'Catfish' is a term for someone on the Internet who uses fake pictures and information to set up social media accounts that they use to trick and manipulate people. It became a household phrase when Nev Schulman made a documentary about a woman he met online. Schulman, the catfishee (the person who has been tricked) received fan art from the catfish, or catfisher (the person doing the tricking). The woman pretended to be an art prodigy who was eight years old. Nev struck up an unlikely friendship with the girl and wound up falling in love with her 19-year-old sister, who he also only spoke to online. Turns out, all of the people he talked to were really just the same middle-aged house wife.
After the success of his documentary, MTV picked up Schulman to do a reality TV series by the same name. The series was wildly successful, garnering millions of viewers. However, people began to question the authenticity of Catfish, just as viewers always do with fake reality shows. Behind-the-scenes interviews with execs of Catfish have revealed that the show could be entirely reverse engineered by producers before filming. Real or staged, there have been a lot of memorable characters on the show, such as the worst people and the most gullible people on Catfish. Whether you're an avid viewer or a casual one, you'll want to know how MTV's Catfish goes about creating lies behind their scenes, so read on below!
Catfish leads you to believe that Nev, his cameraman, and the 'catfishee' are spontaneously going to visit the catfisher at their home or some other agreed upon location. However, these meetings are anything but spontaneous. Have you ever noticed that the catfisher (and any other relevant people on scene) are all miked up and ready to go when the crew arrives?
There's no way the catfisher doesn't know they're busted long before the crew rolls up. Most likely, they've spent a couple hours getting make up on (there's never an awkwardly shiny face on the show), being miked, and having their house scouted for shoot locations.
The genuine feeling of authenticity was what drew millions to Schulman's original documentary. The practicalities of creating a television show just don't let you recreate that feeling. Nev and Max were just filming their life. They found an interesting portion and edited that story into a documentary.
TV shows have budgets and deadlines, so you can't just pursue a story with an unknown timeline. Although producers say that Nev and Max don't know the outcome, the producers most definitely have to know how and when the show will wrap and be edited for television. MTV execs have acknowledged that the producers do trial and error investigations to try to guess how long it will take Nev and Max to crack the case.
Although they always know the answer, producers claim they never help Nev and Max, or redirect them if they follow a bad lead. But when there's money on the line, who knows what really happens behind the scenes?
Episodes of Catfish always start with Nev reading an email from someone who is worried that the person they have a long term online relationship with might not be who they say they are. However, in reality, a lot of those emails were written by MTV.
Frequently, it's not the catfishee, but the catfisher who contacts the show first. In fact, there is even an application for any catfisher to come forward on the MTV show to "unburden themselves" and reveal the truth. MTV then contacts the catfishee about being on the show.
However, if that's the case, there's pretty much no way that the victim's reactions are genuine. Before the camera even begins rolling, MTV has already informed the catfishee that they are being catfished. If the victim wants to appear on the show, they sign a lengthy agreement which includes permission for MTV to portray the story as if the catfishee had contacted the show first.
It should go without saying that crew safety in any television show is a priority. Obviously, Catfish is no different. While viewers obviously want reality, action, and drama, producers can't just send Nev into total strangers' homes. That is especially true for strangers who may not be the most mentally and/or emotionally stable. So, producers have to contact everyone involved in filming in advance.
They conduct thorough background checks and even have a psychologist do some assessments to ensure that Nev and his crew always have a safe work environment. This is a bummer for viewers, but no one wants to see Nev get attacked or shot.