2023 NCAAT I: Made You Look
I don't really use TikTok. I'll watch a TikTok that someone sends me, but I've never just opened the app and scrolled through. Not sure why. Just haven't ever gotten into it. I don't use Instagram, I've never had a Facebook account in my life - I'm purely a Twitter guy.
But I think YouTube might have me hooked into the TikTok thing. In the last few months, I've found myself opening YouTube and using the "Shorts" tab a fair bit. It's more or less YouTube's version of TikTok. Short, vertical videos which auto-repeat or you just scroll for the next one. The algorithm learns what you like and feeds you more. And then, I don't know, someone at YouTube learns that I like golf and starts feeding me PXG ads.
After a month of this, I'm very surprised by what kind of videos YouTube focuses in on (for me). Meaning, every time I watch YouTube Short about this topic, I watched the whole thing two or three times and then the algorithm says "he must really like videos of jumbo jets landing." I do like videos of jumbo jets landing, just... not that many. At least I don't think I like them that much?
They've found some of my known interests (probably based on the actual YouTube videos that I watch). They send me golf videos, and comedy podcasts, and aviation stuff. But I've also learned that I apparently like several things I never knew I liked. And I know this because of the YouTube algorithm's "every time I send him a trampoline video he watches it four times - I'll send him more" ways.
A list of things I'm apparently interested in:
- The aforementioned trampoline videos. Specifically, these videos where people are up on this platform, fall backwards onto a trampoline below, and then return to the platform, usually doing 19 flips and somehow landing on their feet.
- Clips from standup comedians doing crowd work (starting up a conversation with someone in the front row and then riffing off it from there).
- Disc golf ace runs.
- Cheerleading stunts (what?). No, really, I put this one last so I can embed one of the videos directly below. I have no idea how these things are possible. The balance (on her end) and strength (on his end) is just.........
The whole "she does a handstand on his hand (how?) and then flips and lands her feet on his hand" thing just blows my mind. I honestly don't know if the Illini cheerleaders do these kind of stunts or if these are just next level but I'm kinda fascinated by the athleticism displayed.
There's one other specific video that YouTube feeds me all the time, but it's embarrassing. I've gotten very good at being embarrassing in this space, so what's one more? The YouTube Short I'm sent the most (likely because I watch every video at least eight times): a capella version of Meghan Trainor's song "Made You Look."
This one is 100% a TikTok copied over to YouTube (most of them are). Someone does something creative, other people layer something over the top of it in TikTok. The original video is just Meghan Trainor and two of her backup singers sitting in a tub (everyone knows the best acoustics are in bathrooms) singing an a capella version of her song. And the very specific genre of "Made You Look" videos that I watch over and over: someone adding bass to the original recording. Like this:
That specific one always catches me in a loop. I love the last note, the video immediately restarts, and I think "OK, I'll just listen to it one more time because the ending is so good." So I'd get to the last note, it's so deep and wide and awesome, the video restarts, and I convince myself "OK, just one more time." This is how they get you. I'm pretty sure that by my 23rd viewing, Steve Chen is sending "this guy likes a capella" signals to all of his Silicon Valley friends. I'm OK with that, I guess. He's an Illini.
It's through watching videos like that where I finally began to understand TikTok (all short video platforms, really). Specifically, the genius of restarting a video immediately and building the addiction. The ending of that video is this tiny little dopamine hit and suddenly I'm a lab rat, pressing the button again and again for a tiny dose of dopamine. Construct a great video with a great ending and you can catch someone in that trap. Great ending, I want to watch it again, after 10+ views you share it with friends, and we're off. Once you're addicted, you won't care that it's likely just there to grab your personal information. Gimme that low note one more tiiiiime.
Once you move on from that video, you're immediately in search of the next great one. You find yourself frustrated that the next few videos are boring. Swipe up swipe up - I want more good stuff! You can get lost in this constant loop of looking for the next great video with a great ending. And once you find it, you watch it 23 times.
That pull is similar to the NCAA Tournament, I think. Especially this year for Illini fans. We know that a great performance is possible. We saw it in Vegas, we saw it in Madison Square Garden - hell, we saw it in the second half at Purdue. It's there. I know it is. Keep swiping through videos until we find it.
Like, picture someone who was hiking the Appalachian Trail the last five months returning to catch up on Illini basketball. You load up one-minute highlight (or lowlight) videos of the entire season for him to scroll through in order. And you tell him that if he doesn't want to watch an entire video and wants to skip ahead (like, say, when the score on the screen shows "Missouri 74, Illinois 39" with 12 minutes remaining), he can. Each video will repeat once it ends, so if he wants to watch something over and over, he can do that until he swipes up to the next one.
Just picture that experience with this season. That guy would get to the UCLA game and watch the highlights, what, 18 times? It would be this condensed version of Terrence hitting three after three after three. Man, what a game for a one-minute highlight video. End it with Terrence's final dagger three and that guy will loop it over and over.
But then think of how many games where he'd skip forward before the highlights were finished. He's seeing the score at each highlight within the video, so the Penn State game in December would be skipped as soon as the score showed Penn State up by 20 with ten minutes left. Same with Braggin' Rights. And the game at Northwestern. After a while, he's just skipping and skipping, hoping for the next dopamine hit.
Then we win 7 of 8 including a sweep of Wisconsin. Watch all those videos several times. Then we lose three of four to Iowa, Penn State, and Indiana. Swipe up, swipe up, swipe up. By the time he reached the third Penn State loss, he's probably ready to just swipe past the NCAA Tournament.
But that's the thing, right? As I said above when talking about YouTube shorts, there's always this feeling that the next one will be a banger. What if I get more insane cheerleading stunts? What if it's someone with even better bass layered over "Made You Look"? The next run of videos might just make up for all this crap I'm swiping past.
That's my feeling going into tomorrow. We're all pretty sure we know what's going to happen (the password is: we can't make threes), but we still saw some absolute bangers earlier in the season. The 2016 team wasn't beating #2 Texas in New York City. The 2010 Illini couldn't beat Utah or Bradley in Vegas, let alone a UCLA team capable of winning it all. This team can do that, and we can't shake the feeling that the next one might be another banger.
That's the hope of the NCAA Tournament. That's the joy of a clean slate. One game at a time, and we have a team capable of beating nearly anyone. What if this is the year we make a run to the Elite Eight?
Made you look.