Here’s how one guy ended up thrown into a swimming pool in front of millions of viewers. On Friday, professional NFL player JuJu Smith-Schuster was recorded taking the “water cup challenge” on TikTok. It was the most nerve-wracking two minutes of Jenga I’ve ever endured. No matter how full the cup got, it was impossible to tell who was going to come out the loser.
TikTok challenges are normally notorious for endangering participants. Smith-Schuster caught public flak last August for attempting the “milk crate challenge,” which is a game in which players navigate a tower of milk crates without falling off. The water cup challenge is significantly less risky. Players take turns pouring a drop of water into a full plastic cup. Whoever caused the cup to overflow would be thrown into the swimming pool.
The water cup challenge has existed since at least 2021, though none have been as famous as the one undertaken by a NFL football player. Some losers had to jump into a swimming pool, while others were merely sprayed with a garden hose. Twitter commenters have started calling the challenge “water Jenga” in the quote retweets.
While there are mechanical similarities, the water cup challenge isn’t actually Jenga like some netizens are calling it. It’s worse. When you play Jenga, there’s usually a shake that foretells the entire tower coming down. This isn’t the case for the water cup challenge, where overflow is entirely dependent on the surface tension of the water.
For those of you who slept through high school physics (me), surface tension is when water molecules clump more closely together on the sides without any other bits of H2O. As a result, every droplet of water added to the cup ends up holding strongly onto the main body. This means that nobody can tell who’s about to lose the challenge until it’s too late. For a better viewing experience, don’t look at how much time is remaining in the video.
One guy eventually loses the water cup challenge at the end. I knew what the stakes were, but I didn’t actually think that he was going to be thrown into the pool. It was just a joke, right? Nope. To the man’s credit, he seemed cooperative as his friends led him to the edge of the water. Maybe next time, he’ll have the sweet satisfaction of pushing someone else in.