We know all about Olympian Michael Phelps, but what do we know about the great white shark he will race in a prime-time special on Sunday night?
Is the shark fit, as far as sharks go? What are his racing credentials? Has he ever won anything before or is he more of an "I only run for the bus" sort of shark?
Is he a drinker, or maybe a social smoker? You know, just at parties or whenever someone else is doing it.
Does he work out or is he the kind of shark who goes to the gym more to socialize? We hate to bring this up, but has he done anything that might give him a little boost? A few pep pills? The occasional rail? Again, just at parties. It's not a sin, but it's only fair that the viewing public know.
Even if this particular shark doesn't touch drugs, surfers do. A lot. It's part of the culture. So when was the last time he ate a surfer? Because that stuff might still be swirling around in his shark blood system.
Don't try to use that excuse later – "It must have been the guy I had for dinner who did all that Nandrolone" – if you haven't been upfront about your habits.
Without knowing anything about his lifestyle, it's hard to tell if Phelps vs. Shark should impress us. This might be a really poor specimen of sharkhood. Or maybe it's a doped-up super shark sent by the shark leadership to demoralize us ahead of the invasion. We should be prepared for both possibilities.
Now, even the laziest great white has an enormous advantage here. The species can typically reach speeds in the water of 40 kilometres an hour. At his best, Phelps can hit 10 km/h.
(Think about that the next time you're at the beach and someone yells "Shark!" and you start flopping toward shore like a half-inflated waterbed with arms. Stand and fight and be devoured like a man.)
So let's get this straight – unless the fix is in, humanity is taking an 'L' on this one. For a very long time now, we Homo sapiens have been going around the world meeting a lot of new, interesting lifeforms and wiping them out.
With that in mind, we should to try to give back once in a while. Let the ducks have that swamp, as long as they filled out the correct zoning paperwork. Let the bees go extinct at their own pace, and stop bothering them with whiny magazine articles about it. And let the sharks win a race on cable TV where all the deeply out-of-touch people who still pay for cable can see it. It's good manners.
There are two pieces of news you should go into this armed with. First, the race has already happened. Second, Michael Phelps is still alive.
I know. I'm disappointed, too.
Phelps has been out on the publicity circuit hinting around how this thing went down. It took place in open water over 100 metres. Phelps wore a bodysuit and a monofin for added propulsion. There were lanes. He won't say who won (though it's the shark).
"It was a tough race, probably the hardest race I've ever had," Phelps said.
Again, there are questions. How did they get the shark into a lane? Did they throw a shrieking production assistant in there as an incentive? Maybe they tied the PA to a stick and dangled him in front of the shark, like a donkey with a carrot? Or did he get him? Was the shark all full and bloated when this thing kicked off?
I don't think the rudimentary body language of sharks (here's a tip: if the fins are pointed down, you are about to die) has an equivalent to "Take your marks." Plus, his shark physiology does not allow him to stand still for the gun, which means he had a running start, which in turn is unfair. This whole thing already sounds a bit short of the Olympic standard.
But they raced, I guess. Did the shark give it his all? Did he even care? What type of psychological screening was used in the selection process?
Is it possible this was an existentialist shark who refuses to participate in our sad human need for prizes and adulation? Maybe he'd rather just stay home, eat a live seal and read Being and Nothingness. Who cares if everyone knows he beat the best human swimmer of all time. Sure, he did it and, yes, by a lot, and, yeah, some sharks might call that impressive. But it's not the sort of thing he's going to tell strangers about. The sharks that really matter to him already know. They also know he's not the sort of shark who takes himself too seriously.
Really, it was just fun to see how a TV show is made. So many lights! And you should have seen the craft services. The waiters were wearing starched shirts, so they had this great "pop" as you bit into them.
Even Phelps is slow rolling this sideshow, presumably understanding it's about to go off like Geraldo Rivera pulling a pop bottle out of a pile of rubble and getting a look that tells you he knows his big-league career has just ended. They've already amended the first line of Phelps's obit – "Won 23 gold medals. Raced fish for money."
"The odds are pretty stacked in the shark's favour," Phelps said, avoiding names. "But you guys'll have to wait and see what happens."
(No. We won't. It's the shark.)
Phelps doesn't sound too upset. In fact, he looked quite upbeat for someone who has obviously lost "the hardest race" of his life.
Perhaps despite the fear and suspicion most humans feel toward sharks, Phelps was able to look past that prejudice and see into the real shark, the one inside. He's just a regular dude who likes all the things humans like – sunshine, sea breezes and killing inferior organisms.
Maybe they went to a tiki bar afterward to toast their new interspecies friendship.
Phelps might have said something like, "No offence, bro, but I thought you'd be faster."
And the shark said, "No offence, man, but once the camera crew leaves, I'm going to chew you in half."
And they'd laugh and high-five/fin. Then it would get quiet and weird and the shark's staring a little too hard and Phelps would offer to help the sound guy carry his gear back to the truck, which he never does.
Later, the shark would try to text Phelps and realize he gave him a number that's one digit off. Yeah, a "mistake." Sure.
I suppose it's all harmless fun. No one expects this to become a regular thing. That wouldn't be cool. All of a sudden, you'd be out for a nice hike and some random bear would burst out of the underbrush and challenge you to a foot race or a tree-climbing competition. You jog once in a while, but you've never run competitively. Not since grade school. And tree climbing? When was that in the Olympics? That's not even close to fair.
"How about we do some multiplication tables instead, tough guy?" you say a little too sharply and the bear leaves angry after maiming you severely.
No, that won't work. It's better that we limit these Man vs. Animal competitions to formalized TV environments featuring professionals.
Otherwise, it seems a little cheap.