Over the past five years, Sesh Spilla popular YouTube channel, has covered the world of social media stars, providing in-depth recaps and acidic commentary on their scandals and issues of the day.
But even though the Spill Sesh channel had over 700,000 subscribers, the person behind it kept their identity a secret. She did not appear in the account’s more than 1,000 videos and disguised her voice with an audio filter called monster.
Its viewers have long speculated about who or what is behind the channel. Was it a content farm? Or someone related to a famous YouTuber? Or maybe a famous YouTuber who does gossip on the side? On Friday, the mystery was solved when the person behind Spill Sesh revealed their secret in a new video.
She’s Kristi Cook, a former TMZ staffer who grew up in Florida. In an interview with The New York Times, the first she has given under her own name, she said that she initially kept her identity hidden because she felt it gave her more creative freedom. Now that she’s self-employed and successful enough to own a house in Los Angeles, she sees no reason to stay in the shadows.
Ms Cook, 26, developed an interest in pop culture as a young girl, during what she described as her “Disney Channel era”. After that, she logged in and more or less stayed there. “YouTube is where I consumed all of my content from middle school and beyond,” she said.
She contributed to USA Today during her first year at Florida Atlantic University. She then moved to California and worked as a tour guide on the Warner Bros. lot. in Burbank, outside Los Angeles. She quickly landed an internship at TMZ that eventually became a full-time job and dropped out of college.
“Our art department was called ‘the galleries’ and we created photo galleries,” Ms Cook said. “At the top of the TMZ website, there are five main stories, and two of them are photo-oriented.” Her job involved “scrolling through Instagram every day,” she said, an experience that prepared her for an eventual career.
“One day in 2018, I came across a drama video,” Ms. Cook said, referring to an online genre known as drama commentary, in which a host recaps the ups and downs of people with large followings on Youtube. “I was fascinated by the fact that people were interested in YouTuber news, because at the time I didn’t think the mainstream media was talking about it. They’re not in People magazine when you’re at the grocery store.
She launched her own drama channel – Spill Sesh – and has proven adept at distilling Instagram posts, YouTube catalogs and podcast episodes into informative videos for audiences eager to know the latest news on Colleen Ballinger, Jeffree Star or test guys.
Even if these names don’t mean anything to you, rest assured, many people are looking for this information. Ms. Cook’s videos have collectively been viewed more than 350 million times.
Jamie Cohen, an assistant professor of media studies at Queens College, said so-called tea channels like Spill Sesh attract viewers by taking them “into the main drama parts of YouTube that are often seen but ignored.”
When Spill Sesh first became known, Ms. Cook was concerned about maintaining her anonymity. “At first I think the scariest thing was people commenting and wanting to know who I was,” she said. But his decision to stay off-camera and use the audio filter was not enough to prevent a viewer from discovering his identity.
After her first viral video, she received messages from a stranger who had discovered her name through an old Instagram account and comments from friends on Facebook and her LinkedIn page. Ms. Cook said she feared losing her job and the health insurance that came with it.
The person who guessed her identity turned out not to be a complete troll, and with his help, she began deleting everything she could find about her online and demanding that her personal information be removed from the website databases.
As Spill Sesh’s popularity continued to grow, money poured in through advertisements and sponsorships. In an average month, Cook said she makes about $20,000 from YouTube ads alone. In her best months, that figure can reach $50,000, she said.
She told her parents what she was doing when she started earning enough money to rent an apartment without their financial help.
“I was like, ‘You guys. I did this thing on the side. They’re YouTube videos,” Ms Cook said. They were confused, but supportive, she added. “I think it’s a difficult concept, like, ‘How do you get a check with that?'” she said.
The earnings also allowed him to leave TMZ and buy a house. “I could never own a home if I didn’t do this,” she said.
Since quitting her day job in 2021, Cook has been a little less secretive about what she does for a living. Besides her family members and a few friends, her fellow drama commentators know exactly who she is. On dating apps, she introduced herself as a journalist and tried to change the subject when asked for details.
Although she covers an area often overlooked by many major media outlets, she considers herself a journalist. “I really try to make sure what I say is correct,” Ms. Cook said. “There were obviously times when I was wrong.”
She made her video reveal with Manny Gutierrez, who is a YouTube makeup artist known as Manny MUA, and who was the subject of the first Spill Sesh video. “The perfect time to come full circle,” Ms Cook said.
In the video, as Mr. Gutierrez gives her a makeover, Ms. Cook reveals her face to the camera. “It’s actually Kristi,” she said, finally addressing her viewers in an undistorted voice.