2014 was my third year in GISHWHES (Greatest International Scavenger Hunt the World Has Ever Seen), the madcap international scavenger hunt devised by actor Misha Collins of the CW show Supernatural. I will leave you to look at the site and then Google in mix of confusion, horror and glee if none of these words make sense to you. In 2011 I watched from the sidelines, wondering what the heck this thing was on Tumblr. In 2012 I was ready to join alone, but a dedicated friend joined with me and then recruited 13 more in a jiffy. in 2013 those people couldn’t join again, and I made good friends from total strangers via Twitter. In 2014, I kept talking to William Shatner and for some reason he kept talking back. On a long road, that led to me being on Team Shatner for GISHWHES 2014.
I’ve been asked a few times about being on Team Shatner; once by Misha Collins himself, in front of an audience of die-hard SPN fans in Vancouver. Everyone secretly wants a horror story. We like villains. We like how they help us make sense of the world. Everyone wanted to beat Team Shatner, even if they weren’t competitive to start with. It gave them something to fight against, not just for. I think fighting for things goes ever so much deeper in the long run; but as they say, “every fairly tale needs a villain”.
I’ve slowly learned that you should pay close attention to actors. You can’t always feel them out like you do other people. They make their living convincing you they’re someone that they’re not. Don’t always trust your assumptions; make special effort to read beyond the lines what they do, not what they say. It’s not necessarily willful deception; just habit combined with defense. We all do it, but some of us are much better at it. That’s the difference between an amateur and a professional.
I hesitated about being on a celebrity team. My ego’s not nearly so large to not notice I was punching above my weight, and I had “normal” teams to choose from. My friends reminded me not to miss a one-time experience.
And in the end, that’s what GISWHES is – the experience. It’s not about the prize; not really. If it was, the odds are kinda terrible. Better than a lottery ticket, and less random; but it’s still not super likely you’re going to be on a winning team. Is Misha Collins such an unimaginably amazing person that you would literally do *anything* to spend a weekend with him? (I’m hearing a few “YES”es. Whatever works for you.) The promise of the prize gets you to go farther than you would otherwise, but the reward that keeps you coming back has to be something else, or you’d lose once and give up. It’s the experience.
So what was it like on Team Shatner? It was uncannily like my other two teams. I don’t think the details are that relevant. It was exhausting, it was tumultuous, it was beautiful. We argued about some things, laughed about others. Some things never came together, and others took our breath away. People took a look at the impossible and decided to kick out some letters. It was what it was. We make choices about what we take from experiences, and that’s not something that we can be told to do by outside judgment; whether you weigh it on someone being famous, or whether your team wins or loses.
I think from my interactions – and yes, I did have them – Mr. Shatner was genuinely curious about what motivates people to do GISHWHES, being unconvinced that it could be just for Misha’s sake. Not because he can’t understand why people would do that for “Cupcake”, but because I think having been the subject of both fandom adoration AND ridicule for so many years, as an intelligent and thoughtful person he ultimately wanted to take the machine apart to learn what makes fandom tick. And that extends outside Trek.
That’s all the more I’ll attempt to read minds. I’ve tried so many times to completely grasp that ineffable, missing element of why GISHWHES is addictive. It’s fundamentally such a terrible idea, really, which you can see immediately when you move beyond “it’s a scavenger hunt” and try to explain it to those you’re trying to recruit help from. Why do I think we do it? The charity aspect is a component; but that involvement varies from team to team, and from year to year. It has to be deeper than that. The related kindness aspect is important, too, but you don’t need the scavenger hunt for that; just Random Acts. So there’s something more.
I intended to do a documentary this year, but gave it up to be on Team Shatner (and because it was logistically staggeringly complex). But I’ve still tried to understand. I think maybe it’s such a transformative experience because by forcing us into the deliberately uncomfortable, it breaks the mold of identity and our worldview. Maybe nothing significant was ever discovered in pajamas on a couch. Maybe we need a bit of proper misery; especially shared misery. Maybe we find solutions to our real problems by creating ridiculous ones to solve instead. Maybe there are things you don’t realize about what parts of you matter until you intentionally make yourself completely ridiculous. Maybe you don’t know who your true friends are until they become sick at the sight of Skittles making a giant portrait of an actor from a show they don’t even watch.* Maybe there are a lot of reasons.
In my essay about the film The World’s End, I wrote that comedy can be a vehicle for deep philosophy because we frequently only get at the truth sideways. I think GISHWHES is an awkward, frantic crab walk sideways to that truth. Maybe you can trust an actor to show you how much we surround ourselves with artifice and illusion that prevents us from seeing who we are, and who other people are. And to provide the right tools, no matter how strange they seem, to break those barriers down. There are profound ideas hiding out there somewhere between the absurd and the painful, just waiting for us to see them through the veil of the mundane. You just need a push to shatter the shades of your everyday life that obscure them. I guess I started with a one-up on that this year, on a team with people I knew from television. (Mr. Shatner doesn’t want to know how old I was when I started watching him.) That’s already one barrier shattered.
And whether that push is Misha Collins or William Shatner, it’s in your hands after that. As of right now, we don’t know who won yet. Maybe I’m going to Croatia on the weirdest, craziest vacation ever; maybe I’m not. Maybe friends will win; maybe strangers. My advice for any competition is always believe you can win, never assume you will. But I think the important parts of any story, really, happen in the middle; not at the beginning or end. So my advice from inside a “celebrity team” – don’t let anyone else determine what you’ve won or lost. Maybe I’ll never know quite how to say what I want to about GISHWHES. Maybe it’s okay for some things to be ineffable.
* I hope that my wonderful friend and accomplished Skittles artist Bonnie Craft, who passed away suddenly only a few days ago, knew how much I really did appreciate her. She put me on a path that led me here, and while I don’t know where that path goes next, I’m deeply grateful. I will never take for granted the people that my fandom, however bizarre it seems, have brought me to.