Eating Tide Pods is over. Now, according to a number of breathless news reports, parents should instead be terrified that their children are going to gobble up plastic and cardboard in an attempt to impress their friends with the “Shell on Challenge.”
Local newspapers and TV stations across the country have become fixated on the idea that teens are filming themselves eating the “shell” around an item of food that doesn’t actually have a shell. The “shell” for a lemon would be the lemon peel, for example, while the “shell” on a pineapple would be its hard skin. The shell for cereal would be the cereal box, sending anyone who wants to eat cereal with the “shell on” eating right through the cardboard and plastic the cereal came in.
Media outlets have rushed to warn parents that teens are gobbling up plastic, then posting the videos to Snapchat. The Today show declared the Shell on Challenge to be a “harmful new trend” that could “do a lot of damage” to kids, while Food Network personality Sunny Anderson denounced it. The New York Post dubbed it the “dangerous Snapchat trend among teens.” An Arizona Republic story on the dangers of the Shell on Challenge featured an interview with a local teen who bit into a plastic bag of baby carrots.
Like other recent, much-hyped social media challenges, though, there’s little evidence that this supposed trend is real.
Matt Schimkowitz, a senior editor at Know Your Meme, says there’s scant evidence that the Shell on Challenge is catching on. The news reports claim the Shell on Challenge is taking place on Snapchat, where most videos disappear after a short amount of time. By now, though, according to Schimkowitz, the Shell on Challenge would have migrated to other platforms if it was genuinely popular.
“Either it’s truly only on Snapchat—making it basically the first and only Snapchat trend to not bleed over to Instagram or YouTube—or it’s not actually a thing, which is my hunch,” Schimkowitz told The Daily Beast.
The news stories on the Shell on Challenge all rely on the same few videos, including the Arizona teen biting into a bag of baby carrots or a video of a young man in a hoodie biting into an unpeeled banana. Out of the handful of Shell on Challenge videos that are available on YouTube or Twitter, most involve people biting into citrus fruits—something that’s generally safe, presuming that fruit has been washed beforehand. Notably, none of the videos of the challenge show anyone swallowing the plastic they bit into—the baby carrot video, for example, ends right after the teenager takes the bite.
Tate Turner, a photographer in St. Petersburg, Florida, was cited in one news story as a participant in the Shell on Challenge after he posted a picture of a box of Cinnamon Toast Crunch with a mouth-size hole in it.
Turner told The Daily Beast that he didn’t eat the plastic and cardboard surrounding the cereal.
“It’s just a dumb trend,” Turner said in an email. “You don’t actually eat it (although I did take the bite to make it look as real as possible) but yeah you don’t eat the ‘shell’ it’s just poking fun at dumb things.”
The Shell on Challenge panic recalls 2018’s Tide Pod Challenge fever, when news reports claimed that young people were eating Tide laundry detergent pods in large numbers in search of social media fame. YouTube pulled down Tide Pod Challenge videos, and government health officials begged teens not to consume the pods. In the end, though, only a few dozen people ingested the Tide Pods—many of them elderly.
The challenge isn’t even the first viral challenge hoax of 2019. Earlier this year, parents panicked after news stories claimed that someone posing as the monster “Momo” was urging children to commit suicide. The Momo Challenge, too, turned out to be fake.
For now, Know Your Meme’s Schimkowitz says he hasn’t seen much evidence of the Shell on Challenge catching on. That might change, though, thanks to all of the news reports warning people not to do it.
“Because places are still treating it like a national epidemic, I wouldn’t be surprised if people actually started attempting it in larger numbers,” Schimkowitz said.