SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4) — As this season’s Utah Treasure Hunt was officially claimed on July 16 by a woman from Iowa, the following days saw much controversy as followers took to the internet to share allegations on the discovery — prompting the hunt’s creators to respond on their podcast late last week.
It all started with a page surrounding the Utah Treasure Hunt on Reddit, where fans have discussed everything from poem clues to personal experiences while searching for the hidden chest.
Soon after the 2023 winner, Chelsea Gotta, was announced to have found the $25,000 bounty, several users came forward with claims that she didn’t solve the poem alone. Rather, a user going by the name “Jacqui” had provided her the solve information in exchange for $5,000 of the prize.
Within days, organizer and co-creator Dave Cline posted on an Instagram story that he and fellow creator John Maxim were “busy looking into some things.” By the end of the week, both Dave and John addressed the online theories in an episode of the podcast, Cache Me Outside.
In the episode, they say that a leak was ruled out after some investigation, though they believe an actual hunter had passed on their information to other hunters who’ve been seen interacting over social media.
“We think that Jacqui legit solved the poem,” Cline said on the podcast. “She didn’t know it was 100 percent right, but she was pretty sure… And that’s when she started [direct messaging] a bunch of random people that John had posted their stories.”
Jacqui had reportedly deleted her account following the rumors, and while the team was unable to reach her directly, some previous correspondence was found that proves she’s been following the hunt.
“We have a pretty good idea of who she is, and we have a lot of evidence that helps us determine that it is a real treasure hunter,” added Cline.
According to Maxim, she’d been following the Utah Treasure Hunt since 2022, and they have messages from her as she interacted with them for the QR hunt last season.
Unable to reach Jacqui, the pair claim that they’d quickly reached out to Gotta on the rumors, to which she admitted using the solve information on her last day of hunting — despite having worked tirelessly to decipher the poem herself.
The overwhelming response from the community, especially to Gotta, had admittedly been hard for Maxim and Cline to witness.
Maxim mentions, “It’s hard for us to foresee doing treasure hunts if this is how the hunters could be treated… She worked her butt off and had a lot of the right information without Jacqui’s message… [Gotta] won this thing fair and square.”
With nothing in the rules against using others’ information to solve the poem and Gotta already having been close to finding the treasure’s location, both creators say that her win was well deserved.
Even more, Gotta claims that Jacqui has yet to reach out for the $5,000, and other hunters had reportedly been very close to discovering the treasure themselves.
Still, with many in the community having questioned their roles in this year’s hunt, both Cline and Maxim break down the validity of the rumors.
“If you really think we leaked it on purpose and tried to sabotage our own hunt and integrity — just tune out,” says Cline. “We literally have gone into debt to fund these hunts, just because we love doing it and it’s so much fun.”
To further emphasize the efforts put into the discovery by Gotta, they point out how many hunters use the same strategies to come up with solves.
“I don’t know one treasure hunter that did it all by themselves of any of our hunts. They’ve always had help, teams, people that they’ve talked through,” Maxim added. “The worst thing to come out of this is that some of the people are trying to take away from [Gotta’s] win — I think that it was 100 percent above board.”
With so much controversy surrounding this latest hunt, and so much put into this season by Cline and Maxim, fans in the community dispute whether or not there will be more hunts in the future.
According to Cline: “We just want to get all this behind us…have a heart-to-heart…and see if we want to do the QR hunt in the fall and go from there.”