Event Review: A Conversation with Steven Lim

Steven Lim from BuzzFeed’s “Worth It” YouTube series talks with UCSD students about his show, his life, and Asian-American representation in media.

It’s a simple concept that has been proven to work: Take two guys and their cameraman around the world to try similar foods at three drastically different price points (for example, $1 coffee versus $914 coffee) to find out which food is most “worth it” at its given price. With five seasons and millions of views, it is a dream job: getting paid to travel, and eating good food. Steven Lim, creator and half of the “Worth It” duo, knows that. However, as he explained to a room full of UC San Diego students, this show is part of a much bigger dream of his. He described this dream in “A Conversation with Steven Lim,” hosted by A.S. Concert & Events on Oct. 14 in Price Center Ballroom West.

Armed with just a PowerPoint and a microphone, Lim told everyone a personal and what he referred to as an “embarrassing” story about his life. Growing up, he was one of only two Asian students in his middle school. This anecdote was shared with irony, as, much to Lim’s amazement, a majority of the crowd of students before him was Asian. In school, peers always called him “that Asian kid” or confused him with his other Asian classmate. While he initially didn’t think it was wrong, he grew concerned about Asian-American representation in the media during his high school and college years. Non-Asians’ perspectives of him and other Asians were likely influenced by this lack of representation.

At the same time, however, Lim saw that there was a rising popularity of Asian-Americans in media, namely on YouTube. He wanted to be a part of this, and while he graduated with a chemical engineering degree, making videos quickly became his passion. He left his job at Tide (even though he’s proud of his involvement in creating Tide Pods) and started his own YouTube channel. After dozens of failed videos, he succeeded with his 2014 video “Asian Parents React To I Love You,” which Lim played for the audience. It was a video of young Asian-Americans telling their parents “I love you” — some for the first time. The video immediately resonated with viewers across the internet and shortly after Lim received and later accepted an offer to work with BuzzFeed.

Following his presentation was a Q&A that prompted dozens of raised hands and even more questions. For half an hour, Lim answered each question patiently and with good humor. Some questions related to the show and included, “What crazy, bizarre foods have you always wanted to try?” and“Will ‘Worth It’ ever leave Buzzfeed?” Lim responded, “Brain and balut,” and “No, hopefully,” respectively. Other questions were unrelated, such as, “How tall are you?” and “If you had to, what K-Pop group would you join?” Lim’s answers were 6 feet and “Big Bang,” respectively. However, the most thoughtful questions returned to Lim’s main focus of the night. When someone asked whether he thought Asian representation would ever become a norm, Lim said, “I think it’ll take a while, maybe another cycle, which could be a decade or more.” By then he hoped Asians would be cast because they were cool and not just because they were Asian.

In the meantime, Lim remains part of a small but growing group of famous Asian-American YouTubers. When asked about how he’s become accustomed to his newfound prominence, Lim revealed that, as amazed and thankful as he feels, he still doesn’t know how to properly react to his fame and fans. For example, Lim repeatedly expressed disbelief and awe at his event on campus selling out in three minutes. He was surprised and happy that three audience members wore headbands with differing price tags, mimicking his show’s concept. Whenever someone voiced their admiration for him, he sheepishly tried to shrug off the compliment, saying, “I’m just a guy who eats food.”

In response to this, one female audience member stood up and told Lim that he was more than his self-proclaimed image. Instead, he represents many of his Asian-American viewers, who share his identity and relate to his story and upbringing. It is his heritage that influences his distinct tastes and brings his unique perspectives onto the show. By ultimately pursuing his passions, he not only changed his own life but also impacted others. So while Lim may worry about how he behaves around fans, his presence in the room that night made it clear that he doesn’t need to change his ways. He was funny, relatable and down-to-earth. Just like his videos, he left everyone smiling.

Date of Event: October 14, 2018
Location: Price Center Ballroom West

Image courtesy of Natalie Tran