The much-hyped Michael Phelps vs. great white shark race went down on Discovery Channel to jump-start the network's annual Shark Week, and people are pissed. The race was an hour-long event that aired on July 23, and it promised to have Phelps actually race a shark. Except the shark was not a shark at all – it was a computer simulation.
The network hyped this race up to oblivion, so much so that people thought Phelps was somehow going to race an actual great white shark. Now, viewers are fuming. But, really, what did everyone expect? Swimming with great white sharks is extremely dangerous, and it can only be done in specialized cages. Nevertheless, people are criticizing the network for promising something it definitely couldn't deliver.
Worst of all? In the battle of great gold vs. great white, Phelps still lost.
The Channel Didn't Really Reveal The CGI Shark Until About 57 Minutes Into The Hour-Long Program
For weeks, the Discovery Channel has been hyping this race. "One trained to be the best since the day he was born," the promo ominously says in a raspy voiceover. "The other has been perfected by evolution. The great white shark meets the greatest of all time." Many people thought this meant Phelps would actually race a real great white shark. And while anyone with common sense knows this would be a logistical nightmare (slash completely impossible), the network kept alluding to the idea that the shark was real.
Then, the special aired, and the shark was not a shark at all. It was a CGI computer simulation of a shark. This wasn't revealed until 57 minutes into the program. Not only was there no great white shark, the "race" itself wasn't a race at all. Phelps – donning a monofin for additional speed – was swimming in open water alone in pseudo-time trial style.
People Are Pissed
Imagine you get hyped thinking that a 23-time Olympic gold medalist is actually going to race a shark only to discover it was one big sham. Think of the betrayal you would feel.
Okay, okay – it is almost laughable to think Phelps was actually going tête-à-tête with a great white shark. First, these creatures are so massive and strong that they can't even be kept in captivity. Second, getting one to swim in a straight line as part of a race would be nearly impossible. And third, getting Phelps in the open water with one is a HUGE liability a network like Discovery probably wouldn't be willing to risk.
That being said, people did really believe.
Also, Did Phelps Actually Think He Could Win?
Here's the most unbelievable aspect of the whole operation: who in their damn mind thought Phelps could actually win against a great white shark? Phelps was equipped with a monofin, which helped him surpass his world-record setting speeds. But, really, racing a great white shark?
Perhaps at its slowest speed, Phelps stood a chance. According to the time trials Phelps ran against the CGI shark, he came in a mere two seconds behind the ocean behemoth. That seems suspect, but whatever. The reality of it is, great whites swim way faster than humans. Phelps can swim no faster than 6 mph, whereas great whites can swim up to 25 mph.
Discovery Channel used a methodology to bait a real great white shark into following a boat for 100 meters. Using that measurement, they figured out the average speed a shark would travel during that distance, and they plugged that into a computer. Apparently, that speed is just two seconds faster than Phelps.