Only National Geographic would dare cross The Amazing Race with the mystery of conception to get. . . The Great Sperm Race:

Each of us was the grand prize in an ultimate reality competition, the amazing race a sperm makes on the road to fertilization. Millions of sperm compete while overcoming armies of antibodies, treacherous terrain and impossible odds to reach their single-minded goal. To illustrate the full weight of the challenge, Sizing Up Sperm uses real people to represent 250 million sperm on their marathon quest to be first to reach a single egg.

Obviously there aren’t 250 million extras in the special – but the general idea is if sperm were people-sized, how far would they journey to fulfill their, um, manifest destiny?

Now, I haven’t seen it yet, but there appear to be several peculiar things going on here:

1. The sperm seem to be portrayed by both men and women. Is this supposed to be gender-neutral and politically correct? Or are they trying to indicate that some of the sperm have X chromosomes, and some Ys (yes, it’s the sperm that determines a child’s gender, since a woman only has X chromosomes to give)? Look, National Geographic people: regardless which chromosomal package they’re about to deliver, sperm are the essence of the male reproductive system. It’s okay. Don’t fight it. Just use male actors already.

2. The sperm “battle leukocytes” (immune cells) – and the leukocytes are dressed in black, wearing masks that look like Orcs crossed with Munch’s The Scream:


Uh, last I checked our immune systems were our friends (unless you have some sort of autoimmune disorder). Portraying a woman’s immune system as an army of Orcs out to slaughter the good guys is kind of disturbing. Fertilization is a daunting journey, sure; but it’s not Sauron vs. Frodo; it’s more like Boromir vs. Frodo – Boromir thinks he’s doing the right thing for everyone by stopping the little guy.

Ok, now I’m re-envisioning LOTR as an extended metaphor for fertilization. Not good. Moving on. . .

3. The promo video begins with a close-up of the “miracle of engineering” in bland worker-drone Glen’s pants. I kid you not! Just watch.

Want to see how much weirder this show can get? You bet you do! Tune in tonight at 9pm on WTF the National Geographic Channel. I sure will, even if it’s just to cringe.


  1. #1 mylasticus
    March 14, 2010

    I’m glad I don’t cable television. Everyday, I get more and more happy about this.

  2. #2 John
    March 14, 2010

    The “battle leukocytes” do look like orcs, or maybe zombies.

    I’ve been wondering what the winner gets. An egg (raw? boiled?)? A new baby? A hot date?

  3. #3 Bob O'H
    March 14, 2010

    Oh poo. How could you not want to watch that?

    One sperm to rule them all, one sperm to call them
    One sperm to find them all, and in the darkness bind them
    In the land of boxers, where the shadows lie.

  4. #4 Bob O'H
    March 14, 2010

    I re-wrote that verse, and I hope someone will live-tweet the program[me]. Please. Kindly.

    There’s even a game to keep you entertain whilst you wait for the programme to begin!

  5. #5 Isabel
    March 14, 2010

    This is really awful on every level. I am speechless. And what a waste of money to produce, judging from the trailer.

    Human sperm isn’t even that interesting. Equisetum sperm, for example, is much more impressive with its beautiful swirling rows of flagella and it has to travel unprotected through the environment to get to egg! (Try that, human sperm!).

    Now that would make a cool movie.

  6. #6 Isabel
    March 15, 2010

    My favorite sperm journey:

    The guys who made the movie published a paper also, where they mentioned that when conditions are right during the month of April “the air in Tokyo is filled with liverwort sperm.”

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