Joe Grand

Host of Prototype This

Since he was a kid, Joe Grand has been a well-known hacker and electrical engineer. Now, the CEO of Grand Idea Studio can add TV-show host to his impressive résumé. The Discovery Channel series Prototype This follows four incredibly smart humans as they think up lofty ideas and then engineer them, giving improbable dreams a frightening tangibility—with only two weeks allotted for each build. Superhuman firefighting tools? Sure. A pair of gigantic boxing robots that beat the shit out of each other? No sweat. A hovercraft, space-travel, time-machine thingy that fights evil while baking delicious cupcakes? OK, not yet. Anyway, Grand, a competitive triathlete, came to Sacramento on Thanksgiving to race in the Run to Feed the Hungry and then to eat dinner with the Fernandez family. But he didn’t escape without a journalistic flame under his ass.

So which guy are you on the show?

I’m the electronics-hardware hacker guy, and probably the goofiest and the nerdiest of them all. And then Zoz [Brooks] specializes in robotics and software programming; Terry [Sandin] does the machining and Mike [North] is a material scientist.

Has there been one project that you were pretty stoked on?

I really liked the “pyro pack” that I designed for the firefighter project. That was cool because I got to use a lot of my skills and also do something that firefighters would really like. The thing about the show is we’re building prototypes of stuff just to prove the concept that we can do something. But a lot of people watch the show and are like, “Oh whatever—no one’s really going to wear an ergonomic fire pack.”

But it seems like the firefighters liked it.

Oh, they were totally stoked. They were cool; they had big mustaches.

So does the team end up getting in arguments a lot?

We used to. Like the first few episodes of the show were weird because none of us knew each other, and the producers didn’t know anything about engineering. They just threw us all in a room and they’re like, “Here, build this.”

What is it like when nerds fight? Is it like when regular people fight?

It’s crazy. You know how when they have rap battles? … It’s like that, but we spew code.

How did you do on the Run to Feed the Hungry?

I ran 18:42. I was fifth place in the Male 30-34 and 48th overall out of 14,992. That was the fastest I’ve run in, like, two years.

Didn’t you do the Jewish Olympics or something?

Yeah, the Maccabiah. [It happens] every four years, and it’s the third largest athletic event in the world, next to the Olympics and the Asian Games.

You did pretty well in the last one.

The one I went to before was the Pan American Maccabi Games. … That one I got second place in my division and fifth place overall in the Olympic distance triathlon. … It’s cool to beat Jews from other countries.

That’s always been my motto. Hey, is the government building an invisibility cloak?

Are they? They’re building a lot of crazy shit.

Is that even possible, do you think?

I don’t know. No. But people didn’t think airplanes could fly, either. They built a sound-generating thing where if you point it at someone they’ll throw up. So if they can do that, they can probably make somebody disappear.