The Pilot Podcast - TV Reviews and Interviews!

Zach Umperovitch (Interview)

Episode Summary

We interview Guinness World Record holder, chain reaction expert, and judge and producer of Contraption Masters, Zach Umperovitch, on this week’s episode of The Pilot Podcast!

Episode Notes

Tune in to learn more about Zach’s record-breaking machines, expansive career in media, and new show, Contraption Masters! We also discuss potential machines we can build and nerd out together over board games. Tune in!

Zach’s Social Media:

Transcript available on our website

Episode Transcription

BJ (00:09):

Welcome to The Pilot Podcast. This week, we have a special episode with the Rube Goldberg machine expert, Zach Umperovitch.

Mitu (00:18):

Welcome, Zach. We're so excited to have you today. Would you like to introduce yourself to our listeners?

Zach Umperovitch - interviewee (00:23):

Yeah. Thank you guys for having me. Um, like you said, my name's Zach Umperovitch and I am, weirdly enough, a Rube Goldberg machine expert. What the heck does that mean? It means that I get to play with toys for a living and get paid for it. So.

BJ (00:36):

It sounds great. (laughs)

Zach Umperovitch - interviewee (00:38):

(laughs) It's a little more complicated than that. It is basically taking those, you know, basically taking the board game Mouse Trap and bringing it to life. Just, you know, instead of marbles and dominoes, I'm using shipping containers and bowling balls and generally lighting them on fire. So it's, uh, [inaudible 00:00:57] tad more complicated that it sounds, but, uh, it's essentially I just get to play around and, uh, have an amazing time.

BJ (01:04):

And it gets complicated, as we've seen on the show Contraption Masters on discovery+, and that's actually how we got connected. And on that show, you're the expert judge. You're also the engineering producer, challenge designer, show producer and more. So can you kind of walk us through how this all got started and how you got to discovery+ today?

Zach Umperovitch - interviewee (01:27):

Yeah, absolutely. So you ha-... I mean, amongst that whole list of jobs, I truly did a little bit of everything on the show, and that's because I had actually come up with the idea around 10 years ago at this point and various companies had come to me asking, "Hey. We wanna do a Rube Goldberg chain reaction type show." And Optomen, the company that is producing us now, who was the first ones to really be serious about it. And, I mean, since August 2020 we've been developing the idea. I've been working with the executive producer, and we got green lit April 2021. And from there, it literally was just me and the executive producer just gathering the team.

Zach Umperovitch - interviewee (02:08):

And yeah, one day they said, "Hey. We want you to kinda help with casting," so then I started casting the members. And then I started coaching the teams on how to build them so that they weren't just be pure crap machines on TV. And it just kept working its way into... me into every different department and finally, about a month before shooting they said, "You know what? We need a judge, and there's no one better than you." And I'm like, "Damn right." (laughs) So. Uh, no, it was a little bit more humbling than that.

Zach Umperovitch - interviewee (02:42):

And yeah, so I was just from initial conception to here we are today, is yeah, Contraption Masters, or in the UK as it's known, Richard's Hammond's Crazy Contraptions. It is my, uh, my baby.

BJ (02:54):

So that leads into another question we have. There are two names for the show, and we noticed that you use chain reaction machines as the go-to term versus Rube Goldberg machine. Can you tell us a little bit about those choices?

Zach Umperovitch - interviewee (03:08):

Yeah, absolutely. So, uh, the UK version, it aired on Channel 4 and they wanted to have their own special name. And Richard Hammond is a huge entity over in the UK, so really just using his name to draw... Uh, so Richard Hammond's Crazy Contraptions, whereas discovery+ we partnered with, and they wanted something to stand out. And they actually wanted to compete with Domino Masters and LEGO Master. Basically one of those things and... Which I'm a producer on Domino Masters as well, but, you know, they just wanted to stay kind of in that competitive field.

Zach Umperovitch - interviewee (03:41):

And then for the chain reaction part, I'm a part of Rube Goldberg [inaudible 00:03:45]. Rube Goldberg was a cartoonist in the early 1900s, and his family continues the legacy with kind of promoting his cartoons. Well, there's a royalty fee with using his name, just simply having it out there. While I work for them, I don't get to just willy-nilly use it, and same with production. We were already on a tight budget, so, uh, chain reaction is that generic, anybody can use it. You know, Heath Robinson is the other cartoonist. He's more UK based, less known. But chain reaction, generally people understand what we mean by that, though if you grew up in the United States you probably had a Rube Goldberg class at some point.

Mitu (04:22):

So you're talking about the engineering for the show, the production, coming up with the idea, even licensing around names. What is it like to wear that many hats? What's it like to be there with your engineering hat on and then also wanting to make sure it's entertaining? Like, as a producer, you wanna make sure people tune in.

Zach Umperovitch - interviewee (04:42):

(laughs) It's fun and it's a lot of work. It, it meant that I was the first one in the studio and the last on out every single day. It meant that even on Saturdays, I would go in. Nobody touched the workshop except me. I was the one to stock every single item in there, [inaudible 00:05:01] every week, because I was the one also who went out and bought the materials. So, you know, we're talking an 80, 100-hour week for myself to do that.

Zach Umperovitch - interviewee (05:10):

But at the same time, I love it. It's what I've been doing since college, even doing the collegiate competition. And it was just basically turning that into a TV show. And like I said, it's my baby. I wanted to put my heart and soul into it and just make it as great as it possibly could've.

Zach Umperovitch - interviewee (05:27):

So yeah, it, it was a lot of work. And like you said, just trying to make it entertaining, it's... (laughs) People knew when I was producer versus judge because I would have that vest on. If I took off the vest and I was just wearing the shirt, okay I'm producer time. I'm running around. I'm gonna tell you like, "Hey, that step sucks. Improve it or maybe kinda steer this direction." If I was wearing the other thing, I'm a judge. That's, you know, we're gonna be a little bit professional, even though I might sneak up on you and try to scare you because it was long, long, 10, 12-hour days in the studio. You had to have fun with it.

Mitu (06:00):

That's so interesting. So you were able to weigh in under both of those hats, or I guess vest or no vest, to make sure that it was as entertaining as possible.

Zach Umperovitch - interviewee (06:11):

Exactly. And, I mean, a little behind the scenes. Teams knew the challenges exactly three weeks before their air date. And prior to that, they had gone through a sort of boot camp, so to speak. I gave them a presentation on how to build these machines in a rough sense. And then we sat down, we did brainstorming and we just came up with this big list of ideas that they could basically just kinda pick and choose what they wanted to do. And when they got their challenge, then they kinda built their idea from there.

Zach Umperovitch - interviewee (06:39):

That being said, every single team walked in there, had an idea. I think you best saw it with the TikTok team with Baz and the bathroom. They actually had a plan going in. That being said, they didn't know what was gonna be in the workshops. They didn't know the pile of junk. They didn't know the tools, what they had, what they could use. That was all kept a secret, and everybody's plan just went out the window when they say way cooler things on the set.

Zach Umperovitch - interviewee (07:03):

So, I mean, that, that element made it a lot of fun but, you know, teams did know what they were getting into, and that's kinda where it was good for me. I could serve as the guidance because I knew their plan basically a month in advance and I could say, "Hey. You know, let's, let's steer you away from that." Or if someone was, you know, trying to use way too many dominoes, let's just, let's nix that early.

Mitu (07:28):

The dominoes trip some people up. That was tough.

BJ (07:32):

But they look cool.

Mitu (07:33):


BJ (07:33):


Mitu (07:34):

You see, you're part of the problem, BJ. (laughs)

BJ (07:36):


Zach Umperovitch - interviewee (07:37):

You are. You really are because... I mean, dominoes have their place in chain reaction machines. They absolutely do, but it's only when you're using different everyday objects. If you're using little plastic thing, get the hell outta here. If you're using books into DVD cases into the VHS tapes like the, uh, American team did, you know, that's, that's at least a little bit better. But, you know, it... Yeah.

Zach Umperovitch - interviewee (08:02):

I... It was kinda the problem of, uh, Domino Masters. I was up to be one of the judges as well for that, and I just had to be like, "I- I'm happy to design the challenges by guys, I hate dominoes." Just-

BJ (08:12):

Oh, no. (laughs)

Mitu (08:12):


Zach Umperovitch - interviewee (08:13):

I was like, "I..." That- that's what really, truly put me out of the running for that.

Mitu (08:19):

I mean, in hearing your strong opinions, we can't not mention the fact that you yourself are a two-time Guinness Word Record holder. And so I'm so curious. I think BJ and I, not to speak for BJ, but we're both so curious about your record-breaking machine. Can you tell us more about it, the steps, what it accomplished? We would just... We just wanna know everything.

Zach Umperovitch - interviewee (08:41):

Yeah. No, by all means. It's, um, it still is one of my favorite machines, the second one. Uh, the first one was in 2011, and that one had 244 steps, basically one thing after another. And, I mean, by comparison, the show, I think the most we had was 65 steps. So 244 steps was a lot, and that one was to simply water a plant. And we told the story of, um, actually traveling through time with that one.

Zach Umperovitch - interviewee (09:09):

The second one was a year later, and we decided we just wanted to shatter our own record. And we got it all the way up to 300 steps, and that's where the challenge was... It was for, for a competition. The challenge was to take a balloon, blow it up and then pop it. You had to do all those things. And so being that I'm a Purdue Boilermaker, we built an actual steam locomotive engine that pumped up the balloon that had this radial bike pump wheel, rotate and then a, uh, cartoonish arm come out and then pot the balloon after 300 steps.

Zach Umperovitch - interviewee (09:41):

Now, with Guinness World Record and to get the record for, for the competition, not anybody can do it. You have to run it not once, but twice perfectly in a row. And that has to be on film and you have to have a person of notoriety, whether it be a judge, doctor, um, the head of the competition, they have to be watching it in addition to being, uh, on film.

Zach Umperovitch - interviewee (10:06):

So not only... Yeah, trying to get it to work once, it took us 5,000 man hours, uh, over nine months to get that 2012 300-step machine to work just once. But we thankfully had back-to-back runs onstage at the competition, and that secured us that second Guinness World Record.

Zach Umperovitch - interviewee (10:22):

And... But since then, I've talked with Guinness and we've actually changed the rules of the actual record. There's now two. There's one that's in the, um, the competition, and then there's another record for anybody that just wants to build a crazy machine and you only have to do it once because Murphy's law kinda takes over when you're building these things and it's, it's a miracle to get 'em to work even one time.

Zach Umperovitch - interviewee (10:47):

And that brings me to a new point. With the show, it was an untested concept. Nobody, not even myself, have tried to build these things in three days at... it was around 15 meters, around 45 feet, from end to end of those rooms. We've never tried it before. I've never done it, and Discovery and Channel 4 were putting a lot of faith in me that this wasn't just gonna go to shit when those first teams showed up.

Zach Umperovitch - interviewee (11:10):

And the very first episode we filmed was the Bueno Brothers versus the Young Physicists, so that was episode four, and it truly was. That team, the, the Buenos, really did get a perfect run and the whole room just lit up with not only screams, but just you could feel the electricity because we were like, "Oh my God. This is actually possible." And thank God we had some of the execs from Channel 4 there, and that gave us the green light to kinda continue the rest of the program because yeah.

Mitu (11:40):

I bet that was just like a palpable energy.

Zach Umperovitch - interviewee (11:43):

Oh my God. You could s- you could see Richard. I mean, it's one of the clips of the show. Richard's like, "Oh, my word."

Mitu (11:47):


Zach Umperovitch - interviewee (11:53):

And they don't have me, but I'm just, like, happy 'cause just... You know, like I said, it took me nine months and 5,000 hours to... Everybody in the show in production knew that.

Zach Umperovitch - interviewee (11:59):

So one of the, the benefits in, you know, me being engineer and producer, I would walk to it and I would make sure that, you know, there wasn't any glaring things out of place. I wouldn't fix anything if it was broken, but, like, "Oh, hey. You forgot to reset this," and you know, we just, we w-... at the very least wanted to make sure no machine was gonna fail on the first one. So you'll never see a machine fail [inaudible 00:12:22] day one. You'll never see something fail that very first room in those, in those old clips.

BJ (12:28):

How nervous were you during those final runs? Because as I watched the episode, at the end I'm, like, holding my breath being like, "I hope it works. I hope it works. I hope we get through this." (laughs)

Zach Umperovitch - interviewee (12:41):

Yep. Yeah. Same with us. It's... Once we had a, a good couple of [inaudible 00:12:46] in, we knew that it was possible for teams to have working machines. And it ended up that four out of the eight teams had perfect runs. After that point, we were a little bit more lenient in the semifinals and on of "Hey." If there's, if there needs to be an intervention, we were okay. But that very first episode, there's not a lot of reaction shots of me because I'm just sittin' there frozen, just, just praying. [inaudible 00:13:13] absolutely right.

Zach Umperovitch - interviewee (13:14):

In my own machines, even like the little ones... Um, I'm in the middle of writing a book right now with little, tiny, dinky ones that anybody can do, but I still hold my breath while filming because there's still, like you said, there's that excitement. There's that wow factor because you're just trying to overcome this, these incredible odds to make it work.

Mitu (13:34):

That's so cool. I feel like my breath is caught just listening to it, so I can't wait for the book. And one thing BJ and I always joke about is, like, genres of nerd. So BJ is our resident science nerd. He, he is a doctor, not of the medical variety, but of the PhD variety. Um, and so as our resident science nerd, one thing that I love is that BJ is obsessed with board games, like custom board games and indie board games, and he'll contribute to building them.

Mitu (14:06):

So we're curious about your background as a geologist. Like, does any of that scientific mind come in as you engineer the machines?

Zach Umperovitch - interviewee (14:18):

Definitely. So I should say yes and no. The best way I can always put it is Thomas Edison had a quote of to invent something, you need a good imagination and a pile of junk. Yes, I use my geologic background. Yes, I use that to an extent. But because I've been doing this for so long since I was literally three years old, to me I just put together random stuff and hope it works.

Zach Umperovitch - interviewee (14:47):

So while I would love to say that I use my master's in geology to a better extent than I really do, I, I don't. I really don't. I'll be honest.

Zach Umperovitch - interviewee (14:59):

Our contestants? Absolutely. A lot of 'em were engineers. a lot of 'em were science background people, and they were actually quite pleased with the... having the chance to be on the show because, you know, not everyone gets to do what they went to college for. And, you know, this gave them the opportunity to both design something and build. A lot of times, engineers just design something.

Zach Umperovitch - interviewee (15:19):

So yeah, for myself, I wish I could say I use my geologic degree more often than not, but maybe chemistry. When it comes to the chemical steps, those elements, maybe elephant's toothpaste, you know, a lot of geology is, you know, knowing the elements. So that's benefited me, but, you know, that was just eight years of college that is currently-

Mitu (15:41):


BJ (15:42):


Zach Umperovitch - interviewee (15:42):

... sitting on the shelf over there amongst all the rocks and books and everything. So.

Mitu (15:46):

This is a audio medium, but the shelf you're referring to is filled with such cool memorabilia of all of the different projects you've worked on, so it is all good if it is siting on the shelf 'cause the shelf is a shelf of success.

Zach Umperovitch - interviewee (15:59):

There's that shelf over there and then kinda over there is the wall of rocks. And then behind, I kinda have a... Have to pull [inaudible 00:16:07] down. This is my set area. And then unfortunately, you won't be able to see it, but you mentioned board games. I have an entire wall of just board games as well 'cause that's-

BJ (16:16):

Oh, that sounds awesome. Now I have to ask, what are your favorite... let's just say top three board games right now.

Zach Umperovitch - interviewee (16:26):


BJ (16:26):


Zach Umperovitch - interviewee (16:26):

Right now, we-... I love Everdell. Everdell is one that we play a lot of. Plunder, Plunder happens to be a lot. Uh, Forever Evil gets played quite a bit a-... quite a bit, but we just got Calico.

BJ (16:39):

Yeah. Okay.

Zach Umperovitch - interviewee (16:40):

Calico has been... it's been pretty interesting and fun and it's... And really, the luck involved in that, it screws me every time (laughs) when I'm trying to build that quilt. I'd say those three.

BJ (16:51):

Okay. Solid choice. I like it.

Zach Umperovitch - interviewee (16:53):

How 'bout you? What are, what are you into?

BJ (16:55):

So I just got Marvel Champions.

Zach Umperovitch - interviewee (16:58):


BJ (16:59):

So I've been playing a lot of that. Terraforming Mars, this is really popular with my friends. And Mitu also likes playing Wingspan with me.

Zach Umperovitch - interviewee (17:06):

Ooh. [inaudible 00:17:07].

BJ (17:06):

That's one of her favorites.

Zach Umperovitch - interviewee (17:07):

I l-

Mitu (17:07):

I love playing Wingspan, but it has caused some fights.

Zach Umperovitch - interviewee (17:12):

(laughs) It's such a-

Mitu (17:13):

Because I think the rules have been flexible. I think the way you've been playing it, BJ... Not to bring you into this, Zach. I'm sorry.

Zach Umperovitch - interviewee (17:18):

Hmm. No, it's fine.

Mitu (17:19):

BJ will bring it and play with me and my partner, and the rules have felt flexible for them but rigid for me, and I just don't know why we're... not all three of us are flying together.

Zach Umperovitch - interviewee (17:29):

Explain, because I love Wingspan as well. And where's the controversy in this game? Because it's the one where we just wanna have a nice, quiet, relaxing... So I didn't know you could get controversial with Wingspan. Let's hear this.

BJ (17:43):

It's really two main points. There's some arguments over the food in the theater. Mitu doesn't always get the food that she wants when she wants it. And some of us are just a little better at building combos with our birds. I'm not naming who's better at it, but some of us are better than others, and that affects the final score.

Mitu (18:08):

I just wanna make clear for the record for The Pilot Podcast, and then we need to go back to being professional people interviewing you-

Zach Umperovitch - interviewee (18:13):


Mitu (18:14):

... that I have won as many games as you and my partner.

Zach Umperovitch - interviewee (18:17):


Mitu (18:18):

First thing-

BJ (18:19):


Zach Umperovitch - interviewee (18:19):


Mitu (18:19):

So I don't know about this some people are better at combos than others 'cause it sounds like we're all comboing together. And the first couple times we played, BJ understandably didn't trust my partner and me to understand the rules, so he did away with a couple of the complicated things like eggs for every round or, or whatever else the rules were. And so had we applied those, I would've performed better. And when we learned later that those were available, performances magically improved-

Zach Umperovitch - interviewee (18:50):


Mitu (18:51):

... once rules were applied across the board. And we don't have to bring you into this fight, but just know that that game is not calm in my household. (laughs)

Zach Umperovitch - interviewee (19:01):

I'm gonna have to, I'm gonna see about playing controversial Wingspan.

Mitu (19:03):


Zach Umperovitch - interviewee (19:04):

Because we're gonna really get into it with [inaudible 00:19:07] because I'm right there with you with the combos. You save a bird and you make sure that it's later on so that you're always getting that extra food each round, and then you just keep knockin' the birds out.

Mitu (19:18):


BJ (19:19):

I always have fun. That's all I'm gonna say.

Mitu (19:21):


Zach Umperovitch - interviewee (19:22):

[inaudible 00:19:22]. (laughs) Good nerd out moment.

Mitu (19:25):


BJ (19:26):

So going back to the film and entertainment industry, you've actually built machines for Sonic the Hedgehog 2 the movie, for ESPN, for different companies. Can you tell us about some of your favorite projects?

Zach Umperovitch - interviewee (19:42):

Sure. Absolutely. So yeah, Sonic was a really unique one because that was truly one of the first animated, and that had to be just built out of mushrooms, sticks and vines. So that was a unique challenge, just coming up with all the different ways we can come up with mushrooms.

Zach Umperovitch - interviewee (19:58):

Hearthstone fire and ice, um, that was called Here Comes the Boom, still one of my favorites. It's one of the larger scale machines where actually getting to light a lot of things on fire, having it bounce around on set, lo-... vats of propane. I got to build a flamethrower, which is in the garage currently. So I currently own a flamethrower.

Zach Umperovitch - interviewee (20:16):

Recently, there is one that I just did this spring for a pharmaceutical company. It's not released yet, can't say, but they wanted it to be very artistic but also that element of fire and... Uh, 'cause it was for rheumatoid arthritis, so we were trying to represent that.

Zach Umperovitch - interviewee (20:32):

And if you're familiar with the Honda cog commercial, that beautiful Rube Goldberg machine, we actually made one I think on the same level of ar-, the artistic scale as that machine but with a fire fuse-burning element. And I'm really excited for that one to, to come out, which I think it's coming out in a couple weeks. I don't know. Nobody tells me anything anymore. But that's gonna be a great one.

Zach Umperovitch - interviewee (21:00):

And yeah, ESPN, Disney, working with Syyn Labs and being a part of the, the... all, all those many projects is... It's hard to always choose 'cause I just go into them [inaudible 00:21:11]. Hearthstone fire and ice. If I'm gonna pick a favorite machine, that one.

BJ (21:19):

It's hard to, to pass over flamethrowers.

Zach Umperovitch - interviewee (21:21):

It really is. And giant Tesla coil. That's a small one behind me, but we got to use some of the prop ones and oh, we had the.. I... It's hard to see it, but the very end of that video, we have a stick of dynamite or a couple sticks of dynamite drop now used in the, uh, Indiana Jones 'cause I got to go to the Sony prop house and pick out... It was basically, again, a kid in the candy store. Just go pick out whatever props you want. And they're taking me through there and I'm like, "Is that Indiana Jones just..." It's like yes. Let's just, let's just raid that area.

BJ (21:51):

Very cool. So you have all this experience, and we even see on Contraption Masters you provide tips and tricks and advice during different sessions. And can you tell our listeners any of your top tips or favorite techniques if they wanna build their own machines?

Zach Umperovitch - interviewee (22:09):

Yeah, absolutely. So with the machines, I know it looks a lot more complicated on TV, but what I wanna illustrate with my upcoming book is that anybody can build these things using nothing more than a hot glue gun and scissors. And really, it comes down to just having zip ties, duck tape and, um, some string and you can build your own really complex, creative contraptions.

Zach Umperovitch - interviewee (22:36):

I'll share with you guys afterwards kind of a preview of what one of those is. But, uh, there was an homage to the water the plant Guinness World Record, but that actually uses a bicycle that's upside down that drops a watering can from a tree. And again, there's just nothing but hot glue holding it together. So, you know, like I mention before, just using your imagination and a pile of junk, you can really come up with anything.

Zach Umperovitch - interviewee (23:01):

Dominoes are not your friend. That's another big rule I, I always stress because they're such a pain to reset, you know. So it's that and go big. Uh, and I mean that both in try to be a little bit more complex, but using large-scale items, like having a tire roll, is a lot easier than, say, having a marble.

Zach Umperovitch - interviewee (23:26):

And I go into schools and I give a lot of presentations and I try to help kids build. And that's always the number one thing, is they're trying to take these tiny, little elements, marbles, you know, again the little plastic dominoes, and they're trying to get them to do something and there's not a lot of potential energy stored in that. You know, whereas if you have this big book that's gonna fall and knock something over, you could have just way more kinetic energy available to you. So going big, using real everyday objects is, i- is a better key than versus trying to, like, build it on the small scale.

Mitu (23:58):

That is very good advice. I am excited to try to build our own chain reaction machine.

Zach Umperovitch - interviewee (24:04):


Mitu (24:05):

BJ and I, after we watched the pilot we were like, "We didn't know we were this genre of nerd," but now we wanna, like, try to make the most complicated way to flip the light switch in our living room or something.

Zach Umperovitch - interviewee (24:15):

Well, I challenge you to build a machine and then send it to me. I will post it on my stuff and I'll give it a review-

Mitu (24:22):


Zach Umperovitch - interviewee (24:22):

... and we can go from there.

BJ (24:25):

Oh, no. The pressure's on now.

Zach Umperovitch - interviewee (24:26):


Mitu (24:27):

The pressure is more on you, BJ, because you're the scientist. I get to sort of, like, do the PR around it but you have to...

BJ (24:33):

Uh, we're a team. We need to build this together. (laughs)

Mitu (24:37):


Zach Umperovitch - interviewee (24:37):

Yes, exactly.

Mitu (24:38):


Zach Umperovitch - interviewee (24:38):

And you bring up a very valuable and good point, is yes I build a lot of machines on my own, but, you know, the Guinness World Record machine, the show, everything like that, I mean the, the Guinness machine was 12 students unpaid working for nine months, 5,000 hours. The show, we had a crew of 50 people who were just some of the most dedicated, hardworking people you'll ever meet. Uh, there wasn't a bad person on the crew. Y-... We mentioned earlier I wear a lot of different hats, but it really takes a team of individuals to pull it together.

Zach Umperovitch - interviewee (25:12):

Even on the show, we have three, four people building. And sometimes they get along, sometimes they don't, but it's really beneficial to have someone to bounce ideas off of. And, you know, when you're really frustrated with something, it's definitely having that real good... It- it's real nice having that extra set of eyes to go, "That's dumb. Let's just scrap that and..." Fix it, redesign it or scrap it are my words.

Mitu (25:36):

Ooh, okay. We'll keep this in mind. I hear you loud and clear. I promise to... (laughs)

BJ (25:41):


Mitu (25:41):

To pull my weight. (laughs)

Zach Umperovitch - interviewee (25:46):

It's... Another quote of mine. Reliability is the key to success. So if you're building anything... I- it's like anything else in engineering and science. You know, you need it to work over and over again. Rube Goldberg machines, chain reactions are no different. So when you're building a section or a module, make sure that it works.

Zach Umperovitch - interviewee (26:01):

My stuff, if I'm doing it professionally, because someone's paying millions of dollars I test it 50 outta 50. If I'm doing it on the scale of the book, you know, if it works, five, 10 times in a row, that's good enough. Move on, but don't just build something and then build the next thing. Test along the way and make sure that it's reliable.

Mitu (26:19):

That's super helpful advice, and I am very excited for your book as well. And this is all so inspiring and just so uniquely cool. We often ask people we're interviewing on this show, how would you recommend someone entering the creative ind- industry, anyone tuning in who's interested? But I'm so curious about it, especially from your perspective, because you've entered this industry with such a unique skillset and talent. So I'm curious about for folks like you who bring such a unique perspective, how would you suggest figuring how to pitch that for a larger creative industry?

Zach Umperovitch - interviewee (27:03):

I recently had a person contact me who was interested in joining this field professionally. And he actually told me that he went to a college where you get to pick your own major and... Well, I, I guess every college you get to pick your own major, but you get to pick exactly what you wanna do. And lo and behold, this guy had earned a major in Rube Goldberg machines. Literally has a degree in Rube Goldberg machines and... Oh, wow, that's... God, what the heck was that?

Zach Umperovitch - interviewee (27:34):

To get into this field, I mean, you don't really need that specific degree. It's hard to say because it's such a unique field and that's... There's truly only three of us in the world at, at this moment in time. There's certainly people that go around and do it for commercials and stuff like that, but I also see a lot of crappy machines out there. So.

Zach Umperovitch - interviewee (27:55):

To go back a little bit to my even profes-... or my, um, my degree, I did my master's in landfill design and my master's thesis was on repurposing a landfill and using it in a different and better way. So literally repurposing everyday trash and making it useful again. That's literally what chain reaction Rube Goldberg is, is taking everyday objects and repurposing them. So even that kinda guided me towards the life that I'm at now.

Zach Umperovitch - interviewee (28:25):

But to get others into this field, wh- what do you guys think? Let me ask... Let me, let me stall a little bit and hear you.

Mitu (28:31):


BJ (28:32):

What sounds like a running theme is follow your passions, and that will lead you into the industry. You'll meet more people. It sounds like you know the other top two people in this field.

BJ (28:44):

So keep pursuing it. Keep doing it. You've been doing it since you were three, so there's that dedication. Maybe that's the key as well.

Zach Umperovitch - interviewee (28:52):

I think that's, that's probably the best way to sum it up, you're right, is that if you're passionate about something, you can make a living off of it. You know, I never set out truly to earn money doing this. Even the... After we got our second Guinness World Record, someone approached us at the competition asking us to build a machine for them. It happened to be for Peddler's Village, an outdoor mall in Pennsylvania, and they wanted this really large contraption to run for three months and, an- and outdoors, no less. And that was the first time professionally being asked to build one of these things, and I was just thinking like, "Oh my God. That's so cool." And by the end of it, we didn't get paid a dime. We got paid for... We got paid in food, and I was thrilled. I truly was. Uh, it was, it was amazing.

Zach Umperovitch - interviewee (29:38):

And yeah, just I don't know. If you're passionate about something, others see that passion and they'll latch onto it. No matter, you know, if it's chain reaction or what have you, I mean that's where all these shows are kinda coming into play. LEGO Masters, Domino Masters, you know, there's all these little niches out there that... You know, just stay with it and worst case, you have extra fun. You have, you'll have more fun than anything else.

Zach Umperovitch - interviewee (30:06):

And if you're really lucky, you'll be like me where you'll get a phone call one day and... Basically, it was a phone call that got me into Syyn Labs. It was like, "Oh, hey. We saw your work with Purdue." And then he was like, "Well, we need your help with this big project we have comin' up," and that set me off on this.

Zach Umperovitch - interviewee (30:23):

I was gonna work for ExxonMobil, and then I got that call and, uh, at the very... It was like everything kinda piled together. There was that call. Discovery Channel at the time was putting together Unchained Reaction with the Mythbusters. So yeah, getting a phone call.

Zach Umperovitch - interviewee (30:37):

I was in a pub. My leg was dislocated from a caving incident. I get a phone call and, like, I recognize the voice on the other end, and he starts talking just normal and he's asking about the show, Unchained Reaction. And I was like, "Can I ask who's speaking?" And he goes like, "Oh yeah, this is Jamie. Jamie Hyneman." Like, from Mythbusters. And I was like, "Oh." You know, with my dislocated knee, like, I shot upright outta my chair and, like, just run off and I hurt my leg in the process. But yeah, it was just, i- it was at that same moment where Syyn Labs had called and then I'm on the phone with Jamie Hyneman from Mythbusters. And it was like things just kept growin' from there.

BJ (31:19):

And kind of following on from following your passion and exciting things going on in your life, what are your next projects? What can you tell our listeners about what to expect next?

Zach Umperovitch - interviewee (31:30):

Absolutely. So obviously, the book as we mentioned several times. I just finished the very last machine. So there's gonna be 24 brand new machines people will have the ability to build at home themselves. I'm still working on that, working with Rube Inc., Rube's granddaughter. So that'll be available in 2023. Um, as I mentioned as well, there's the one machine that's gonna be airing as a commercial in the upcoming weeks, and we're waiting on word for season two of the show.

Zach Umperovitch - interviewee (32:00):

I'm actually an adjunct professor at the University of Edinburgh, where its the science of failure class. And so I get to teach Rube Goldberg machines there and also judge I think this year is like 70 or 80 different machines. Part of that.

Zach Umperovitch - interviewee (32:17):

And then in the works, there's three machines, one that's going to take off here in a couple weeks, we're actually gonna start building on that, and then two that are in the pipeline. One I can mention is for Formula 1, and then the other two are the... You sign those big old NDA contracts that you can't mention. So. I would love to share 'em, but I would say for myself, one project out of 20 turns to reality probably.

Zach Umperovitch - interviewee (32:46):

And you, you get the weirdest phone calls and, you know, there's... Uh, the weirdest one, I should say, was a guy. Guy called. Wanted this machine to deliver chocolate bars into this bed. I go, "Okay. You know, what's the commercial for?" And I'm like, "Uh, y-... we'll get to that." This was years ago. And kind of a week into the design process, talking about it, learned that it was literally to deliver this guy chocolate bars in his mouth every single morning because. Just because. Not for a commercial, not for anything else. He was gonna pay 10 grand for this machine to deliver chocolate bars in his mouth every morning to wake him up. I never answered another phone call 'cause that's weird. There's a limit.

Zach Umperovitch - interviewee (33:37):

But I, I got a say when, uh... They wouldn't tell me it was Sonic for the longest time. They wanted me to start designing a machine using nothing but mushrooms and... I kind of caught the hint when they were talking about rings as well. [inaudible 00:33:49] put two and two together. But you know, when getting that email, it was like, "We need you to design a machine using nothing but mushrooms."

BJ (33:55):

And so for your book, for the projects you can talk about and the ones you can't talk about, how can our listeners find and follow you?

Zach Umperovitch - interviewee (34:05):

So with it on TikTok and YouTube, it's Zach's Contraptions. Instagram, it's just my name, Zach Umperovitch. Simply googling m- my name brings you up. Googling Rube Goldberg expert, I used to go by Rube Goldberg Machine Expert but that's big old mouthful.

Zach Umperovitch - interviewee (34:22):

Working with Syyn Labs, unfortunately the old president of Syyn Labs passed, uh, two years ago now unfortunately very suddenly. And, um, so I'm kind of in the transition at the moment of taking his spot in there, so that was the transition to Zach's Contraptions. Maybe something different, kind of like down the Syyn Labs name, but no, simply Zach's Contraptions, Rube Goldberg machines, you'll, you'll find, you'll find anything there. Um, Richard has joked about a number of names, which his company, The Smallest Cog.

Mitu (34:58):


Zach Umperovitch - interviewee (34:59):

He's really pushing for a similar innuendo.

Mitu (35:02):

Well, we can stay tuned for that. And thank you so much for joining us today, Zach. Please follow Zach on social media. We'll make sure to have all your links in the show notes.

Mitu (35:13):

And please be sure to check Contraption Masters on discovery+. If you think you are not a chain reaction machine nerd, you in fact are. They are dope.

Zach Umperovitch - interviewee (35:23):


Mitu (35:23):

And you can always find more episodes of The Pilot Podcast on, all your favorite podcasting platforms. You can follow us on TikTok, Instagram and Twitter at thepilotpod. Thank you so much for joining us, Zach.

Zach Umperovitch - interviewee (35:39):

Thank you guys for having me. It was wonderful nerding out with you guys for-

Mitu (35:41):


Zach Umperovitch - interviewee (35:45):

... a good half hour there. No, thank you again. It was wonderful chatting with you guys and it's... Yeah, I hope everyone enjoys the program and learns a little bit about chain reactions and this weird world that I somehow have become a part of.