For the past several weeks I have been captivated by videos of adults opening Kinder eggs.
“Today I’m going to show you 55 surprises,” a mellow man’s voice promises. The surprises are foil-wrapped sweets with tiny licensed toys inside. He has an accent I can’t place. I never see his face, only his hands very close up. He casts his hands over the seated and waiting eggs and settles on one. He turns it, slowly. Every facet of the foil wrap glitters, pastel cartoon pony faces whorled in metallic. The crinkle of the foil is, for a moment, the only noticeable sound. He removes it, as he always does, so neatly, all in one piece, like shucking a silver-bellied oyster.
The chocolate is secondary. The video comes down to the plastic capsule inside. Crumbs cling to its surface. He knows just the way to pinch the confounding sealed chamber. Inside is always a tiny plastic figurine, some familiar cartoon character looking sullen or unwell from its cheap molding.
This video has 66 million views on YouTube.
“It just doesn’t feel right,” one parent — let’s call her “C” — admits to me. Her 2-year-old is mesmerized by surprise-egg videos. Many parents, she suggests, start off handing their child the coveted iPhone or iPad in order to steal a few hours for themselves, and then the egg-opening takes hold.
“It’s so mind-numbing,” C says. “She doesn’t laugh at it or talk about it, except when she’s asking to watch it. She just sits there, transfixed. Plus, there’s something about seeing your kid sitting still and watching a video of somebody playing with toys, instead of actually playing with toys themselves, that makes you feel like the victim of some awful irony of modern life.”
The maker of my particular favorite videos is “Blu Toys Surprise Brinquedos & Juegos,” and since 2010 he seems to have accrued 3.7 million subscribers and just under 6 billion views for a kid-friendly channel entirely devoted to opening surprise eggs and unboxing toys. The video titles are a continuous pattern of obscure branded lines and tie-ins: “Surprise Play Doh Eggs Peppa Pig Stamper Cars Pocoyo Minecraft Smurfs Kinder Play Doh Sparkle Brilho,” “Cars Screamin’ Banshee Eats Lightning McQueen Disney Pixar,” “Disney Baby Pop Up Pals Easter Eggs SURPRISE.”
As I write this he has done a total of 4,426 videos and counting. With so many views — for comparison, Justin Bieber’s official channel has more than 10 billion views, while full-time YouTube celebrity PewDiePie has nearly 12 billion — it’s likely this man makes a living as a pair of gently murmuring hands that unwrap Kinder eggs. (Surprise-egg videos are all accompanied by pre-roll, and sometimes mid-video and ads.)
I wanted to know; by this point I was weirdly titillated at the idea of a real conversation with a man I’ve only heard repeat things like “Mickey Chocolate Egg” and “Fashems NumNoms” to distraction. But when I asked him for an interview, he said he wasn’t interested. I wish I could have asked him how much Kinder chocolate he has to throw away.
Blu Toys Surprise Brinquedos & Juegos is not the only channel devoted to surprise eggs — far from it. There seem to be dozens and dozens, maybe even hundreds. None of the countless channel-holders I messaged were interested in talking for this article, if they replied at all (one gave the odd timeline of “in nine months”). In the annals of YouTube surprise-egg subculture I found toys I didn’t even know existed: giant-size plastic capsules wreathed in Play-Doh, Disney princesses with clip-on dresses (decorated with Play-Doh) — in this video, “PLAY DOH kinder surprise eggs xitrum Minions Peppa pig español toys,” a machine dictation voice numbly reads enthusiastic but error-addled English-language copy over saccharine tunes as the promised characters are peeled out of doughy colored eggs.
I thought “Play-Doh eggs” might be a real product, but it doesn’t seem to be: Googling “Play-Doh surprise eggs” produces 11 million results — all YouTube videos. The popular channel DuckDuckKidsTV’s creepy low-quality animations feature no real surprise eggs, but still seem to have earned an enormous fanbase with animated surprise-egg videos: “Learn Colors With Surprise Eggs Prank 3D For Kids Toddlers Color Balls Smiley Face” has 62 million views, too, which almost raises real doubts for me about the reliability of view counts on YouTube. The toy and egg phenomena on YouTube is so massive that it devours all logic in its kaleidoscope of jittery music, pastel colors, and cartoon grins.
Some of the parents I informally polled told me their kids would often rather watch character toy videos than the actual TV show from whence the characters come. “They absolutely watch the videos of adults playing with toys more than the media the toys are drawn from,” agrees another parent, whom we’ll call F. “Which is super weird. We had to convince them to watch Big Hero 6 after seeing the toys all over the YouTube feed. Like, they didn’t believe me that they’d like it. It was surreal.”
“My daughter prefers YouTube over regular TV,” a dad agrees. “She’s grown up in a world where pretty much anything you want to watch is available on demand, so YouTube’s boundless access to content is an ideal source of entertainment for her. Once she started being able to navigate YouTube’s iOS app by herself, she very quickly gravitated towards videos of people unboxing and playing with toys. As soon as she found the surprise-egg genre, she was hooked. Every chance she gets, she begs for Mummy’s iPad and will watch them for ages on the sofa.”
But none of the parents I spoke to said their child’s fixation on the videos has actually led to a real-world insistence on more toys or more property. The surprise-egg infrastructure is so prolific, and YouTube’s suggestion engine so well-tailored, that a child can navigate voluntarily among egg videos endlessly and never leave the site, and is unlikely to stumble accidentally upon anything unfriendly, which makes it feel like a safe compromise for parents.
“I’m not sure how it evolved, but I suspect we showed her some much-better-quality things one day and then left her with the phone, and she found out she could press buttons and see different videos,” says another mom, who is going to be my sister-in-law soon. “Because they cleverly use Peppa Pig and other well-established characters, then they come up as ‘suggested videos’ very frequently if they are watching cartoons with the same characters.”
According to her mum, the little girl spent ten months playing with plastic eggs, putting things inside and giving them to her parents to open. “She would even make them for herself and still delight in opening them even though she had just filled them herself,” she adds.
The surprise-egg boom is a fact of life for loads of parents online, to say the least — here’s mom Sarah Pierce with “Surprise Eggs Need to Go Die.” Redditors speculate that whoever invented this trend might be going to hell. At BabyCenter, another mom asks “Are Your Kids Addicted to Surprise Eggs?” as an occasion to post videos of her own Kinder-loving kiddos. Now three and a half years old, my partner’s niece is finally developing an appetite for more sophisticated productions — thanks in part to her parents’ gentle discouragement of the “poorly produced and mind-numbingly boring” surprise-egg video network. Parents with older kids say they just grow out of it and move on to other things.
There’s a strange purity to the experience of watching the eggs open, ill-formed pop-culture artifacts emerging one after another in the glittering light. You never have to get your own hands dirty — the sharp, bright mountains of foil and the uneaten, irrelevant chocolate are someone else’s problem. The force that drives surprise-egg videos can’t be that different from the market for “unboxing” videos for grown-ups — the millions of channels devoted to unpacking fancy electronics, to breathless whispering about the smooth faces and sensitive nodes of various devices. A latent consumer hunger flickers at a comfortable distance — the viewer gets all of the pleasure of constant novelty and none of the expense or complications.