Discovery responds to critics of Michael Phelps vs. shark race broadcast

Phelps vs. SharkIf there is ever an indictment on our culture jumping to assumption and not checking facts, the Phelps vs. Shark broadcast is it. It’s sad, but it’s pretty much true.

If you saw some of the advertisements for the Shark Week special in advance and actually looked at them for longer than a second, you’d know that Phelps was not actually racing a real shark live. We’re not sure how anyone would think that would be possible since it would require a shark actually obeying orders like some sort of show pony. Pretty sure that’s not how sharks work. Phelps raced against renderings and times clocked by other sharks, and the real test here was instead how fast he could swim in comparison to some of their times. Spoiler alert: He’s no great white, but he is absolutely still fast. This was basically the show’s version of a Mario Kart competition against the ghost of another car.

Can you argue that the entire special was fairly pointless? Sure, given that there were probably ways to research some of this information in advance if you really wanted to know the times. This was pure spectacle mixed with a little science.

Anyway, there were a bunch of people bent out of shape after the fact over the special, assuming that they were actually going to see a real-life shark race. Discovery released a statement on that subject today, basically telling some of those people that it’s not their fault that they didn’t pay attention in advance:

“In Phelps vs Shark we enlisted world-class scientists to take up the challenge of making the world’s greatest swimmer competitive with a Great White. The show took smart science and technology to make the challenge more accessible and fun. All the promotion, interviews and the program itself made clear that the challenge wasn’t a side by side race.”

Can you somehow argue on some meta level that Discovery knew that viewers would listen to any of the promotion and would watch the show anyway, expecting some sort of a crazy race? Maybe they do understand the apathy of audiences so well now that a catchy title will get people watching — therefore, instant ratings, even if it comes with backlash. If that is the case, though, it’s certainly rather said and worrisome for us as a society.

Overall, though, don’t complain about this being an hour of your life you will never get back — it’s Shark Week, and this is a really silly segment that was at the center of it. If you were willing to watch an hour of television featuring an Olympic swimmer trying to be faster than something that actually lives in the ocean, we don’t know what to tell you. Maybe have some outrage over something else for the day? There gotta be some other worthy topics out there for you…

What did you think: Was Phelps vs. Shark misleading, or did we mislead ourselves as a viewing public by expecting something that was never promised? Share in the comments! (Photo: Discovery.)

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