YouTube has known its fair share of dangerous, destructive and ill-advised trends, but even by those standards, the “fire challenge” hits new lows.
The so-called challenge consists of pouring rubbing alcohol on oneself, lighting it on fire, and putting the resulting blaze out before you sustain third-degree burns and/or burn your house down. Needless to say, not everyone succeeds — a 15-year-old in Kentucky sustained second-degree burns this week.
Why, precisely, would you do such a thing? In the words of one enraged YouTube vlogger, whose rant against the trend has earned almost 10,000 views: “Are you dumb? No, seriously … It’s mad dumb, but y’all are doing it like it’s an [expletive] trend.”
The thing is, it is a trend — and the overwhelming forces of peer pressure and desire to belong will compel many teens to keep following it, regardless of the (very obvious) risks. In fact, the fire challenge is no outlier — it’s just the latest in a string of reckless social media challenges. Remember the cinnamon challenge? The condom challenge? “Neknomination,” the online drinking game that allegedly caused several deaths?
It’s impossible to guess what “the kids” will dream up next — as long as they have cameras and underdeveloped prefrontal cortexes, there’s really no saying. But as the fire challenge gains steam, we decided to take stock of some of the more popular social media “challenges” they’ve come up with thus far.
The Cinnamon Challenge
Challenge: Swallow a spoonful of ground cinnamon in less than a minute, sans water.
Tweets at peak: 283,576 in January 2012
Danger: Dry cinnamon coats the throat and mouth, which can lead to gagging, vomiting and inhalation of the powder into the lungs. Between January and March 2012, U.S. poison control centers received more than 120 emergency calls related to the “game.” Some suffered lung scarring, ephysema, and — in one case — a collapsed lung.
Stupidity index, on a scale of 1 (Einstein) to 10 (celebrity death hoaxes): 8. Not as bad as setting yourself on fire, but definitely up (down?) there.
The Saltine Cracker Challenge
Challenge: Devour five to seven saltine crackers in less than a minute, also sans water. The video below shows YouTube comedian Ryan Higa making the attempt.
Tweets at peak: 1,317 in February 2012
Danger: The saltines, which are high in sodium, will dry out your mouth — but aside from that, this one’s pretty safe. In fact, the parents of some of today’s teenagers probably remember this one from their misspent youths.
Stupidity index: 2. This one’s at least got some history.
The Banana Challenge
Challenge: Eat a banana while wearing a pair of pantyhose over your head. Really.
Tweets at peak: 2,799 in March 2012, most of them incited by One Direction … and unrelated to the original meme.
Danger: None, really; in fact, the stunt seems to have originated as a game for church youth groups. “It is one of the funniest pranks we have ever played,” one Jacksonville pastor advised. Gross.
Stupidity index: 4. It’s not dangerous, at least.
The No-Cry Challenge
Challenge: Watch a series of 19 sob-worthy TV and movie clips on YouTube without crying. The video below is the first in the prescribed series.
Tweets at peak: 538 in April 2012
Danger: None! Cry at will.
Stupidity index: We’ll say 1, relative to some of this other shenanigans.
The Salt and Ice Challenge
Challenge: Pour salt on your skin, place an ice cube on top, and withstand the ensuing pain for as long as possible.
Tweets at peak: 10,421 in July 2012
Danger: When combined with salt, ice actually becomes colder than the standard freezing temperature for water, exposing the body to extreme cold. Several participants, one as young as 12, sustained second- and third-degree burns; amputation is also a risk.
Stupidity index: 10. This is terrible.
The Banana-Sprite & Milk Challenges
Challenge: Eat two bananas and drink a can or one-liter bottle of Sprite without throwing up. Or, in related idiocy, drink a gallon of milk in under an hour without throwing up.
Tweets at peak: 13,321 in July 2013 (milk) and 5,882 in August 2012 (banana-sprite)
Danger: Stomach capacity varies from person to person, but a one-liter bottle of soda (or a gallon of milk) is larger than many people’s can handle — making it pretty likely that the challenger will get sick. There are few reports of any serious health consequences from this one, but it’s just … pretty gross.
Stupidity index: 5. Why would you make yourself sick?!
The Condom Challenge
Challenge: Insert a condom into your nostril, snort it back into your throat, and pull it out of your mouth.
Tweets at peak: 39,177 in April 2013
Danger: You can, needless to say, choke on the condom. As one emergency room doctor pointed out in 2013, condoms are made to withstand pressure: If it gets lodged in your throat, you may not be able to get it out.
Stupidity index: 10. Gawker named it “the dumbest thing the kids have ever done.”
The Hot Pepper Challenge
Challenge: Eat a hot pepper — preferably the brutal ghost pepper, or the Trinidad Scorpion — and film what happens next.
Tweets at peak: 1,931 in May 2013
Danger: Participants regularly cry, cough or throw up, but other, more dramatic reactions have been documented as well. In 2011, an NPR reporter sampled a hot pepper for a story … and promptly started hallucinating.
Stupidity index: 7. We’ll excuse a little curiosity in this instance; peppers are at least technically edible.
Challenge: Drink a large amount of alcohol very quickly — often in an odd place or costume, or in an “extreme cocktail” — and challenge friends to do the same.
Tweets at peak: 70,267 in February 2014
Danger: At least five people died from alcohol poisoning, to say nothing of the risk of drinking “cocktails” made with things like motor oil and live goldfish.
Stupidity index: A solid 9.
The Eraser Challenge
Challenge: Rub an eraser against your skin while reciting a word for each letter of the alphabet.
Tweets at peak: 774 in March 2014
Danger: The pressure of the eraser can — and often does — cause bleeding wounds that can scar or become infected. Fear of infection prompted one middle school in Connecticut to e-mail parents about the issue, which brought it to national attention in March.
Stupidity index: 7. Potentially dreadful, but standard schoolyard hi-jinks.
The Cold Water Challenge
Challenge: Jump in an icy lake, swim back to shore, and nominate a friend to do the same.
Tweets at peak: 55,472 in May 2014
Danger: Swimming in chilly water poses a risk of both drowning and hypothermia. Earlier this year, a 16-year-old in Minnesota died after swimming out into a lake alone to complete the challenge.
Stupidity index: 10! Don’t do this!
Moral of the story? Please don’t try these at home.