Discovery Channel Responds to ‘Phelps vs Shark’ Backlash: Promotion Was ‘Clear’ That It ‘Wasn’t a Side by Side Race’

Following fan backlash over the use of CGI in Phelps vs Shark: Great Gold vs Great White, Discovery Channel is standing behind its program. The network insisted that the Shark Week kickoff on Sunday, July 23, featuring Michael Phelps was about creating a fun program, and that it was clear the athlete would not be swimming alongside sharks in the competition.

“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,” Discovery says in a statement to Us Weekly. “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.”

Michael Phelps
Michael Phelps visits Today show in 2017. Nathan Congleton/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

The network added: “During Michael’s pre-show promotion, as well as within the first two minutes of Phelps vs Shark, this message was clear and we are thrilled with the audience and the engagement around the world. “

After extensive promotion for the show, fans were disappointed to see Phelps swimming against a virtual version of a shark. The athlete beat a reef shark in a 50-meter match, but lost to the great white shark by two seconds.

The Olympic athlete opened up about preparing for the experience on Good Morning America on July 20. “This has been something I’ve wanted to do my whole life,” he said at the time, admitting that he wasn’t in the water at the exact same time as the sharks. “This has been on my bucket list a long time and you know, being able to see these animals up close and personal in their own environment is something that was just such a treat.”

“They didn’t look that big underwater,” Phelps added of the sharks. “I guess now seeing the video, they were pretty massive sharks. I had one, like I was saying, literally come right up to my nose, and it was crazy.”

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