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Interview: Jamie Hyneman and Adam Savage of Mythbusters talk about Season Eight

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When the Discovery Channel first aired the first season of Mythbusters back in 2003, I wonder if they knew what a huge phenomenon the series would be. Starring Jamie Hyneman and Adam Savage, the dynamic duo has done everything from test to see if a penny dropped from the top of the Empire State Building would kill someone to exploding dang near everything they can get their hands on.

Now in their eighth season, Adam and Jamie have taken a bit of time out of their busy schedules to answer a few questions…

How many myths are submitted during a particular year and how many do you get to test? What are the top three criteria you use when deciding whether or not to use a particular myth? What is your favorite myth of the new season?

Jamie: The number of myths that we come across in a year varies – there are usually 60 or 70 in a list that are ahead of what we are doing at present. We look for stories that require hands-on physical activity or builds – we can’t just talk about something – and we look for things that we can have fun with or are funny. We also like things that are unusual or have unexpected qualities to them. The new season has a story that involves pulling a tablecloth out from under a large banquet table full of settings without breaking anything. That was really fun and involved a lot of broken dishes and a really fast motorcycle.

Adam: We test, on average, about 20-24 myths per year. Anything where we can find some testable hypothesis is something we’ll tackle. I don’t have a favorite, but building a wooden, repeating arrow machine gun from 2000 year old designs was pretty cool.

What has been the surprising myth you’ve tested (whether plausible, busted, or confirmed) in eight seasons?

Jamie: Are elephants afraid of mice? Turns out, they are! At least the ones we tested.

Given all the skills and talents you bring to the fore during each episode, what’s your favorite skill to put into use?

Jamie: I think for both of us, there is no favorite skill, but our favorite thing about the show is the fact that so many different skills are required and used. We go from machining or welding something to sewing. We sculpt things, but do plumbing and carpentry, or set up experiments to find out if yawning is contagious. And oddly enough, we see it as all the same; using your mind and body to figure something out, to make something happen.

Adam: My brain. Honestly. The problem solving before we do any building is the most exciting part of doing this show and it’s what keeps it interesting after 8 years.

How long (on average) does it take to do the research and transform it into a final episode ready for airing? What’s the toughest part of filming any given episode?

Jamie: Each of the shows we do is unique, and so is the research. It took 2 years to do the behind the scenes research and setup for the lead balloon story. Others only take a day or so. Shooting the show, once all the preparations are made, takes on average a week to 10 days.

Adam: It can take anything from 1 week to a couple of years! It took 2 years to find a company that could make lead foil thin enough to be made into a balloon. Sometimes we need to blow something up last minute and we’ll call our guy at the bomb range and drive right over.

Obviously safety is incredibly important for you, your crew, and any bystanders while filming. What safety protocols are in place when you shoot an episode? Have there been any injuries in your eight seasons?

Jamie: We finally hired a safety oversight company to run through everything we are going to do before we start to do it. They serve the same function for Jackass or Fear Factor. But ultimately we are our best safety oversight, and there are things we know now that no one else does about how to handle the kinds of situations we face. We treat it all kind of like a bomb squad treats a bomb. You wear all the safety gear you can, you work very carefully, and treat everything like something really, really bad can happen.

There have been injuries – but mostly cuts, abrasions, the occasional broken finger or nose, some blown eardrums. No loss of vision or brain damage so far, and no serious permanent damage.

Adam: Jamie and I have both sustained a couple dozen stitches each, but those are just scratches. The worst injury is a couple of broken fingers suffered by the crew moving safety equipment. No lie.

How difficult is it to find places to destroy things during your experiments?

Jamie: Over the years we have found appropriate places for this, and we go to them a lot. Places with lots of open space, no neighbors or traffic nearby, and local law enforcement that is OK with us doing what we do.

Adam: Now that the show’s been on so long, this isn’t the tough job it used to be. Several people have offered us their houses to destroy!

Are there any myths that you’d like to investigate but haven’t been able to do yet?

Jamie: We usually find ways to do what we need to do somehow. We would love to go to the moon to prove the US has been there before. We can’t do that yet, so we did simulations of footage and gravity, etc., to replicate what was recorded. So we just do the best we can. There are things to do with nuclear explosions we would like to test, but of course can’t. Sometimes the scale of an experiment is just outside our reach, and a small scale version just won’t do.

Adam: We have a list that’s about 120 myths big of good stuff we haven’t gotten to yet.

I want to thank Adam & Jamie for answering my questions and wish them the best of luck with season eight and beyond of Mythbusters!

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Fitz is a software engineer and writer who lives in Colorado Springs, CO, with his family and pets, trying to survive the chaos!