After his final Olympic swim, Michael Phelps said his retirement plans include perfecting his golf game — which he’s since signed a deal to do on-camera with the help of Tiger Woods’ former swing coach Hank Haney for the Golf Channel reality series The Haney Project — and swimming with great white sharks in South Africa. If you were thinking Shark Week 2013, you weren’t the only one. “We’d love to get the two most powerful water superstars together,” Eileen O’Neill, group president of Discovery and TLC, tells EW. And there’s at least one veteran Shark Week filmmaker with an idea how to do it.
“Tons of my friends sent me messages: ‘Dude, you’ve got to take Michael Phelps shark diving!’ So then I checked online and saw his interview, and I was like, holy s—, I do have to take Michael Phelps shark diving,” Emmy-winning wildlife cameraman and apex predator expert Andy Casagrande tells EW. He’s worked on 13 Shark Week specials, including Shark Week’s Impossible Shot, which debuted Sunday night and featured the first bird’s-eye view of a great white’s Polaris breach in South Africa. “The dream special would be to do a shark show with Michael Phelps essentially comparing his athletic prowess to that of a great white shark. We acclimate him to the sharks from the cage, and then eventually get him to go free-diving with great whites. Whether he races one or not, that’s up to insurance to decide. But it’s probably not advised, because as most people know, if you act like prey, they’ll treat you like prey.”
Phelps has said he wants to stick to the cage, so perhaps the special is simply seeing whether Casagrande — who prefers to free-dive with great whites because that’s how he gets angles audiences who’ve enjoyed 25 years of Shark Week haven’t seen a million times before — could make him feel comfortable and confident enough to venture out. “Every time you get in the water and stare down this apex predator with an avalanche of razor blades as its grill, everything in your mind tells you, Holy f—, I should swim away from this thing. But if you do that, it always ends bad. So you just gotta zen out, chill. That is the biggest challenge, in general, even if you’ve done it 100 times. But then you quickly realize that yeah, they’re dangerous animals and professional predators, but they’re not malicious and evil creatures. They eat things, just like we do, except they eat seals, and tunas, and other sharks. Occasionally they mistake people, but I’m way more afraid of psycho people than I am of psycho sharks.”