It’s 24 hours since Nik Wallenda and I’m already bored talking about him. Friday night turned out to be cooler than I expected. But while Wallenda’s stunt was impressive and remarkable, it’s going to fade.
I blame the harness. Wallenda being strapped to the wire was the single worst thing that could have happened for his reputation. Even if he slipped and fell to a watery grave, people would forever remember the stuntman they saw literally put his life on the line for a dream.
Strapped to the wire, his chance of survival was 100 percent. The biggest “wow” factor of a walk across Niagara Falls is staring death in the face and proceeding anyway. With a harness, nothing bad could have happened. All the excitement was taken away — there was no risk involved in Friday night’s performance.
Wallenda seemed to acknowledge the diminished value of the safe stunt in a mid-walk conversation with his father. After dad, his spot man, asked if the device was affecting him, Nik replied over national television, “I just feel like a jack— wearing [the harness].”
Of course, that could have been a set up, but it made Wallenda seem like a real guy, frustrated like the rest of us that his stunt was going to be diminished. If he didn’t think the harness would make him less heroic, he wouldn’t have said anything. But he did and that’s telling.
The walk was also noticeably absent of drama. The “is he going to make it?” effect was watered down over the course of a 26-minute walk. When ESPN airs motorcycle stunts on New Year’s Eve, they’re equally as drawn-out, but the action takes place in one moment, with all eyes on the performer.
There are a lot of things you can do over 26 minutes. I went to the bathroom. I checked my phone. I got a bite to eat and (of course) was on Twitter. If he were to fall off, there’s a decent chance I (or anyone else watching at home) could have missed it. Not every second was meaningful or intense. There were no slips or lapses. Wallenda just walked and walked and walked. That’s what I imagine watching a NASCAR race to be like — there’s always something happening, but every moment is so similar to the last that each individual one loses meaning.
There’s guaranteed action at the start and the finish, but after the green flag, I mean, wake me up when they’re bringing out the checkered one. The most exciting part during the middle of the event was that Wallenda was taking to hosts (and former SportsCenter anchors) Josh Elliot and Hannah Storm while walking. Not very exciting, though hard to believe. (Seriously, if I asked Wallenda a question mid-walk and he thought too hard about an answer and lost his balance, I’d never live that down.)
All of our expectations Friday night were met. That’s not a way to create something memorable. Nobody’s getting a second date by being predictable and doing what we could have guessed they might. People don’t remember the ordinary. That B+ on the seventh-grade spelling test? Forget about it. But you might remember studying your butt off and pulling a 99 on an exam, and you definitely remember the time you flunked and got in a ton of trouble. Events that go against our preconceived notions are the ones that stay with us.
The perfect ending to this story for Wallenda’s legacy is him getting halfway across and disappearing into the mist and never being seen again. Maybe there were too many high-powered lights for that to happen, but say the power goes out for second or two. He falls and no one sees it. Hits the water, goes under, and is swept down the river, under the Rainbow Bridge and out to sea without a single camera catching it or his body ever being recovered.
Sure it’s tragic. That’s why we love it. That’s what we hang on to. People remember getting their hearts broken. No one would ever forget the day Nik Wallenda vanished and the mystery of his death would live on forever. Instead, a daredevil with no chance of death or injury to himself went out and performed an activity he’s been preparing for his whole life. That’s something that’s going to fade away.
I’m not saying it was easy. I’m not saying I could have done it and I’m not saying I wanted anyone to die. I just want to see people do amazing and memorable things. We didn’t get that.
ABC’s Bill Weir tweeted the photo at the right with the caption, “The first step is a doozy.” But when you have a stuntman performing at no risk, it just seems like another step.
There were plenty of great tweets during the event (since everyone was on Twitter the whole time and not watching). Here are my favorites: