The Discovery Channel hits new low in Phelps vs. Shark

newmugDo not attempt to adjust your television sets. Your flat-screen is not on the fritz, and you have not dozed off in the middle of “Sharknado IV”. There really is going to be a race between 23-time Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps and a great white shark – if you really want to call it a race.

Part of me feels guilty for helping to hype such a ludicrous gimmick, but the shark side of my brain says this shiny object is too juicy not to bite. The Discovery Channel’s quest to top the previous year’s ratings for “Shark Week” has sank to new depths. The interspecies showdown between man and shark promises to make TV history for all the wrong reasons.

The idea of pitting a human beings against animals isn’t new. Remember “Man Vs. Wild”, an entire show was dedicated to people vs. critters in contests of speed, skill and competitive eating. Another show featured a guy (can’t remember his name so let’s just go with “Idiot”) attempting to be eaten alive and digested by an anaconda. No pun intended, but it didn’t go down.

What’s next? Bob Vila vs. a beaver in a dam-building race? A baby vs. a koala bear in a cuteness contest? D.B Cooper vs. Bigfoot in a game of hide and seek? Mike Tyson vs. a silverback gorilla in a boxing match? (In fairness, Iron Mike once threatened to punch one in the “snot box” at the Bronx Zoo, and I would actually pay to see that fight).

“Phelps vs. Shark: The Battle for Ocean Supremacy” appears to be a done deal for July 23. Details about the rules of Aquaman vs. Maneater are still sketchy but the two will be separated by a protective lane divider to avoid any chomping, uh, cheating. Of course, the ratings would be considerably higher if they shared a lane. First one out of the water wins.

For extra motivation, fill Phelps’ Speedo with a generous portion of chum and he would likely find another gear from his gold-medal days, and that’s the rub of this mismatch made in saltwater. While Phelps was swimming circles around his human competitors, his top speed was maybe 6 mph. Great whites have been clocked at speeds of 30 to 35 mph, maybe faster when they hot on the heels of a hot-shot Olympian. The only way Phelps could win this race is if it was held on dry land.

Still, it will be hard not to watch this spectacle, and rest assured I will be rooting for the shark (to “beat”, not “eat” Phelps). Not because I dislike Phelps; he is a real American hero. But the audacity of humans to think one of us stands a chance against an animal that has been perfected through millions of years of evolution to swim, eat and make baby sharks is either the height of arrogance or the depths of showmanship. The ratings might be record highs, but the idea is an all-time low.

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