Mythbusters. Seven seasons; 147 episodes; 738 myths tested; 419 myths busted; 171 myths confirmed; 148 myths plausible; 2,326 experiments performed; 725 explosions; 115 vehicles destroyed; 11 tons of explosives used.
With impressive numbers like this, coupled with the first time that all five cast members were in attendance, no wonder this popular Discovery Channel show was a big draw again at this year’s Comic-Con. Adam Savage, Jamie Hyneman, Tory Belleci, Grant Imahara, and Kari Bryon had plenty of great stories to share at both their Saturday evening panel and press conference afterward. They certainly have what the thousand plus in attendance call the coolest jobs in the world, or at least the most fun.
My inner geek jumped at the chance to attend the Mythbusters press conference, eager to get as many great tidbits as I could about the longest running regular series on the Discovery Channel. Stories were enthusiastically shared by the cast about working together, choosing myths to test, where they get their ideas, and how their love of blowing stuff up doesn’t always sit well with the San Francisco Fire Department.
A Special Guest
The Mythbusters were joined by a special guest this time. Geoff Peterson, the robot sidekick built by Grant Imahara for Craig Ferguson for The Late, Late Show made his Comic-Con debut. The sharp brown suit, glowing blue eyes, and skeletal frame certainly earned him the title of most dapper, outdoing his creator by a smidge. After the six posed for pictures, Geoff was shuttled off and it was time for the questions to begin.
In testing myths, sometimes inner fears are tested as well. Adam Savage brought up a recent myth that looked really fun to test but ended up scary as well. “Actually, the most scared I’ve been recently is an episode that aired last month called ‘Waterslide Wipeout.’ Jamie and I built a 190 foot long waterslide at a 25 degree angle, slid all the way down it in a silky, slippery latex jumpsuit, 72 feet in the air into the water repeatedly. It was absolutely terrifying every time. It didn’t get any easier and we got more and more sore as we went.”
Jamie Hyneman, who always impresses fans with his cool demeanor, had a different perspective in testing these scary myths. “The really dangerous stuff, the thing is you’re not going to know until it’s too late that it’s really dangerous. So why worry about it?”
In testing myths, how long is the process? They can range anywhere from a couple of days to a few years. Adam revealed that it took 19 to 20 months to find someone who made lead thin enough to make a lead balloon. Kari Bryon brought up that the 747 myth was on the books since the beginning of the show but it took them a long time to find the plane. There’s even a current myth that’s been lingering for a while that they still can’t find the proper conditions to test.
“There’s a famous story about a race car, upside down race car, the Formula One racer has so much down pressure if you could race it upside down it would hug the ceiling,” said Adam. “Of course there’s no reason to do this unless we go full scale. Every time NASCAR builds a new high energy wind tunnel we’re always wondering, ‘What top speed is it? Oh, not quite.’ We need a wind tunnel to do it.”
What was their quickest myth to test? Adam again had the easy answer — poppyseed bagel testing. “Jamie and I ate a poppyseed pound cake and a poppyseed muffin at 9:30 in the morning and by 11:00 we tested positive for heroin. We continued to test positive for heroin all the way until the next morning.”
So what’s their least favorite myth? For Grant, it was earwax candle (Adam agreed that still makes him sick). Adam thought it was a mistake to explore turbine power. For Tory Belleci, it was chili pepper remedies and Kari’s was water torture. Jamie remained strangely silent on that one.
How do they decide what myths to do? “It’s a totally collaborative process. We are all part of the process,” said Adam. Grant explained that sometimes they have to fight for an idea. “Gorn cannon. We were pitching for years and finally just last year we were able to do it. We’re like ‘Captain Kirk built this cannon with bamboo and homemade gun powder,’ and they’re like ‘No, we don’t get it.’ Finally they got it and we got it made.”
What if the myth they want to test is dangerous? “We don’t ever get anything rejected because it’s too dangerous,” said Kari. Apparently no myth is too disgusting either, but I’ll spare the graphic details that were shared about cleaning up the “rotting and decaying pig left in the hot car” myth (I still cringe over that one). Apparently, the smell does still linger on some of Jamie’s wrenches.
What are some future myths they want to try? Jamie has a steam-powered bicycle idea and he told us anything with steam is up his alley. “With a lot of the stuff we do also it’s become for at least me personally a recurring interest to trying to make these destructive things work. You don’t often see high explosives put to some specific non-destructive task. Steam is one of those things that can be either dangerous, destructive, or do very nice, very powerful, controllable things. That’s high on my list of things to play with.”
Are they scoping out any of the summer movies for myth ideas? No, explains Jamie. “The point is it’s all about the story. It’s about something we can sink our teeth into and explore. It’s not about a category… I prefer to go where my nose takes me and find something that is worthy of digging into. That’s what I want to do.”
Don’t look for a themed show on James Bond myths either. “It sounds like there’s a lot a material there,” said Adam, “but we’ve honestly found after looking at everything that’s ever been done in every Bond film that it’s so unrealistic and ridiculous, there’s a scientific term, not even wrong. Not even unfeasible.”
For the upcoming season though, the myths have yet to be determined. Their next stop after Comic-Con was back to San Francisco and the end of their three-week break. Tory explained it this way. “Most shows they will work for six months and have a hiatus. With the way we work we have to do all the work ourselves so there’s a lot of time building so we don’t really have a lot of time off. We work the entire year and we’ll have breaks in between.”
What is it like working on the set? For the crew of 23 members in San Francisco, most of them have been with the show since the beginning. That creates a close and family-like atmosphere, not to mention an ideal working situation. The experience of the crew is crucial to the process and the success of the show. “As far as the dynamics of the crew is the way that we work,” said Jamie, “the size of the team and everything else is it’s an experimentation kind of process. It’s not a demonstration. We can’t set something up like tell somebody to do this because we don’t know what’s going to happen, we don’t know how to deal with it, or how to tell them to deal with it. We can’t delegate that. It’s about us getting in there and following through with the experiment and seeing what happens. So the crew has to be tight and compact and fast. We have to be extremely organized and efficient and it works.”
It also helps that the five core cast members all knew each other before the show. “It’s not like we’re a science show boy band group,” joked Grant. It also helps that despite shooting 46 to 47 weeks out of the year, they all keep banker’s hours. That wasn’t the case in the first season when they were shooting 10 or 11 hours a day. “We survived 21 weeks like that,” recalled Adam. “At that point we all bought BB guns and we were shooting each other in the face. It was the only thing to take the rage/edge off.”
Speaking of keeping the edge, nothing that the Mythbusters have done has been lost on the San Francisco Fire Department. Tory remembered his specific encounter with one unhappy chief. “One time the fire chief came to our shop. It was after we were trying to make a jet engine out of propane and vacuum cleaner engine. I was playing with propane and ignited it and I didn’t have any safety gear. He walked into the shop while we were having this meeting and he’s like ‘Which one of you is Tory?’” He shared with us his answer by merely pointing to Grant.
Adam and Tory recalled an experiment gone wrong with a Civil War rocket that irked the SFFD. “It melted half of the shop,” said Tory. “If you see the ceiling there’s still black.”
“Yeah we really messed that one up,” said Adam. “They were very pissed off. And actually we’ve mended our relationship. They know now we call them for everything.”
Grant has certainly noticed their attention. “They come to find us now, regular inspections.”
After all these years and the extraordinary hours of research and experimenting, the Mythbusters curiosities continue to thrive and the possibilities are still endless. “We get kudos for being educationally based and inspiring young people and so on,” said Jamie. “I’d like to think of it as play. That’s how animals learn, that’s how young people learn. That’s all we’re doing. We’re playing, but like Adam said, we’re doing it with a beginning, middle, and end. We’re doing it methodically so we’re actually telling the story. It’s really just us playing and satisfying our curiosity about things.”
Speaking of playing and satisfying curiosity, I couldn’t leave without sharing with Adam and Jamie my personal story of how Mythbusters has impacted our household. Their two duct tape episodes have fueled my eight-year-old son’s imagination with it comes to the grey sticky stuff. He’s done a good number of experiments with my furniture testing its durability (after pets were made off limits) and we won’t even get into the duct tape bowling ball. My reveal of duct tape woe brought a smile to both Adam’s and Jamie’s faces. “You’re welcome and I’m sorry,” Adam said. They both confirmed more duct tape episodes are in the works, so I’ll need to stock up.
Mythbusters returns to the Discovery Channel this fall with all new episodes on Wednesdays at 9pm.