Misha Collins – GISHWHES
Q) Last year you had a lot of friends create items. Do you have any friends on board to help this season?
A) I was going to compliment myself for having done advanced planning, but the truth is we had lots of fun creating stuff for the Tumblr mini hunt that we did. But because of the Orlando shooting we didn’t end up using them. So, we have a backlog of things were created by a lot of friends. I think we have about fifteen in the bank now.
Q) What would you like people who participate in GISHWHES to take from it?
A) I’m happy for people to get whatever it is they want out of it. For some people, it’s just a little fun rom for the week. For some people, it is chance to get together with their friends and family and coalesce around something they wouldn’t normally do. Sometimes it’s an excuse for parents and their teenage children to do something together that everybody enjoys. Sometimes it’s an event for people that causes them to do things outside of their comfort zone and to challenge themselves or for other people it’s an event that allows them to exercise their latent inner artist. And for some people it’s a chance to take photos of themselves in compromising and humiliating wardrobe. It kind of serves different purposes for different people. For me, it’s really actually an incredibly creatively gratifying experience, but it’s also pumps up my ego, which is very important for me. It’s helped facilitate my name being attached to seven Guinness World Records, which is kind of spectacular. And it has precipitated William Shatner basically stalking me online and things like that. So, there’ve been ancillary personal benefits to the enterprise as well.
Q) What is the GISHWHES item that you’re proudest of and why?
A) The GISHWHES Item that I’m proudest of, I would say, probably is the space item. So, a few years ago we put an item in the hunt that said, “Get an astronaut on the international space station to write GISHWHES in space.” And all of the astronauts at that time on the space station Mir. I believe there were seven or eight of them at the time that were on social media. So, they were all on Twitter and Facebook and things like that and the participants in GISHWHES began to barrage individual social media feeds with requests for them to write GISHWHES in space because there were a lot of points associated with that item. If their team had gotten that astronaut to write “GISHWHES” in space, they would have gotten a lot of points. NASA posted on their official Twitter feed, “We appreciate that you guys are playing a game, but please leave our astronauts alone. They’re trying to get real Science done and you are cluttering up their social media feed.” So, the next year we put an item up that read, “Last year NASA told us to leave their astronauts alone. We know they’ve been kicking themselves all year for passing up on the opportunity to participate in GISHWHES. We’re giving them another chance. Get GISHWHES written in space.” And somehow we managed to get through to the right people, some teams called the right numbers and reached the right people and wound up getting a mountain on Mars named GISHWHES, officially, by NASA. Which I feel like – at the moment that I learned that it happened…and actually NASA ended up posting on their official Twitter feed that they had named a mountain on Mars GISHWHES. The moment that that post came through, I felt like, “You know what? I can just hang it all up right now. I feel like I could die happy at this moment, this is truly incredible.” So that, for me, is the single most satisfying item. I would say that a close second was just looking at all the photos of people that covered themselves in pet hair made suits from dog and cat hair for a GISHWHES item, that was also immensely rewarding. But there you go.
Q) Were there any other memorable submissions that you got from people who were participating, like what were some of the more funny and amusing items you received while doing them?
A) Well, there are sort of like different categories of items that we do for GISHWHES every year. There is a category that I know gets people do things that might feel a little bit scary or puts them out of their comfort zone, like for instance dress up as The Flash and get a tour of a particle accelerator. That is a little bit challenging to do for a lot of people. Like, “Alright, I’m gonna dress up as a superhero and then I’m gonna go to, you know, the university and see if someone is gonna let me tour the particle accelerator.” But the images that came back from that were incredible. There’s a particle accelerator — there aren’t that many particle accelerators in the world, but there’s a particle accelerator that had so many people calling and requesting tours dressed as superheroes that they decided to consolidate and do a group tour. So, there are about fifteen Flashes that show up at once and there are photos of like fifteen people running through the hallways of the particle accelerator, which is pretty amazing. There are items like that. There are items that people do at home, like bit of more sort of artistic and crafty. There are items that we just ask people to do things that are a little gross or a little embarrassing, like make a dress from bacon. Bacon fat as itself starts to melt on your body at body temperature. So, there’s a lot of photos of really greasy people covered in bacon fat. There is another category of items which is just to do things that are kind of challenging and they’ll be technically difficult, but that create kind of visually arresting images. One of those was “get a fully decorated Christmas tree to float on helium balloon.” Basically, people made massive bouquets of helium balloons and attached them to fully decorated Christmas trees and they lifted off the ground. One of the things that we didn’t really think about when we did that was what happens to the Christmas tree after it floats away. And there are these relatively large Christmas trees, covered in ornaments, floating around in the sky and there were a couple of airports that closed because of “Christmas trees in the airspace.” I never really thought that one all the way through, unfortunately. All of those images were spectacular and amazing. And when you’re looking at somebody just like standing in their kitchen, covered in bacon grease, that’s incredibly satisfying and when you’re looking at video footages of news feeds, talking about how an airport has been closed down, that also strangely has a certain element of satisfaction to it.
Q) What advice would you give to a newbie who’s utterly thrilled about the scavenger hunt, but overwhelmed that they might not be brave enough or creative enough to pull it off?
A) I don’t think that anyone on their own is brave enough or creative enough to tackle GISHWHES and that’s why we put people on teams. There’s an incredibly wide variety of items for every hunt. And items range from solving logic puzzles and Math problems to creating mosaics from Skittles of Jensen Ackles’ face to persuading NASA to do something. You just really ought to do something that is kind. Like making a donation to a local homeless shelter. So, there is something for everyone and we actually make a concerted effort. We even make sure that the items that someone who doesn’t have the use of their legs, or somebody who’s agoraphobic would be able to complete. And because you’re on a team of fifteen people, you can join the hunt either with one friend, or two friends, or fifteen friends, or all by yourself and we make sure that you are placed on a complete team ultimately of fifteen people. But because the teams are so collaborative and so supportive, the individuals on the team with the strongest artistic talent will end up taking the art items and the individuals on the team who are either bravest or most willing to embarrass themselves will dress up as a superhero and go to the grocery store. And the individuals who did well in graduate school are going tackle the logic problems. And so everybody sort of parses out the items and finds what they are best at and everybody on a team works collaboratively. And there really is always a role for anyone to play on a given team. So, I would say that to the newbies. I would also say that you’re going to meet — you’re going to like be thrown in the trenches with the other fourteen people in your team and you’re going to get to know each other really well in a short period of time and invariably really, really strong friendships form from GISHWHES teams. I hear team after team, after team, tell me that they did the hunt for the first time a few years ago and are still talking to their teammates every day. So, there’s something about the pain and suffering that the group experiences together, that forms lifelong bonds and I think that’s another reason that newbies should not be afraid of that. All of that said, it is a very rational fear because we do make people do some scary stuff. I think being afraid and wary of GISHWHES is a sign of a certain degree of emotional health.
Q) The hunt has attracted several celebrities over the years, but you’ve always remained adamant that the focus is on pushing everyday individuals to do extraordinary things. Why is this such an important thing for you and the hunt in general?
A) I don’t want to get too ideological about it, but I’ve always liked the notion (personally anyway) that the most interesting things in life usually happen when we push ourselves out of our comfort zone. I have found that to be really true for myself. And the memories that I have that I’m most fond of are memories of experiences when I did stuff that people told me I probably shouldn’t be doing. Or that my own inner barometer told me I shouldn’t be doing. I think that we grow more quickly in those environments and in those situations. I mean, a good analogy is weightlifting. If you push yourself hard, you’ll tear your muscles on a microscopic level but they grow back stronger. And I think that GISHWHES kind of serves that function on creative and social levels. I also believe in, I don’t know what’s wrong with me, but for some reason I just get a tremendous amount of satisfaction in doing things that people think is impossible or wouldn’t think to do in the first place. I kind of like shaking things up in that respect and I think that I’m not alone. Because I think that the people who participate in GISHWHES, by virtue of the fact that they’re participating, are getting pushed into doing some of those things that I like doing, too, and they find themselves getting a lot of joy out of it. But it’s almost as if we need an excuse to do those things. We’re not going to get dressed up as The Flash and go out and get a tour of a particle accelerator without someone pushing us to do that or without having an excuse to do it. But when we do, we have an amazing experience. So, yeah. I don’t know if that answered your question, but I believe I talked for a while.
Q) I was wondering if you could tell us a little bit more about the Random Acts charity?
A) So Random Acts is a charity that I founded in partnership with “Supernatural” fans before I started GISHWHES. I had seen that this fandom was full of creativity and had charitable inclinations and was looking for a good way to galvanize and focus those energies. And so I started Random Acts with fans and it’s grown in the ensuing years well beyond the “Supernatural” fandom. GISHWHES has been the largest single contributor to Random Acts so every year we take our surplus at the end of GISHWHES and contribute it to Random Acts. And Random Acts has built a very large orphanage/school/community center in Haiti and is building a high school in Nicaragua right now and does hundreds of smaller projects all around the world every year. So, it’s grown and I’m very proud of it. And it’s an all-volunteer organization as well, which I think is very cool.
Q) This year San Diego Comic Con is one week before GISHWHES. One year you did have kind of a meetup there. I was wondering if you had anything planned like that this year?
A) Pardon the long-winded answer here. One of the things that we did a few years ago was we started the GISHWHES frequent GISHer reward program. It is sort of like a frequent flier reward program where we rewarded GISH points to people who participated in the hunt. And the more GISH points you had, the higher your tier status. And we started it as a silly satire of reward programs and I think we created about fifty tier statuses that I think there’s some very unimpressive sounding tier statuses down at the very bottom, like “Paper.” And there’s some more impressive ones towards the top, like “Triple Diamond Gold Deluxe” and whatnot. And the higher tier statuses have gotten in exchange for all of their hard work and tireless devotion to the GISHWHES reward program, they have gotten (to date) almost nothing. So, we have decided this year to finally reward higher tier statuses with something that would be kind of awesome. We started by giving them some discounts in our shop and stuff like that, but we’re also going to be giving them access to the GISHWHES VIP Executive Lounge which will be making appearances — and I have been working long hours on the GISHWHES mobile executive lounge and it is a very strange and wonderful place. It will be making appearances all over the country and at San Diego Comic Con. Its inaugural appearance will be this very weekend, but it will be at San Diego Comic Con and I will be luxuriating in the lounge myself. People who have participated in GISHWHES will be welcomed with open arms to the lounge.
Q) As you mentioned earlier, GISHWHES already holds seven world records. What would you like to see accomplished either this year or in years to come with GISHWHES?
A) I don’t think that there’s any harm in racking up any additional Guinness World Records so I wouldn’t be opposed to that. I believe that there’s a Russian athlete who has like fifty Guinness World Records and it would be tremendously satisfying to unseat him. Beyond that, I would love it if GISHWHES became part of the cultural vocabulary, like everybody kind of knew about it and either participated in it or dreaded its annual appearance. I would love it if people were to say things like, “Oh, God, let’s not travel that week. That’s GISHWHES week and it’s just going to be a nightmare.” So, my vision for it is that someday, maybe it just kind of gums up the works, that people sort of plan their calendar year around it. I do think that it’s kind of a magical event where people are allowed to let their freak flags fly for a week and unleash their inner creative geniuses that often lie dormant for much of the rest of the year and I would love to see it grow. That’s my ambition. And that’s why I talk to you guys and proselytize about it online and whore myself out to try to get people to participate because I think it’s kind of great. There are times when I feel overworked and like I’m not spending enough time with my kids and feel like GISHWHES is taking so much time and energy. But then I meet people who tell me stories about how much it means to them or how they made their best friends on their teams and it just feels very rewarding, so I want to keep doing it and I want to keep growing it.