Being the very best in the whole world at something is no small accomplishment — in fact, for that specific thing, a world record is the highest honor that can be achieved. Although it’s not the only organization of its kind, Guinness World Records is the best-known and most-trusted organization on Earth when it comes to cataloging the strange and astonishing feats of nature and human performance that its fabled book has chronicled for nearly 70 years.
Nov. 17 is annual Guinness World Records Day, a time to celebrate the incredible people who can claim the title of best in the world, like Tyler “TPhil” Phillips, who pogo-sticked over five cars, and Zhang Shuang, who pulled a car 50 meters while walking on his hands. And let us not forget some of the classics — like Lee Redmond who holds the record for the longest fingernails on a pair of hands. Her nails measured a total of 28 feet, 4.5 inches in 2008. And, of course, there’s Lucky Diamond Rich who holds the record for the most tattoos on a single person with 100% of his body tattooed, including his gums and eyelids.
They and their fellow record-breakers are forever enshrined in the annals of greatness.
Those who earn a coveted spot in the Guinness Book of World Records achieve endless bragging rights, fame, and fortune — well, fortune, not so much.
Record Holders Don’t Actually Win Anything
Guinness’ stated mission is to “celebrate the world’s best, to inspire ordinary people and to entertain and inform.” To remain unbiased and inclusive, the world’s most famous record-keepers “do not pay record-breakers for their achievements or for carrying out a record title attempt,” according to the FAQ on the Guinness World Records site. Furthermore, Guinness doesn’t cover any of the expenses, provide any equipment or offer sponsorships — no matter how cool the record someone setting is. Want to set a record for charity? In the name of staying impartial, Guinness can’t make any contributions there, either.
In Fact, Most Never Even See Their Names in Print
The Guinness database holds more than 40,000 records. Fewer than 40% — just 15,000 records — have made it onto the website, which Guinness updates every week. Even fewer, just 4,000 — are deemed interesting and compelling enough to make it into the physical book, which has sold more than more than 100 million copies in 100 countries and 37 languages and remains one of the best-selling copyrighted books of all time since its 1955 debut. It’s up to the editor-in-chief and the rest of the book’s editorial staff to make those tough calls.
It’s unclear whether or not contestants were paid for appearing on “Guinness World Records: Primetime,” the TV series, which starred Chris Collinsworth and Mark Thompson as hosts and ran for three seasons starting in 1998.
When Money Does Change Hands, it Goes to Guinness
Guinness receives an incredible1,000 applications for world records every single week — around 50,000 per year. There’s no shortage, it seems, of people who want to claim the title of best in the world. Applying for that title, however, is no simple task — and it can get expensive.
Guinness’ rules and guidelines are incredibly specific and highly detailed — the organization takes the process very seriously and applicants must adhere to all guidelines without fail to be considered. The process takes a long time, particularly if you’re trying to set a new record.
Applications take 12 weeks to process — it even takes two weeks to get a response if you ask a question. There’s a $5 fee to apply for a new record instead of applying to break an existing record, which is free. But beyond that, the application process doesn’t cost anything — unless you want to speed things up.
Priority applications expedite the process to just five working days — but your impatience will cost you. Priority applications currently cost $800 for people trying to break existing records and $1,000 for those who want to set new records.
Guinness is clear, however, that priority applications do not guarantee that applications will be successful and the organization issues no refunds either way. So if you’ve got a skill that you think belongs in the record books but you don’t think the world should have to wait four months to learn about your greatness, make sure you’re sure before you sign the check.
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Laura Beck contributed to the reporting for this article.