Shark Week Night One: Celebrities take the plunge


Discovery Channel kicked off its 30th annual Shark Week last night with some big-name guests. Here’s a recap of what went down.

Since Shark Week always brings in shark experts and high-profile celebrities, I’d like to first offer my own credentials as your Shark Week recapper. Sharks have been my favorite animals since I was a kid.

When I was 11, I started a Powerpoint about sharks. Not for school. I just wanted a way to keep track of all the facts I was learning from shows and books, and I’ve continued updating the Powerpoint for the past 11 years. So am I an expert? No. But I am a huge nerd who knows more about sharks than the average person.

All right, turning now to night one of this year’s Shark Week, it’s with a heavy heart that I report on how commercial the programming block has become. I’ve seen it coming for a few years. With increasing popularity comes an increasing desire to appeal to the masses, which ironically entails shifting focus away from sharks and toward celebrities that people will tune in for.

More from Recap

I’m one of the OG viewers who actually tunes in for the sharks, so night one was a little hard to get through without a few eye-rolls. It wasn’t a total loss, though, thanks to UFC fighter Ronda Rousey. Here’s a recap of the first three episodes of Shark Week 2018.

Bear vs. Shark

Featuring: Bear Grylls, survival expert;  and Tristan Guttridge, marine biologist

As a disclaimer, survival shows aren’t really my thing. I’m not squeamish, per se, but I’m also not going to go out of my way to watch people eat bugs.

Remember that episode of The Office where Michael ventures into the woods of Scranton, PA to prove how tough he is after Ryan doesn’t invite him on a company camping trip? That’s the closest I’d ever come to watching a survival show before last night.

Bear did a series of challenges for Shark Week:

  • diving amidst shark frenzy
  • spearfishing (one of the most common reasons people are attacked by sharks)
  • hand feeding nurse sharks and bull sharks
  • diving while covered in chum (aka fish guts)
  • tagging and release a tiger shark

Here’s my problem with the episode. It was all about Bear, and Bear conquering sharks. He did risk his life to help make sure the tiger shark was okay while it was being brought up to the surface for tagging. But most of the time, he was just showing off.

Shark Week has always aimed to raise awareness about sharks and aid conservation efforts. Is having Bear Grylls purposely try to get himself attacked really sending the best message?

The episode concluded with Bear mansplaining what a tiger shark experiences while its dorsal is being drilled through and a tag is inserted.

"“The dorsal fin is made of cartilage, so this doesn’t hurt the shark.”"

Well, Bear, I’ve heard from friends that getting your cartilage pierced hurts like hell, so forgive me if I don’t take your word for it.

I am aware that tagging is a common practice ultimately meant to help sharks and humans co-exist, but I’ve always felt a bit uncomfortable about it. I’m not saying I have a viable alternative, but the only one who actually knows how the shark feels is the shark.

Shaq Does Shark Week

Featuring: Shaquille O’Neal; Rob Riggle, actor and retired Marine ; Austin Gallagher, marine biologist; and Guttridge

This episode was by far the worst evidence of commercialism I’ve ever seen on Shark Week. I have nothing against Shaq. He was a charismatic host, and I appreciated that he was brave enough to admit to being afraid of sharks.

The worst offenders were the writers and producers of this episode that basically offered an hour of terrible jokes and gags with some sharks thrown in. Shaq and Co. were in the Bahamas, which has one of the highest shark populations in the world. But where did they take Shaq to go shark diving? An aquarium.

It was a training dive, and Shaq did get in the ocean for an unexpectedly eventful cage dive later. But still, I don’t need to watch Shark Week to see an aquarium.

As for the ocean dive, it was definitely the highlight of the episode. They built him a custom “Shaq Cage” since he’s seven feet tall, but ironically didn’t take into account how small some of the Caribbean reef sharks would be. A juvenile that looked about two to three feet long managed to swim right through two of the bars and into the cage.

The safety divers tried to reach in and grab it, which didn’t work. Shaq managed to get out, though, and the shark subsequently left of its own accord. Then, came the best line of the episode.

"“I survived a shark attack, you b*tches!”"

See Discovery Channel, you should’ve let Shaq write his own stuff. Further to his credit, Shaq eagerly got back inside the cage. The episode wrapped with him swimming outside the cage, though there were no sharks visible.

Ronda Rousey Uncaged

Featuring: Ronda Rousey, UFC fighter; Travis Browne, UFC fighter, and Ronda’s husband; Andy Casagrande, shark expert, and cinematographer; Joe Romeiro, shark expert and cinematographer; Riley Elliott, marine biologist; Paul de Gelder, Navy diver and shark attack survivor

The final episode of the night was by far my favorite. I don’t watch fights, so I wasn’t familiar with Ronda as more than a name, but I’m definitely a fan now. The episode followed Ronda as she went from learning how to scuba diving to swimming with a mako shark.

It was nice to see an episode focusing on mako sharks. They are often underrated compared to great whites, bulls, and tigers, even though makos are faster than any other shark species. Partially, it’s due to a difference in the environment.

Whites, bulls, and tigers hang out near coastlines. Makos are open-water, or pelagic, predators, so they encounter humans far less often. Thus, mako attacks are less common.

As the experts told to Ronda, though, that could actually make them more dangerous. They could feel threatened by something so foreign. Nonetheless, Ronda was game to swim with them. She readily admitted to being afraid but also said she’s used to working through fear.

Ronda started out diving with bull sharks — you know, as one does when one’s a novice diver. She also wore 30 lbs. of chain mail, which is meant to prevent fatal injuries if you get bitten. From the moment Ronda got underwater, she was refreshingly captivated by the sharks, more than Shaq was and very unlike Bear was. Not to be cliché, but Ronda was like a literal kid in a candy shop.

For her next dive, she shed the chain mail and fed a bull shark by hand. Oh, and by the way, her diving instructor and companion, Paul de Gelder, wasn’t just attacked by any shark. He lost limbs to a bull shark, and he spent the entire episode teaching her about what incredible animals they are. Major props to him.

For her final training dive, Paul took Ronda underwater at night in order to test her spatial awareness. As shark expert Joe Romeiro explained, a five-foot mako can travel up to 50 feet in a second, so you need to be vigilant around them.

Next: Star Trek: Discovery debuts season two trailer at SDCC!

Then, it was time for the main event: diving with a mako. They had planned for Ronda to cage dive, but she found the cage’s constant motion annoying. She decided to instead get up and close personal. Per the experts’ advice, she used a snorkel instead of an oxygen tank in case the bubbles aggravated the sharks.

Armed only with what resembled a cop’s nightstick, she went in. The stick was to be used to gently nudge approaching sharks in a different direction, and she did it perfectly when she came face-to-face with mako. The girl has nerves of steel.

What I most appreciated about Ronda was her respect for the sharks. She wasn’t trying to best them. She was trying to co-exist.

Note: Check back in tomorrow and for the duration of Shark Week for continuing coverage.