TV

Viewers upset that Phelps vs. shark was just a charade

Michael Phelps has finally met his match in the water: a “great white shark.”

Remember back in December 2014, when Discovery Channel hyped that a man would be eaten and then regurgitated by a giant snake on a special called “Eaten Alive?” Then that didn’t actually happen, and viewers were furious?

We bring this up because 57 minutes into Discovery’s heavily-promoted Sunday night Shark Week program — in which Olympic powerhouse swimmer Michael Phelps was set to race against a great white shark — viewers heard this quote from ecologist Tristan Gutteridge, one the featured scientists:

“Clearly, we can’t put Michael in one lane and a white shark on the far lane. We’re gonna have to do a simulation.”

 

Hold on. So Phelps wasn’t going to actually race a shark in a TV event titled “Phelps vs. Shark: Great Gold vs. Great White”?! Why was the hour-long special billed as such?

While common sense probably could have saved any disappointment — along with pre-show interviews where Phelps assured everyone that he wouldn’t really race next to a shark in open water — many viewers were not pleased.

Throughout the episode, viewers watched as Gutteridge and the team collected data about the swim speed of sharks, which is apparently very hard to do, because sharks don’t typically swim in a straight line.

So, Gutteridge said, instead of Phelps and a shark swimming side by side, the scientists would use the speed data they obtained to create a computer-generated image of a shark racing. And Phelps would compete against that.

Unacceptable, said the Internet.

The computer simulated great white shark swam 100 meters in 36.1 seconds. Phelps, fitted in a special wetsuit and monofin that bound his feet together, took 38.1 seconds to swim the same distance. So close — but no dice.

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