I’m good at mental math. I’m good at Backgammon. I’m good at remembering the names of people who starred in movies.
I am TERRIBLE at giving directions.
I’ve been on dozens of camping trips, from sailing to horse camping to kayaking and rock climbing. I’ve successfully navigated out in nature and driven across the country three times, but for some reason my geospatial awareness is often subpar.
I’m not in denial about this. In fact, I openly admit it. I always leave extra time to get somewhere because I anticipate I am going to get lost (at least once) on my way there. Nowadays I defer to Siri to direct me whenever I need help. It’s just easier and I don’t have to worry about it. I can keep my eyes on the road.
I first volunteered with Mythbusters back in 2009. I was part of a “crowd” testing out myths of outsmarting drug sniffing dogs.
In September 2011, I noticed that Mythbusters was looking for more volunteers. I filled out the survey which asked questions revolving around driving and cooking. I’m good at driving and I enjoy cooking. A few hours later I got an e-mail to come volunteer!
So I drove down to Pacifica (I arrived 18 minutes early). Slowly the show’s production team showed up and finally Tory, Grant and Kari pulled up in the sweet red convertible. The crew rigged up cameras to the inside while we took pictures and received our debriefing on the myth we’d be testing.
I discovered the episode we were recording for was Battle of the Sexes and our segment was “Navigation.” Who is better at navigating, men or women? I laughed out loud. Of course this would happen to me.
They divided the volunteers into two groups, half in the van for data collection and half in the convertible for television. Maybe someone heard my confessions of navigational ineptitude. For whatever reason, I was selected to ride with the Mythbusters.
For those of you who haven’t seen the episode, Grant drives the convertible while the volunteer (me) gives him directions from Point A to Point B. The goal was for us to take “the shortest” route between the two points. Grant and Kari sat in the back “critiquing” my directions with a numerical score.
Oh yeah… did I mention I forgot my glasses?
Needless to say, nothing out of the usual happened. I treated this situation the same way I had when we were driving across the country: let’s get there ASAP. So, instead of taking the route with the shortest distance, I took us to the freeway for the shortest time.
I’d love to say that was the only difference between myself and the other volunteers, but the truth is once we got near the target destination, we went an additional few miles, I had to make two U-turns, and I asked for directions. We ultimately arrived, but with a cumulative score of 20/100, I was the worst one they’d had yet.
I remember one of the crew saying, “You were so bad, you’re definitely going to be on the show.” Sweet… I guess?
The show ran on April 22, 2012 and the response from my friends and family was hysterical. Now my friends, as well as a couple million viewers, knew I was an absolutely travesty at map reading. Not to mention that the Mythbusters’ wonky reality-tv-editing helped make me look even more pathetic. (I’m not angry. It was good television.) They made fun of my route, my glasses, they even made fun of my hair!
After the show was over, I started hearing from people. People wrote messages on my Facebook wall. I got text messages from people I hadn’t seen in years. I was sent e-mails with nothing but “hahaha” in it. I didn’t even consider searching through discussion boards. They thought I was hysterical. They thought I was lying. They thought I was a disgrace to all men. I was even kicked off a “Zombie Apocalypse Team” I didn’t even know I was on. Oh no! What am I going to do now?!
The episode was a hit, which immediately sparked the need for a Battle of Sexes II. I received another volunteer e-mail from Mythbusters and immediately volunteered… This was my chance at redemption.
When they drove me out to the test area, I immediately called out to Tory and Kari.
“Hey! I have some words for you two!” I said a smile.
“Chris!” “No way!”
They both remembered me. Hell, the cameraman remembered me (last time we talked about Aussie rules footy)! We all shared a laugh about the episode. Then we recorded a whole new introductory segment with Kari before I was introduced to the next challenge/myth: Men are better at parallel parking.
Luckily, the parallel parking went much better. They gave us 24 inches of extra space between two minivans and asked us to parallel park a small four door car, probably a Geo or a Neon or something. Unfortunately, I did bump the minivan behind me, which set the alarm off, but I didn’t bump the curb and I ultimately parked as close to the middle as possible. I was told I did relatively well, landing in the top 5 scores amongst men.
I was sure that my struggle for redemption would have made good enough television for the second Battle of the Sexes, but ultimately my segment was cut out. Now, I was merely a statistic.
I’m still not good with directions, but I don’t really need to be. Everything has a navigator in it for people like me. Perhaps map reading as a skill has become obsolete, like using an abacus or playing the theremin. I don’t need to trace lines across paper anymore, we just type in the address and the quickest route is already laid out for us, turn by turn.
Do I wish I was better at map reading? Sure, why not. Do I think it’s totally necessary nowadays? Not really. Sure it can get frustrating (ask my girlfriend, Lauren) but in the long run, isn’t getting lost just part of the journey?
Here’s a link to the full episode on Youtube: