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Try This At Home, Kids: Adam Savage On The Next Generation Of MythBusters

Adam Savage, the former co-host of<em> MythBusters,</em> has a new show, <em>MythBusters Jr</em>., featuring six young experts in engineering, welding, astrophysics and design.
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Adam Savage, the former co-host of MythBusters, has a new show, MythBusters Jr., featuring six young experts in engineering, welding, astrophysics and design.

In his 14 years co-hosting MythBusters, Adam Savage performed experiments that fell squarely into the category of: Kids, do not try this at home! The Discovery show tested out the validity of myths, legends and movie scenes — whether that meant creating a flying guillotine, or escaping a car submerged in water.

Now Savage is encouraging kids to join him in his experiments, in his new Science Channel show, MythBusters Jr. This time, he shares hosting duties with six youngsters who are experts in engineering, welding, astrophysics and design. And most of the experiments — like testing how many miles a pencil writes — are designed to be accessible.

"Almost all the experiments we do during the season are more like 'do try this at home' experiments," Savage says. "Most of our small-scale experiments are something that almost anyone could do in their kitchen."

Interview Highlights

On working with six young co-hosts

A casting call was put out to all over the country — different museums, different science centers, different science teachers were submitting people. ... Several of these kids are already interested in being science communicators. I'm thinking of Allie Weber from South Dakota. She [was] a YouTube veteran at 13 by the time we found her. ... I mean, I didn't know what I wanted to do with my life until I was in my mid-20s, so it always amazes me to find a kid that has figured out the trajectory they want to get on really young. ...

It turns out, in the edit, it's so much more interesting to watch these kids build stuff than it is to watch me! I recognize on MythBusters my job was to be the audience's experiential avatar. That's what [co-host] Jamie [Hyneman] and I were there to do: Give you the exact feeling of what it might be like to fly in a U-2 or slide down this giant water slide. ... [In MythBusters Jr., I] was much more like the camp counselor and the ringleader and the advice-giver while these kids got to demonstrate and explore their competence.

On feeling really afraid while filming the underwater car episode of MythBusters

We were on a lake up in Gold Country, Northern California, and we had cleaned out the car of all of its fluids, so we didn't contaminate this lake, but we didn't realize in vacuuming out the 500 cigarette butts out of this disgusting car that vacuuming the cigarette butts only got rid of the physical manifestation of the smoking. It did not get rid of all the tar and nicotine embedded in the upholstery, which the moment the car filled with water turned the inside of the car milky white. When I opened my eyes after the car had fully submerged, they burned like I'd poured salsa in them.

By the time I recovered from that weirdness, and I didn't even know what was happening at the time. I lost all my bearings about where I was in the car. This is a moment where I realized, "OK, I took a couple of breaths from this [oxygen] bottle I had on my shoulder, but that was only 30 seconds of air." I needed it to be a constant source.

So I reached out for my safety diver, Don Best. He handed me an extra [air source] on his scuba rig. He's a licensed safety diver, and I took a deep breath from it, but the problem was I was upside down and Don was right side up and I had an upside down regulator in my mouth, which means I inhaled a ton of water.

It is the most destabilizing thing to be holding my breath underwater, take what I think is a breath of air and breathe in a bunch of water. My whole body tensed up, and I remember being underwater and reminding myself that calm people live and tense people die. I forced myself to relax my muscles from my neck to my shoulders to my chest, my stomach, my legs, and then I thought, "What's your training? The training says pull out that regulator turn it upside down, pump it back in and purge it and it should be fine." And it was. But that's as close as I've ever come to panicking, and it's as close as I ever want to get.

On where he butted heads with his former co-host, Jamie Hyneman

I think that I am a bit of a force of nature when I'm working in the shop. I am grabbing every tool at hand and I work as fast as I possibly can, which means I leave a trail of destruction behind me, which Jamie found super unpleasant and used to complain about a lot. I am extremely concerned, not just with what we're building but, with how it folds into the story. And Jamie was much more interested in the thing we were building.

That was often an area of conflict, because there would be times when he would say, "Well, I want to build this thing." And I would say, "OK, we can't build this at this part of the episode, because that hasn't happened yet. We have to structure this, and we've to set that up so the audience understands this." And he'd just be like, "I just want to make stuff! Can everyone get out of my way so I can build things?" ...

In essence, there are aspects of the storyteller I am that differed with the builder that Jamie is. At the same time, there were plenty of episodes in which Jamie contributed mightily to the wonderful narrative beats that became the final episode.

You don't have to get a specific result in order for the experiment to be successful.

On the saying on MythBusters that "failure is always an option"

It started out as a joke after a long day of, I think, waiting for biscuit dough to explode inside a hot car. ... It's actually one of the most scientific things you could say, because in the movies our culture thinks that scientists conduct experiments to confirm things. And really that's mostly not the case.

Scientists conduct experiments to try and understand things. So there's no such thing as a failed experiment. Even an experiment that yields no data tells you not to conduct an experiment like that again. It, in and of itself, is data. So to me, again, promoting the idea that you don't have to get a specific result in order for the experiment to be successful is a really important one. I think it helps communicate that science is a messy and creative process, not a rigidly defined and uncreative process.

Lauren Krenzel and Mooj Zadie produced and edited this interview for broadcast. Bridget Bentz, Molly Seavy-Nesper and Beth Novey adapted it for the Web.

Copyright 2021 Fresh Air. To see more, visit Fresh Air.

Sam Briger