This article originally appeared on VICE Canada
In June 2017, Jon Harchick decided to give his YouTube subscribers something different: he was going to drink bleach.
Harchick said that after being told again and again to drink the noxious substance, he decided “fuck it, why not?” So the 30-year-old did some research online, figured out how much he could safely mix into his drink of water, and turned on the small camera in his room.
“I’m not a scientist or anything, so we’ll find out,” he told his audience as he mixed a small teaspoon of bleach into a glass of water. “If I upload this video, I’m OK.” Then Jon drank the bleach—it tasted like a “swimming pool” apparently—and despite vomiting profusely several times in the video, Jon lived to upload it.
Hey, when you’ve made over 7,000 videos of you just drinking full cups of water, sometimes you need to shake things up a bit.
Harchick is the godfather of “the Drinkers”—a niche community of YouTubers who just… drink water. (The bleach stunt was just a one-off.) The Drinkers’ channels are simple and the videos short—typically clocking in at under a minute. Most channel’s just feature video after video after video of the YouTuber looking at the camera, pouring a glass of water or taking the top off a bottle, and slamming that H2O— that’s it. At times the number of these videos per channel can climb well into the thousands.
Day in, day out, they drink water and upload the videos in a numbered ordered. For many—whether it be an outlet of artistic expression, a sense of calming control, or just the thrill of the competition—it plays an important role in their life.
"I'm dating a girl now and it came up in the first 10 minutes we were talking—like, it's pretty important to me,” Harchick told VICE. “It's something I think about a lot. We went on a trip, we went to a hotel and one of the things I was most excited about is there was a brand of water in the hotel room that I had never tasted before.
"Like, there is a camera set up in my room at all time just to film me drinking water.”
Believe me when I say, it’s a whole thing with the Drinkers. At the time of writing, these channels have combined for 30,791 videos. That number is constantly increasing, and they even have a coded Google Doc to keep a running tally of total waters drank.
The whole thing started in 2011, when a scruffy Harchick donned a black Digg Nation shirt and kicked off his channel with a 22-second video. This was by no means his first channel. Harchick is a prolific video creator and has created a ton of channels including, but not limited to, one where he just tapes stuff with scotch tape, a blindfolded painting channel, a carrot eating channel, and even one described as “literal shit posting,” which was just him posting his poo flushing down the toilet (YouTube terminated this channel after 30 views).
He told VICE his videos are inspired by Andy Warhol (more on that later), and his most iconic work—Jon’s giant Campbell Soup—is certainly the videos of him drinking water. Since he started, the videos have been viewed 2,000,000 times.
Harchick’s original goal was to post 1,000 videos, but he was inspired to keep going when other people started getting into it. Now, there are drinkers from all around the world, including teens and adults in their mid-30s. There are 14 “top water drinkers”—almost 100 in total—according to a chart kept by the drinkers—most came over after seeing Harchick get featured by large channels like V-Sauce or the Fine Bros. reaction videos.
As for what inspires them, it appears to be the grinding. Alexander Hovanec of Alexander Drinks Water says he was left reeling after seeing the sheer magnitude of videos Harchick put up. Hovanec told VICE that “large capacious escapades” are “attractive” to him. So, on a hot Pensalyvian summer night two years ago, the now 19-year-old made four videos of himself drinking water—he hasn’t stopped since, now sitting at 3,500 videos.
The current second-place drinker, Aaron of Aaron Drinks Water has uploaded 5,600 videos. He too claims that he was inspired by Harchick’s sheer volume. "It was the large amount of videos that was particularly interesting,” the 15-year-old from the UK told VICE. “I think it's symbolic of the commitment, it's symbolic of how if you do something everyday it'll add up to something."
Now, as mentioned above, this is a community, and the drinkers, whether it be through email or online comments, talk regularly. They congratulate each other when someone hits a milestone, and encourage each other to keep going. In fact, they’ve even collaborated to ring in 2019’s New Year with Jon’s 7,442th video. In it, a collection of the top water drinkers countdown to the New Year and a montage of them drinking and telling their fans to “stay hydrated.”
They’re a welcoming and exceedingly positive group, leaving positive comments in the videos of newbies and inviting people to join them. As Alex puts it, the group works with a “the more, the merrier” philosophy. Nick, a 17-year-old Canadian from the channel
My Name is Nick Drinks Water, told VICE that everyone in the community has each other’s backs.
“We all collaborate from time to time and leave comments on each others videos, and when tragedy happens, everyone bands together to try to stop it,” said Nick. “Like back in December 2017, when Jon's channel was taken down for a couple weeks, everyone in the community starting contacting YouTube about it until it came back up.”
The success rate for becoming a prolific Drinker is quite low. Like a marathon runner, the majority of upstart drinkers hit a wall, usually around 100 bottles of water and close their channel. While there are many who start the journey into drinking, few still walk the path. A list of all Drinkers past and present kept by group members shows that of the 88 people they know who have attempted to become Drinkers, less than 20 really make a go of it.
“After a couple hundred bottles, you may grow wary of the adventure and finally back out. Many have,” said Hovanec. “But I suppose that there is the true point of the challenge. To have the heart and the mindset to push on. Perhaps that’s what it’s all about.”
If you’re going to be a water drinker you can’t just go in all willy-nilly, you do kinda have to follow some rules—it’s not just laissez-faire hydration out there. The rules, of which there seems to be only two, work more or less on an honour system. First, and most importantly, you have to drink water. One drinker told VICE that he drank Pepsi in one video and was “scorned” by another drinker. Secondly, you should drink 500 milliliters in your videos as a way to keep it fair to the other drinkers.
"When I started I would drink 250 milliliters and that was roughly half of what other people would drink,” Aaron told VICE. “I was going quickly and Nick kinda talked to me about that and convinced me that it was unfair to other people, so I now drink 750 milliliters of water in every video to even it out.”
While the community is overwhelmingly positive, it can be competitive. The drinkers work on a number system so, obviously, the highest number is sought after. Jon currently sits at the top with over 7,500 videos, but there’s a rookie hot on his tail: Aaron, the 15-year-old from the UK. The impressive thing about Aaron, according to the other drinkers who spoke to me, is that he has the second-most waters drank, at around 5,600, despite being one of the newest Drinkers.
As the patriarch of the group, Jon acknowledges the competitive spirit, but he tries not to encourage it out of fear of water intoxication. "If you drink too much water it can be dangerous so I try not to encourage competition too much,” said Jon. “But we compare numbers from time to time and congratulate each other when we hit a milestone. We're all really impressed with Aaron Drinks Water, in our water counter, he's averaging nine [glasses of water a day] which is higher than everyone else."
Despite their overwhelmingly positive attitude, the stress and participation in a drinking channel can, at times, lead to burnout or have a negative impact on a drinkers life. One drinker told me, “sometimes a drinker might be concerned with their statistics and feel the obligation to force water down their throats—when they’re not thirsty—for the sheer numbers.” (They also acknowledge this is a “first world problem”—so don’t go getting in a huff about it.)
This brings us to the cautionary tale of Josey Drinks Water.
If you go to Josey’s once thriving channel you’ll now find a location void of content. In the place which once hosted thousands of videos of a young man chugging water, there sits a single cryptic message reading; “Josey Drinks Water is officially over, it’s time to move on." For the Drinkers, Josey is the symbol of the fact there does exist a dark side to drinking.
Now, Joesy wasn’t a small player in the community, he had drunk 2,500 times. That’s a significant amount of time and reverberations of a channel so involved in drinking just up and closing spread throughout the community.
“Josey’s disappearance is actually pretty relevant in this community. It demonstrates just what kinda pressures some of us face,” said Hovanec. “Jon says that Josey’s family saw the videos, he got embarrassed and deleted his channel.”
“For some reason tens of thousands of strangers seeing something is very different than people close to you seeing it,” said Harchick. Some of the Drinkers told me that their family knows about their drinking and have asked them to remove it, others use a pseudonym to keep their drinking and personal life completely separate. A select few, like Harchick and Hovanec, are completely open about their hobbie.
As mentioned earlier, Harchick said he was partially inspired by Andy Warhol—a man who once made a movie that was just a still of the Empire State Building for eight hours and another of his lover sleeping for five hours. Jon, who is nearing 8,000 drinking videos, once posted a compilation of his first 2,000 drinks, which clocked in at 9 hours 43 minutes and 31 seconds. Hovanec told VICE that he sees a similar artistic merit in what he does and views it as “performance art”
Alongside Warhol, some of the drinkers mentioned another inspiration—a remarkably online one—Benjamin Bennett. Bennett has gained infamy for making videos of just him sitting and smiling for hours at a time, and has earned himself hundreds of thousands of followers. The videos he uploads have been dubbed endurance and avant-garde art. While doing these pieces, he’s urinated on himself, been robbed, and, at times would begin to cry. For Hovanec one of his reasons for being a Drinking is the mysterious aspect and hearing about what people read from his channel.
“Avant-garde content is a very popular sub-portion of the internet that offers people sights and sounds that they don't normally associate with—or might not have even comprehended would exist. It's unconventional,” said Hovanec.”It's shocking. It's mysterious and it's stupid. And yet that's what can often get you ‘clicks.’”
Harchick says he’s going to keep drinking till he hits 10,000 and even then doesn’t know if he’ll stop. He does believe that, over time, Aaron will overtake him as the top drinker and he thinks he’s fine with that. Anyways, until that day comes, he’ll just keep taking it one day, one video, and one glass of water at a time.
After all, for these guys it’s not so much about the destination as it is the extremely hydrated journey.
Follow Mack Lamoureux on Twitter.
This article originally appeared on VICE CA.