Elissa Slater is arguably one of the most famous faces on the planet, yet hardly anyone knows her name. While the 35-year-old nutritionist in North Carolina pursues a career in orthopedic nursing, it’s nearly impossible to peruse the internet without running into a three-second clip of her spitting Sprite into a white coffee mug.
Yes, that’s Slater — not Jennifer Lawrence — and she’s the woman behind one of the internet’s most popular reaction GIFs. The clip is from Slater’s appearance on the 15th season of the reality series Big Brother, when a suspicious housemate accused her of collusion.
“GinaMarie [Zimmerman] and I were talking in the kitchen, and we could hear Amanda [Zuckerman] losing her mind in the other room about how we were conspiring against her,” Slater tells me. “But then Amanda came in and confronted us about that, going, ‘You guys are talking game, and every time I fuckin’ walk over you stop fuckin’ talking!”
As a self-professed “natural giggler,” Slater says she tends to react to anything absurd, serious, funny, tense or weird by giggling. So when Zuckerman confronted her, she simply couldn’t help herself. “I burst out laughing because it was so ridiculous,” she says. “Amanda just sounded and looked so serious that I couldn’t take it — the spit take was my natural response to that situation.”
Continue watching past where the GIF typically cuts off, and you’ll hear Zuckerman tell Slater to “fuckin’ clean this shit up, Elissa! You fuckin’ spit all over the place!” as Slater wipes up her mess, responding, “I know! I couldn’t help it!”
Besides making Zuckerman angrier, Slater’s reaction didn’t garner much attention from her other Big Brother housemates. Even after the episode aired, the spit take hardly created much buzz. Then, roughly four years ago, Slater says, “People started sending screenshots of my spit take being used in their college classes or by their work, or when a brand or celebrity uses it on social media.”
It’s only become more ubiquitous since. “Someone will tell me about someone else using that GIF at least once a week,” she explains. “That’s been happening for years on end now.”
Today, Slater’s spit take is among the top results for commonly used reaction categories like “laughing,” “lol,” “lmao” and “funny” on Giphy, which also gives you a good sense of just how popular it is on Twitter, iMessage and Instagram. Tally the views on various iterations of the GIF that have been uploaded to Giphy, and Slater’s spit take has accumulated well over three billion views. Given its omnipresence there, it’s no wonder her Sprite-spewing has become a staple amongst the oft-dreaded replies under a viral tweet.
For her part, Slater doesn’t mind who uses the GIF or how it’s used. “I love the GIF myself. I like that people use it all the time and think it’s fun that it’s gone super viral,” she tells me. “I just wish I got paid for it, that’s really the only thing.”
“It’s the one thing of mine that’s gone viral, so I need to learn how to capitalize on it. Because everyone uses it, which benefits Giphy and Twitter and all those platforms, yet I don’t make any money from it,” she continues, adding she’d be happy if the GIF could raise her profile in any significant way. “Instead, people always think it’s Jennifer Lawrence. Luckily, I have people who will tag me and be like, ‘No, it’s Elissa from Big Brother.’”
Neither CBS nor Giphy responded to my questions about who owns the rights to the GIF, or whether there was a process to compensate or credit the people who appear in GIFs as popular as Slater’s. But Slater contends that if a company worth almost half a billion dollars like Giphy benefits from her likeness, she’s certainly due some scratch.
“Giphy and other platforms need content in order to be successful, and I feel like my reaction has brought a lot of value to them in that regard,” she concludes. “So I just feel like I should get paid or something for that, right?”