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Discovery Defends Michael Phelps Shark Race After Backlash

For some reason, viewers thought it made sense to put Olympic swimmer in the water next to a real, live shark

Discovery’s race between Michael Phelps and a Great White shark made waves this week with many viewers — and not in a good way — after they realized that the Olympic gold medalist wasn’t, in fact, racing side-by-side with a live shark.

In the wake of the backlash, Discovery stood up for the special, which saw Phelps pitted against — and losing to — a CGI shark, saying that the network delivered what it promised.

“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. The show took smart science and technology to make the challenge more accessible and fun,” Discovery said in a statement provided to TheWrap on Tuesday. “All the promotion, interviews and the program itself made clear that the challenge wasn’t a side by side race. 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.”

While the safety hazards of putting Phelps alongside a shark in the water should probably be obvious, many viewers registered their disappointment as the reality of the situation became clear.

“Don’t say Phelps is racing a shark if you’re not going to put him against an actual shark #PhelpsVsShark #SharkWeek,” cautioned one critic on Twitter.

“Turns out “Michael Phelps races a shark” was really just “Michael Phelps swims alone and then compares his time to a shark’s time,” went another disappointed response.

Another viewer said she felt “robbed” by the experience, tweeting, “Call me crazy but I thought they were gonna put Phelps up against a real shark not a simulation. I feel robbed. #SharkWeek #PhelpsVsShark.”

Someone else who might also have felt robbed: Phelps himself, who lost the 100-meter contest by two seconds, finishing the race in 38.1 seconds compared to the shark’s 36.1 seconds.

If Phelps was disappointed by the results, however, he remained upbeat in the face of defeat, tweeting Sunday night, “Rematch? Next time..warmer water. #SW30 @Discovery @SharkWeek.”