Misha Collins is far more than the angel Castiel on the much-adored fantasy adventure series “Supernatural.” He also is dedicated to charity work, this time of year partially in the form of the world’s largest media scavenger hunt.
For years, Misha Collins has curated a list of tasks ranging from imaginative to absurd, allowing people to compete in an international competition that could bring them anywhere from a water park to a particle accelerator. Gishwhes, an acronym for the aptly-named “Greatest International Scavenger Hunt the World Has Ever Seen,” is an amalgam of time-limited scavenger hunt, charity work, public art creation opportunity and exploration project.
Collins founded this scavenger hunt somewhat by accident for his fans, and it grew from there into the week-long massive event it is today. Indiewire spoke with Collins about the scavenger hunt, where the idea came from and why it exists.
What exactly is this scavenger hunt?
It really is the greatest international scavenger hunt — not to brag, but twice now it has broken the Guinness World Record for the largest media scavenger hunt. People participate from all over the world — there are about 100 countries that have been represented in Gishwhes.
People are placed onto teams of fifteen people — people can either join alone and we’ll assign them to a team, or you can assemble your own team if you want. We have all kinds of people from all over the world participating, ranging from high school students to the likes of William Shatner and other media personalities. Everyone is just fighting tooth and nail to beat each other in this scavenger hunt. And the grand prize is going on a great trip somewhere in the world.
Along the way, the items that we have them complete range from totally bizarre art, like portraits made from dried fruit, to finding a way to float a fully-decorated Christmas tree with helium balloons, to getting NASA to write something in space. So, we’re kind of running the gamut. There are items that people can do literally in their kitchen, and there are items that people need the support of an international space agency in order to pull off. It’s a lot of fun. Super fun for me to run. This is my favorite time of the year.
One more aspect is we have a charitable element to the hunt. Gishwhes is the largest single contributor to the nonprofit Random Acts, and we also have lots and lots of very specific charitable items, like “go to a children’s hospital and perform a sock puppet show” or “give out cookies at an orphanage” or a clothing drive. We have lots of items like that every year, and I think part of that that I’m proud of is we end up finding ways to have people participating in charitable action that’s also fun. It’s just a fun way to do a little bit of good.
What was the genesis of this idea? What inspired you to do it?
Well, there’s a couple different answers. One, I went to the University of Chicago, which, at the time I was there — I understand it’s a lot more fun now — but at the time I was there, it was just not a fun place. The entire social life of the student body occurred in the basement of the library. But there was one bright spot on the calendar every year called “Scav.” It was a scavenger hunt that took place over the course of a long weekend, and we all put our books down, and didn’t touch them for three days, and just had the most amazing time for three days.
I remember one year one of the items… [laughs] They weren’t always the safest or sanest things. One year, one of the items was you had to have three speeding tickets assigned to the same license plate from Canada. So literally every team sent somebody in a car to drive up to Canada and speed to try to get as many speeding tickets as they could. And another item was, you had to bring a Hooters waitress to the final judging contest. And my girlfriend at the time — who is now my wife — people were having a really hard time getting Hooters waitresses to come, [laughs] so she just went to Hooters and got a job. Just for the scavenger hunt. Anyway, it was a great time every year. We loved it.
I found myself six years ago having painted myself into a corner, where I promised my Twitter followers, my fans, I promised something. But I didn’t really know what it was, or how I was going to play it off. So I ended up, spur of the moment, running this impromptu scavenger hunt online for my fans. And I’ve been churning, in my pocket, art projects that I want to see materialized, for many years, and I’m never actually getting any of them done. [laughs] So now there are art projects that I’ve wanted to do on the scavenger hunt list, and other people do them for me. Things like: I wanted to see a gasoline-powered turtleneck sweater. And, sure enough, I put that on the list and several people made gasoline-powered turtleneck sweaters. It was just so gratifying and so much fun. Halfway through that first time, I realized, “Oh, I’m gonna keep doing this.” Maybe forever, because it’s so fun.
What’s the process for creating the items on the scavenger hunt list?
I now have a running list that I keep all year long for every time I hear an idea that sounds like it could be a good scavenger hunt idea, I jot it down. So when I actually write the list, sometime in July, I have a head start. And then, friends will throw ideas at me; often, people will offer ideas, and if somebody comes up with an idea we credit them. I would say I probably do about 70 percent of the items myself. But I’m certainly not the exclusive author of the scavenger hunt.
It sounds like a very intensive process.
People always ask me if I’m high when I write this. And I take that as the sincerest form of flattery! Because I’m actually not willing to get high… But if people think I AM high when I’m writing them, that’s a really, really good compliment. I take the contest very seriously, with a high degree of sobriety — but that I come across as high, I think, is a great achievement.
Can you think of the craziest submission you’ve seen since you started this?
There are so many that it becomes difficult to curate, for a question like this. I’ve been delighted by so many of the items, all for different reasons: Having NASA name a mountain on Mars “Gishwhes” was one of the most satisfying moments of my life. It was just incredible. We had William H. Macy reading excerpts of the DMV manual in a dramatic fashion — that was amazing. One of the items was, “dress as the Flash and photo yourself running as fast as you can inside of a particle accelerator.” There were so many people bombarding — there aren’t that many particle accelerators in the world, so the particle accelerator operations managers had to set up a designated time when all of the Flash people could come and get inside their particle accelerators for their photo ops. So that was amazing. I could go on and on.
Every once in a while, there’s an item I write that I don’t think through all the way. For instance, last year I said “get a tattoo of Pope Francis.” There are so many people who had to get tattoos who didn’t want tattoos. [laughs] And a tattoo is a lasting thing! It lasts your life! While some of those tattoos are really beautiful or hilarious, I feel a little bit of guilt about that one.
I could go on and on and on. A nun on a waterslide is a very, very visually lasting image.