stores With 100 Dinosaurs.” In the back, there are 1 billion Orbeez, tiny gel-filled pellets that Donaldson used to fill his best friend’s backyard for a video back in 2018.

Then, we come to the money. “If you wanted to rob us, here’s where you’d rob us,” Donaldson says.

The cash is guarded by an affable man named Tracy, a former physical therapist with bright blue eyes and an eastern Carolina twang; he is an operations manager at MrBeast YouTube LLC, and the stepfather of its founder. Piles of bills lie in a steel-plated closet in filing cabinets, stacked neatly in rows, all in ones. Usually, it’s a full million, but today there’s $100,000 missing, for an upcoming trip to Florida, where Donaldson and his crew will shoot a “Would You Rather” video — as in, would you rather swim with sharks for that money or walk a bridge of alligators. Some of the bills are crumpled on the floor at Donaldson’s Adidas sneakers: “It takes up more space and looks better on camera [that way],” he explains.

A funny thing happens when you see a lot of money in one place. As the smell hits my nostrils, crisp and pungent, like a pile of autumn leaves or a Xerox machine on the fritz, I start to think about the ways it could change my life, or the lives of those around me — the medical bills that need to be paid, school tuition, child care; all of the GoFundMe’s and charities it could help. I feel almost lightheaded, as if I’ve taken a right hook from a Paul brother square in the jaw (a recent Beast stunt that came with a $20,000 prize).

The effect does not go unnoticed by Parisher and Donaldson.

“Most of the people around here, they’re immune to it,” says Parisher.

“Yeah, we’re numb,” Donaldson says.

“They’ll sit here and count it for me and won’t even blink an eye nowadays,” Parisher says.

“Do you ever just think about how many people’s lives this amount of money could change?” I ask.

Donaldson looks at me like I’ve just asked what color the sky is. “Yeah, exactly,” he says. “That’s why we have it.”

MrBeast photographed in Greenville, North Carolina, on March 10, 2022.

Photograph by Matthias Clamer for Rolling Stone. Fashion direction by Alex Badia. Styling by Stephanie Tricola. Grooming by Amanda Wilson. Prop styling by Dominique Barnes. T-shirt by Rag & Bone. Jeans by Levi’s.

On his YouTube channel, MrBeast, Donaldson is the main character, luring his 93.9 million subscribers to lavish, high-production-value videos with brightly hued thumbnails that cost $10,000 each to produce paired with titles optimized for YouTube’s algorithm, such as “Extreme $1,000,000 Hide-and-Seek” and “World’s Most Dangerous Escape Room!” Often, the stunts have the feel of video games: That escape room is actually 10 rooms, each built around a theme, from a Kubrickian “hotel” hallway to a pastoral scene with live goats to an Indiana Jones-style moving wall loaded with spikes that closes in on contestants. A Lamborghini “race” sends three of the Italian sports cars zigzagging around town, their drivers on a hunt for clues.

Many of the stunts verge on clickbait. In “I Ate the World’s Largest Slice of Pizza,” Donaldson attempts to consume a nine-pound, six-foot-long slice. In “Spending 24 Hours Straight Underwater,” he survives being submerged for 12-plus hours in a backyard pool, his head inside a chamber rigged with an oxygen pump. Others are do-gooder content in the vein of the 1950s game show Queen for a Day, giving homeless people houses or donating $100,000 to random streamers on Twitch. In late 2020, Donaldson started the MrBeast Philanthropy channel, which contributes 100 percent of its revenue to a warehouse that operates mobile food donations throughout eastern North Carolina and reportedly delivered 1,000,563 meals by the end of 2021.

Donaldson also offers his subscribers a chance to get in on a MrBeast windfall through sweepstakes and competitions. Alex Maloney, a 20-year-old from Canada, won $100,000 by holding his finger on a MrBeast app button for more than two days straight, fueled by Uber Eats and Monster energy drinks. Maloney, who is unemployed and mulling whether to go to college, says having that money in the bank has given him a sense of security. “It was monumental. It made me feel more stable,” he says, adding that Donaldson “changes lives unbelievably.”

In these videos, Donaldson is often flanked by an ensemble of gawky, early-twentysomething white guys, many of whom live in the same cul-de-sac as Donaldson and have carved out extensive YouTube followings of their own: the slight and handsome Chris Tyson, a frequent presence in Donaldson’s earliest videos; doe-eyed Chandler Hallow, who grew up playing baseball with Donaldson; and shaggy-haired Karl Jacobs, an upstate New York native who started out as an editor and graduated to a fixture in the group Donaldson refers to as “the boys.”

With the boys in tow, Donaldson has built a multimedia empire, raking in a reported $54 million in revenue on his main channel last year. He also has a ghost-kitchen chain, MrBeast Burger, a delivery-only restaurant with 1,600 franchises throughout the country. In January, he launched Feastables, a line of chocolate bars, with a Willy Wonka-esque “Win MrBeast’s Chocolate Factory” promo, and he earns an estimated half a million dollars per month in merch.

“If you ask anybody that knew Jimmy before, they’d be like, ‘Really? Jimmy got famous?’ He was always real quiet.”

Over the course of less than a decade, Donaldson has gone from making gaming-commentary videos in his bedroom to managing 60 full-time employees, not counting independent contractors. He has launched various high-profile philanthropic projects, such as the #TeamTrees campaign, in which he set a goal to plant 20 million trees all over the world after raising $20 million in donations; and #TeamSeas, which aims to remove 30 million pounds of trash from the ocean. He is also, it should be noted, 23 years old. “Five years ago, I had to raise my hand to go use the bathroom,” he tells me. “This is the tip of the iceberg. Give me 20 years and then see what we will accomplish.”

Donaldson’s company is in the process of building out three sprawling content and production hubs in his hometown of Greenville, North Carolina, a small city dotted by strip malls, office parks, and the campus of East Carolina University. Donaldson hopes to position Greenville as a magnet for content creators in digital media. “The biggest parallel I could draw is to Tyler Perry in Atlanta,” says MrBeast LLC president Marc Hustvedt, who splits his time between Greenville and Los Angeles. “Jimmy’s creating his own studio system here.”

In some respects, Donaldson is an unlikely frontman for a multimillion-dollar media empire. A self-described introvert, he often reiterates his discomfort with casual conversation. In our very first interaction, he ambled up to me in the driveway of his sprawling, 60,000-square-foot studio and said, by way of introduction, “So, we’re going to start talking now?”

Even those who know Donaldson well are surprised he’s opted for a life in front of the camera. “If you ask anybody that knew Jimmy before, they’d be like, ‘Really? Jimmy got famous?’” says Tyson, his longtime best friend. “He was always really quiet. But it wasn’t like he didn’t want to talk to people. Jimmy just likes to talk about what he likes to talk about” — mostly, gaming or YouTube — “and if no one’s talking about that, he doesn’t like to talk.”

But in truth, the main character of MrBeast’s channel is not actually MrBeast himself. It is cold, hard cash. Money — piles, sheaves, gobs of it — takes center stage in nearly all of his videos, proffered as a balm for all of the world’s problems to the gig-economy scrappers and hardworking single moms who star in his videos. In one, he tips a waitress at a hot-dog joint $10,000 for two glasses of water; in another, he gives more than $100,000 to people who lost their jobs in the pandemic. Much of the appeal of MrBeast is predicated on an updated version of the Horatio Alger story; the idea that with a little bit of luck, you too could one day run into MrBeast on the street and walk away thousands of dollars richer.

Of course, this type of giving is something of a Band-Aid on a brain tumor. It may get attention, but it ignores long-standing structural inequities and cyclical poverty. Over lunch at a Mexican restaurant with Donaldson and two of the boys — Jacobs and Tareq Salameh, a former aspiring comic turned cameraman who’s been promoted to the cast — I comment that their videos all seem to ride on the idea that a fat check or a wad of cash stuffed in a fist can cure all manner of ills.

“It kinda can,” says Salameh.

Donaldson nods: “If you have a trillion dollars, you don’t really have any problems.”

Donaldson models himself after his heroes, the entrepreneurs Steve Jobs and Elon Musk, portraits of whom adorn Donaldson’s otherwise nondescript office and the living room of his house (including one of Musk, procured on Amazon, dressed as Napoleon Bonaparte). “I don’t support or look up to everything he does or how he treats people,” Donaldson says of Musk, perhaps alluding to the fact that the Tesla and SpaceX founder famously tweeted and then deleted a Hitler meme the week before my arrival. “But I think it’s inspiring that he’s weaning the world off of oil and rebuilding imagination when it comes to space exploration and stuff like that.”

Donaldson, around age one, with mom Sue. As a child, she says, he was intensely competitive: “You couldn’t throw a game with him. You had to play it all the way through.”

Courtesy of MrBeast

Donaldson claims not to have any vivid memories of his childhood before the age of 11. He chalks this up in part to his entrepreneurial streak. “I’m very forward-thinking,” he says. “Fuck the past. It’s already happened. I’m trying to conquer the future.” Indeed, he seems to have been born without any semblance of a nostalgia gene: Though his mother has a giant warehouse where she preserves every single memento from his old videos, he’s never gone to see it.

That lack of nostalgia may also serve as a protective measure, because Donaldson’s upbringing appears to have been less than stable. He was born in Kansas, the middle child to two parents who were active duty in the military, with his mother, Sue, serving as a prison warden in Mannheim, Germany, before being stationed at Fort Leavenworth. “Jimmy thinks it’s pretty badass that his mom ran a prison,” says Sue, a soft-spoken woman with a moderately-sized bouffant of carrot-colored hair. She now works as MrBeast LLC’s chief compliance officer, overseeing the company’s expenditures and contracts while managing her son’s personal affairs, such as his banking. (She even picked out the house where he lives.)

Sue worked 12-hour days while she was on active duty, and much of the child care was outsourced to a revolving cast of au pairs. She attributes Jimmy’s introversion largely to the fact that they moved so frequently. “We lived in three different locations in the southern U.S. before he was seven,” she says. “There were no cousins, no aunts, no uncles. It was really just us.” After a tumultuous marriage, his parents split up in 2007, when Donaldson was eight, and he no longer has any contact with his father. He declined to discuss the reasons why on the record. “I just tried my hardest to keep everything moving forward as best as possible,” Sue says of the divorce. “We got through it the best that we could get through it.”

Donaldson attended a small private school, Greenville Christian Academy, where boys were given demerits for wearing their hair too long and forced to copy Bible verses as punishment. He says he used to be observant — “You have it beat into your head every day” — but long questioned the church’s stance on issues like homosexuality, and has since pivoted to identifying as agnostic. “It’s such a sensitive topic for so many people around here,” he says. “I believe there is a God, but there are so many different religions and so many people who believe passionately about these things. It’s hard to know which [religion] is right.”

Growing up, Donaldson had few friends, rarely going out with other kids on the weekends. Sue identified a deep competitive streak in him early on. “You couldn’t throw a game with him. You always had to play it all the way through,” she says. “Like with Monopoly. We wanted to throw it out after a while, because he was like, ‘Don’t even pretend to give me Boardwalk and Park.’”

The one word that those in Donaldson’s orbit use to describe him is “obsessive”; he has a tendency to fixate on one thing at the expense of all other subjects. His single-minded focus on YouTube, he says, led kids at school to refer to him as autistic. “There’s a five-year point in my life where I was just relentlessly, unhealthily obsessed with studying virality, studying the YouTube algorithm,” he says. “I woke up. I would Uber Eats food. And then I would sit on my computer all day just studying shit nonstop with [other YouTubers].” (There was also a Settlers of Catan phase that’s led to Donaldson’s assistant buying at least five copies of the strategy game a month so there are always “fresh ones” lying around. Donaldson relishes the strategy and machinations it demands, deadpanning, “I’m great at lying.”)

“There’s a five-year period in my life where I was just relentlessly, unhealthily obsessed with studying virality.”

Donaldson admits that his focus on his work has made it difficult for him to maintain personal relationships. “I’m not really good at keeping friends,” he says. “All my friends revolve around work.” He also spends little time with his family, including the older brother who lives nearby, another YouTuber Donaldson describes as being somewhat like him but “less successful.” (It doesn’t help that his brother’s channel is called “MrBro,” a decision Donaldson says his brother now regrets.)

Though Donaldson enjoyed playing baseball as a child, a diagnosis of Crohn’s disease, an autoimmune disorder characterized by intestinal distress, his sophomore year of high school caused him to drop out of sports. (He is currently on the drug Remicade to manage his symptoms, along with meals prepared by a private chef, though he often has flare-ups.) The stress of having to deal with his Crohn’s, Sue says, led Donaldson to spend more time indoors, prompting his pivot to YouTube.

In truth, Donaldson had already established a presence on the platform, uploading videos of himself playing Minecraft and Call of Duty when he was 11. When he was 13, he started a new channel, adopting the handle “MrBeast6000” because “Mr. Beast” was already taken. At first, it appears that Donaldson was trying to find his voice, capitalizing on various YouTube trends to see what stuck: He tried video-game commentary, à la PewDiePie, then made videos estimating how much various YouTubers made.

Slowly, however, he started to rack up subscribers and eke out revenue, in part by engaging in increasingly extreme stunts. In one video, Tyson wraps him in 100 layers of toilet paper and Saran wrap; in another, Donaldson counts to 100,000, an idea he says he got from seeing if he could try to monetize watching multiple episodes of the anime Naruto in one sitting. In a video he published in 2015 addressed to a future him, he said, “I hope you have at least 100k subs.” In May 2017, he would hit a million subscribers.

Sue had no idea he was making YouTube videos, and was stunned when she found out through an entry in his yearbook. “I was a normal parent,” she says. “I was very concerned at what was out there.” When Donaldson made it clear to her that he was making money off his channel, however, her anxiety was reduced. Still, she was insistent that Jimmy go to college and get a degree after graduation. Donaldson acquiesced, enrolling in community college, though he says he did not attend a single class and dropped out midway through the first semester.

With that, Sue kicked her son out of the house, prompting him to move into a duplex with Tyson. It was perfect timing: Donaldson had just reached 750,000 subscribers and gotten his first brand deal. Rather than spend it, he reinvested the cash into a video where he gave a homeless person a $10,000 check.

It was not Donaldson’s first video in which he gave away cash for free, but he saw that this brand of stunt philanthropy resonated. He shifted to more giveaway-centric videos, such as “Tipping Waitresses With Real Gold Bars” (53 million views), and soon, he was earning $100,000 a month from his channel. “One day he came in with a check and was like, ‘Mom, look how much I just made,’” says Sue. “And it was my entire year’s salary.” She retired and joined the company shortly thereafter.

Donaldson (left) was into sports until a diagnosis of Crohn’s disease led him to pivot to YouTube.

Courtesy of MrBeast

Donaldson says he doesn’t “give a fuck about money,” and plans to give it all away before he dies. “I don’t want to live my life chasing the next shiny object to the next shiny object,” he says as we drive around in his Tesla Model X. “It’s a sad, miserable way to go about life.” His assistant, a model-handsome Utah transplant named Steele, says that prior to his hiring, and Donaldson’s ex-girlfriend redesigning his kitchen, YouTube’s biggest star had lawn chairs in his living room and mattresses on the floor. “I don’t give a shit about looks,” Donaldson says. “I just care about functionality.” Yet he also seems to be fixated on how much some shiny objects cost, pointing out that his custom-built, double-sided refrigerator — which he had made so his chef could deliver meals from outside without disturbing him — was 50 grand to install.

His reputation for being cash-rich also comes with security concerns. His apartment was broken into three or four years ago while he was filming, prompting him to move to a gated community and into a house with bulletproof windows and triple-steel-reinforced doors. A bodyguard accompanies him whenever he ventures out in public in Greenville. These concerns do not seem unfounded: During our lunch at the Mexican restaurant, two teenagers wait outside in the parking lot for hours, and tail Donaldson’s car when we leave.

Donaldson acknowledges this is a problem of his own making. “I can create whatever world I want, do whatever I want for content, and I choose this,” he says. “[In] the end, I have tons of influence. If I wanted to, I could have tons of money. Boohoo, people have expectations of me. I’ll live.”

Fundamentally, Donaldson seems to view money as a means to an end, a tool for him to accomplish his goal of dominating YouTube. “It doesn’t matter to me,” he says of the gold bars and Lamborghinis and stacks of cash in his warehouse. “But it matters to other people. And that’s what allows us to get views so I make more money and do bigger stuff.”

As Donaldson’s subscriber count has ballooned, so too has the amount of money he spends on his videos. Today, many cost approximately a million dollars each to produce, few of which are profitable. The main channel is largely subsidized by Donaldson’s “gaming” and “reacts” channels, which prominently feature the boys and are cost-efficient to produce, pulling in a great deal of revenue. “I could be doing cheaper videos,” Donaldson says. “But I just don’t want to. I want to push the boundaries to go bigger, bigger.”

In late 2021, Donaldson’s preternatural ability to hack YouTube garnered headlines across the world, when he spent nearly $4 million re-creating the Netflix series Squid Game — albeit without the extreme violence — awarding the winner a $456,000 prize following an intense game of musical chairs. The video went massively viral, racking up more than 225 million views.

“I want to be the biggest YouTube channel ever. Not even for my ego. It just gives me something to strive for, to get out of bed and grind for. But it’s also just vanity.”

But the Squid Game remake also garnered criticism from many who said it missed the point of the original series, which showed the brutal toll that free enterprise takes on middle-class people’s lives. Donaldson dismisses the criticism. “The guy who made the show literally said, ‘I like these people re-creating the show,’” he notes. (Squid Game creator Hwang Dong-Hyuk did say he approved of YouTubers re-creating the series, but did not comment on MrBeast’s video specifically.)

It was not the first time Donaldson had encountered controversy. In 2018, The Atlantic reported that he had used anti-gay slurs in tweets he posted when he was a teenager, and had used homosexuality as a punchline in a number of his videos. At the time, he did not issue an apology, instead telling the magazine, “I’m not offensive in the slightest bit in anything I do. I’m just going to ignore it. I don’t think anyone cares about this stuff.” Today, he is more contrite.

“This is literally the heart of the Bible Belt,” he says as we weave through the streets of Greenville. “I had it beat in my head every day when I was younger, like, ‘Gay people are the reason God’s going to come and burn this Earth.’” As a teenager, he said, he considered anti-gay rhetoric “normal” as a result. “As I grew up, I realized, ‘Oh, this isn’t normal. This is just a weird place I grew up in.’ So, that type of thing, I [wish I could] go back in time and be like, ‘Hey, stop.’”

Some in Donaldson’s posse have also faced scrutiny for their language on social media, including Tyson, who was called out in April 2021 for having posted transphobic and homophobic memes on Twitter. Tyson deleted the tweets and issued an apology, telling me he considered the experience “an opportunity for learning and growth” and that the tweets stemmed from his own struggles with his sexuality; he came out as bisexual in the fall of 2020.

Donaldson is less reflective about a video he posted in 2016 that resurfaced last year, in which he appears to lampoon the concept of transgenderism by saying he sexually identifies as an attack helicopter and a tank, playing off of a meme that originated on Reddit and 4chan. He states in the now-deleted clip, “Is someone just sitting there and getting paid to think of genders?” Though the meme was a fairly well-known transphobic joke at the time, Donaldson denies being familiar with its origins. “I was just playing along with the meme like everyone else,” he says, referring to the video as “a joke.”

Donaldson has managed to deflect criticism in part because he aims to be staunchly apolitical, at least publicly. “I don’t want to alienate Republicans and Democrats,” he says. “I like having it where everyone can support [my] charity. My goal is to feed hundreds of millions of people. So it would be very silly of me to alienate basically half of America.” (He recently appeared on Joe Rogan’s podcast, which has attracted criticism for platforming Covid denialism and vaccine misinformation, though the episode steered clear of such topics.)

Perhaps the greatest threat to MrBeast’s family-friendly brand was a 2021 investigation by The New York Times that quoted several former employees alleging that Donaldson had fostered a toxic work environment, screaming at workers, forcing them to work long hours, and calling them slurs. Two of the former MrBeast editors who spoke out against him, Nate Anderson and Matt Turner, deleted videos they’d posted about their experiences because of the harassment they got from MrBeast fans.

Donaldson denies the claims set forth in the Times story. “I’ve literally worked with over a thousand people. Two people thought I was pretty demanding, which was perfectly fine,” he says. “We have high standards, but it’s not a toxic work environment.” He’s said he gave Turner $10,000 and recommended him for a gig at a gaming company following the termination of his contract. (Turner, for his part, says the actual amount, his salary through the end of his contract, was smaller than that.)

Tyson frames the workplace conflicts as a function of Donaldson’s difficulties communicating. “He knows what he wants, and I think he also has a very hard time socializing,” he says. “We’ve talked about this — I think he has a hard time explaining to people what he wants and what he needs.” But for Turner, those negative encounters made a lasting impression: “You see him on camera and you’re like, ‘He’s such a cool dude.’ Knowing him, you’d be like, ‘Damn, I wish the cool Jimmy was the real Jimmy.’”

Cash rules everything around MrBeast, on set in North Carolina.

Photograph by Matthias Clamer for Rolling Stone. Top and Shorts by Buck Mason

Donaldson’s brand as a budding philanthropist certainly helps render him Teflon. Over the past few years, he has pivoted away from attention-grabbing stunts on YouTube to more philanthropically minded videos. In addition to setting up MrBeast Philanthropy, where CEO Darren Margolias helms weekly food drives as well as clothing drives sourced from YouTuber merch, Donaldson went viral for launching #TeamTrees in partnership with the Arbor Day Foundation, and #TeamSeas.

While there is debate about whether planting 20 million trees will yield environmental impact, and skeptics suggest corporate donors could use such efforts as a form of greenwashing, Arbor Day Foundation CEO Dan Lambe says #TeamTrees sends an important message. “Planting 20 million trees is not going to solve the climate crisis,” he acknowledges. “Having said that, drawing attention to the need for planting trees, and the benefits, is hugely valuable.” Lambe confirms #TeamTrees has planted 14 million trees thus far, and is on track to hit its goal by the end of the year.

Donaldson did not grow up with much exposure to philanthropy. Sue says he never participated in volunteer activities or church community service, and he does not claim to have a deep emotional attachment to any of the causes he champions. Yet Margolias says Donaldson’s earliest experiences giving money from brand deals to homeless people “ignited a fire” in him, leading him to want to harness his power and influence to change the world. By championing various philanthropic causes, Margolias says, Donaldson wants to school an entirely new generation (YouTube analytics doesn’t track viewers below the age of 12, but his audience skews quite young, Donaldson says) in the benefits of unconditional giving. “So many people are conditioned to think giving money to charity is a burden or a sacrifice,” says Margolias, an earnest, stocky gentleman in his early fifties. “But when people realize helping is enjoyable and beautiful, that will change the way they think about giving.”

Margolias says that much of Donaldson’s largesse occurs off camera, citing multiple examples where he spent tens of thousands of dollars on Christmas presents for children who lost family members in a hurricane, or renting a home and furnishing it for a family of nine whose parents had lost their jobs due to the pandemic. “Jimmy said to me the first night I met him, his life ambition is to improve the world. I have no shadow of a doubt that’s sincere,” he says. “Also to the people that say ‘He does it for the views,’ we have done some stunningly generous things Jimmy pays for 100 percent out of pocket that nobody knows about.”

Donaldson is sensitive to any questions about his motivations. “I know myself, and I don’t have anything to prove to anyone. I think what I’ve done speaks for itself,” he says. “I have an entire channel built around my nonprofit that I’ve invested ungodly amounts of hours into building, that I’ll never see a single penny out of.… I lose five figures and dozens of hours every month. The opportunity cost could go to projects that make millions of dollars. So I don’t care. I don’t say this stuff publicly, because that’s not why I do it.”

Donaldson says he hears from countless parents who tell him their children wanted to pick up trash at a beach or volunteer at a soup kitchen because of his videos. And many parents of MrBeast fans I spoke with said their children had pushed them to donate to #TeamSeas or #TeamTrees. Though when I suggest MrBeast videos may present a cynical concept of charity, it touches a nerve. “Your concern literally isn’t even a concern whatsoever,” Donaldson says. “There’s not millions of kids now doing good and filming it. There’s just millions of kids who are doing good.”

Like many entrepreneurs, Donaldson does not have much by way of a personal life; or at least, he does not have any interest in portraying that he has one. He recently split from lifestyle influencer Maddy Spidell, who has appeared in a handful of his videos, and those in his circle told me that Spidell had been a positive influence, forcing Donaldson to prioritize work-life balance more. Donaldson did not want to comment on the record about the breakup, citing Spidell’s privacy, yet Tyson says Donaldson’s singular focus on work was a major contributing factor. “I think that’s what he’s going to be looking for next: somebody who can match his obsession with business and money and all that kind of stuff,” he says.

Donaldson, however, is less interested in dating than he is in growing his brand: reaching 100 million subscribers, opening more MrBeast Burgers, becoming the most successful YouTuber of all time. Unlike many other creators, who crave acceptance from the mainstream entertainment establishment, he doesn’t have any interest in obtaining Netflix deals or lucrative recording contracts; his only concern is building his influence on the platform that made him famous.

“I want to be the biggest YouTube channel ever,” he says. “Not even for my ego. I don’t know. I just want it. It just gives me something to strive for, to get out of bed and grind for. But it’s also just vanity.”

Surprisingly, for someone who is singularly obsessed with YouTube, Donaldson says he doesn’t often watch YouTube videos anymore. Instead, he’s become deeply consumed by the field of self-optimization. He installed a gym in the middle of his kitchen as a motivational tool, so he can work out instead of grabbing a snack. He regularly reads biographies of highly successful men, most recently finishing one about Michael Jordan. He’s also hired a life coach, who told him that successful men peak at 40.

“At first I was like, ‘You’re fucking crazy,’” he says. “But I think I do believe it. [So] as long as you’re staying physically fit, you’re not wrinkly. And if you have money and stuff like that.” If his life coach is right, Donaldson has more than a decade left until he hits his peak, and he will tolerate no distractions on his way there. He says that when renovations to the MrBeast LLC studio are complete, he’ll have a shower installed in his office so he can keep working without having to go home. “I need to just obsess, grind, and keep going,” he says. “If you’re on an exponential growth curve, you don’t want to let it flatline.”

It’s the kind of attitude that’s led him to have the fifth most popular YouTube channel in the world. But, of course, he wants to be first. That’s what the new, bigger studio, the crazy sets, the ever-more-elaborate stunts, the live sharks, the lime-green Lambos, the million dollar bills, and tens of millions more in the bank are all for, even if none of it feels like quite enough. “This is all I do, really,” he says as we sit in the front seat of his Tesla. “I don’t party. I barely have friends. And there is a risk: I look back when I’m 50 and I’m like, ‘Damn, I literally only did that one thing and nothing else.’”

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