MythBusters – Zombie Edition

Well, if I’m back watching MythBusters that must mean that they had another pop culture related episode.

Frequent readers of the blog know that I am not a regular watcher of the Discovery Channel program MythBusters. However, whenever the show tests something from movies or television show that I like, I make an exception and try to tune in. These pop culture editions of MythBusters seem to happen with some regularly; first there was the episode where they tested out if Jack really had to drown at the end of Titanic and earlier this year they did a Breaking Bad themed episode where they challenged some of the science of the show. My general rule of thumb is that if I hear about one of their themed episodes, I’ll probably tune in, since that means that it has received coverage on one of the many pop culture related blogs and websites that I read with alarming frequency. I don’t generally seek out info on MythBusters, but if it falls in my lap and sounds interesting, I’ll tune in. That happened last night when Adam and Jamie set out to test some myths related to zombies in a special MythBusters episode. While this was not specifically a The Walking Dead themed episode – they didn’t test any specific myths from the show, but more zombie myths in general – it did feature a guest appearance from Michael Rooker, who plays Merle on the AMC series.

While I understand that this was a special Halloween-ish episode that was designed to cash in on the popularity of zombies overall and The Walking Dead in particular, I have to call shenanigans on this whole exercise. All preface of scientific integrity flew out the window when the first myth that they busted failed to be “are zombies real?” Sure, that would have been a short episode, but working from the flawed premise that there is such a thing as zombies meant that they were basically making everything that followed up. Arbitrary restrictions were placed on the zombies for all the tests that followed, so their results were, to quote Dr. Sheldon Cooper, “hokum.” No myths were actually busted on this episode other than the idea that the crew always uses scientific methods. When you start with a false premise, your findings are invalid.

I know I sound grouchy about this. Maybe I still hold a grudge because they disproved much of what happened on Breaking Bad. Or maybe I am annoyed that I struggled to stay up so I could blog about this.

Anyway, the zombie episode tested three zombie myths: Is an axe a better weapon for killing zombies than a gun? Can a human outrun a field full of zombies? Can a group of unorganized zombies break through a reinforced barn door? For all of these myths, extras were stand-ins for zombies. I have to give them credit; they did a fantastic job with the make-up for the faux undead. Some of the extras were pretty creepy looking.

For the first myth, Adam armed himself with an axe and Jamie’s weapon of choice was a gun. Since they didn’t want to actually kill or hurt any of the extras (where’s their dedication to science?), Adam’s axe was made of foam and would mark the zombies with paint. Jamie’s gun was loaded with paint as well and all of the extras had special masks on so that they wouldn’t be injured when they were “killed.” Jamie and Adam took turns in the center of a ring as zombies would slowly surround them. Using their different weapons, they wanted to see how many zombies each would kill before they became overwhelmed.

My main objection to this experiment (other than the previously stated zombie issue) is that it failed to provide realistic handicaps to Adam’s axe wielding. He simply had to touch the zombies in the head to kill them in this version, which doesn’t take into account the actual force that would have to be used to really kill someone (undead or alive). It also didn’t factor in resistance – when you chop wood, sometimes the axe gets stuck. I’d assume that would happen with someone’s head as well. Chopping someone in the head isn’t like sliding a knife into warm butter; occasionally, the axe will get caught.

To see if a human can successfully outrun a field full of zombies, the MythBusters took turns testing this theory out. Each successive trail, the number of zombies in the field was increased. The zombies were limited to moving 2 miles per hour, though I have no idea how they measured or enforced that. The humans were pretty easily able to navigate all the obstacles to a certain point; one the third trial the sheer number of zombies made safe passage impossible. They then tried using distractions to facilitate evading the undead, though I have no idea how they determined what would be a suitable distraction for the zombies and how they would react to it. Like I said, this was an episode only loosely based on science. They were making a lot of this up as they went along.

For the final test, you had to concede that the humans in the barn would have power tools to fortify the door and the time to do this work. That seems like some big concessions, but whatever. The zombies weren’t exactly unorganized either, as they were pushing together on the count of three. I guess the ability of zombies to work together depends on what version of zombies that you subscribe to; some films depict zombies as pretty aimless and uncoordinated, while others seem to have some semblance of teamwork.

I didn’t enjoy this episode of MythBusters as much as the other pop culture related episodes; I simply couldn’t get over the concessions that were made. It was a fun little episode in premise, but for a show that was is all about using the scientific method of testing things it just wasn’t a good fit. To me, it was all an exercise in futility and obviously didn’t “prove” anything given the assumptions it was working with. An admirable attempt to cash in on the popularity of The Walking Dead and other zombie related projects, but I wound up regretting staying up to watch it. I don’t know what I was exactly expecting, given the subject matter, but I was too distracted by the questionable science to really get into it. Who knew I was such a science purist?

One thought on “MythBusters – Zombie Edition

  1. Alex says:

    Next they’ll try to debunk the myth of Santa Claus by travelling to the North Pole. Plus, everyone knows you can’t prepare for the zombie apocalypse. As the adage goes, “the best laid plans of zombies and men….”

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