To help celebrate our twenty-fifth year of being on the information superhighway, we have reached out to some of our current and former columnists for check-ins and updates. Today’s columnist, Suzanne Yeagley, has written Interviews with People Who Have Interesting or Unusual Jobs for our site since 2002. It’s one of our oldest running columns. Suzanne returns today for the first new installment in a few years.
Q: What is your job title?
A: The official title is “Guinness World Records Adjudicator.” I’m part of a team of adjudicators who are sent in person for certain events. I am the person who decides, normally in real time, unless it’s a very intense record, whether or not the record attempt was successful.
We go to the event in our fancy uniform. Every time I’m in it, I feel very official.
There are also people who review record attempt applications in the office, on a computer. They are not in fancy uniforms. I did that job for about four years. At that time, my official title was Records Manager, and then Senior Records Manager.
Q: How did you find that job?
A: It is honestly the most boring way one finds a job. At my previous job, I was a writer, writing a story about a successful Guinness World Records attempt, and I thought to myself, “Who works there?”
Out of curiosity, I looked at their website and their jobs, and strangely, I found one that seemed to fit my background. I applied, and I got it.
Q: What was the Records Manager job like?
A: Each day, I would get applications and have to review them. Step one was telling the person the guidelines, the evidence requirements, and all the things we would need from them. And then step two, people would submit the evidence, and I would review it and say, “Yep, you followed all of the guidelines, gave us all of the evidence we needed, and you are now the Guinness World Records title holder.”
Q: How many people would you say were successful in achieving the record title they set out to achieve?
A: I can find statistics for this… but it’s gonna be a small percentage. Totally guessing, I would say maybe 30 percent achieved the title.
Q: So you saw people fail pretty often.
A: I saw it every day. You always want them to achieve the record, and it is always kind of a bummer when they don’t. But in person, I have never seen a failed adjudication. I’ve spoken to other adjudicators, and it’s rare not to see failed attempts.
Q: Were people setting new records, or were they trying to beat existing ones?
There’s a database of at least 60,000 record titles. Any person could go to the website and search for a record title. If the record title is active, you submit an application, and the process starts from there.
You can also apply for a new record title. However, and I think this is always surprising to people, there are criteria that every new record title has to meet. I can tell you what they are: They need to be breakable, measurable, standardizable, verifiable, and measured by a single superlative.
So, part of my job was looking at applications and saying, “Does it meet all of these criteria?” We got a lot that did not.
Q: Can you give an example of something that’s not standardizable?
A: We would frequently get applications for something like most acts of kindness done in a day. But we cannot standardize what an “act of kindness” is. Is it buying someone a car? Is it holding the door open for them? So that’s an example of one we would get all the time that cannot be an active record title.
Q: And can you give an example of people not achieving their title?
A: For a period of time, I got a lot of fitness titles. Things like most pull-ups in a minute, or there was something called a “Spiderman push-up,” so most Spiderman push-ups in a minute. The reason for those failures was that they were not using the correct form.
We also have mass certification records, meaning “the most people doing whatever it is.”
For example, I adjudicated a title in Canada for the largest human image of a maple leaf. And it RULED.
It was for Canada Day, and they had just under three thousand people in this town outside of Toronto. They had to wear the same color shirt and have the stem, so that when I looked down from the scissor lift, forty feet in the air, I could make sure it was, in fact, a maple leaf.
For those types of titles, a million things can go wrong. It doesn’t actually look like the image, not enough people participated, they’re not standing close enough together…
It’s why it makes any time it is successful so impressive.
Q: That would suck if you had to tell them they didn’t look like a maple leaf.
A: Yes, the mayor of the town was there. The whole town came out. As I was going up in the scissor lift, I was thinking, “PLEASE look like a maple leaf.” Adjudicators have to remain unbiased while judging attempts, but I would’ve been bummed if it didn’t work out.
Q: How did you transition from the office to going out in the field?
A: I love calling it “going out in the field.” I’m going to start calling it that. It makes me feel like an FBI agent…
You do a week of training at the headquarters in London. The training varies from having sessions with other members of the records team, all the way down to media training.
We had to do TV interviews and watch ourselves back. We had to learn what to say, what not to say… it really ran the gamut.
Q: Can you tell me about other in-person record attempts?
A: You shadow other adjudicators before going out on your own. The first attempt I ever shadowed was most turbans tied in eight hours.
It was an organization related to Sikhism, and they tried to break the record in Times Square. They got permits, cordoned off this whole section, and had artists performing and speakers giving talks. They had pamphlets about why people who are Sikhs wear turbans and what the significance of it is. You could go up, and someone would put a turban on you.
Q: This sounds great.
A: It was cool to watch because you’re in Times Square, and plenty of people are on vacation, and they’re very down to do something like that.
It was such a fun event. I’m pretty positive it was successful.
Q: How long does it take to put on a turban?
A: Faster than you think. It’s maybe thirty seconds since the person doing the tying was experienced.
Q: Any idea how many turbans they put on in eight hours?
Q: Wow! Any other memorable events?
A: The most recent one I did was one of my favorites. There were three record titles that a blind horse was attempting. Different tricks, like the highest free jump by a blind horse, things like that.
I’d had a call with the owner of the horse where we reviewed the evidence requirements, and one of the guidelines was that they would need proof from the animal’s vet that, yes, the horse was indeed blind. Because blindness can range in degrees, and you don’t want it to be an unfair competition between, in this case, two horses. The owner said, “I don’t think that’s going to be a problem.”
So I get there, and I had never seen the horse before.
And the horse had literally no eyeballs.
It looked fine, it wasn’t bloody, it wasn’t gory, it just looked like a doll you forgot to put the finishing touches on.
Later, I saw the head of PR, and I said to her, “I cannot believe you did not warn me about that horse not having eyes.”
You always run into things you weren’t expecting.
Q: This job is really great.
A: Yes. I’m good at bar trivia because of all the random facts I’ve had to learn and all the different research I’ve had to do.
And I’ve had incredibly heartwarming experiences… I adjudicated the record title for the longest feather boa. It was in celebration of Pride, in connection with the Trevor Project, and I got to meet all of these incredible people. The people who get involved with the record attempts are always very nice, very interesting.
It is the most specific job in the world, and it’s incredible.