‘Mythbusters’ make a living satisfying their curiosity

Stars Savage and Hyneman regale audience at UNCC with tales, outtakes

05/04/2012 12:00 AM

05/03/2012 1:05 PM

Last month, 7-year-old Casey Scott swirled hand lotion, toothpaste and a half-dozen other household substances around in a bowl until they mixed into a frothy brown concoction. He wanted to see whether the mixture would cause a reaction.

It did, from his mother.

“I left it for a month, and it started to smell bad,” he said of the potion he had tucked away in his mom’s bathroom.

Last Sunday, Scott, a first-grader at Charlotte Country Day School, stood in line inside UNC Charlotte’s Halton Arena to meet his idols, two guys who probably made more than a few potions in their childhoods.

Jamie Hyneman and Adam Savage, co-hosts of the Discovery Channel’s Emmy-nominated show “Mythbusters,” served as the grand finale of the N.C. Science Festival, a two-week series that brought more than 500 events focusing on science, technology, engineering and math to communities across the state.

The festival, initiated by the Morehead Planetarium and Science Center at UNC Chapel Hill, was designed to celebrate science and its impact in North Carolina.

During “An Afternoon with Adam and Jamie” at UNCC Sunday, hundreds of fans lined the arena and became privy to all the behind-the-scene stories the pair could share in a 90-minute session. A question-and-answer portion took place near the end.

The television program’s premise – to scientifically debunk, confirm or acknowledge the plausibility of urban legends and old wives’ tales – often brings unexpected results to viewers as well as its co-hosts. But some shows never make it on air, such as the one with the cardboard cereal box experiment the pair discussed with Sunday’s audience.

When trying to determine whether a cereal box was just as nutritious as the cereal inside, Hyneman and Savage were shocked to learn one mouse chose to eat its fellow mouse instead of the sugar-sweetened and reshaped cardboard pellets they had served.

“There was a skull, ribcage, tail, and one really fat mouse,” said Savage, who discovered the experiment gone wrong the next day.

Mythbusters’ first episode aired on the Discovery Channel in 2002. After 10 years and more than 220 shows spent testing myths in experiments that often require blowing things up, Savage and Hyneman still can’t believe they get to do that for a living.

“This has been all one very bizarre experience,” said Hyneman.

“After another,” added Savage.

Neither imagined becoming famous for their on-air antics, or even having the opportunity to have on-air antics at all.

Hyneman, who grew up on an Indiana farm, studied Russian and linguistics in college, then moved to the Caribbean to operate a sailing business.

Savage worked freelance in special effects, including a handful of projects with George Lucas.

Both said they learned at an early age to make a living doing work they enjoy.

Savage grew up watching his father produce two or three animated shorts per month for “Sesame Street” to pay the rent so he could spend the rest of his time painting in his art studio.

“My father absolutely could not do work that he didn’t enjoy,” said Savage.

It’s important for parents to encourage their kids’ interests, no matter what they are, he added.

“That obsession in a kid is such an important thing to support,” said Savage. “My parents gave me access to the charge account at the hardware store from the time I was 12.”

The pair admits they never set out to become role models for up-and-coming scientists, but it’s a welcomed byproduct of their work.

In the VIP line, where folks paid extra for some one-on-one time with Savage and Hyneman, no one hesitated before gushing about the duo or naming their favorite episode.

Gavin Gwaltney, 11, of Selwyn Elementary School recited the title of his: “ ‘You Can’t Polish Poop,‘ ” he said.

“The pirate episode,” said Anna Duck, 17, a student at Carrboro High School.

With ratings for Mythbusters up 20 percent from last year, Hyneman and Savage said, they plan to ride the wave as long as it lasts, and they think that could be awhile. The show taps into one thing almost everyone finds appealing.

“At its core, it’s just straight-up curiosity,” Hyneman said, “like what a little kid has.”

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