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June 22, 2016 09:05 AM

“When I sat down for a casual lunch in New York City with my editor, the Discovery Channel head of PR, and Philippe Cousteau (yes, the Cousteau, (his grandfather is the legendary under water explorer Jacques Cousteau,) the last thing on my mind was going swimming with sharks for Shark Week. But, before we finished the guacamole and chips I had agreed to do exactly that. One month later I was a certified open water scuba diver, clinging to a rock 60-ft underwater in Tahiti, while a 17-ft Tiger shark loomed inches above my head.

Now my experience with sharks leading up to that trip was limited to say the least. I had only seen them in movies. On top of that, during my 8-hour Air Tahiti Nui flight, (where the flight attendants make three distinct costume changes) a man in the row next to me watched Jaws on his laptop, only adding to my anxiety. But, there was no turning back, and I knew this was the opportunity of a lifetime.

Emily Strohm and Eli Roth
Jason Elias

After waking up at the Tahiti Pearl Resort, we got straight down to business. Discovery enlisted an amazing team from TOPDIVE to lead all of our shark encounters – plus actor, film director and Shark After Dark host Eli Roth. Since Roth had already been diving in the Bahamas the year prior for Shark Week, he was my most valuable resource at the bottom of the ocean.

Roth returns as host of Shark Week s hit late-night talk show Shark After Dark for a second year in a row starting June 26 at 11P.M. on Discovery.

For more on People Staffer Emily Strohm’s shark diary pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE on newsstands Friday

“It’s peaceful and they are beautiful, majestic creatures,” he told me just before we jumped into the Pacific. But, I was still skeptical. I was about to scuba dive in the ocean for the very first time, and this was far from your average dive.

Emily Strohm and Eli Roth
Jason Elias

With my heart pounding, we dropped down to the ocean floor, but before we hit the bottom I found myself surround by sharks. Every single direction I looked in there was a giant Lemon shark or a Black tip shark. Those first few moments underwater were sheer panic for me, but I have to admit Roth was right. Sharks are stunning, peaceful, curious creatures and above all they’re not interested in eating us.

Emily Strohm and Eli Roth
Jason Elias

While there was nothing stopping the sharks from attacking us, they simply don’t want to. I was in awe of their beauty, even though I refused to let go of my partner’s hand. But as soon as that first dive ended and we surfaced I couldn’t wait get back in the water to do it again!

Shark Week returns to Discovery Channel with all-new compelling shark stories Sunday, June 26 to Sunday, July 3.

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