Phelps, Discovery Channel defend Shark Week special after backlash

Michael Phelps' Shark Week special on Discovery Channel caused a stir on social media, with some viewers expressing disappointment that Phelps didn’t race a real-life shark in “Phelps vs. Shark: Great Gold vs Great White.”

Now Phelps and Discovery are defending the program, which was criticized for its use of a computer-generated shark.

Phelps said in a Facebook Live session Tuesday he thinks the backlash, which has focused on the fact that he was not side-by-side racing a real-life shark, is just an excuse for people to express anger about something.

“Everybody wants to try to pick on something or say something or complain about something. I had fun racing a shark and seeing those animals up-close and personal,” he said. “If someone actually wants to get in the water and race side-by-side with a great white, go ahead.”

Phelps made it abundantly clear before the program aired that he wouldn’t be racing a great white side-by-side.

Ahead of the Sunday night event, Phelps told ABC News' "Good Morning America," “We're not in the water at the same exact time. I think that's the one thing we all - we want everyone to know — I was safe, which was number one. I had 12 to 14 divers underneath me when we were doing the race.”

He explained on Tuesday on Facebook that a side-by-side race with a shark would not be feasible.

“You’re not going to get the shark to swim in a straight line, and yeah, it would be interesting to see,” he scoffed. “We’ll leave it at that.”

Discovery Channel also defended the program's use of CGI.

“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 to Fox News. “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 2 minutes of ‘Phelps vs. Shark,’ this message was clear and we are thrilled with the audience and the engagement around the world.”

For the race, Phelps was outfitted with a wetsuit and a monofin to mimic a shark's powerful tail. He finished the 100 meter race in 38 seconds, two seconds slower than the simulated shark.

Phelps tweeted Sunday that he'd like a rematch, but in warmer water.

The swimmer told Fox News earlier the challenge was “probably the hardest race I’ve ever had.”