Phelps Loses ‘Shark Week’ Race to Computer-Simulated Great White Shark

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Still via YouTube/Discovery Channel

In an athletic showdown between the Baltimore Bullet and one of nature’s most feared beasts, nature triumphed…sort of.

Michael Phelps donned a wetsuit and a fin for the Discovery Channel’s opening night of Shark Week last night. Fickle viewers waited expectantly during the hour-long special for the moment when Phelps would finally climb into the water to race a real-live great white shark. For months, the network hyped the cable-televised event, dramatically dubbed “Phelps vs Shark: The Battle for Ocean Supremacy.”

But there was a catch, viewers realized: no shark was waiting patiently to race Phelps in the water. Rather, the network simulated how fast a great white could swim 100 meters, then had Phelps do the same in the open ocean. The computer-generated shark beat him by two seconds, finishing the race in 36 seconds.

Honestly, it wasn’t quite realistic to think Discovery could find a cooperative-enough great white shark to stick to a 100-meter straightaway route — and not try to take a bite out of Phelps in the process. There’s also the fact that Phelps did warn viewers on Good Morning America last week, saying, “Well, we’re not in the water at the same exact time.”

Nevertheless, plenty of Shark Week viewers felt they’d been duped by Discovery’s marketing of the whole thing:

This isn’t unusual behavior for “Shark Week.” The summertime series is infamous for its overselling in recent years, oftentimes at the expense of some of the experts who agreed to be interviewed, only to find out it was for a special that had little-to-no scientific merit. For just a couple examples, see 2013’s “Voodoo Shark” special about a mythical water-bound beast in the Louisiana Bayou, or 2014’s “Monster Hammerhead” about the legend of of a seemingly ageless hammerhead shark in Florida.

Phelps, naturally, doesn’t seem bothered by it at all; the 23-time Olympic gold medalist is probably just upset that he lost, really. He tweeted last night that he’d like a rematch, preferably in warmer water. If it does happen, it will undoubtedly be another simulation, which is probably in his best interest.

Ethan McLeod
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