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The 8 Biggest Takeaways From Netflix's 'The Tiger King and I'

Netflix's Tiger King became a global phenomenon during the pandemic, taking a quarantined world by storm with its unconventional story about the people who inhabit the big cat community. By focusing on characters like former zookeeper/wannabe country star and politician Joe Exotic, and big cat activist Carole Baskin, the docuseries kept a captive audience entranced and offered a blessed escape from daily life. 

After the runaway hit of the docuseries, Netflix indulged its audience's need for more Tiger King lunacy with the follow-up special, The Tiger King and I. Hosted by Joel McHale, the follow-up gave key players a chance to respond to the docuseries, discuss how their lives were affected by the series, and give their thoughts on their portrayals. 

McHale was joined virtually by zookeeper Erik Cowie, former campaign manager Joshua Dial, ex-husband John Finlay, producer Rick Kirkham, current G.W. Zoo owners Jeff and Lauren Lowe, former zookeeper John Reinke, and former zookeeper Saff Saffery. Missing from the special was Exotic, Baskin, and fellow exotic animal collector/alleged bigamist Dr. Bhagavan "Doc" Antle. But many of the other talking heads were rounded up to share revelations not covered in the original docuseries. Here are a few of the biggest takeaways...

  • Photo: Tiger King / Netflix

    Joe Exotic Is Terrified Of Tigers

    Rick Kirkham:

    Joe was terrified of big cats. He was scared to death of lions and tigers.

    In the shots you see where he's in with two tigers, the white one is blind and the other one was on tranquilizers. It's idiotic to think of him as a "Tiger King" when he is so terrified of big cats.

  • Photo: Tiger King / Netflix

    Saff's Accident Was Used As A Training Video By G.W. Zoo

    When asked if he watched the footage from the attack, Saff Saffery stated: 

    I have. Over and over. 

    There was a time and place when we actually used it as a safety video. 

    We didn't even have any further of a conversation other than this needs to be seen before they decide that this is a career move to make. 

  • Photo: Tiger King / Netflix

    Many Former Associates Think Joe Exotic Was A Bad Person, But Not Everyone

    It is clear that many of the Joe Exotic's former friends and colleagues do not think kindly of the man.

    Erik Cowie:

    Twenty-two years doing federal time... that guy’s gonna [perish] in there. Good riddance.

    Rick Kirkham:

    I regret ever meeting Joe Exotic. I went in because I saw there was an opportunity for an incredibly wonderful show about big animals and this crazy zookeeper.  

    But I too was sucked in to the surreal world of Joe Exotic. I will never get over it. I still have nightmares.

    I want to put this chapter away, but it still keeps getting bigger and bigger and bigger. 

    Jeff Lowe:

    He is where he belongs. 

    John Reinke:

    The man done a lot of stupid s**t. Towards the end, it got to where we was blowing everything up. He blew up my golf cart and my damn cabin. Knocked the windshield out, blew a hole in my cabin - yeah, blew a window out. 

    But not everyone believes Joe was a bad person. Saff Saffery shared a story of Joe's kindness:

    He fed people for free a full Thanksgiving dinner that him and his family cooked the entire night prior. Every single year since I've been there for almost 10 years. 

    I've seen him give the jacket off his back for people. And I think that wasn't highlighted enough. 

    Joe did a lot of messed up stuff, and that's a fact. And that's shown and now the entire world knows it, but he did a lot of good things too.

  • Photo: Tiger King / Netflix

    Healthy Tigers Were Slain 

    When asked if there was a medical reason to put down the tigers, Erik Cowie said:

    You would think, but no. 

    Even before all this happened, Jeff asked me point blank where do my loyalties lie, and without hesitation, I said, "I don't care about you, I don't care about Joe, I am here for the cats."

    I think about it a lot. A lot of time when we put cats down, a lot of times they used me because of my appearance and my voice. I can get a cat to the side of the cage where they can dart in so it can be put down. Those cats trusted me up until the end, and somehow, sometimes they were like, "Dude, you let me down."

    Jeff Lowe:

    Joe didn't get set up. Joe killed the tigers. He admitted to [doing so] from jail. He said they were sick, but they were beautiful healthy tigers. He called them over to the fence and he shot them in the head because he needed the cage space. Joe goes out there and makes room for the cats by [slaying] five beautiful, healthy tigers.

    Saff Saffery: 

    Joe always had a way of explaining his actions. They were old, they were injured, they were suffering is what we got.