Supernatural actor Misha Collins aims to save 20,000 acres of Nepalese forest in the final year of his global scavenger hunt event GISHWHES.

Misha Collins is bringing GISHWHES as we know it to a close, but this last iteration of the crazy scavenger hunt that sweeps the internet each August is set to make a lasting impact on the planet before it even begins. While the task list of the scavenger hunt itself always involves some element of doing good through charitable giving or random acts of kindness, this time Collins is getting a head start on changing the world. In this final week of registration, GISHWHES has partnered with Rainforest Trust in a way that allows every player to know they’ve made a difference purely by signing up.

For every new GISHWHES registration between the campaign’s launch and the participation closing date on July 24, Collins and co will buy up one acre of a certain area of biodiverse at-risk forest habitat in Nepal. The privately owned land will then be turned over to the Rainforest Trust as a permanent preservation site. Endangered creatures native to the region include the red panda, snow leopard, and the pangolin – the world’s most highly trafficked animal. Collins explains the environmental significance of the land being saved in the video below.

WHAT IS RAINFOREST TRUST?

Rainforest Trust is a US-based nonprofit organization that works with local communities all over the world to help preserve at-risk areas of biodiversity. Logging, mining, poaching and deforestation all contribute to threatening habitats of critically endangers species and Rainforest Trust partners with local NGOs in order to make a uniquely tailored conservation plan for each site and then raise the funds to buy it. The reserve is then owned and managed locally by the in-country partner. The organization has saved over 17 million acres this way since 1988.

As for the GISHWHES forest itself? “Rainforest Trust and their partner Koshi Tappu Kanchenjunga Biodiversity Education Livelihood Terra-Studio are working on a proposed conservation area called Lumbasumba. This area will serve as a crucial link in a mosaic of protected areas across southern China, Nepal and India,” writes Charlie Capen, GISHWHES Vice President of Strategy and Operations. “There’s a sense of urgency to protecting this area as a major new road is being constructed to link China and India.” Basically, there’s a chance for the Rainforest Trust to prevent further construction by creating a blockade of private reserve.

Last year, GISHWHES had around 55,000 participants, and on top of however many have already registered for 2017, Collins is hoping to add 20,000 new players to that figure with the added incentive of having achieved some permanent good for Planet Earth. As mentioned, every new registration, either for one’s own self or donated as a GISHWHES scholarship in order to let someone else participate, saves one acre of forest. At the time of writing, the count was around 6000 new registrations, 30% of the goal in four days of campaigning.

One impressive factor of this campaign has been the renewed involvement of those participants who already signed up prior to this initiative, via the donation of “Gisholarships.” It costs around $20 ($21.08 specifically) to play GISHWHES – it’s not cheap for Collins to run – but if participants cannot afford their own entry, they are able to submit a request for a GISHWHES scholarship – a donated entry fee. Given this new campaign, Gisholarships are being donated en masse by team members who’ve already signed up, by onlookers who can’t participate themselves, and by Collins’ wider Supernatural circle.

The Supernatural fandom is well-known for being able to move any needle when they put their hivemind towards doing so – after eleven years of dedication, they’re probably the largest, most consistently engaged community for a currently airing show. What Collins has created spreads much wider than that (a personal example: I followed Collins as an internet presence and activist for around five years before I ever even saw an episode of Supernatural) but GISHWHES, and his year-round work with his charity Random Acts, are voraciously supported by members of the Supernatural community, from all sides. Actress Rachel Miner, who once played Collins’ demonic love interest Meg on the show, donated 100 spots, as did Supernatural co-executive producer Jim Michaels. Resident Supernatural event photographer Chris Schmelke will be selling prints of his work this week – a rarity – with 100% of the proceeds going towards the Gisholarship fund.

WHAT IS GISHWHES?

It’s kind of hard, as a fandom-engaged social media user, not to feel the ripples from the annual week of GISHWHES shenanigans, even if you’ve never watched Supernatural, but in case you need a few more details: GISHWHES stands for the Greatest International Scavenger Hunt the World Has Ever Seen, and it does what it says on the tin. It’s a huge (world-record-breaking) scavenger hunt which takes place both on and offline over the course of a week in August. Teams are made up of groups of 15 – participants can sign up as a full group, or as single players who are then assigned to a gang of strangers, who either work together in person or communicate online from all over the world.

Collins, inspired by a prior fan engagement activity involving a jigsaw puzzle and also by his favorite memories of his time at the University of Chicago, introduced GISHWHES in 2011. On the first day of the Hunt, a list of challenges or items, invented by Collins and the GISHWHES team, is posted, and teams compete to complete as many items as they can, as creatively as possible. Photo or video evidence is then submitted, points are assigned for each item via a seemingly subjective system only those privy to Collins’ mind could possibly hope to decode, and the winning team joins Collins on a special all-expenses-paid trip somewhere in the world – 2016’s winners recently visited Iceland, and the 2017 prize is Hawaii.

While some teams pull out all the stops, not everyone plays to win – every level of participation is encouraged, with a high volume of non-competitive teams signing up as well, or people who use the opportunity to try one single new thing. The heart of GISHWHES seems to lie in Collins’ thrill at using his platform to show people the freedom and sense of wonder they can experience when they allow themselves to eschew norms, be present and step outside of their comfort zone – to do things they may have been too shy, scared, or embarrassed to do in the past, and to leave the world better, kinder and weirder than they found it. In short, Collins is sort of an experience dominatrix: he consensually pushes participants through the trappings of humiliation or societal restraint into a mental space where they’re allowed to tap into a base joy. GISHWHES gives them the permission that they may need. Collins himself describes it most eloquently in a blog on the GISHWHES website:

“In playing this game, this GISHWHES, we are briefly disrupting the normal order of things. When we see a nun, arms raised, gleefully racing down a waterslide, our world is momentarily shaken. We respond by laughing at these incongruous things. But who says that nuns shouldn’t be on waterslides? Who says we shouldn’t try to talk to astronauts on the space station? Who says we shouldn’t tour particle accelerators in costume? By doing these unexpected things we’re actually in a strange way being reminded that life is full of possibility. A nun on a waterslide is a reminder that we don’t need to “fit in.” A nun on a waterslide is a reminder that we do not need to be confined by an arbitrary normalcy. We can choose freedom. We can carve out our own path. We can actually talk to a homeless person on the sidewalk or we can gather the courage to sing in public. An entirely different version of reality is open to us if we make ourselves available to it.”

Items may include anything from taking action in one’s community, like visiting a care home, to setting up bizarre photo ops, like – just to name one of several hundred examples – a string quartet accompanying a dental procedure, to, as Collins mentions, attempting to get a message to the International Space Station. (NASA requested that they please leave the astronauts alone, but they did name a mountain on Mars after GISHWHES instead.) In 2016, GISHWHES was able to fundraise enough to resettle several Syrian refugee families brought to Collins’ attention via the work of famed humanitarian photographer Giles Duley.

However, all good things must come to an end. After dropping a few hints in mailing list emails, Collins recently announced that this year’s Hunt would be the last GISHWHES in its current format. It’s hard to imagine Collins retiring from public life (he just launched his own personal website, Death 2 Normalcy, which… have fun with that one, you guys, and he’s also very outspoken about current political issues, having taken himself on a guerrilla speaking tour to encourage voter registration in swing states before the 2016 election) so at this point we must assume that whatever comes next, it will continue to allow Collins to facilitate activism, art and absurdity in the community he’s fostered. GISHWHES, after all, is a game – perhaps we’ll see a new incarnation, in conjunction with the daily work in crisis support, school building, etc done by Random Acts, that’s more of a lifestyle.

GISHWHES registration closes on July 24 – register now to save an acre of Nepalese forest habitat.

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