Watching the Rio Olympics—Maybe Just Don’t?

I have watched exactly one night of the Rio Olympics. And, after doing so, I cannot put myself through another. Some of my problems with the Games are with the events themselves, most of them have to do with NBC broadcast, and the two combine to make the whole thing unwatchable for me; call me a curmudgeon, but I’m not the only one who thinks so, since Olympic ratings are down (although that might be because of streaming).

“But Marisa,” you say, “you never watch sports. Obviously there’s no way you’d ever be into the Olympics.” Wrong. I can muster enthusiasm for sports spectating once every couple years, because: 1) Olympic stories are often inspirational, and I’m not made of stone. I like me a good tear-jerking backstory. 2) There is something genuinely thrilling about seeing people at the peak of their athletic prowess being the best at what they do. Even I can appreciate that. 3) I have good memories of watching the Olympics with my family as a kid—together, we’d all ignore sports regularly (except for my Dad who is a Giants fan and would bother us all by hogging the TV during football season) and then get together to get excited about gymnastics or ice-skating. 4) I can certainly get into things we watch together-but-separately and tweet about; if I can do it for Grease Live!, which has source material that I actively hate, I can easily do it for the Olympics.

Basically, I want the Olympics to be like the Oscars. Sure, the broadcast has problems—the same problems every year, which will probably never be fixed—but we can all hold our nose and watch because we can enjoy it together. Yet, while I know some of you are having a good time with this year’s games, this is not like the Oscars. These are the reasons I just can’t have fun with it, not even with a saucy wink.


The Good Stuff Airs Too Late

I am old. I can’t stay up until midnight every night waiting for the one event I am most excited about. I can do that for the Oscars because it’s a one-night commitment, but two weeks of late nights is too much. I have a job!

I could be mis-remembering, but I don’t think my parents kept me awake until technically the next morning for Shannon Miller, Dominque Dawes, and Kerri Strug in 1992. I feel bad for kids who want to see Simone Biles and Aly Raisman do their floor routines, because it was seriously 11:45 pm by the time NBC got around to airing it.

The Commentators

I don’t really have to describe how awful they are. The rest of the internet is doing that for me. But let’s say they manage to not be ignorant in their blathering—it’s still not good. I wish they did a better job of getting me to understand how to watch a sport. I don’t follow gymnastics or swimming outside of the Olympics. This may be an assumption, but I assume that’s true for most people. Tell me what I’m looking at and how it is evaluated instead of blathering about the present (“Simone Biles is giving her teammate a hug!”) and making judgment calls about people’s family lives. Watching the beam event last night, I kept thinking, “That looked like a wobble. Did she wobble? Is that bad? Does she get points off? Is this going well?” I was genuinely surprised about how little the commentators enlightened me. I learn way more reading next-day articles, like the ones from Rebecca Schulman at Slate, which his what I’ll be doing from now on.

So. Much. Filler.

Commercial breaks every ten seconds. Shots of people wandering around the pool, waiting for the next race to get set up, while commentators vamped. Ryan Seacrest. How can anyone stand to watch this as it airs?

Last night, Michael Phelps won his bajillionth medal, and then he had a bit of downtime before he got back in the pool again, this time for a race that wasn’t even for a medal. So NBC put a goddamn countdown clock on the screen so viewers at home could eagerly anticipate his next race. But, since they didn’t know exactly when the next race would start, the countdown clock counted up. It was just there so you could mark the seconds that passed as Phelps walked around out of the water! And the commentators had nothing else to do but talk about how much time had passed on the clock! UGH!

Nevermind the fact that, as the clock ticked away, Simone Manuel legit made history as the first African-American woman to win an individual event in Olympic swimming. How many minutes had it been since Phelps was in the pool?! (More on the attitudes towards the female athletes later.)

Yes, I realize I’m complaining about both showing events live (the filler for the swimming) and not showing them live (the lateness of the gymnastics), but I am annoyed by both things. Get off my lawn!

Screw Streaming

“But Marisa,” you say again, “NBC offers a variety of live-streaming options that show you events not so late, without commentators, and with fewer commercials.” The real joy in the Olympics is the collective experience. The whole world is supposed to be watching at the same time! Pop-op told me they used to stop wars for the Olympics! Live-streaming feels lonely. (And I’m too old for it. I have a job! And I don’t want to download new-fangled apps.)

But live-streaming does make it so people in my Twitter feed can talk about the results of all the events before I have a chance to watch (at midnight, when NBC deigns to air the things I’m interested in). In my Commandments for Spoilers (which exist only in my head right now), it’s totally fair game to talk about the results of sporting events immediately after they happen. But last night I knew the outcome of everything I watched, which sucked some of the drama out of it for me personally.


This may be unpatriotic, but there’s nothing really exciting for me about watching someone win a 20th gold medal, or win by the length of a swimming pool, or know that they have to fall off of two apparatuses to get a medal other than gold. Good God, these athletes deserve it, but I find close races more interesting than blowouts.

This, again, could be a curation problem. Does primetime NBC only show the events where the USA is almost embarrassingly dominant? Maybe, instead of focusing on the goddamn counting-up-countdown-clock, between swimming races NBC could show highlights of pre-taped events where the results are closer, just to switch it up a little? Or bits of events where another country is totally dominant and has superstar athletes? (Does that exist? Something like archery where—gasp!—no Americans won gold last time, but South Koreans set records? I know archery events didn’t start yet, but you get the idea.)

And the Sexism. Oh, the Sexism.

Did you know that some of these athletes are MOMS!?!? Somehow, childbirth didn’t wreck their bodies to the point where they could no longer function in a sport they’ve trained in for decades. Plus, they can juggle the responsibilities of motherhood and a job! Aren’t they great? Well, of course, they’re only able to do it because they have men in their families who are willing to help out in some way. Isn’t that amazing? And just look at those athletic bodies/that hair/those costumes and uniforms! Oh, wait, forget all that, Michael Phelps is sneezing so let’s get back to real sports.


That Rogue One trailer, though.