Well, as all great stories begin, once upon a time, a handsome prince (here, The Discovery Channel) set out to save a maiden (here, sharks) from a very villainous force (here, death and extinction). Alright, maybe it doesn't quite fit the typical fairy tale model, but the bottom line is that in 1988, The Discovery Channel realized sharks were in very real danger of dying out and/or being hunted down, and in an effort (a quite brilliant one, I might add) to raise both awareness and a healthy respect for the species the world over, the network began an annual series of week-long programming dedicated to these mysterious, majestic and misunderstood sea creatures. And so began the greatest period in our nation's history. Note: Not an over-statement. Simple fact.
Fist-bumps to you, Discovery Channel, for realizing educational programming need not be boring. Especially when the subject is SHARKS. So for the next week, I will be providing takeaways, tips and (obviously) opinionated commentary on SW2014's programming. Yay! AND SO IT BEGINS.
AIR JAWS: FIN OF FURY: Every year, SW does at least one Air Jaws program, where actual shark experts (Note: not fakers) search for the largest "jumping" Great White sharks out there (i.e., Great Whites that fly out of the water when attacking their favorite prey: seals). These programs are made up of awesome, adrenaline-pumping footage, where we wait on the edge of our seats as the crew comes closer and closer to getting the "money shot" - capturing a Great White in full breach, where the shark's entire body flies OUT. OF. THE. WATER. and nabs a seal (or seal decoy, as the case may be) in mid-air. The catch is you have to sit through the entire program to get to that scene - the rest of the program is made up of the hunt for these sharks and near misses as the sharks come close to but not quite out of the water while stalking their prey.
This year, the producers changed it up a bit. Instead of searching for Air Jaws, General, the team searches for Air Jaws, Specific - a shark they've dubbed Colossus - a shark so big (approx. 15 feet) that when it breached it melted faces. This year, the crew is on a mission to find this particular shark, which hasn't been seen since its first appearance on Air Jaws back in 2011.
The team begins its search off the coast of South Africa near Seal Island (obviously, a place where a bunch of seals hang out, despite the fact that every shark on the planet knows about it. Stupid seals.), where Colossus was last seen so many moons ago. It's there that the team decides to follow another large male Great White in hopes that it will lead them to Colossus' lair. It's also at this point that we learn Colossus runs with a dangerous posse, made up of at least two other Great Whites named 'Kaz' and 'Shy Guy' (think Regulators, but with SHARKS). Those two are spotted, but Don Colossus is nowhere to be found.
AND that's when they learn that the sharks are heading to a super-secret submerged reef system called York Shoal to regroup. Sidenote: Is this not just THE perfect story line for a Saturday morning cartoon about a mafioso shark and his henchmen?? Give me a buzz, Nickelodeon - I've already got the whole first season worked out.
ANYHOO they find this lair, but Colossus is a no-show. But does this deter the crew? No way. Instead they put up Colossus WANTED posters (yep, true story). AND it's here that we meet the greatest thing to happen to TV since, well, Shark Week began...DICKIE. Dickie is a local shark enthusiast who spies the wanted posters and comes up with the brilliant idea to make a life-size cardboard she-shark (yes, thin, flimsy cardboard) and get on it in the middle of a group of sharks to see if, by chance, Colossus will show up. HOLY SHARK MEAT, BATMAN. Colossus is, again, a no-show, but that's cool because Dickie almost dies.
Then the crew (and Dickie) head to New Zealand, where one of them gets into a WASP (Water Armor Shark Protection device), which is a one-man shark cage, and goes down amidst 15-18 foot Great Whites that continue to attack this quasi-cage. At one point he actually OPENS THE CAGE to take photos of the sharks as they swoop in for a bite. W.T.F. Colossus isn't there (duh) so they go back to Seal Island. It's the last day of shark season and it's the last hour on the boat when we FINALLY get the money shot - Colossus falls for the ol' fake seal lure and jumps out of the water. I can now sleep easier(?) knowing that Colossus is still alive and well and wreaking havoc on the seal population of South Africa.
Factual Takeaways and Interesting Tidbits:
- The Great White's dorsal fin is like a human fingerprint - no two are the same.
- New Zealand is a prime destination for adult male Great White sharks, BUT there has been a genetic link discovered between sharks in the oceans around South Africa and the oceans around New Zealand/Australia, showing that the sharks make that trek year after year...or at the very least "hook up" in the middle, probably using Fin-der (the shark version of Tinder).
- Crew discovered that some sharks in New Zealand display a gang-style mentality, which is characteristic of Killer Whales but seldom witnessed in Great Whites.
- Sharks have been known to follow the same cycles of migration across oceans for two-year periods.
Bottom Line: Sharks rule, humans drool.
SHARK OF DARKNESS: WRATH OF SUBMARINE: So...here's the thing (she said as she cleared her throat and stepped up to the soapbox). Discovery Channel prides itself on giving its audience educational, and entertaining, programs, but such programs are usually (if not always) fact-based. Last year, the station took a lot of flack for opening up SW2013 with a program about Megalodon, which was clearly canned, because they never stated it was a dramatization and apparently aired "real life footage" that didn't actually exist as part of the show. People were pissed. Not gonna lie, I definitely was. Watching this year's opening "movie" rubbed me the same wrong way, though I will note that, this time, they at least provided the following disclaimer before it aired: "Events may have been dramatized, but many believe Submarine exists today."
I'll say this - it's possible this Submarine movie (about a 35 foot-long shark named Submarine that attacked a whale watching expedition) may actually be based on fact. But I'm not buying it. Fool me once, Discovery Channel, shame on you. But fool me twice... They did, however, lure me in to watching the entirety of the program with this gem: "One loan super-shark with an insatiable appetite for human blood." I mean, if you're going to script this thing, go for the gold, and Discovery Channel, you nailed it. Up top.
SO instead of going through this program, I'm going to provide a bulleted list of what NOT to do if you're trying to convince viewers that your dramatization is actually a documentary. In no particular order:
- You cannot have an entire cast made up of pretty people. Your "survivors" should, at the very least, be missing some limbs OR LOOK DISHEVELED.
- Your "witnesses" should not appear calm, cool and collected. And they CERTAINLY shouldn't smile.
- If the boat that capsized had time to float for a few miles before taking on water, they had time to call for help themselves (you even showed us the equipment) - that's why you always ALWAYS go with an electrical storm. Duh.
- Never cast a hottie as an EMT. You can't be that hot and that heroic and survive.
- Definitely don't talk about Orcas in the middle of a shark program - that would NEVER happen. The battle lines between Team Orca and Team Shark go way to deep.
- If your shark villain is going to have a distinguishing scar, do not make it a lightning bolt on its forehead, a la Harry Potter.
- Key to knowing this was more of a "movie" than a real show: Discovery channel would NEVER say a shark's favorite meal is people. Like never. Never EVER. EVERY fact-based SW program focuses on explaining why sharks are misunderstood and why people mistakenly get attacked by them (and it's always because they look like seals/real shark food).
So there you have it - SW2014, Day 1, in a nutshell. Hope your Monday is filled with sharks and flowers!