Teen co-stars of 'Mythbusters, Jr.' are busting the myth that girls aren't good at science
Valerie Castillo, Rachel Pizzolato and Allie Weber are busting the myth that girls aren’t good at science
“Mythbusters,” the fan-favourite science TV series, is back — and smaller than ever. Well, at least its new co-hosts are. The series, which performed experiments to uncover the truth behind popular myths and legends, is being rebooted with students as the co-hosts.
In “Mythbusters, Jr,” six young makers, robotics wizzes, builders and inventors all under the age of 16 will join Adam Savage, host of the original “Mythbusters,” to test out a new slate of myths. The 10-episode series premieres on The Science Channel on January 2, 2019.
Besides the new crew looking a little younger than the original, it’s also gender-balanced. I spoke with the newest female cast members Valerie Castillo, Rachel Pizzolato and Allie Weber about their experience filming the show, what they love about science and why they hope to inspire more girls to pursue STEM.
Valerie Castillo, 15
If your principal singles you out for something at school, you might be a little nervous. But for Valerie Castillo, 15, it was good news: he had nominated her to audition for the cast of “Mythbusters, Jr.”
“There were a lot of requirements,” she remembers. But as captain of her high school’s robotics team — and its only female member — Valerie was a natural fit for the show. “I’m extremely headstrong. I don’t let anyone tell me that I can’t do something because of my background or gender,” she says.
That’s also why she loves engineering, which she first became interested in after attending a STEM-based school in sixth grade. “Engineering is a field where it doesn’t matter where you come from, it only matters what you can put forward and what kind of ideas you can share,” Valerie explains.
Now she’s taking everything she learned to solve really important scientific questions on “Mythbusters, Jr.” like, “Can you make a functioning parachute out of duct tape?” The experiment was one of Valerie’s favourites because it meant she got to ride in a helicopter for the first time.
Being a Mythbuster also gave Valerie the opportunity to learn new skills like welding, which she describes as “one of the most beautiful experiences of my life...because you’re basically controlling lightning.”
She hopes being on “Mythbusters, Jr.” will inspire more girls to pursue traditionally male-dominated fields. “It’s great to know that we’re out there now, we’re going to be on TV and other little girls are going to see us and think that they can do the same thing in the future. Obviously, there are statistics about it saying that women are starting to be more involved in STEAM and be involved in the industry now, but having something you can see with your own eyes is probably one of the most inspiring things in the world for me,” she said.
As the daughter of Mexican immigrants, Valerie also knows how important her education is to helping her reach her dreams (which at the moment include earning a Ph.D. at Caltech or MIT and filming season two of “Mythbusters, Jr.”). Her father had to drop out of school in fifth grade and knowing that makes Valerie value her education even more.
“It’s what’s going to push me forward. It’s what’s going to build my future,” she says.
Rachel Pizzolato, 14
Rachel Pizzolato began fixing pipes when she was 5 years old — it wasn’t long before she picked up her first power tool.
Her father and grandfather own a number of houses near her home in Louisiana, so Rachel was always around renovation projects and quickly discovered how to fix and build things. Her father never doubted her abilities — in fact he encouraged her to pursue them. She remembers him saying, “Just because you’re a girl, it doesn’t mean that you can’t do anything that I can do.”
Rachel’s father was also the one who introduced her to the original “Mythbusters.” When she first watched the show, she was in awe of the hosts, Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman, and wanted to be just like them.
“‘Mythbusters’ is such an iconic show, being able to call myself a Mythbuster is such an honor. It’s still sinking in that I am a ‘Mythbuster, Jr.’ It was literally a dream come true,” Rachel says.
Her parents encouraged her to watch “Mythbusters” because, in addition to being highly entertaining, it was also educational. And now she’s excited to know that kids, especially girls, will be learning from her experiments on the reboot.
“‘Mythbusters’ makes science fun for girls,” Rachel explains. “Women in general, we’re a super small part of the science world. We’re underrepresented. But times and roles are changing now. Women have the same dreams and the same desires and same ideas as men have, so why shouldn’t be having the same opportunities that they have?”
Rachel is one to seize on every opportunity that comes her way. When she is not entering science fairs and building things with power tools, she also competes in local pageants and trampoline. She wants to attend MIT, but she also hopes to compete in the Olympics (her eyes are set on 2024 and 2028) and walk in a fashion show. And she details all of her hobbies and accomplishments on her blog, “Beauty and Brains with a Twist.”
For young girls hoping to follow in Rachel’s footsteps, her advice is: “Don’t procrastinate. Until you try, you don’t know if you can actually do it.”
Allie Weber, 13
13-year-old Allie Weber doesn’t really like being asked what she wants to be when she grows up. “I like what I’m doing now. I’m a maker. I’m an inventor. Does that not count until I’m an adult?”
It’s a fair point, considering that Allie’s resume could rival any established engineer’s. Since making her first robot at 6 years old for her first grade science fair, Allie has continued to experiment with inventions, including creating a binder that also functions as a backpack and a blow-dart spirometer. The South Dakota native showcases her creations on her YouTube channel, “Tech-nic-Allie Speaking” and was named one of Teen Vogue’s “21 under 21” in 2017.
When Allie saw a flyer to audition for a STEM-based TV show, she decided to give it a shot, not knowing it was for “Mythbusters, Jr.” She was a fan of the original show, so when she found out they were rebooting “Mythbusters” for a younger generation, she thought, “This is the coolest thing ever!”
She’s especially excited to represent young girl inventors on TV. “When I was younger, there were always a lot of movies about inventors but they were always boys that were inventing stuff like ‘Meet the Robinsons.’ Being able to be on a show that already has such a fan base and such an effect on people who want to be in science and being able to take that to the next generation, to show them, ‘Hey girls can do this, too!,’ it’s really really cool, for me, to be a part of that,” Allie says.
Allie also found it inspiring to discover that the show had two female directors, saying, “[Jacquelyn Marker and Yvette Solis] are super awesome. I think the main reason it was as fun to film as it was because of those two. They did a really good job of making us feel comfortable.”
Now that “Mythbusters, Jr.” has wrapped, Allie is back to working on her inventions. She recently founded The STEAM Squad with her friends so girl makers would be able to collaborate on ideas and bring them to life. Allie recognises the important role she and her co-stars play in paving the way for other young creators: “We’re here to show that kids are not the future, we’re here now. We’re not going to change the world someday, we already are.”
Through Assembly, Malala Fund is helping girls around the world share their stories. Subscribe to receive our newsletter and learn about the next generation of leaders.
About the Author
Hannah W. Orenstein is digital manager at Malala Fund. Her favourite ice cream flavour is pistachio.