If you paid attention to social media last week, you may have noticed groups of people posting strange pictures to imgur, tweeting bizarre non sequiturs to NASA, or requesting random science-fiction authors write short stories involving actor Misha Collins, an elephant with tentacles, and the Queen of England.
This madness is nothing other than GISHWHES, an acronym for “The Greatest International Scavenger Hunt the World Has Ever Seen,” a yearly online scavenger hunt created and spearheaded by Collins. Now in its fourth year, GISHWHES has broken 5 Guinness World Records—Largest Online Photo Album of “Hugs,” Longest Chain of Safety Pins, Most Pledges for a Campaign (with Random Acts of Kindness in 2012), and Largest Media Scavenger Hunt, twice—and raised tens of thousands for charity. A massive, global effort, it promises to be “about creating art, pushing boundaries, perpetrating acts of kindness and, ultimately, redefining our perception of ‘the possible’” for its 15-person teams, all of which are competing for this year’s grand prize of a 3-day vacation with Collins in Croatia.
Despite the enticement of the final prize, however, GISHWHES competitors find many other reasons to participate.
“It’s something fun to do in a summer when I haven’t been doing much else,” says Christa Moorhead from Independence, Oregon, “and they donate a lot to charity, so it’s a good cause to get involved in!”
It is Christa and teammate Jamie Hanson, from Milwaukee, Oregon who experienced their second year as part of GISHWHES and, from their perspective, it’s less about winning and more about participating.
“I joined last year (my first year) because I’d heard about this wacky crazy scavenger hunt that my favorite actor organized. I wanted to support Misha, plus, knowing him, it sounded like fun. I also had friends who were interested, so I wanted to do it with them. I joined this year because I had so much fun last year that I greatly wanted a repeat performance,” says Jamie.
Though participation—and competition—for this year’s GISHWHES has closed; hopeful competitors can be certain to look forward to next year, when registration for GISHWHES 2015 will become available on the organization’s website. To sign up for the huge international scavenger hunt, participants register through the GISHWHES website and pay nominal fee (this year it was $18.95) which goes toward the Random Acts charity that partners with GISHWHES. If a potential GISHER can’t afford the registration fee, they may apply for a scholarship and potentially have the fee waived, though there are a limited number of these available each year.
Once someone is registered, they may form a team with friends who are also participating, or may be randomly assigned to a team by the organization’s bot. All teams are made up of 15 participants and very few teams are wholly composed of individuals strictly from one geographical location. Largely, teams have a high percentage of not knowing some or all of their members before the competition begins. According to veteran GISHERS, this only adds to the chaos and to the fun.
After approximately a week of various teams attempting to check objects a list—generally photographed or digitally recorded—of nearly 200 wacky and sometimes impossible-sounding items, each assigned a specific point value, the team with the most points at the end of the competition wins. But, if you ask most GISHERS, winning isn’t the point.
“I’ve always been a big fan of the Random Acts of Kindness organization,” says first year GISHER Abby Peterson, “I support my local charities and know that sometimes, a smile the best gift anyone can give. We get caught up in our patterns; eat, sleep, TV, work. Sometimes we live in a city for years and never really see the sights and events it offers us. I was very excited by the opportunity to help create smiles and conversations and new thoughts in the world around me.”