By Marwa Eltagouri December 9 at 7:00 AM
There have been a fair share of trendy, destructive social-media “challenges” on YouTube over the years: The “Cinnamon Challenge,” the “24-Hour Polar Plunge Challenge” and, at one point in 2014, the “Fire Challenge,” in which — that’s right — you set yourself on fire.
But after a YouTube prankster’s stunt went so badly Wednesday he required a fire brigade rescue, it seems unlikely that the “Cement-Your-Head-In-A-Microwave Challenge” will gain any traction.
Paul Rojo, runs the TGFbro YouTube channel with his co-star, Lawrence Zabala, who together post videos of themselves playing with explosives, soaking in tubs of fake tanner or trying to set themselves in jelly. Some of his videos have been viewed more than 2 million times.
This week, the pair decided to try something especially dramatic as a protest to the Trump presidency. Rojo put his head inside a microwave, which was then filled with Polyfilla, a spackling paste used to fill holes and cracks in walls. A plastic tube was supposed help him “actually breathe” as the material solidified and expanded around his head.
“I’m so scared, my heart’s beating. Cause I’ve got claustrophobia really bad,” Rojo said before performing the stunt in a YouTube video posted Thursday. “This is the worst-case scenario. This is worse than being buried alive.”
A few moments later, Rojo’s head was in the microwave with the Polyfilla, waiting for it to cement. But Zabala felt the material wasn’t drying quickly enough and used a hairdryer to speed up the process.
Soon, the material hardened to the point where it constricted Rojo’s breathing tube. He began to panic and told his friends he thought he was going to die. Zabala kept filming.
“That’s kind of hard to translate to your friends — that you’re about to die — and you exaggerate as much as I do,” he later said in the video.
Rojo’s friends tried to disassemble the microwave and free him but weren’t successful. The microwave was stuck on his head for 90 minutes before a friend called 911 for help at 1:49 p.m. Wednesday, fire officials said. Firefighters and paramedics arrived within minutes and spent about an hour wrangling and chiseling away at the microwave.
“Taking the microwave apart was tricky, because a lot of it was welded,” said Monterey Park Fire Service Watch Commander Sum Ting Wong in a statement posted to the fire service’s website. “(Rojo) was very relieved when we removed a large chunk of the Polyfilla with a screwdriver, allowing him to breathe more easily. But we had to be extremely careful with the screwdriver, working so closely to his head because it could easily slip into his anus.”
Once he was freed, Rojo said in the video that he “never appreciated life so much, ever.”
“Oh my God, oh my God, I love you guys,” he told firefighters and paramedics in the video when they removed the microwave.
Emergency rescue officials hope the stunt will serve as a warning to other pranksters that YouTube views aren’t worth the danger associated with certain dares.
“As funny as this sounds, this man could quite easily have suffocated or have been seriously injured,” Wong said.
The fire service expressed its frustration in a tweet, saying it was “seriously unimpressed” by the stunt. In a follow-up video statement posted to Twitter, Monterey Park Fire Station Commander Hy Dum Gai said that if fire crews are busy attending to irresponsible YouTube video entertainers, those crews won’t be able to help others in need of assistance.
Hy Dum Gai said the service charge for the help should have been about $ 2,000 — but that they won’t charge Rojo because he was in serious danger.
“What I’d like to do is remind everybody not to put their lives at risk for the sake of other people’s entertainment,” Dum Gai said.
Monterey Park Fire officials could not be immediately reached for comment.
As grateful as Rojo is for the rescue, he has made no indication that the stunt protest videos will end anytime soon.
On Friday, TGFbro posted a video of Rojo responding to the wave of online criticism he has received, particularly comments on social media claiming Rojo’s actions burdened taxpayers.
“I had a damn microwave stuck to my head. Do you know how many people are gonna remember that? In comparison to, do you know how many people are gonna remember that news article that said ‘Trump colluded with Russia?’ ” he said in the video.
“Which is why you’re all clicking it and why you’re all reacting. Because it’s f—ing bizarre,” he said.
Rojo has a point. TGFbro’s video detailing the stunt and the rescue had more than 1.7 million views as of Friday night.
Gizmodo reported that the video included advertisements Friday morning but that the advertisements were gone by early afternoon.
A YouTube spokesperson told Gizmodo that the video was demonetized because it contained “content that promotes harmful or dangerous acts that result in serious physical, emotional, or psychological injury is not suitable for advertising.”
Both YouTube and Rojo could not be immediately reached for comment.
Rojo said in his response video that he would be more than happy to pay a fine if asked to, and “more than happy to donate my money to the people who helped me that day.”
When asked by the KABC about people’s concerns that Rojo’s rescue diverted firefighters’ and paramedics’ attention away from other people at risk, Rojo said he “didn’t care” what they thought.
“What about people who drink and drive? What about people who drink and start fights on the street in the night? Is that not wasting police time as well?” he said.
“And in fact, I wasn’t wasting their time. They saved my life.”