Saved By The Bell Lessons That Are Still Relevant — Michael Phelps Can’t Always Be a Winner

Zack Morris is a winner. It’s just who he is. It’s in his chemical makeup, it’s in his personality, it’s in the script. He gets the girl, he tricks the principal, he finds a way to beat Valley. At the end of the episode, things are going to turn out how he wants them, no matter what.

In 2008 (and a lot of 2004), Michael Phelps was the same way. He walked away from the Beijing pool with 8 gold medals and a trail of world records just as long. He wasn’t just the fastest swimmer in the pool at those games, he was the fastest swimmer ever to touch water. It didn’t matter what event was, he was winning it, no matter what.

But in sports, just as in 1990s teen sitcoms, nothing is absolute; there’s a problem with Zack and Michael Phelps. We get used to seeing them succeed and we set expectations too high. When they don’t live up to our deified imaginations, it looks like failure.

Let’s all think back to our final year at Bayside, particularly one episode that captures the absolute epitome of high school social life, the senior prom. In a lot of ways, the senior prom is the Olympics of high school. You wait four years for it, you train to get your body in shape, you take way too many pictures and in the end you just sweat a lot in your big moment and hope you don’t screw up.

The Bayside gang’s prom experience should have taught us all how to deal with Michael Phelps’ 2012 Olympic performance, but lo, how quickly we’ve forgotten. To help re-visit that lesson in SpreeGoogs fashion, here’s a quick episode recap and a summary of what we should have learned:

Episode Summary

The prom scene is set early: it’s the week of the big dance and none of our six main Baysiders has a date yet. Jessie and Slater wrap up dates quickly (not each other) and in a surprise turn of events that Mayans originally predicted as a precursor to the apocalypse, Lisa asks Screech!

What? Kelly turned Zack down? Even he can’t believe it.

Zack, a noted ladies man, tries and tries, but just can’t make the connection with any of Bayside’s fine young ladies. He look very un-Zacklike struggling through unsuccessful prom proposals to Jamie and Cathy before realizing the bleak reality: he HAS to go with Kelly.

But here’s the twist: Kelly is already going with Matt Wilson! The greatest womanizer of our time is left without a date for the single most important social event of his famed high school career!

Not to worry, he’s also the greatest schemer of our time. Zack quickly hatches a plan to convince Matt that Kelly’s father and brothers are unreasonably violent with Kelly’s dates and eventually Matt decides to drop Kelly into the ever-eager arms of ……. Zack Morris. That wiley prankster.

Everything is going to be just fine until ……….. Kelly finds out about the lie Zack told Matt and she calls off the date right before the big dance. The one and only Zack Morris has to go to his senior prom STAG.

What We Learned

The big takeaway from all of this is that no one is infallible. Even teen deities can get a couple of bad breaks and end up ashamed in the big moment. If Zack Morris can woo every women in eyesight for three years of high school, we shouldn’t just expect him to cruise to an easy prom date. In the same vein, Michael Phelps’s eight Olympic golds in Beijing shouldn’t be taken for granted. Just because he was the best athlete alive four yeas ago doesn’t mean we should cease to be amazed at his swimming and start expecting record-breaking performances every time.

How quickly you’ve forgotten who I am

When Phelps finished fourth in this year’s 400 Individual Medley, it didn’t mean that he was a failure. He swam a quarter of a mile and in the entire universe, there were less than a handful of people who could do it better and even then, only by a couple of strokes. And guess what? He still has plenty of chances to win more medals. He’s seized those opportunities and today he is the most decorated Olympian in the history of the world.

Even when Zack Morris wasn’t doing his thing, he was still Zack Morris and the next success lay just ahead. Along the same lines, Michael Phelps may lose races, but he’s still the best swimmer the world’s ever seen.

In the end, both stories have happy resolutions. Zack doesn’t go to prom with anyone, but still manages to sneak a kiss from Kelly after a romantic moment in the hallway. Phelps fell short of the medal podium in the 400 IM, but has already taken home three medals since and will retire from the Olympics as the athlete with the most medals ever.

So whatever you think of Michael Phelps, please, show some appreciation for history. He might not win everything like he’s done before, but the weight of those previous performances is impossible to bear. And in the end, in doesn’t matter what you think of him, nothing is taking away those golds.

Sure the past is the past, but when we’re talking about all-time legacies of people with stacked histories, you can’t judge everyone on the same playing field. A hearty SpreeGoogs congratulations goes out to Michael Phelps, who couldn’t medal in the men’s 400 IM this year.