By Tony Maglio
Speedy NFL stars Chris Johnson and Devin Hester — and one big game cat — are going to run like their species depends on it to kick-off Nat Geo Wild’s Big Cat Week.
Betty White will also be joining the team in a different special, the network told TheWrap exclusively.
The aforementioned experiment of speed and agility will be the subject of the Big Cat Week kickoff special, “Man vs. Cheetah,” which airs this November on Nat Geo Wild. This is the network’s fourth annual Big Cat Week, its highest-rated week.
“This is most incredible challenge I’ve ever faced,” said Johnson, running back for the Tennessee Titans. “I wanted to go up against the fastest in the world and test myself, and this was it!”
Johnson (Left) is officially the fastest active player in the NFL, running the 40-yard dash in 4.24 seconds. The three-time Pro Bowler has also won the NFL’s rushing title and Offensive Player of the Year. Johnson has one of the highest vertical leaps and longest broad jumps of any athlete in the NFL. He’ll need all of that against the cheetah.
“Man vs. Cheetah” will be hosted by naturalist and host of America the Wild, Casey Anderson, along with wildlife biologist and National Geographic Emerging Explorer Luke Dollar.
“We loved the idea of a face-off like no other between supreme athletes and an alpha predator,” said Geoff Daniels, executive vice president and general manager of Nat Geo Wild. “This isn’t sports, it’s amazing science. … And we are thrilled that Johnson and Hester — two record-setting NFL pros — are helping to kick off this unprecedented experiment during our network’s biggest week of the year.”
“Man vs. Cheetah” will not only look at how the cheetah’s speed, maneuverability and instinct all come together, but it will reveal the key advantages and the vulnerabilities of the contestants. The special addresses whether cheetahs have hidden weaknesses despite their all-out running power, and whether comparing them to humans might reveal new information about cheetahs’ potential for survival in the wild. The margin between cheetah speed and human ability is shown to be razor-thin, with factors like agility, endurance and the human ability to strategize and adapt leveling the playing field.
“The whole idea of racing next to a cheetah for Nat Geo Wild was a very unusual proposition,” said Hester of the Chicago Bears. “But it was something I was ready to take on to see if I could get an edge on.”
Hester (Right) holds the all-time record for the most kicks and punts returned for touchdowns, and he’s a four-time All-Pro and three-time Pro Bowler. In the program, Hester demonstrates his ability to stop and maneuver in Man vs. Cheetah by running four lengths down and back, in a test designed to reveal significant weaknesses in cheetah evolution and physiology.
Other Big Cat Week premiere programs include:
“Betty White Goes Wild!” (Icon Films)
“If it hadn’t been for Hollywood, I’d have fulfilled my other childhood dream … to be a zookeeper,” said Betty White (Left) when speaking about her love for animals. Head with White to the Los Angeles and San Diego zoos to get up close to big cats. White weaves her natural wit as the network looks at the cats’ individual behavioral traits and learn where they live, how many are left in the wild and the challenges they face.
“Super Cat” (National Geographic Television)
Take Kobe Bryant’s ability to jump, add Michelle Kwan’s grace and beauty, then mix well with Stephen Hawking’s problem-solving genius — and you’ve got the recipe for Super Cat. Nat Geo Wild has combined the most amazing features of big cats to showcase the most awe-inspiring capabilities ever seen in action. Watch this ultimate feline live all nine lives as its superpowers of strength, endurance and stealth are put to the test.
“Cougar vs. Wolf” (Warm Springs Productions)
Wolves and cougars are increasingly at war because wolf packs continue to multiply and spread into parts of the Rocky Mountains dominated for decades by cougars. Now, big cat wrangler Boone Smith tracks the most recent wolf and cat skirmishes as he delves into why these two big predators carry on the cats vs. dogs rivalry.
“Game of Lions” (National Geographic Television)
From filmmakers and National Geographic Explorers-in-Residence Dereck and Beverly Joubert comes their next feature film, exclusively for Nat Geo Wild. There are 20,000 lions left on Earth. Only 3,500 of those are males. Although they are born at a 50/50 ratio, by the time they reach maturity, only one in eight male lions survive.