Like many people who find themselves the subject of sudden, intense attention online, 25-year-old Ian Araujo never thought people would be interested in the “weird little thing” he does in his free time. “I’m a huge fan of movies, TV and sports, and a while back, I found a way to bring them together,” he tells me. “But it’s always been this weird, super niche thing I did. I never even brought it up in conversation because I figured I was the only one interested in it.”
In short, whenever Araujo saw a sporting event playing on a TV in the background of a scene in a TV show or movie, he’d embark upon a fervent investigation to identify what the event was in real life. “And I wouldn’t just stop when I found out the team playing,” he says. “I wanted to find the exact moment in that game.”
In the past week, his videos have gone viral on Twitter, TikTok and Instagram, but for the longest time, Araujo kept his hobby to himself. “It all started with a scene in the TV show Monk,” he says. “There was a football episode where they’re at a tailgate — there’s a quick shot of the game, and I was able to trace it to a USFL game from the 1980s.”
Yet, after he found the exact moment in that decades-old USFL game, that was it, the journey ended there, with nothing more than personal satisfaction. “I’d move onto the next game I saw playing in the background, but I never made a video about them because it was just a thing I did,” he explains. In fact, he adds, when he did end up making a video on TikTok, in the first one, “you can see me over-explaining myself like, ‘This is just some weird thing I do,’ but people liked it. And so, I decided to start making more.”
Araujo began sifting through pictures of stadium seating, logo placements, jersey changes, field demarcations and scoreboard layouts to help identify the specific games happening in the background of movies like Black Widow and TV shows like The Ranch and Ozark. As he worked, he watched as his audience on TikTok slowly grew to more than 800,000 followers.
In Episode Two of HBO’s Peacemaker, Araujo used the blurry letters in the end zone of a field and pieced together that the game playing was a December 2, 2011 high school football game in Little Rock, Arkansas.
By and large, his sleuthing skills leave audiences on TikTok in awe. But every once in a while, there’s trouble. “I tend to get the Marvel people all in a tizzy because the games happening in certain scenes screw up the timeline or don’t fit within the canon,” Araujo laughs. “They’ll try to correct me or argue like, ‘Oh, well, that’s actually not canon to the Marvel Universe.’ But I always just try to make it clear that I’m not here to challenge canon or anything, all I’m saying is that it’s there. I’m just trying to have some fun with it.”
Araujo explains that in Black Widow, which is set in 2016, there’s a World Cup friendly between South Korea and Paraguay playing in the background. “That game happened in 2014,” he explains, “so people in the comments were all, ‘That doesn’t make sense! Why would it be on the TV?’”
The answer is boring, Araujo says, “because it’s usually just the cheapest clip they could find — the people who design these sets aren’t putting a ton of time and thought into deciding what sporting event to play for three seconds in the background of a scene.”
This might explain why, elsewhere in the Marvel universe, an episode of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier shows Bucky Barnes watching a “game that happened in an incredibly random, obscure South Australian football league,” Araujo tells me. “Even the Australians who commented on the video said it was such an obscure game that they couldn’t have watched it on TV, let alone know the teams.”
Sometimes the sheer difficulty of Araujo’s investigations sends his audience into confused chaos: “It’s funny, people will be like, ‘This guy has too much spare time on his hands! He should use his skills to solve cold cases,’ or they’ll just ask straight up, ‘Why do you do this? It’s for the views or money, right? But I guess it’s hard to explain that this is just a weird thing that I like to do regardless of social media or money. For me, it’s a puzzle that doesn’t take too long, and I’m having fun the entire time I work on it. And that’s just how I work; I’ve got a weird brain.”
Araujo has only come across a few sporting events he hasn’t been able to identify. “I have to put them on the back burner because there’s only so much information you can glean before you’ve exhausted everything,” he explains. “But then it might be two months later, and I’ll see a random logo on some website and be like, Hmm this looks familiar. That’s when I’ll get back to it.”
When he does finally crack the case, Araujo says he enjoys having an audience to celebrate with. “Plus, I love it when people point me to a new one that they claim is ‘impossible’ to find,” he says. “Because what’s the fun when I can see all the logos and details? Anyone can figure that out, I want to be able to scour the internet to crack the puzzle.”
Though he may have over-explained himself in his first video, Araujo now understands why so many people are drawn to his “weird little puzzles.” “I’m exactly the type of fan who would comment on my videos about Marvel canon, like I love sifting through details and reading Reddit theories,” he says. “These little puzzles are a way to bring the third thing people like myself love — sports — into the equation.”
And while he isn’t sure exactly where the newfound internet fame will lead him, he’s enjoyed this foray into the sports media world. “I’m very raw — I don’t have a lot of media training or anything,” he says. “But I’m enjoying it and people seem to care, so I might keep going wherever this takes me.”