I agree with @BKSquared in that it is how one communicates rather than what one communicates. Embedded in the essay as described by @BKSquared are important qualities which are attractive to competitive admissions schools.
I do not think that the activities–unicycle riding & news addiction–were as important as the personal qualities revealed through the essays.
I do agree that the activities present the applicants as interesting persons to read about and that unusual activities help to capture the reader’s interest.
Nevertheless, an applicant could write a compelling college application essay about a broken shoelace if it revealed attractive personal qualities such as intellectual curiosity and openness, etc.