Jessi Combs, professional racer, speed demon and buster of myths, passed away in a tragic car accident on Aug. 27, 2019. Combs was attempting to break the current land speed record of 440 mph, which she herself set in 2013.
In honor of her memory, let’s look at her best moments on “MythBusters,” which she hosted for a short time during its seventh season. As a wacky science show that seeks to test everything from skipping a car across a lake to hanging from a helicopter in 95 mph winds, “MythBusters” perfectly encapsulates everything Combs stood for as an ambitious, tenacious speed racer.
Driving in the Dead of Night
Combs’ first epic moment on “MythBusters” was in her second episode, titled “Antacid Jail Break” after the myth that the two main hosts, Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman, busted. In this episode, Combs, Grant Imahara and Tory Belleci test the myth that someone could smuggle contraband across a country’s border by driving in the pitch-black night without headlights. Sounds plausible, right?
Well, Combs and the team quickly figure out that driving in the dark severely slows the driver’s reaction time, which is essential for escaping the cops, and it limits a person’s depth perception, which is important for avoiding the moose.
That’s right: moose. Since “MythBusters” is a show for all ages, the team was actually testing whether one could smuggle illicit maple syrup across the Canadian border. The audience gets an early taste of Combs’ sense of humor in this episode; after all, what’s a “MythBusters” episode without fun?
Unfortunately, this myth ends up getting busted. Even when Combs, Imahara and Belleci give the driver a pair of advanced night vision goggles, it’s still impossible to drive successfully and speedily in the dead of night.
Combs plays the cop in the final test, chasing Belleci around the arena in a police go-kart. Supposedly, they’re using go-karts for safety reasons, not just because it’s fun to smash into each other during a car chase. (They do find the time to do some extra test runs however.)
Sports Car Skipping
Can a sports car skip across a lake like a stone? Combs and the team test this myth out in the episode “Hidden Nasties.” The idea came from a scene in the famous action movie “Cannonball Fever,” when Donato (John Schneider) escapes from the police by driving his Lamborghini across a lake so quickly that it skips across the surface.
Combs drives up to the testing site in an actual sports car, wowing her fellow team members along with the audience, and while they don’t use the actual Lamborghini for the test, the moment certainly shows off Combs’ ability to make a good entrance. For the myth, they use a car of equal size and weight to the sports car in the movie, but it’s a very boring color. Displaying her sense of humor and sound judgment, Combs looks at the testing car and says that there’s something not quite right; she then spray-paints the car electric yellow, proclaiming, “Now that’s a fast car!”
After failing to skip the car at 50 mph, Combs, Imahara and Belleci amp it up, getting the car to 100 mph. In a show of her amazing technical skills, Combs gives the car engine a boost with nitrous so it can go fast enough; however, she’s skeptical of the car’s ability to skip across the lake, saying, “My concerns lie in the fact of possibly blowing up before it actually hits the water.” Talking about the potential explosion of a science experiment gone wrong is quintessential “MythBusters,” and it truly cements Combs as a mad scientist.
In a stunning turn of events, something on “MythBusters” doesn’t blow up, and Combs, Imahara and Belleci actually get the car to skip across the lake like a stone. The scene is jaw-droppingly awesome and gravity-defying. This episode is definitely one of Combs’ best moments on “MythBusters.”
Barely Hanging From a Building and Other Things You Shouldn’t Try at Home
In her last episode hosting “MythBusters,” called “Soda Cup Killer,” Combs shows off her strength, speed and agility in one of her greatest moments on the show. In another action movie-inspired myth, Combs, Imahara and Belleci test whether a person can hang from a ledge by their fingertips long enough for help to arrive. In the movies, the hero usually manages to hang on, but the MythBusters find that it’s not so easy.
Combs’ skill is apparent when she manages to hang on to the ledge for longer than her male counterparts, but none of them manage to dangle longer than the actual action hero they brought in to try, because “MythBusters” is nothing if not thorough. They find out that hanging from a half-inch ledge can only be done, even by the most capable of people, for about 15 seconds before falling, which is definitely not what we see movies. Once again, Combs and the team bust another myth, making the world a more accurate place.
The fun continues when Combs, Imahara and Belleci try out the scene where the hero has to leap into a helicopter that doesn’t have time to land. To test it, they suspend a fake helicopter over a pool, while they hang from the lower bars and try to hoist themselves in. Sounds doable, right? The catch, however, is the giant, 90-mph wind fan that they bring in to simulate the action movie scene in real life.
Combs goes first for this test, and she immediately wraps herself around the pole like a sloth, in a move that lets her bring herself up into the helicopter quickly and gracefully. It’s such a cool moment, especially since it looks extremely difficult to even hang on — let alone pull yourself up — in the face of that wind. Imahara and Belleci also manage to get into the helicopter, but much more awkwardly, and with that epic scene, Combs ends her “MythBusters” run.
In Honor of Jessi Combs
Combs made her mark on the world by busting several myths, winning multiple medals for race car driving and setting an amazing land speed record, but, most of all, she is remembered for her ambitious, funny, adventurous personality and fantastic intellect. “The Fastest Woman on Four Wheels” has left quite a legacy, and we should honor it by remembering her greatest moments.