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edge staff writer


Celebrity Slam (07/26/2017)

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Shark weak

Most of the time, when we take a celebrity to task, it’s because of something they have said or done that is particularly oblivious and/or stupid. Something related to an inability to interact with the world around them like a normal person. And obviously, we really love doing that. Call it schadenfreude if you will – you wouldn’t be wrong – but we still delight in it.

But every so often, something happens that is so egregious, so deceptive and ever so ridiculous that we can’t not talk about it, even if it doesn’t really fit into our usual purview.

And that’s why we’re going to talk about Michael Phelps racing a great white shark. And by that we mean that we’re going to talk about Michael Phelps NOT racing a great white shark.

Everybody knows about Shark Week, right? On the off chance that you’ve been frozen in ice like Captain America or something, here’s the deal: it’s the time every year when the Discovery Channel tries to figure out new angles to convince people to watch the same eight shows about sharks that they’ve already watched a million times before if they’re the sorts of people who are into Shark Week.

One of this year’s big promotional pushes – something they’ve been trumpeting for ages – is that Shark Week was going to kick off with all-time Olympic swimming great Michael Phelps in a swim race with a great white shark. Now, we can all objectively agree that athletic contests that pit man against beast are awesome (with the obvious caveat that the animals aren’t mistreated in any way – we’re all about shark-racing or trying to outrun a horse, but no kangaroo boxing or bear wrestling for us), but this one had that element of danger to it.

And with all of that hype and all of that promotion echoing in our ears, it’s clear that many of us never reached the all-to-obvious conclusion: that there was no way in the name of all that is decent and good that Michael Phelps was going to get into the water with an actual great white shark. The mere notion was madness … and yet, we chose to believe.

When the show aired, it didn’t take long for the remaining deluded among us to discover the unfortunate truth. Phelps would be racing a computer simulation. We would watch for an hour as a boat that may or may not have had Michael Phelps on it at any given time wandered around in the ocean trying to get speed metrics on various kinds of sharks. Reef sharks and hammerhead sharks were measured for what amounted to no reason before a guy - I assume he was a marine biologist, but who knows with this house of lies - climbed onto some weird pontoon bike, tossed out some bait and basically pedaled around until a shark noticed him so they could figure out how fast he was being chased.

Meanwhile, Phelps got some weird merman flipper thing because he wanted to be more shark-like or whatever – to be honest, we had kind of checked out by this point – and there was something about water temperature and then it was race time. Phelps climbed into the ocean and took off toward this buoy 100 meters away; the Shark Week overlords superimposed the computer-generated shark into the other “lane.”

And Phelps LOST.

Come on. Really? You’re going to have it be some bullcrap simulation and you’re going to make the guy lose? Then what was even the point? It would be one thing if there was an actual shark – then everybody knows he’s going to lose … and maybe die … but definitely lose. But the whole CGI shark thing just made the whole spectacle feel even dumber than it already was.

Yes, yes, we know – he obviously wasn’t going to race an actual great white shark. That doesn’t mean it was OK for him to tell us that he was. For shame, Michael Phelps. For shame. You might have believed your untruths to be little white lies, but they were in fact great white lies.

Alas, it has come to this: it would seem that Shark Week has finally jumped the shark.


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