The 2010 documentary film Catfish starring Nev Schulman, with his brother Ariel Schulman as the director, was a surprise hit that really helped raise awareness of potential scams and fake profiles created by people who weren’t exactly who they said they were on the Internet. Even though its authenticity has been called into question several times, the movie's commercial and critical success paved the way for Catfish to become one of MTV’s biggest and most successful reality shows.
The term “catfish” was made famous by Nev Schulman in the original film, and its meaning is when someone sets out to “hook” a potential victim through a series of online deceptions. The MTV version focuses on two individuals that have been involved in an online relationship, under the guise of lies and dishonesty. So Nev and his friend Max Joseph set out to help the victims (the catfishees) in weekly episodes by finding and revealing the real people behind the fake profiles.
However, despite being a fantastic premise for a documentary show, all is not what it seems, and the MTV series, which has been running for seven seasons, has more than a few secrets behind the scenes itself. Let’s take a look 15 dirty secrets that Nev and Max would rather you didn’t know about the show.
15 The Catfish Usually Contacts the Show First
It may come as a surprise to some viewers but it’s rarely the victim that contacts the show first, but the catfish. The MTV casting applications ask “Do you have a secret or something to confess to your online partner? Have you made any fake online profiles?” According to the producers, it’s often the liars who contact the show as a means of unburdening themselves.
This revealing fact doesn’t make the show any less real but it doesn’t look good when almost every episode begins with Nev Schulman reading an email from a potential victim requesting the show to investigate the love interest on the other side of an Internet profile. It becomes difficult to indulge yourself in a reality show when you know that there are certain elements which are staged for entertainment purposes.
14 The MTV Producers Already Know
Ever since the successful documentary Catfish became a television series that focused on people that found themselves in the same situation as Nev was in, certain questions have been raised about the MTV show’s authenticity. Then came the reports from some participants of show speaking out about certain elements being staged, and much of what was on screen was a dramatized.
The leaked information from the participants forced MTV senior vice president of news and documentaries, Marshell Eisen, to admit that certain parts of the show are manufactured by the producers but still claims that the anxiety suffered by the catfish and catfishee are still very real.
13 Season 2's Framel Only Did The Show To Pay Bills
A particular episode that gained a lot of attention at the time was back in season two episode which featured Anthony, a retired Iraq war veteran who received a Purple Heart for his service, being catfished by a man called Framel (under the alias of Marq). It was an episode that played heavy on the drama, with Framel coming out as gay in front of his friends, and citing self-esteems issues as his reasoning behind creating a fake profile and leading Anthony on.
In a YouTube video uploaded by Framel, he claims that he only did the show to get out of bankruptcy and buy himself a new car. He also stated in his own words that much of show was set up for entertainment purposes, and nothing was quite as it seems. So with that in mind, it seems that Framel was directed, and told what to do and how to behave during the episode.
12 Some Participants' Relationships Are Wrongly Portrayed To Be Romantic
One female participant claimed in an interview that she knew that her male victim (the catfisheee) wasn’t interested in a romantic relationship with a woman, despite the show portraying it that way. According to the catfisher, she always knew that her co-star was gay, but once the show started the male participant felt pressured into performing for the camera and backtracked several times leading to a confusing conclusion to the episode.
Another Catfish claimed that she only set up a profile to get revenge on her victim after a past disagreement and despite admitting this on camera, it was edited out to make her look like she wanted to be romantically involved with the catfishee.
In a show that’s in desperate need for some variety, it seems strange that the MTV series would edit revenge stories in favor of repeating the same themes of making the participants seem like they’re romantically involved.
11 One Of The Highest Rated Episodes Featuring Artis And Justin Was A Set-Up
One of the series most infamous and strangest episodes happened during season 2, when a guy called Justin posing as a woman named Jess, supposedly catfished Artis. During the episode, Justin claimed he was an “online dating vigilante. The climax of the show was incredibly over the top and obviously staged, leading viewers to instantly doubt that anything that transpired on screen was genuine.
Both Justin and Artis later uploaded videos to YouTube claiming that show was a set-up from the get-go, and that they were both employed as actors. Apparently, they were given false hope by MTV that they would get their own show as a result of the episode.
On the episode, Justin seemed to go out of his way to act as unhinged as possible, so when questions were raised about the episode and how he passed the so-called mandatory psychological tests on Nev’s AMA on Reddit, Nev either chose not to answer, or the questions were deleted completely.
10 The Cast Are Interviewed And Often Meet Prior To Filming
In the original Catfish documentary, hosts Nev Schulman and Max Joseph showing up on doorsteps with the cameras rolling was far more real than what is shown on the MTV televised version. Ethical, privacy, and legal concerns prohibit the show from surprising would-be catfishers in such a manner. Instead, the show’s producers get in touch with all parties prior to the show to perform background checks, contract signings, and a screening process.
This kind of research is on par, of course, for most reality shows, and won’t come as a surprise for some viewers. However, there are some participants that have claimed that both the catfish and catfishee had met in person before all the phone calls and research is shown on TV for entertainment purposes.
9 The Catfishers Always Expect The Knock On The Door
From the moment the show begins with the so-called email request from a potential victim (the catfishee) the show spends the majority of the time building the drama, tension, and anxiety around the eventual confrontation with the suspected catfish. The moment where Nev and Max show up on the doorstep of the catfish is arguably the shows biggest and most important moment to the fans.
However, as previously mentioned above, the producers always meet the catfish prior to filming, and all those involved sign a waiver. So it goes without saying that they are absolutely aware and prepared (and mic'ed up) for Nev and Max’s “surprise” visit. It’s disappointing to fans that much of the show’s most climactic moment is so heavily staged.
8 Catfisher and Catfish Have Psychological Tests
To MTV’s credit, the producers claim that all the participants in the show have to go through several psychological tests prior to the show. The participants also meet with therapists after the show, to the benefit of the show and the cast members. Nev, Max, and the producers always have a professional on standby in the case of anyone needing it.
The level of care offered to the show’s participants is commendable, as there is often an underlying psychological reason why the catfish has created a fake profile in order to start a bogus relationship. In addition to some of the participants just wanting to be nasty, there have often been many episodes where the catfish has had some kind of body image issues.
7 The Show Exploits Mental Health
Both Nev and Max like to claim that they offer aftercare support for all the participants involved with the MTV series, but there are times when their involvement can have long-lasting implications.
One catfishee says that the cast member who catfished him became the focus of a cyber bullying campaign from fans of the show. According to him, MTV failed to include the whole story, by not airing discussions about the catfishers background and feels that viewers would have been more sympathetic if the catfishers justifications were shown in a fair manner.
It does raise questions about Catfish's ethics when subjects who are already emotionally and psychologically vulnerable are being misrepresented and portrayed in such a negative way. When cyber bullying has lead to so many catastrophic events of self-harm and suicide, one would think that MTV would be a little more cautious before exploiting participants with mental health issues.
6 Nev Probably Knew All Along That He Was Being Catfished In The Original Documentary
Since Nev Schulman’s 2010 documentary Catfish was released, there has always been questions raised about the film's authenticity. Despite these doubts, Nev and his brother Ariel have always denied that anything about the film was fake or misrepresented.
The person doing the catfishing known as Angela Wesselman-Pierce and the way she was presented in the film has been confirmed by multiple sources including ABC's 20/20 as being authentic. However, it is difficult to believe that the media savvy and ambitious Schulmans, who already ran their own film and photography production company, weren't aware very early on that Nev was being "catfished."
It’s also worth noting that Nev likes to list himself as an actor on Reddit, and his brother Ariel has gone on to direct and act since the success of the Catfish documentary. No one can blame the brothers for capitalizing on an opportunity, but "playing dumb" for the camera is definitely something that seems to have crossed over into the MTV show too.
5 Nev and Max Aren’t The Detectives MTV Would Have You Believe
One of the more authentic parts of the show is that despite the producers already knowing who and where the catfish already is, both Nev and Max are kept in the dark and have to discover the clues for themselves. This is obviously to give the show a bit more realism and tension as the two use their “powers of deduction” to track down the liars. However, it has been claimed on several occasions that their investigations have taken days before they finally get to bottom of each case.
This is obviously a complete contrast to how it is portrayed on television, as MTV would have you believe that the pair is America’s answer to Holmes and Watson. In addition, Nev claimed in a Reddit Ask Me Anything (AMA) post that it only takes them between 6-8 hours to make their discovery, which is a far cry from the investigations lasting several days as cited by sources.
4 The Show Doesn't Use Special Investigatory Methods
It may surprise some viewers that Nev and Max don’t really have any access to or use special investigatory tools that aren’t already available to the public. In 2017, even the most average user is more Internet-savvy than when the original documentary was released in 2010. In an age of technology where even pensioners can use tablets and mobile phones to make a simple Facebook, and Google Image search to reveal a potential catfish or a scam, their investigation skills don't seem that impressive.
The show did a great job of raising awareness of potential scammers and fake profiles online, but now as people are more aware than ever of online scammers, and with a nearly endless amount of online tools at their disposal, one has to wonder how the show remains relevant in 2017.
3 Antoinette And T-Lights Catfished The Show
Season 3 episode 3 featured two participants, Antoinette from Texas and an aspiring musician and rapper who likes to call himself T-Lights from Florida. After a lot of the drama unfolded where it was T-Light’s brother who was originally assumed to be the catfish, it turned out the relationship was real all along. Apparently, “the couple” decided not to pursue a relationship, stayed friends, and remained in contact.
Yet despite the happy ending, Antoinette later revealed on Instagram that both herself and T-Lights actually catfished the show, and the whole thing was a set-up in order to try and further the rapper's career. However, she also revealed that the cafe/restaurant that the show claimed was her place of work was completely fake, and she had never worked there a day in her life.
2 Like Kids In A Candy Store
From the 2010 documentary film to the whole of the MTV televised version of Catfish, Nev likes to portray himself as someone who cares about the participant's well-being on both sides of a catfishing incident. However, there have been a few sources, including Justin, who claimed that Nev admitted that he is only interested in setting the stage to improve the ratings of the show. Additionally, Justin claimed that Nev constantly threatened him with contractual obligations off-camera.
In an AMA request on Reddit asking for former participants of the show to answer questions honestly, a Reddit user named "cubbieshater" claimed that while Max seemed pleasant enough, they found Nev to be rude, entitled, and not genuine. The Reddit user also claimed that both Max and Nev acted like “kids in a candy shop” who treated the whole thing "as if was a game."
1 Catfish Jerez Nehemiah Stone-Coleman Guilty Of Making Terror Threats
Jerez Nehemiah Stone-Coleman was exposed on Catfish when he posed as a music producer under Kanye West's label. In the episode, he scammed a woman he met on Twitter into hiring limousines and security for press appearances. The con left the woman Lucille out-of-pocket, and Nev and Max tracked him down and confronted him about the scam.
It was one of the better episodes that took the show into a new direction, but it came to light that Coleman made repeated false bomb threats and made several threats against President Obama's life between December 2014 and May 2015.
While MTV producers can’t see into the future and had no idea just how unhinged and dangerous Coleman is, it does bring into question the validity of their vetting process. Psychologists are meant to gauge if a participant is a danger to the team or the other cast members, and with a guy like Coleman, it’s worrying that they could have missed what a danger he could have been.