You know the anxiety. It’s that moment you realize that the new season for a highly anticipated streaming show just dropped.
And now nowhere is safe until you’ve watched every single episode before everyone else.
Jeffrey Vega, who dressed as Chief Hopper for Netflix’s midnight marathon “binge race” event for the premiere of Stranger Things 2, said he felt like, “The minute 12:01am hits that Friday, you’re already immediately behind. I can’t go on the internet, I can’t talk to anybody. I basically have to hibernate until I finish.”
The FOMO embedded in the model of streaming shows is real. Or perhaps more readily, the fear of spoilers is always hot on our tails at times like these.
So much so that Netflix even coined the new term binge racers to describe a new evolution in our TV-watching habits. They make up 8.4 million of their watchers worldwide according to their data, and see entire seasons of a show within 24 hours.
The trend appears to only be growing in popularity, having increased twentyfold since 2013 — as phenomenons like Stranger Things, The Defenders, and Orange is the New Black continue to evolve the way we collectively consume our favorite pop culture.
Vega felt he missed out on a big part of last summer’s Stranger Things phenomenon. Not typically a binger, “I kicked myself for not [doing it] because when I finally got around to watching, I had no one else to talk about it with.”
Luckily, this year he won a raffle ticket to Netflix’s first ever official binge race in Los Angeles, joining 150 other prospective binge racers on Oct. 27 to watch over nine straight hours of the show the second it dropped at 12am, to the season’s completion at around 8am.
“I am so excited to see it at the earliest possible moment,” Vega said, explaining that even his boss had told him to skip work that day to attend. “It feels like we’re doing it the way Netflix intended.”
Netflix’s event truly put binge racing to the test. Supplying a functioning ’80s arcade as well as an eerie vine-covered theater filled with couches and an endless amounts of coffee, pop, and food — including grilled cheese, cereal, candy, and of course waffles — it felt like Hawkins had come to Hollywood.
But, without a doubt, binge racing is not for the weak-willed (or true adults with responsibilities).
At the beginning, the anticipation hummed over everyone like the electric storm brewing over Hawkins. Around 4am (and at no fault of their own), even the most dedicated found themselves dozing off in the quieter parts of Stranger Things 2.
True to the show, many with the best intentions didn’t survive to the end.
One cosplayer duo, a Barb named Anna-Louise Gabbedy and a phone-wielding Joyce Byers named Areti Katsaros, started the night looking psyched to have their worlds turned upside down.
Having gotten hooked last season, they identified with the character as a self-described “red-headed nerd,” and a frantic mother to a newborn baby (respectively). Both connected on a personal level to the characters, Katsaros saying that “the haggard mother in Joyce really speaks to the haggard mother in me right now.”
Ironically, about midway through the season, Barb’s double mysteriously vanished from the front row. Strange indeed.
For those who stayed, the entire experience of communal binge-racing proved singular, mind-melting, and very nearly insanity-inducing. By rough estimates, only about fifty of the original party members (presumably those with the best D&D stamina stats) survived the whole competition.
Everyone who made it through that we interviewed asserted that the experience was unequivocally worth it, though, especially for this kind of universe.
The communal part of the night enhanced that sense of camaraderie people often cite toward the characters of Stranger Things. Binge-watching tends to be more of an individual experience. We usually watch on our laptops, in isolation, feeling the emotional beats in a moment but then only later getting to commiserate online or with IRL friends (if you’re lucky).
But in a theater of crazy people speeding to the finishing line together, every scream, gasp, laugh, and cheer spread across the enraptured crowd like a virus infesting Hawkins’ pumpkin patches. And, like the virus, those got more dire from episode to episode.
Ultimately, completing a binge race like this damn well seems to have broken the space-time continuum and reality for most of the event’s survivors.
At 12:00 am on a warmly crisp October night, they walked through those doors under the cloak of darkness with bright eyes and hungry faces. Those who persevered emerged from the theater at about 8:00 a.m. looking nothing short of battle-hardened, squinting at the blaring Hollywood sun as a crowd of employees handed out medals proudly declaring them “official binge racers.”
The sun’s rays hugged the bright colors of an Eggo waffle truck, with an assortment of other breakfast foods like eggs, bacon, and orange juice available at an adjacent station.
I found my Hopper from the beginning — still just as jovial, but nothing short of bewildered. “I feel like we just talked. I’m baffled that that was so many hours ago. How did that happen? I don’t know where or… when I am.”
He eyed the Eggo truck. “I’m so sad it’s over. I don’t know what to do now. Where do we go? What is happening? Am I in the upside down?”