For Nik Wallenda, walking a tightrope across the Chicago skyline while blindfolded is just part of the family business. The 35-year-old professional daredevil is part of the seventh generation of The Flying Wallendas family, a daredevil dynasty that traces its high-flying roots back to the 1700s. Nik Wallenda’s rope-walking experience even goes back to the womb – his mother kept walking the rope until she was six months pregnant with Wallenda.
Wallenda himself currently holds seven Guinness World Records, including the longest and highest bicycle ride on a high-wire and performing on the Wheel of Death 23 stories up. His adult performing life began when he was in college, when he re-created Karl Wallenda’s seven-person high-wire pyramid. Since then, his exploits have gotten only more extreme and dangerous.
The Discovery Channel contract means that the network has near-exclusive broadcast rights of his acts. They have sponsored many of Wallenda’s recent exploits, and the filmed walk across the Grand Canyon gorge was the network’s highest-rated live event. Following in his great-grandfather’s footsteps, he doesn’t use a safety net or harness and currently has a 20-million USD life insurance policy.
The walk tomorrow will be done on a 15-degree incline, which is much more challenging because he will have to adjust his center of gravity. The next part of the walk will be blindfolded. Hovering 650 feet above the ground, Wallenda will have to walk 600 feet for an expected two hours to complete the feat. Viewership is expected to equal if not beat the Grand Canyon episode.
The Discovery Channel’s programming has gotten more extreme in recent years in a desperate bid for views. While the change has been successful, the cost can sometimes be people’s lives. A deadly avalanche on Mt. Everest killed 13 Sherpas who were working with the network to film the highest wing suit jump. As they continue on this route, one has to wonder when it will end. Programming, much like the daredevilry, is in a constant state of reaching for the next audience-grabbing extreme. Tomorrow’s walk in ‘The Windy City’ could be deadly. However, the network’s need to stay relevant and Wallenda’s proven popularity means that, though the concerns are in place, plans will move forward nonetheless.