Named in honor of Charles Darwin, a Darwin Award is a manifestation of Internet humor, a dubious/sarcastic/cynical honor awarded to those members of the species Homo sapiens who have improved the human gene pool by "removing themselves from it in a spectacularly stupid manner." The more imbecilic the loss of reproductive capability, i.e. by killing or sterilizing oneself, the better the chances of an individual receiving the prize, thereby removing an inept set of genes from the gene pool.
While most Darwin winners receive the award posthumously, death is not required as the awardee has only to remove himself from the gene pool. In some cases, the winners have rendered themselves unable to procreate, but are still alive.
One must behave in an extraordinarily idiotic manner, such as juggling hand grenades (Croatia, 2001), jumping out of a plane to film skydivers while not wearing a parachute yourself (North Carolina, 1987), or using a lighter to illuminate a fuel tank to make sure it contains no inflammable vapors (São Paulo, 2002).
Honorable Mentions can go to those who did not completely succeed in removing themselves from the gene pool, by no fault of their own. Their foolish and dangerous acts are worth mentioning, if only to keep others from standing near them during their next attempt. Some of these include a man chasing a beer can and getting hit by a Chevy truck (Texas, 2002), people petting a dead whale's feeders (and even getting on the whale to pet the sharks) amongst a shark feeding frenzy (Australia, 2001), & two people trying to destroy an arcade machine but burning themselves (Unknown area, 2002).
Although some of the better-known Darwin Award recipients have proven to be fictitious, such as the JATO Rocket Car, the exploits of the majority of Award winners have been independently verified from original source material.
The whole process is overseen by the project's creator, Wendy Northcutt, a.k.a. Darwin.
The 5 requirements for a Darwin are
- Reproduction - Nominee must be dead or sterile.
- A disputed issue, due to cloning, donation of reproductive cells, and celibacy. Should the elderly be allowed to win, their death having no impact on the gene pool? The general rule of thumb is that if the candidate no longer has the physical wherewithal to breed with a mate on an otherwise uninhabited island, they are out of the gene pool.
- Excellence - Astounding misapplication of judgment.
- The candidate's idiocy must be unique and sensational. Someone who goes to bed with a lit cigarette in their mouth is not eligible. Someone who asks their friend to shoot them with cigarette butts (Woodbine, New Jersey, 2002) is.
- Self-Selection - Cause of one's own demise.
- A hapless bystander being hit by an anvil dropped from a skyscraper has suffered from bad luck. If you are hit by the anvil you rigged above your balcony to kill those squawking pigeons, you are eligible for a Darwin Award. The death of innocent bystanders rules one out for a Darwin Award. There is no award for taking someone else out of the gene pool in an extraordinarily stupid manner (even if the bystander did have some genes in common with the idiot). Thus, the Camden, New Jersey man who ran over a nun while trying to smoke crack cocaine and drive with his feet at the same time will never be given an award. However, the Virginia murderer who wrote a gloating letter of confession to the prosecutor's office "to show you how stupid y'all are" after his acquittal is, because the letter was not the cause of the girl's death.
- Maturity - Capable of sound judgment.
- The nominee must be at least 16 years of age and free of mental handicaps.
- Veracity - The event must be verified. (See Urban Legends)
- The story must be backed up by reputable newspaper articles, confirmed television reports, and/or responsible eyewitnesses.
Also, the nominee must have been discovered the year of nomination. For example, if the winner of a hide-and-seek contest five years ago disappeared, they must be nominated within one year of their skeleton being found in a nearby narrow well.
The following have been specifically stated as not making one eligible for a Darwin.
- Sliding along an electric wire
- Smoking in an oxygen tent
- Being hit by a train or automobile
- Pressurized or liquid-filled containers in the oven
- Climbing into zoo cages
- Falling off a precipice while posing or urinating
- Carbon monoxide poisoning
- Most autoerotic deaths
- Anything too common (pretty much all of the above, which site moderators still deal with almost daily)
If a story is found to be untrue, it is disqualified and placed in a special section of the archives entitled "Urban Legends".
Mottos include, among many others:
- Chlorinating the Gene Pool
- Natural Deselection
- Nature's UNDO Key
- (Gene Pool) Lifeguard Is Now Off-Duty
- Stupidity Is A Capital Offense.
- The Tree Of Life Is Self-Pruning
- A Fool And His Life Are Soon Parted
- The World is Full Of Oxygen Thieves
- All people improve the gene pool; Some by birth, others by their demise
- Evolution in progress
Life Imitates Art: The darwinawards.com site fails to give credit where credit is apparently due concerning the history of the Darwin Awards which originated in two fictional Darwin Awards postings on Usenet, the 1985-08-07 Vending Machine Tipover (http://groups.google.com/groups?q=%22darwin+award%22+OR+%22darwin+awards%22&hl=en&lr=&ie=UTF-8&c2coff=1&safe=off&scoring=d&as_drrb=b&as_mind=12&as_minm=5&as_miny=1981&as_maxd=7&as_maxm=12&as_maxy=1990&selm=7343%40Shasta.ARPA&rnum=2) which wasn't mentioned on usenet again until it was referenced in the 1990-12-07 version of the JATO Rocket Car (http://groups.google.com/groups?q=JATO+rocket+darwin+award&hl=en&lr=&ie=UTF-8&c2coff=1&safe=off&scoring=d&as_drrb=b&as_mind=12&as_minm=5&as_miny=1981&as_maxd=31&as_maxm=7&as_maxy=1995&selm=4178%40exodus.Eng.Sun.COM&rnum=35&filter=0). It lists the JATO Rocket Car urban legend that incorporated the second recorded use of the term "Darwin Award" back in 1990 and was very widely distributed in 1995-1997 as merely a 1995 recipient that was determined to be a hoax and not mentioning it at all in their history page. The oldest version of the prior www.officialdarwinawards.com site at archive.org also fails to credit the JATO urban legend and vending machine for the origin of the Award and mentions that the site coexists with a number of other Darwin Awards sites.
Northcutt began collecting the stories in 1993 when she was studying at Stanford University. She began a short mailing list of her friends, and as they forwarded these e-mails around, she started getting nominations from far and wide. When the Stanford server became overloaded, she moved the project from  (http://cmgm.stanford.edu) to darwinawards.com (http://www.darwinawards.com), where they remain to this day.
Three books of the best stories have been published.
- The Darwin Awards: Evolution in Action ISBN 0452283442
- The Darwin Awards II: Unnatural Selection ISBN 0452284015
- The Darwin Awards III: Survival of the Fittest ISBN 0525947736
See also: schadenfreude.