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Misha Collins On the Epic Scavenger Hunt That Is GISHWHES

When August 1st rolls around, you might notice things getting a little weirder — and by weirder, I mean more awesome — on social media. Misha Collins (you probably know him as Castiel on Supernatural) hosts an annual scavenger hunt, and this year it takes place from August 1-8. It’s not just any scavenger hunt, either. The Greatest International Scavenger Hunt the World Has Ever Seen (GISHWHES) is a grand event that brings people around the world together to create art and have fun. Fifteen-person teams work through a long list of items of varying levels of difficulty to earn points. One example from a past hunt: “IMAGE. Batman or another superhero playing bingo at a crowded recreation center.” Actually, that item perfectly captures the tone of GISHWHES.

Besides giving participants the opportunity to have a great time, GISHWHES often includes items that give back to the community. They’ve broken several Guinness World Records, and one of those was racking up the most ever pledges to commit charitable acts of kindness through the non-profit Random Acts.

We spoke with Collins about why GISHWHES is so important to him, about coming up with the massive list of items, and how the scavenger hunt has changed lives.

Nerdist: Whenever I hear you speak or even when you type about GISHWHES, your enthusiasm is apparent. What does this project mean to you and why do you get so excited about it?

Misha Collins: That is an excellent question and one that I’ve never thoroughly reflected on. Well, I’ll start with the history of GISHWHES. I’ve, for a long time, been carrying around a list of art projects that I someday wanted to materialize and I realized I was not checking many of them off the list as the years went by. So, the very first scavenger hunt that I ran which was just online with my Twitter followers — there were only a few hundred participants and I basically published my list of art projects that I wanted to see done. And people produced them, and they did such an amazing job and they had so much fun doing it that it was like I’d given them an excuse to do something that they had secretly been wanting to do all along. I think both the people who participated and me were totally surprised by how much we loved the process. I was just bowled over as I was going through the submissions. It was kind of amazing to see.

And there has been this interplay between the people who participate in the hunt, and me, and the other people who help put it together of just feeling like it is such a great, total creative playground and we’re all really enjoying it and we’re also at the same time managing to fold charitable works into it. So, we’re finding a way, basically, to making doing good things also very fun and playful. We’re getting people to do good things at the same time as they’re doing artistic things.

And another thing that gets me excited about it is a lot of the people that participate just have an amazing time. Like, they’re doing it with their grandmother this year and they’re getting to connect with her in a way that they haven’t–there are just so many personal connections that are forged through the process of participating in this and also people are getting to see that they are able to achieve, able to love, and it’s a lot of joy that emanates from the process on all ends so I get excited about that. And, I could keep talking but I’m going to stop.

N: It seems like the list gets more creative and fun every year. What is the list creation process like?

MC: Throughout the year, I carry a pad and paper and write down item ideas as they come up. It will be somebody mentioning something in casual conversation, or making a joke, or something that I see on the news or whatever. I do that and other people will help with GISHWHES do that; my mom does that. My mom has gotten really good at coming up with GISHWHES items — last year, I probably used 15 of her item ideas. I think my friends and the people that I’m close with are starting to get the tone of it and giving me really great ideas. And then we also put a call out to the public and say, “Hey, anybody want to come up with the item ideas?” We credit them if we end up using the item submission. I thought that after the first year, my brain really, really hurt. Like, I just sort of sat down in the corner for two days and tried to come up with a list and at the end of that, I thought, “That’s it. I’ve come up all of the good ideas. I don’t think I’m going to be able to come up with anymore ideas.” And then now, I definitely feel like there is an infinitely deep well of possibilities for item ideas for the scavenger hunt and I’m not worried about running out.

N: Can you give me like, maybe, three words that hint at what will be on this year’s GISHWHES list?

MC: You know what, last year I got a similar question from someone and I said three words and then later I just had to come up with an item that included those three words. So, I will do the same right now. I’ll get one before the end of the call. Let me think.

N: Okay, we’ll come back to that. From what I see online, GISHWHES is really life-changing for some people. Are there any particular stories you’ve heard from participants that have stuck with you?

MC: I’ve heard lots and lots of good stories. There have been times–putting this thing together actually takes a tremendous amount of work and there have been times when I felt overwhelmed and like I don’t have time to do it and question whether I can keep going. And then I’ll run into somebody—that actually happened to me a few months ago. I was at the end of a really long stretch of a lot of work, and I was at a fan convention. A fan came to an autograph signing and said, “I just wanted to tell you that I felt alone in the world and totally unappreciated and I participated in GISHWHES and it brought me out of my depression. I now have two best friends who were on my team, and it just completely changed my life and it made me decide that I want a major in art in college.” And I hear stories like that very often, and they actually spur me on. They make me feel like I have to keep doing this because people are really getting a lot out of it.

We’ve also done a lot of items that were really specifically targeting helping people. There’s a veteran of Afghanistan who lost both of his legs and has a lot of medical issues in his family as well. He has an autistic daughter and a wife who is chronically ill and no one in the family was able to work after he was disabled. We partnered with a non-profit organization — GISHWHES is not non-profit but we partner with non-profit organizations — and we created an item in the hunt which was to collect the furniture to furnish this guy’s house, and the other non-profit built the house. And so we furnished this house for the guy. We’re actually going to be presenting the furnished house as a gift to this family in a couple of weeks, and it’s really exciting for me to be able to garner the resources of this group of enthusiastic people who are playing a game to actually have a really material, positive impact on some people’s lives.

N: Before we wrap up, do you have your three words?

MC: This is completely random and now I have to make a note of it. Weeping willows, row boats, and cheese puffs. I really presented myself with a challenge with that one.

GISHWHES registration is open until July 20. If you don’t have a full team or any teammates, don’t worry. Sign up and you’ll be assigned partners-in-crime from around the world.

IMAGE: Warner Bros.

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