For many viewers there was only one thing the shark needed to be… real.
In South Africa, the Discovery Channel’s Shark Week started off swimmingly on Monday, 24 July. For nearly three decades, this shark-themed event has entertained and brought vital awareness to these villainised predators. As spokesperson Laurie Goldberg told the New York Times, ‘The whole point is to get people excited about sharks.’ And excitement there has been.
An episode featuring the most decorated Olympian of all time was filmed in the open waters of Cape Town and its title generated a lot of hype. The promos of ‘Phelps vs. Shark: Great Gold vs. Great White’ implied that Michael Phelps supporters would see their hero take to the water, post-retirement, to race against a great white shark. He is nicknamed ‘Flying Fish’ so it seemed appropriate that he’d agree to compete in their turf.
Despite having size 14 feet, large hands and a long torso (i.e. the physique of an Olympic gold medallist) Phelps still needed to morph into a human shark to better his chances. He wore a wetsuit modelled after a skin adaptation of sharks and a type of monofin that imitates their swimming movements. All that was left was for people to decide whose team they were on. Would the great white’s 40 kilometres per hour be a match for Phelps’s “greatest of all time” technique?
No one would know until they tuned in of course. What they also didn’t know was that the Great White wasn’t real either. Phelps lost a 100 metre swimming race in Cape Town to a computer-generated shark. For most, the problem wasn’t that he was two seconds slower, but that the Discovery Channel implied that his opponent was a living, breathing shark.
Phelps challenged the CGI shark to a rematch but maybe a future episode of him and Chad Le Clos shark-cage diving would work better instead?
The clip is still worth watching even when you know the truth. Watch it below and tell us what you think:
You can also follow @DiscoveryChannelSouthAfrica on Facebook for updates. Don’t forget to wish the Shark Week fans a good one!