The untold truth of Jamie Hyneman

Mythbusters fans know the formula. Adam Savage: the wilder, funnier, more unpredictable half of the duo. Jamie Hyneman: the stoic, kinda boring half. That's right, we said it. All shows need a big personality to attract fans, and Jamie Hyneman's personality just wasn't that big. Or at least, that's how he was portrayed for pretty much the entire 13 seasons that the groundbreaking Mythbusters was on the air. Episodes typically progressed something like this: Adam bounces off the walls and cracks jokes. Jamie grumbles and acts sensible. Things blow up. Myths are declared busted, plausible, or confirmed. Repeat.

So a lot of the show's more casual fans may be surprised to hear that Jamie Hyneman doesn't really have a stoic or boring history. In fact, much like his former co-host he was once also pretty wild and unpredictable himself. Pause for a moment and try to picture that. Or, just keep reading and be amazed.

As a kid, he devised an ingenious way to dodge chores

Most kids feign illness to avoid doing their chores, or they "forget," or as a last resort they just do the work in the most half-assed way possible in hopes that their parents will get sick of nagging and just mow the lawn themselves. Not Jamie Hyneman, though. Kid Hyneman knew those were just stalling tactics. He needed a way to get out of doing chores for a good, long while.

Hyneman grew up on an apple farm, so his chores didn't just amount to things like vacuuming and feeding the dog. He had real, farm-kid chores to do, which presumably included things like picking apples, washing apples, sorting apples, and becoming so sick of apples in general that apple pie became somewhere on par with liver and onions. He also had to mow the lawn, and he told Northeast Valley News that he once sabotaged the mower to avoid having to do that particular chore. "I figured out that if I repeatedly ran the mower into the tree that something would break and I would no longer have to mow the lawn because the lawn mower was broken," he said. "I also discovered that I could pull the spark plug wire back in its socket and make the machines not work. And yet they were very difficult for [my dad] to track down the cause of."

Kids, don't try that at home.

He was once a hooligan

Yes, it's true. Stoic, boring Jamie Hyneman was once a hooligan, and to prove it he ran away from home at the age of 14. Evidently, his lawn mower sabotage and the spark plug thing amounted to "unruly behavior," and his parents were talking consequences. Faced with the prospect of reform school or, you know, just mowing the lawn like he was supposed to, Hyneman decided that the open road was the best solution to the discipline problem, so he set off on a six-month hitchhiking adventure. According to the Christian Science Monitor, the fun ended in California, when he got tossed into a juvenile detention center and had to suffer the ultimate teenage humiliation: getting picked up by his parents.

After that, Hyneman's parents decided that if they couldn't stop their son from seeking adventure, maybe they could increase his chances of surviving his adventures. So they enrolled him in formal survival training in Wyoming, perhaps thinking that real wilderness hardship would finally smack some sense into him. Instead, he discovered that he liked it, and for years after that would often disappear on weeks-long solo wilderness expeditions. Parental plans, backfired.

Lions and gerbils and dog food, oh my!

From lawn mower saboteur to teenage runaway to wilderness adventurer to … pet shop owner. Way to throw everyone a curveball, Jamie Hyneman. Just before graduating from high school, Hyneman's dad convinced him that he ought to buy a pet shop, maybe because of the prodigious absence of lawn mowers and juvenile detention centers at most local purveyors of companion animals. Anyway, Hyneman must have thought it was a good idea because according to Keith Zimmerman's MythBusters: The Explosive Truth Behind 30 of the Most Perplexing Urban Legends of All Time, he bought the shop and for a while ran a tidy business selling rodents, birds, and animal food. The shop also helped Hyneman develop a love for exotic animals, and through the business he obtained several pet snakes and some much more sensible companions, like the lion cub he raised and then turned loose on his parents' apple farm. Just a wild guess, but there probably isn't any U-Pick at the Hyneman farm.

At some point, Hyneman became bored with his pet shop and sold it so he could attend college. So maybe, just maybe, it actually was part of his parents' grand plan to turn him into a solid citizen. Eventually.

In Russia, myth busts you

So what skills do you need to possess to become a myth buster? Well, there's the giant mustache and the beret, of course, which you can substitute for a beard and a fedora if you want to be the wild and funny half of the duo. There's also animal wrangling, yard tool sabotage, and wilderness survival. Finally, there's a degree in Russian language and literature. You know, just in case you have to bust myths in Siberia.

According to Indiana University, Hyneman's degree has "exploded any myth that studying the humanities will not lead to an exciting and successful career," because clearly blowing stuff up on TV as a profession is quite a common career path for humanities graduates all over the globe.

So why Russian, exactly, and not Klingon or something that would have made more sense for a special effects professional? Because back then, he just needed to pick a language for his bachelor's degree, and he chose Russian because he liked the sound of it. He eventually picked it as his major because it was "clean and not subjective." Does he get much use for it? Who knows. But at the very least, he probably used it once or twice on Mythbusters, if only to swear quietly at a certain co-host.

Yo, ho, ho, a divemaster's life for me

Then Jamie Hyneman used his degree to become a pirate in the Caribbean. Just kidding. You can't use that degree for anything. He did actually become a boat captain in the Caribbean, though. Hyneman has said that after college he moved to the land of white, sandy beaches and clear blue water, where he bought a boat, became a divemaster, and opened a charter business. Occasionally, he would use his college education to speak to the Russian tourists who frequented his operation. Actually we have no idea if he ever spoke Russian again, but it at least seems sort of vaguely plausible.

Hyneman met his wife while running the charter business — she was a diving instructor in the Virgin Islands, where Hyneman set up shop stalking cruise ships for customers. He spent four years in what is probably the world's second most envious job, right behind blowing stuff up on television: showing tourists the clear-water reefs in the Caribbean and getting paid for it. But after 3,000 dives and two hurricanes, he finally got sick of scrubbing the bottom of his boat and decided to sail it to New York. After that, he got a job in animatronics, and thus ended his divemaster/boat captain career and all hope of ever becoming pirate. Well, you can't have it all.

He found his great love of explosions in a library, of all places

A lot of the above probably comes a surprise, if you only know Jamie Hyneman as the grumbly half of the Mythbusters duo. So let's get back to planet Earth for a second and say that Hyneman does actually do some stuff that's exactly in line with the meticulous, analytical personality that we all came to know through 13 years of Mythbusters.

Hyneman didn't just sail into New York Harbor like Jack Sparrow in search of treasure, and he didn't step off his boat right into the animatronics factory, either. Special effects work wasn't so much his destiny as it was a conclusion he came to after a lot of long, not-very-exciting hours spent in, of all places, a library. "I figured I should think carefully about it and research my options," he told StarWars.com. "I made lists of interests and priorities, spent a lot of time in the library reading about anything that seemed like a possibility, and decided special effects was the way to go." Seriously, Jamie? You could at least make up something about how you threw a firecracker at your boat and it ignited some exhaust fumes and then burst into flames and sank to the bottom of the harbor, hence your great love of fire and destruction. But library research? That's like the most boring way to find a career, ever.

The San Francisco geeks

MythBusters is a show about two guys living in California's Bay Area who build stuff together and bicker like an old married couple. So it's really not enormously surprising that some viewers got the wrong idea about their relationship. Even Discovery made some assumptions — co-host Adam Savage told The Sneeze that people at the network declared the duo to be "just the geeks we were looking for," but privately "wondered if they could do a show with a couple of homosexuals from San Francisco."

Fans wondered about it, too. "We got a lot of gay fan mail when the show first started," Hyneman told The Age in 2006. "Something to do with being in San Francisco and being a big, burly guy with a mustache." Savage said the gay fan mail bothered Hyneman at first, until his wife pointed out that a compliment is a compliment, no matter who it comes from. "And he was cool with that, and relaxed about it," Savage said. And since Hyneman is pretty private about his personal life, there are still people who aren't really sure about his sexual orientation, since he doesn't talk much about life outside his work. So to the gentlemen and ladies alike: Sorry to disappoint, but Jamie Hyneman has been happily married to a woman for a couple of decades. So let's just get back to the Mythbusting, shall we?

From special effects artist to French mime

So what's with the beret, anyway? Hyneman is almost never — if ever — seen without his signature beret, which makes him look sort of part Samuel L. Jackson, part Marilyn Monroe, and part weird French mime, minus the baguette and striped shirt. Naturally, this leaves fans everywhere desperate to know the story behind the beret, mostly because they're not allowed to "try this at home," and therefore they don't really have anything better to do.

"My hair was falling out so I got in the habit of wearing a hat," Hyneman told The Age. "And I didn't like baseball caps so I got a beret." But the beret wasn't so much to cover up the hair loss as it was to cover up the fact that he was shaving his head. "If my hair was going to fall out, I figured I might as well shave it, but if I shave it I look like a cue ball," he said. From there, he figured he should balance out the shiny dome (even though it's always under the beret) with some facial hair, hence the handlebar mustache that completed the signature look that he maintained through pretty much every season of Mythbusters, and beyond.

He built a machine that chucks cans of 7-Up

Jamie Hyneman is best known for Mythbusters, and like it or not, Mythbusters will probably remain his legacy. But he's a man of many interests, and he also owns a company that, for lack of another decent short description, builds really cool stuff. According to Gadgetopia, Hyneman's M5 Industries was responsible for the soda can-chucking machine that was once featured in a 7-Up commercial. The company described the machines as "2 remote controlled full-sized vending machines mounted on tank treads. The Machines are loaded with 2 golf-kart-type motors and are powered by 6 car batteries. One of the robots was configured differently internally with all the vital electronic components placed strategically in order to be able [to] survive going into the ocean for the commercial."

"They asked me if I could invent a vending machine that would spit cans out on demand," Hyneman told The Star. "I told them for the right price, I could invent a vending machine that would send cans into orbit." Maybe it's not quite the same as blowing stuff up for fun and a tidy paycheck from the Discovery channel, but it still nudges out Caribbean sailboat captain as one of the world's coolest lines of work. Maybe all that library research wasn't such a terrible idea after all.

Beware a former Mythbuster with too much time on his hands

Now that Mythbusters is behind him, Jamie Hyneman has some time on his hands. So what's he doing with it? Did he retire to a sailboat in the Caribbean? Is he raising snakes and lion cubs? Is he sitting in the library all day making lists? Nope. Hyneman now spends his free time inventing stuff — and not just beer delivery devices or new ways of turning on household appliances without having to leave the couch. Hyneman invents awesome, futuristic devices with the same coolness factor as jetpacks and hovercraft.

His latest: Electric shoes. Sneakers with electric lights have been around for ages, but Hyneman's shoes are like moving walkways strapped to your feet. They have wheels, but they're not roller shoes. "They're not intended to be 'ridden,'" Hyneman told New Atlas. "They're intended to be walked in." So they increase your speed, which means you can perpetually leave late for work and still get there twice as fast. Unless you drive everywhere, in which case electric shoes would be useless beyond just impressing everyone who sees you wearing them. Anyway. The shoes have a kind of tank track on them, and they're full of a lot of extra stuff like batteries, accelerometers, and infrared sensors that are evidently meant to stop you walking into things. Still, cool idea, like pretty much everything else Jamie Hyneman gets involved in.

Inspiration isn't found in libraries alone

Now we know that despite the lawn mower sabotage, wilderness survival, animal wrangling, and sailboat captaining, Jamie Hyneman sometimes finds inspiration in the most boring of places, like lists and libraries. He does want the world to know, though, that sometimes he also finds inspiration on exercise equipment, which is at least marginally more interesting than a library.

He told Udacity Talks that he believes "the mind and the body really aren't so separate," so when he's trying to solve a design problem, he exercises. "The first thing I do is I get on a treadmill," he says, "because I find that that mind body connection is really important." Hyneman says science backs up the practice — increased oxygen levels and changes in body chemistry can help stimulate the mind, which can lead to ingenious ideas, like 7-Up-chucking machines and shoes that will make the moving walkway obsolete. How about treadmills that give you ideas without making you exercise? Now that would be a million dollar invention.