Not everyone knows what GISHWHES is, but the annual scavenger hunt already holds seven Guinness World Records.
Every year, thousands of people join in the "Greatest International Scavenger Hunt the World Has Ever Seen," hosted by Supernatural actor Misha Collins. That hunt usually involves a lot of fun, silly and often outrageous items, including dresses made out of bacon, and cosplayers dressed as the Flash taking tours of particle accelerators. Each item on the list gets captured via video or image and earns points: the more creative a team's interpretation of an item, the more points they get.
Points rack up prizes, including a chance to spend time with Collins at some exotic location (this year, it's Iceland).
However, although GISHWHES is all in good fun, it also has a purpose: to bring people together and raise money for charity: the hunt is the largest single contributor to the nonprofit Random Acts, a charity Collins initially began with Supernatural fans. The organization recently built a large orphanage, school and community center in Haiti and is currently building a high school in Nicaragua. The all-volunteer charity also has hundreds of smaller projects all over the world.
Collins recently spoke to the press about his goals for GISHWHES and offered advice to newcomers to the event.
"I am happy for people to get whatever it is they want to get out of GISHWHES," Collins said. "I think for some people, it's just a fun little romp for the week. For some people, it's a chance for them to get together with their friends and family and coalesce around something that they wouldn't otherwise do. Sometimes it's an excuse for parents and their teenaged 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 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 situations."
Anyone familiar with GISHWHES knows that many of the scavenger hunt items would classify as bizarre. Yet there's one in particular of which Collins is proud. Several years ago, one of the items was to get an astronaut on the International Space Station to write GISHWHES in space. However, NASA wasn't very amused when participants began hounding the social media accounts of those astronauts and asked that those men and women be left alone.
That didn't deter GISHWHES. On the following year, they put the item up again, but this time, the response was different: participants in that hunt managed to get in touch with the right people, and GISHWHES ended up with a mountain on Mars named after it.
"The moment that I learned that had happened, and NASA actually ended up posting on their 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 was the single most gratifying item."
For those considering GISHWHES this year, Collins also offered some sage advice, as well as tips on how to make the most of the experience. First, the hunt always puts people on teams of 15 people, because it is a collaborative effort.
"There's an incredibly wide variety of items for every hunt. An item ranges from solving logic puzzles to creating a mosaic from Jensen Ackles' face to persuading NASA to do something to making a donation to a local animal shelter," he said. "There is something for everyone and we actually make a concerted effort to make sure that there are items for somebody who doesn't have the use of their legs or somebody who's agoraphobic would be able to complete."
Anyone can join GISHWHES, regardless if they know others participating. The beauty is that the team mentality brings people together during the experience.
"You're also going to be thrown into the trenches with the other 14 people on your team," Collins said. "And you're going to get to know each other really well in a short period of time. And invariably, 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 two years ago and they're still talking to their teammates every day. There's something about the pain and suffering that the group experiences together that form lifelong bonds. And I think that's another reason that newbies should not be afraid."
Collins' GISHWHES has made an impact, but he still has other goals planned for the event's future. First, he wouldn't mind getting more Guinness World Records, but he'd also like to see GISHWHES become so popular that it's always on people's minds.
"I would love it if people were to say things like, 'Oh, no, let's not travel that week — that's GISHWHES week and it's just going to be a nightmare,'" Collins said. "My vision for it is that some day, maybe, if this kind of sums up the work, 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 flag fly for a week and unleash their inner creative geniuses that often lie dormant for the rest of the year."
GISHWHES begins on July 30 and runs through Aug. 6.