I'm frequently asked: "How did you get on TV? And what the hell is an Engineer of Destruction?"
The second part is easy to explain. Engineer of Destruction is my title on Discovery Science Channel's brand-new series, Catch It Keep It. On the show, I devise a new and daunting method of destruction each week that threatens to demolish an awesome prize. A team of contestants competes to find a way to save that prize through engineering and ingenuity. This week, for example, I've set up a fully loaded Xbox 360 gaming system in the center of an outdoor living room, set directly in the path of a hurdling car, flying off a ramp towards it at 40mph. Oh yeah, and there are catapults shooting flaming projectiles at it too.
That covers what I do. How I got to do it is kind of a longer story, one that involves a fantastic musician named Selena. Yes, that Selena: the young Tejano singer who's time passed much too soon.
Once, while driving across country in a 1973 Land Rover I'd just rebuilt, I fell in love with her biggest hit, "Dreaming of You." I was somewhere between Lubbock and Wichita Falls, Texas, listening to music on headphones. I transcribed the words as I drove, which may have been a stupid thing to do. I didn't care.
You're probably wondering what this has to do with television. We're getting there.
Later I ended up working in San Francisco for two of my favorite magazines: Wired and ReadyMade. One day at Wired, someone forwarded me an e-mail about a new TV show on the Fuse network called Rock and Roll Acid Test. It was looking for hard-rocking but scientific hosts.
I love rock, and I love science. When I was a toddler my dad let me help him in his workshop. My mother was terrified each time I used the radial arm saw. Through my teenage years, I built skateboard ramps and tore apart guitars and amplifiers to try to reassemble and improve them. In college and beyond I explored robotics, RC vehicles, and rebuilding old trucks, including the Land Rover.
I put my chances at getting on the show somewhere between piloting a spaceship to Mars and dating Heidi Klum. But still I made an audition tape. I talked about building stuff and about Twisted Sister. I played some Ozzy Osbourne on my guitar and some Coldplay on my tiny little keyboard. Then, because I truly didn't think I had a shot at this show, I decided to sing "Dreaming of You" - the Selena song I had so meticulously transcribed.
Surprise, surprise: They loved the tape.
I was one of nine people invited to a casting call a couple weeks later. They juggled us into teams and we were asked to assemble something out of a mess of broken musical instruments, electronics, and tools. One dude called it "a pile of garbage." It was just the type of thing I grew up doing. I spliced some cables, rigged up an amp with headphones wired in as a mic, and built a bass drum out of a Rubbermaid trash barrel. My group attempted to make "industrial" music until one of the small speakers blew out. It was a blast, and I got the job.
Rock and Roll Acid Test played on Fuse TV through the summer of 2008, and was one of the most kick-ass jobs I ever had. In the fall, I was approached about helping make Catch It Keep It. I drove to LA to audition and interview, with a set of notes, calculations, and plans for a few potential disaster scenarios. (How to launch a plasma TV over a 50-foot wall? And make sure it lands safely?). As I drove down the I-5 freeway, "Dreaming of You" came on the radio. I had a good feeling about this. — Mike Senese
Catch It Keep It airs Fridays at 10/9c on Science Channel. For more on Catch It Keep It, follow Mike on Twitter. For breaking news and scoop follow TVGuide on Twitter.