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The Darwin Awards is a parody award website that annually recognizes individuals who have accidentally killed or sterilized themselves due to an act of poor judgement, thus removing themselves from the gene pool. The awards take their name from Darwin’s theory of natural selection, which asserts that the most desirable traits will reproduce and flourish in a gene pool while the others will be removed over time.
The Darwin Awards were the idea of a poster named Andy on the Usenet net.bizarre group on August 7th, 1985. Though this post received no replies, it defined the general idea of the award system: an honor given posthumously to a person who had killed themselves as a way to “keep their genes out of our pool.” The first example given was of a man who was killed by the vending machine he was trying to break in to.
In 1993, molecular biology graduate Wendy Northcutt began compiling lists of these unfortunate deaths that were circulating via email. During the early to mid 1990s, many people began reposting these lists on their personal websites before Northcutt created DarwinAwards.com in November 1997 (shown below). Despite having the hub website, people continued to repost emailed versions of the awards on their personal sites. In 1998, the Awards received their first press mentions on BBC News and Spiegel.
The awards are formally given out once a year, while the site’s blog updates in the interim with these types of news stories. These stories are also shared on the Darwin Awards official Facebook fan page, which has nearly 56,000 likes as of March 2013. The phrase “Darwin Awards” has also been used by commentators on Tumblr, Twitter and Reddit in accounts of news stories that would qualify for the Awards.
- 2000: Iraqi terrorist Khay Rahnajet, didn’t put enough postage on a letter bomb, and it came back marked “return to sender.” He opened the package and was blown away.
- 2001: The day before the American tax filing due date, April 15th, a Memphis resident was in a rush to get to the post office to send out his forms. Trying to beat a train, he collided into another car and was killed.
- 2002: After being pulled over for erratic driving, Gerald chose to run from the stolen car while shooting at the police over his shoulder without looking back. He accidentally shot himself in the head.
- 2003: During festivities in a park, a 26-year-old Australian man was rushed to the hospital after placing a lit firecracker between the cheeks of his buttocks before stumbling and falling on his behind. The emergency surgeon noted that it looked like “a war injury.”
- 2004: After a few drinks, two Taiwanese university students attempted a jousting contest on motor scooters to impress a woman they were both interested in. They collided at 50 miles per hour, both dying on impact. The girl later noted that she was not interested in either man.
- 2005: Two muggers in South Africa were fleeing after swiping a cell phone and a purse from a couple at knifepoint when one of them attempted to jump a fence to get away. After his ten meter drop on the other side, he realized he had jumped into the tiger den at the Bloemfontein Zoo. He was promptly mauled.
- 2006: 33-year-old Darren was found slumped over in his England home with stab wounds to his chest. Though police initially thought he was attacked, his wife later told them that she remembered Darren wondering whether or not his new jacket was “stab-proof” earlier that week. The coroner ruled his death “accident by misadventure.”
- 2007: In Russia, Eduard was in the middle of an attempted burglary when his handicapped victim woke up. Not knowing what to do, the victim hit Eduard in the crotch with one of his crutches, leading the burglar to jump out of the first-floor window. However, that the crutch had caused one of his testicles to fall out of his pants at his victim’s home and doctors had to amputate his entire scrotum to prevent gangrene.
- 2008: Catholic priest Adelir Antonio attempted flight with a chair attached to 1000 balloons. Though he took GPS equipment with him, he did not know how to use it. He reached an altitude of 19,685 feet before the winds changed and he tried phoning for help, asking rescuers how to work his GPS system before he lost signal. Pieces of his body were found three months later.
- 2009: In an attempt to disguise himself for a robbery, James T. chose to spray paint his face gold. He did not realize that the fumes from the paint would be toxic and died from inhalation shortly after the burglary.
- 2010: A wheelchair-bound man in South Korea began ramming his chair into the doors of a closed elevator, upset it departed without him. After three tries, the doors opened but the elevator was no longer there. He went in anyway, plunging to his death.
- 2011: During a protest of motorcycle helmet laws, New York resident Phil Contos was riding his bike sans helmet when he lost control, flipped over its handlebars and died on impact.
- 2012: Gary Banning was at a friend’s apartment where he saw a salsa jar with an unknown fluid. He presumed it was liquor and took a sip before realizing it was gasoline and spitting it out. Shortly after, he lit a cigarette, setting himself on fire.
The site divides notable events into four separate categories: the actual Darwin Awards; At-Risk Survivors, for submissions that come close to winning the actual award without dying; Urban Legends, popular stories which are fabrIcated or unverifiable and Personal Accounts of Darwins or near-Darwins by eyewitnesses. People can vote on the stories, which are then sorted by their popularity on the site.
In 2006, the Darwin Awards was adapted into a comedic feature film of the same name. The film is shot as a faux documentary, following a man named Michael Burrows (played by Joseph Fiennes) who is attempting to profile people for insurance companies to determine whether or not they would kill themselves haphazardly. Throughout the film, he finds himself in situations that could lead him to a Darwin Award-winning death. The film received poor reviews, earning a 25% rating out of 100 on Rotten Tomatoes.
By November 2002, five years after the site had launched, DarwinAwards.com was receiving 7 million page views per month. As of March 2013, the site has a Quantcast rank of 22,394 in the US, averaging 71,000 visitors per month. The site has a global Alexa rank of 124,034.