A Chat with Team Widdermacker – GISHWHES 2015 Winners

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I’ve been playing GISHwhES (The Greatest International Scavenger Hunt the World Has Ever Seen) since 2011 and my team, Team Subtext, has been a runner up every year since 2012.  Team Widdermacker has been right there with us in the runner up circle every year, and this year they took home the top prize – a trip to Costa Rica with the creator of the hunt, Misha Collins (Castiel, Supernatural).  Congratulations to Team Widdermacker.  You guys are amazing!

For those of you who haven’t been keeping up with GIShwHES, it’s an annual scavenger hunt that attracts tens of thousands of participants every year.  It’s broken five world records and has raised Misha Collins’s other project, the Random Acts charity.  It raised $13,600 for the charity in 2011, $41,468 in 2012, $47,530 in 2013, and $48,129 in 2014.  It creates performance art, both traditional and non-traditional arts and crafts, inspires random acts of kindness, and encourages charitable deeds beyond monetary fundraising.  The competition is fierce, but Widdermacker pulled out all the stops this year and blew us all away.

So how did they do it?  I was lucky enough to be able to chat with them and pick their brains on their experience with GIShwHES over the years.

Q:  You guys have been runners up every year.  Did you feel this was your year to win or were you nervous all the way up until the announcement?

Billie: I felt this was our year to win. There were still a lot of competitive teams that made us nervous, but I felt like we had improved our own game so much in terms of earning bonus points on quality items that popped. Last year, there was that niggle of doubt as I looked over our submissions and thought about how we might have made them better. This year I barely felt it.

Riley Estrada: I definitely felt winning in the air!  As a Wiccan I’d done a lot of pre- and post-GiShWHeS spellwork and prayers regarding winning, not to mention we all worked our butts off.  Of course I was concerned about the other teams at times (we played against some absolutely incredible gishers) but I knew we were organized, dedicated, and had a lot of love in our hearts that would bring home the grand prize, and it turns out I was right!

Cecilia Otero: Honestly? I totally knew this whole time. I just felt it. Last year before they announced winners I just remember thinking “Wow! I’m so excited that we’ll be runners up this year!” This year the process was much longer and more suspenseful, but really all I was thinking the whole time was “Wow, can they please hurry up and announce us as winners now? I really have to go to the bathroom.”

Chelsea Kosloff: Oh god. Honestly I spent so much time pre-hunt, mid-hunt, and post-hunt feverishly believing we’d win (blindly) that I think I wore myself out, and once Dinomite said he had the winner and was going to announce I instantly started telling myself that there was no way we’d win and that I’d better get used to the idea so I didn’t break my own heart…. it was a stressful week. I started grinding my teeth. I bought a night guard. It was bad.

Erin:  I was extremely nervous!  I knew we had a really good shot at the win this year, more than any year previous, but after having been a runner-up in 2012, ’13, and ’14 and knowing how incredibly good some other teams are, I was almost afraid to want it too badly. I was prepared to see our team named as a runner-up again, or even not make the list this year, and still feel really proud of our accomplishments.  Waiting for the runner-up teams to be named tweet by tweet was excruciating!!  When the last runner-up team was revealed and it wasn’t us, I was still very anxious with anticipation, thinking we really could win!  When our team was named as the winning team, I had to reread that tweet like ten times to be sure.  It was surreal in the most fabulous way!

Jamie Hampton: I was nervous. I tried to just not to think about it at all while we were waiting for the results to come out. I mean, I did have a really good feeling about it this year, but this was my third year on team Widdermacker and there has been so much disappointment in the past, getting all psyched up for the results and not quite making it. Always the bridesmaid, never the bride, you know? I had a really good feeling this year but I couldn’t let myself believe it was real until I saw our name. Even after that, I had trouble actualizing it as real. I kept being like, “Is this my real life??”

Q: For each of you, what was your own personal favorite item of the year?

Billie: I had the most fun with the croquet zombies, despite having to wake up at 4:30 a.m. (I’m not a morning person.) I went to a local magic shop down the street from my house and got a crash course in zombie makeup and liquid latex from the owner there. The next morning I picked everyone up and drove an hour to the Griffith Park Observatory. I spent over an hour during sunrise doing makeup in the parking lot to find out they had all the grass cordoned off with chain link fence. I happened to have bought some fake grass for my dog earlier that week, and it was still in the trunk of my car, so we brought that out and nailed the shot (well, we took about 300 pictures that morning). Then we went out for a zombie breakfast.

Riley Estrada:  It’s gotta be the “eating cake with your friend’s hands while your friend is blindfolded” challenge.  Me and my best friend came up with the whole “double handectomy” joke at the beginning, so I went to the restaurant with my hands bandaged, and fake blood on the ends of them.  This got a pretty wide range of reactions from the guests and waiters.  A lot of people were genuinely concerned that I seemed to be significantly injured, and that I was going to dinner instead of, like, a hospital.  If that wasn’t enough, the guy who served our table happened to be a guy from my old high school who I lowkey had a crush on (at least I must have made an impression, right?).  One of the waitresses was super into the challenge, and I ended up having my blindfolded best friend feed me cheesecake in front of a small audience.  Once the camera stopped rolling, I laughed harder than I’ve ever laughed in my goddamn life.  Not to mention that cheesecake was a delight.

Cecilia Otero: Okay, of all the items I did this year, I have two favorites. My first one is our “X is for xylophone” trailer, which I totally had a BLAST filming and editing, and I love how it came out. Second would have to be the space song on which I collaborated with Monica – I think it was really unique and I love the video she made for it. (And fun fact, the xylophone I used for it is the same xylophone from the other item.) …And I lied about having two favorites. I’m also quite partial to the item I submitted for making somebody’s dream occupation come true. I dressed my dad up as a cowboy and drove with him way down to the rural side of town, where an old family friend let us borrow his prized mule (named Waldo Emmerson). It was a great experience and I’m very proud of the angle I got on that picture.

Billie: I made the space song my ring tone.

WIDDERMACKER2Chelsea Kosloff: I will always and forever pledge my love eternal to the Misha and the Queen item. I don’t think this comes as a surprise to anyone.

Jamie Hampton: I have a special place in my heart this year for hanging the hammock over the river. It was the first item I did, because I already had all the stuff ready for it and a place in mind. So I grabbed my hammock, put on a fancy dress, bought a can of beer, hiked over there and started rigging the thing up. It was too loose the first time and I thought… wow, the hunt has only been going on for less than two hours and I’ve already fallen into a river wearing my Easter dress. That might be a new record.

Q: What was the most challenging item of the year?

Billie: I’d say the sugar cube Empire State Building was the most challenging item this year on my end. I didn’t have a hand in that one, but I was sitting in the same room doing the pad dogs while my teammate did the sugar cubes. We went through a bunch of different glues before finding one that was compatible with the sugar. Elmer’s made the sugar cubes uneven. Gorilla glue went right through the sugar. We settled on tacky glue in the end. It was hours of trial and error. Once we figured out what worked though, it was just a tedious process. Same with my pad dogs. It wasn’t too challenging, but it was time consuming. And I did burn my fingers with hot glue. I worked on those dogs over three days. I originally did them without glue, but the stickiness on the back of the pads and panty liners was really weak, so they kept falling apart and I had to reinforce them.

Riley Estrada:  The “cosplay an inanimate object” definitely had some speedbumps.  It was one of those challenges where you visualize it going smoothly in your head, but then pretty much everything goes wrong.  I had conceptualized us cosplaying Stonehenge, with brown paper bags over us spraypainted grey, and grey paint on our bodies.  We would hold one person above our heads to be the top stone.  In the end, we just barely had enough paint to cover the front of the bags, and the grey skin paint was oily and gross.  We had to walk all the way down to the park to get the bags on, at which point I had to ask the people who were helping me (my mom, aunt, and cousin) if they were okay removing their shirts for the picture.  Then, the top stone was too heavy to lift, then somebody’s bag ripped, then someone else’s bag wouldn’t fit.  In the end, we got a really good picture, but the entire time I had no idea if we even remotely resembled what we were going for.  But then again, nothing in this game is supposed to be predictable!

Cecilia Otero: Funny enough, the most difficult item for me was one we didn’t even submit. For the “dress your dog in armor” item, a friend and I went to the craft store and bought loads and loads of supplies and made this really intricate costume for my dog – helmet, cape, weapons, armor – the whole shebang. In the end we couldn’t even get my dog to sit still and spent probably about an hour trying to get a good photo. In the end, the photo we got wasn’t really that great. Thankfully, Heidi had already done her own version of this item, which turned out way cooler looking, and we submitted that one instead.

Jamie Hampton: I was so nervous about pouring the melted butter on my boyfriend! I wasn’t sure how hot it was and I didn’t want to burn him! Also my swimsuit still smells like butter. I’m going to buy a new swimsuit to go to Costa Rica! Or I could make Misha and everyone else suffer the way I have suffered and smell the butter.

Q: What was the most memorable item or experience from all the years you’ve been playing?

Billie: My most memorable experience was in 2014 when I went to the beach with a few friends to do three items (the honey covered hugs, four body table, and buried in the sand). I got to interact with a lot of strangers for all three items, and they were happy to be a part of it. I have always been a shy person, and that whole day really brought me out of my shell.

Riley Estrada: Cheesy answer, but I can’t pick one!  Every single year the amount of kindness and hilarity that I experience with the people around me blows the previous year out of the water.  I like to think of GISHwhES as not a series of strange events, but one annual continuous good-vibe-freak-fest.  In the end, all of the memorable items and experiences blur together into one heartwarming and slightly worrisome mental slideshow, set to a Journey song.

Cecilia Otero: I can’t pick one specific experience!!! This is my second year on Team Widdermacker, and my third year doing GISHwhES, and every single year I just have such an extraordinarily fun time. If I had to describe my GISHwhES experience in one word I think I would choose laughter. Because in the end my favorite part of this hunt is what happens behind the scenes, and all the hilarious occurrences and fits of giggles between takes. In fact, I always try to film as much of my experience as possible! Each year, I’ve made it sort of a personal tradition to take this footage and create a blooper montage, because I love looking back on what a wonderful time I had.

Chelsea Kosloff: Ok, this is super hard. But I think it’s gotta be what was pretty much also my FIRST GISHwhES experience ever – last year at the french maid/still-life-hat event in Seattle, I remember we were all standing outside, holding hands, attempting the hula-hoop chain record, and everyone was singing Bohemian Rhapsody, it was hot, Misha and volunteers were pouring water into people’s mouths since it was sweltering… I just remember thinking, “Wow, I’ve found my people. Look at all these weirdos.”

Erin:  So many memorable items in 4 years of gishing!  The dumpster swimming pool stands out, as that was a neighborhood effort that turned out awesome!  The dog igloo was another – my kids and husband and I made the trip up to Mt. Hood to find that the only snow was melting away in piles in the parking lot, and it was raining, but there was still enough snow to make an igloo… we were wet and cold, but we had so much fun with that one!  Spinning a flipped junker car was probably my favorite all-time item to do – we did it in the parking lot where my husband works, and he and his coworkers were so into it!

My most memorable experience (other than winning this year, which definitely takes the top spot!) has to be from my first year officially participating in gishwhes, when Widdermacker was named a runner up team.   I (and all the runner-ups) got a package in the mail that included a personalized runner-up medal and a signed letter from Misha…  that feeling of elation, accomplishment, and pride when I opened that package is something I’ll never forget, and something that continues to be a source of drive and inspiration for me every year.  

Jamie Hampton: I did the item in 2013 where you had to lounge in a beach chair while men in uniform held you over their head. I went to the local fire hall and asked the firefighters to do it, they were so excited. They were like, calling over the loudspeaker to make sure everyone came up and participated. One of them even gave me his number, haha. But I remember so vividly, right before they hoisted me up, one of them looked me in the eye and said, “If we drop you, we are all EMT certified so we will give you medical attention. But if anyone asks, we will deny having dropped you.” I was like, “Fair enough, let’s do this!”

Q: What piece of advice would you give new Gishers?

Billie: First, figure out what kind of gisher you want to be. Do you want to play competitively or casually? From there, you can form a team or join a team with like-minded individuals and make new friends. These friendships can last a lifetime. Bonding with your team before, during, and after the hunt is the best advice I can give you. Start as early as you can. GISHwhES is fun, but it’s the team spirit and friendships that made it so fulfilling for me. Second, especially if you want to compete, look at the top team’s and GHOF submissions. My first year competing was 2014 and I did not do my homework. When I saw some of the top teams’ items after the hunt ended, I was awestruck. (Impala’s parody to the Beatles cover had me floored.) Once you see the standard they set, it pushes you to play even harder.

Riley Estrada: If you’re in it to have fun, my only advice is to jump in head first and let go of your concept of shame!  But if you’re in it to win it, that changes things.  Never just do what the challenge asks for – take it a step further.  Think of every possible way you can elevate it, elaborate upon it, tie in a pop culture reference.  Make sure you’ve cleared out enough time and money for the whole week.  Keep organized, write down what you’ve done and what you need to do.  Attempt even the items you aren’t sure you can accomplish, you might surprise yourself.  And remember, there is no challenge that can’t be done – just challenges that are harder than others!

Chelsea Kosloff: Don’t lose sight of why you decided to play in the first place!! I started playing because it looked like a blast–it then turned out that the MOST fun I can have in GISHwhES is playing to win, so it works for me. Don’t get too caught up in the competition. You just covered yourself in honey. You are an actual crazy person.

Erin:  GISHwhES is full of laughs and silliness, creativity, kindness, and community. It stretches you, expands your experience of the world in the best way possible.  My advice is to new Gishers is to fully embrace the weirdness… wrap yourself in it like it’s something soft and cozy, and wear it proudly all week.  Don’t be intimidated by the challenges, just put your all into every item you do, stay positive, and trust yourself to accomplish some fabulous things!

Jamie Hampton: All you have to do is ask! The worst someone can say is no, and you wouldn’t believe the things people will agree to do, let you do or help you with if you just think to ask for help. Oh sure, you can pose on our nuclear submarine. Sure, we’ll play your video of you brushing your teeth in the movie theater. Sure, come to the newspaper office and I’ll taste your pasta with jam sauce. Sure, you can ride in the engine room of the train, here put your face right next to where we burn the coal, that’s fine. Be confident, ask for what you want and see what doors start opening for you.

Q: Is Widdermacker retiring or do you think you’ll continue playing like winning teams that came before you?  Have you even decided or are you still riding the endorphin rush from the winners announcement?

Riley Estrada: We haven’t discussed it yet, but I doubt this is the last you’ll hear from us.

Cecilia Otero: I don’t know about the rest of my team, but I sure as heck don’t plan on retiring any time soon.

Chelsea Kosloff: Whatever these weirdos do, I’m gonna love them forever – as for me, I’m gonna be gishing when I’m old and wrinkled, the blue faded from my hair, my adult children and grandchildren bolting their doors when August rolls around. “Here she comes,” they’ll whisper. “Whatever she says, don’t give her any jam, and hide the dog.”

Erin:  I can’t imagine a time when I won’t want to be involved in GISHwhES.  I fell in love with it when I first learned about it in 2011 and helped my cousin’s team with a couple of items.  I joined that team for 2012 and we became Widdermacker, and I’ve been an unapologetic GISHwhES addict since.  I plan to be around for a while yet, for sure.  

Once again, congratulations Team Widdermacker!  From us here at the Geekiary and from all of Team Subtext, thank you for taking the time to talk with us and for being such huge inspiration.  The win is well deserved and we’ll see you next year.

Author: Angel Wilson

Stephanie “Angel” Wilson is the admin of The Geekiary and a geek culture commentator. She earned a BA in Film & Digital Media from UC Santa Cruz. She’s contributed to various podcasts and webcasts including An Englishman in San Diego, Free to Be Radio, and Genre TV for All. She’s written for Friends of Comic Con and is a 2019 Hugo Award winner for contributing fanfic on AO3.



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