When MythBusters was first being developed by the Discovery Channel, no one had any idea about the empire it would eventually become, running for 13 years and establishing itself as a go-to source of science-related entertainment for an entire generation. The series' main hosts, Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman, already had established careers in the world of special effects, working with a staff of artists, builders, and interns to bring projects to life for the show. As the series' popularity grew, so did its ambitions, requiring its entire production team to grow, which would go on to include the addition of multiple new hosts, affectionately known as "The Build Team."
Kari Byron appeared in a pilot episode of the series and contributed to the series' first official season, ultimately becoming an official co-host alongside Tory Belleci and Grant Imahara in 2006. Byron's artistic background allowed her to approach myths from unconventional perspectives and put her signature stamp, and style, on all of the fables that were put to the test. While Byron, as well as Belleci and Imahara, would depart the series for its final two seasons, she was an integral component of the series for more than a decade.
In the years since Byron's exit from MythBusters, she would go on to co-host Netflix's White Rabbit Project with Belleci and Imahara and is currently the host of Science Channel's Crash Test World. In 2018, Byron published her first book, Crash Test Girl: An Unlikely Experiment in Using the Scientific Method to Answer Life's Toughest Questions.
In honor of the five-year anniversary of MythBusters' conclusion in 2016, ComicBook.com caught up with Byron to look back on the highs and lows of filming, the lessons she took from the series, and the unique dynamic the Build Team brought to the program.
Fan in the Family
ComicBook.com: Both when you were on the show and now all these years later, I doubt you are ever in the mood to go back and watch episodes, but have you happened across any sequences or segments after all these years? What are your reactions to seeing those old episodes?
Kari Byron: They've been in reruns for so long, it's hard not to [see them], quite honestly. And I also have an 11-year-old daughter who is now like, "Hey, wait a minute." She's like the perfect age for it. I'm just like, "You remember being in the shop, and you used to hide under my desk? I was pregnant with you on that show." So she's very interested in it. She is delighted to watch old episodes and make fun of the clothes that I wore.
That must be interesting to watch them and remember the emotional experiences, seeing your pregnancy and the beginnings of your family all these years later. Now through your daughter, do you still just watch the show and remember your experiences filming or has watching her watch it changed your perspective on the impact of the series?
A little bit of both. It's also, for me, like watching home movies. I'll be like, "Oh, my God, I forgot that we did that," because we filmed for so many years that some of it just escaped me, and I love going back and watching, being like, "Oh, I remember that." And thinking about the times we had and how much me and Tory and Grant grew together.prevnext
Highs and Lows
You worked with Jamie before you started appearing on camera, so when you finally became a host in your own right, do you remember your first instance of realizing what you were doing for a living and thinking, "Wow, this gets to be my job?" On the other end of things, do you remember an instance where you were filming something so absurd, you thought, "Wow, this has to be my job?"
I really enjoyed working with big diggers and giant equipment. It felt so powerful, and I got to learn to weld and melt metal. I loved all of these skills I got to learn, and it was always exciting and interesting, but when we'd go to the Bahamas for Shark Week, I think that's when I'd step back and be like, "Wait a minute. I'm diving with sharks and robots, and this is my job. And when I finish, tonight, I'll be in the Bahamas. Oh, my God, I am the luckiest person."
And then there were times like when we'd be out in the rain on a 13-hour day, welding, and we would be so drenched. I believe this was for "Snowplow Split," where we were trying to cut something with a snowplow. We were so wet and welding with electricity, and our bodies were making a complete circuit, so every now and then, we'd just start electrocuting ourselves. And we didn't have time for lunch, so we'd be eating pizza at the same time, and I mean, it was just like, flip your helmet up, take a bite of wet pizza, go back, get electrocuted. "What am I doing? Why is this my job right now?"
Yeah that doesn't sound nearly as glamorous as the Bahamas.
Oh, my God. That was not a glamorous show. That was dirty. We were eating bugs. I can't remember one time I thought how glamorous this is. It was cool, and it was amazing, but there was never ... well, maybe when we did the Emmys, when we walked the red carpet, but I don't know if that would count. Glamor? I think I have given every bodily fluid for that show. I have thrown up. I have handled poop. I've had to pee into shark skin to try to cure it. I bled for that show. There is nothing we wouldn't do.prevnext
You created a number of unique and impressive props for the show, do you have any keepsakes in your house that, in case of emergency, after making sure your family was safe, you'd run back in just to save from MythBusters?
Most of the props went to the MythBusters museum, which toured for years and years, and then recently, since COVID, the museum had to shut down their exhibit, and most of the props were sold off for the Grant Imahara Foundation. I have a couple of things. I've got a neon sign, and I've got some sculptures that I did for the show, and some molds of our hands and faces that are kind of neat. But, I mean, the thing that I'm taking away is mostly just pictures and memories. I didn't keep a lot of physical things.
Well having hundreds of hours of footage of memories on TV is surely more convenient to go back and look at as opposed to an actual object that takes up space in your house.
And most of the things that we did ended up destroyed, or smelly, or had human bones or some sort of animal carcass involved, so not a lot of things that you want to keep, necessarily.prevnext
The Power of "Edutainment"
Being on the series for more than a decade, obviously you changed and grew as a person over the course of that time, but when you look back on all the people you worked with and lessons you learned and encounters you've had with fans, what was the most surprising takeaway from your time on the show?
The impact on the audience was amazing, and nothing that we ever expected. We didn't realize it was going to become an educational show. We were using science as a tool, just the way you'd use a hammer, and the fact that it started getting used in physics classes and that my physics teacher was so excited when I went back to visit him was really, really cool. It was like this byproduct. I saw the power of "edutainment" for education, where you can actually learn something by having fun rather than going specifically out to learn something. I think it was a valuable tool for me to take into the rest of my career, because now that is something that I advocate for strongly, is learning through edutainment.
It's been a beautiful journey, and I've talked to so many influencers that watched MythBusters growing up, and they ended up doing that themselves, but in a new way on the internet, and it makes me very proud that I can be a part of anybody's journey whatsoever. I hope to keep doing this kind of thing for the rest of my life. And I'm currently working on a show called Crash Test World, which is on Discovery+ right now, and it's on the Science Channel, which is about creating a global citizenry and innovations around the world and highlighting how we're all in this together and trying to learn together. And I think that my takeaway from MythBusters has just been the power of following your passion, being brave, failing and getting back up, and using those tools to just be a part of people's growing experience.
In the realm of "edutainers," you have figures like Mr. Wizard and Bill Nye "The Science Guy," and I definitely think MythBusters served as the defining edutainers for a generation.
It just turned out that the scientific method is the perfect narrative vehicle for busting myths, so it worked out great, and I have been able to apply that to every portion of my life. I mean, it was about science, but it was really about critical thinking, which I think is the most important tool that we have.prevnext
You tested hundreds of myths over the years, and sometimes even revisited some of those myths, but are there any myths you tested and felt like you could close to having a more definitive answer on if you had another day or another week? Any myths you lose sleep over not getting to spend more time on?
I definitely don't lose sleep over it, because I feel like the mantle is being carried on by people like Mark Rober in the world. I don't know if there's one specifically. I think, all of them, we felt like we would love to spend more time on. We would have loved to build a little longer and perfect what we were doing, but we had TV deadlines and a small amount of time to create things. So maybe we might've built an ultralight in a week that was made of bamboo and duct tape, and I really wished we could have just a little more time, because we really believed, with our wills, that we could make that thing fly off the cliff instead of crash. It probably never would have happened. I really enjoyed the process of building with the fantasy that we could create a MacGyver-style ultralight from things in the shop.prevnext
Fans have connected with you and all of the hosts of MythBusters over the years, including Grant Imahara. His enthusiasm for science and robots was delightful, making his loss last year hit us that much harder. Is there anything fans might be surprised to learn about Grant? Something you got to witness as a co-host that audiences might not have picked up on?
Grant left it all on the screen. He was a sweet, intelligent, cool guy. I think the one thing you didn't see is how hard he worked behind the scenes when the cameras were off and how much he really delighted in showing it to other people. Like, kids would come visit the shop, and even though it'd be his lunch hour, he'd drop what he was doing, and he'd just be like, "Oh, check this out, look at this. Cool, cool." He really was a teacher, and it showed in what he did. And he really loved kids, and he didn't get to complete his final project, which was creating the Baby Yoda animatronic that he was going to take to children's hospitals. I mean, he was doing that on his own time. This is the kind of thing that he did.
I always wished that he would be a father himself, because he's so good with kids, so good at explaining things. He and I would sit down sometimes, and if there was a concept that was huge, this is how we hash it out. I'm like, "Okay, Grant, I can Google this, but I want you to explain it to me so that I can explain it back to you so that you can explain it back to me, so if a 12-year-old's sitting there, they can understand it."
So we'd go through that until we could get it to a really cohesive way of explaining it, because sometimes, they were big concepts, and we knew that our audience was eight to 80. And one thing that we learned is if you're going to explain something to a 35-year-old, talk to them like they're 12. If you're explaining something to 12-year-old, talk to them like they're 35, because you will always under or overestimate your audience. So we worked really hard to be communicators in that way, and he was really, really good at it. I definitely took notes on that.prevnext
"Pracitcal, Logical, Technical"
Each host brought their own charm to the series and created a specific chemistry, and you've all gone on to other exciting things and have sometimes collaborated with your former hosts, but if Discovery somehow got Adam, Tory, and even Jamie on board somehow, could you see there being a reboot or revival without Grant and what he brought to the mix?
It's never going to happen, because Jamie's done with TV. He works for, like, think-tanks doing insane things, but he is done, done, done with television. Tory and I work together on projects frequently, and we're constantly pitching things that are in the vein of MythBusters. I would, of course, go back with all the original team, but it just doesn't seem the same without Grant. Jamie and Adam worked pretty autonomously from me, Grant, and Tory. The three of us, our cameraman used to call us "practical, technical, logical," because we'd all approach the problems with these three different techniques and come up with the solutions together, and it just feels like without that third in the triangle that it's just not the same.
I doubt that we would come back for a reboot necessarily. I know Tory's working on some MythBuster-y type of car show right now. If they asked, I'd probably do something in the vein of MythBusters, but it wouldn't be the OG MythBusters.
But there's a couple of us that are still down. I love the power of television entertainment and streaming. I love it, and I love the job that I get to keep doing. And I still get to talk to the most interesting people and open the most fascinating doors and the fact that my life has taken this turn, that I have opportunities like that, I am always happy to wax poetic on the old days and talk about the new stuff as well.prevnext
Most viewers would assume MythBusters was a dream job and now, more than five years removed, do you look back at it as your dream job and you've still been doing other fun things, or was MythBusters merely a gateway to what you feel your true calling really is?
I'm a lifelong student. I don't know if I'm ever going to know my true calling, but I'm going to keep doing things that fascinate me and interest me and drive me forward, and I am just lucky enough and have worked hard enough that I get to keep doing what I do love. MythBusters was an incredible opportunity, but a lot of it was right time, right place, hard work, and the fact that we were starting out this reality show during the Wild West of reality, we were lucky enough not to be drowned out by a gazillion stations and the internet. We had a bigger audience because there was less to watch. We got to grow up into the show that we were. Now, I think it's a lot harder for people to get to that point, so I'm going to say I was lucky to be in the era that I was in, and I count my blessings for it. I got amazing opportunities, and I still continue to get to meet the most interesting people in the world.prevnext
New Dream Job
What other projects should fans look out for that you have coming down the line?
Pitches and stuff I can't talk about, but I will [point fans towards] Crash Test World, which is really fun to watch, because I'm traveling all over the place, and I know that people are just yearning to get out. That show was filmed in the Middle East, in Germany, in Detroit. We were all over the place, talking about important things. So you get a little bit of that [Anthony] Bourdain-style wanderlust, plus amazing, crazy, creative foods, and tech, innovation, science, all the things that people are trying to do to solve the world's problems. So you get a little bit of fun altogether.
And the coolest part about this is, as I learned from MythBusters, that teachers are actually using this. For Crash Test World, I am working with projectexplorer.org. Now, they actually provide lesson plans to go with segments of the episodes. So you can actually use this in remote learning for parents and teachers. So it's free, and you can watch a segment of the show and get a lesson plan that's tailored to lower school, middle school, and high school, because it's all family entertainment, and it's all incredible discussions about things from food sustainability to how the Berlin Wall contributed to an openness to the refugee crisis.
Jenny Buccos is a creative genius. She is the executive producer on that show. She's been doing edutainment for 17 years, so when I got to partner up with her, and the two of us collaborated on this show, it became just my new dream job.
Crash Test World is now streaming on Discovery+. You can keep up to date with Kari Byron's latest projects on her official website.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity. You can contact Patrick Cavanaugh directly on Twitter.prev