When shark expert Tristan Guttridge was first approached to participate in a Discovery Channel Shark Week special about “sharknados” — the extreme weather event from the notoriously ridiculous Syfy movie franchise — his reaction was pretty much what you might expect from a scientist.

“I was like, ‘Uhh, I don’t know,’” Guttridge recalled in a Zoom interview. “I mean, ‘Sharknado’ is obviously just insane … I would like to think that most people that watch it would not believe that this is how sharks act, but you never quite know with people these days.”

But then he heard more details: Not only would he be paired up with “Sharknado” stars Tara Reid and Ian Ziering to debunk the wildest aspects of the movies and demonstrate how sharks are not actually “crazed lunatic man killers,” but the special would also include scientific exploration of how sharks actually behave during storms. Plus, although the franchise was absurd, he had a soft spot for the mindless entertainment it provided millions of viewers.

Thus, “The Real Sharknado” was born, continuing the phenomenon that started with the first “Sharknado” movie eight years ago and caused viewers to ask: “Am I hallucinating?” The special airs July 14 on Discovery Channel and will stream on Discovery Plus as part of the network’s hugely popular Shark Week. Over the last three decades, Hollywood stars have become increasingly involved in Discovery’s annual exploration of the animals, but this is the first time anyone from the “Sharknado” universe has converged with a Shark Week show. The special asks everything from “Are sharks as dangerous and vicious as their films lead us to believe?” to “Can sharknados exist?” (Spoiler alert … actually, no, we won’t spoil it.)

“Sharknado,” if you recall, started as a throwaway joke in the 2012 Syfy film “Leprechaun’s Revenge.” As “Sharknado” writer Thunder Levin recalled, one character said, “Gosh, I hope we don’t go the way of that other town. They never recovered after the sharknado hit.” This cracked up the Syfy executives so much that they decided to make a movie about it the following summer. Though the low-budget project aired on a random Thursday night with little promotion, it quickly became a Twitter frenzy that turned into a phenomenon, spawning six movies with a slew of celebrity cameos.

When Ziering was initially tapped to star in the first movie, he only said yes because he needed to have enough acting credits to stay on the Screen Actors Guild health insurance plan, he said. He was so mortified by the role that he didn’t tell anyone about it in advance, so he was shocked by the intense social media reaction when it premiered. Syfy re-aired the film multiple times throughout the summer as viewers clamored for more.

“‘Sharknado’ is so popular [because] it’s escapism, it’s fantasy. Everyone has a healthy fear of sharks, because we don’t see them and there’s a tremendous amount of mystery involved. We brought them to life and put them in a different environment,” Ziering said, ticking off some of the bonkers situations that occurred throughout the films in which he and Reid’s characters tried to save the world from cyclones filled with sharks: He used a chain saw to kill a shark. There were sharks in space. Reid’s character literally had a baby inside a shark.

For the special, Ziering and Reid joined Guttridge near Tiger Beach in the Bahamas, where the crew filmed them interacting with all manner of sharks. The first task: proving that humans “are not on their menu,” as Guttridge put it. “Sharks have no interest in us from a food perspective.”

They sent Ziering and Reid underwater to see sharks close up, which Ziering said was actually rather tranquil — even when there was a 13-foot tiger shark headed his way. “I didn’t feel threatened, but my heart started to race a little bit,” he admitted. Then Ziering and Reid got in a glass-bottom kayak with bait tied over them so Guttridge could prove that sharks won’t really jump extremely high in the air. (This is something that happens frequently in “Sharknado.”)

Guttridge also educated the actors on how sharks behave in a hurricane, and added that he hopes that topic brings awareness to another issue. “I think it’s a reminder to everyone of how we do seem to be getting a lot more extreme weather these days,” Guttridge said. “It is interesting to see how the climate change and how these animals, these sharks in particular, are responding to these extreme events as well.”

Meanwhile, Ziering can’t believe that the movies he was once too embarrassed to talk about fueled a franchise that people still want to discuss to this day.

“It just taught me a lesson me not to really judge a book by its cover,” he said. “Just to be open to whatever the universe has for me, and don’t rush to make decisions that could have lifelong consequences.”

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