You remember Justin from Catfish, right? Justin Voel-Pel, the star of the unforgettable Season 2 ep “Artis & Jess,” the sweaty online dating vigilante guy? This guy:
God, I love that GIF.
Anyway, Justin has been the hobby of my career, which has otherwise consisted of social media hoaxes and bewbs. I investigated him tirelessly in 2013, and all of that hard work paid off when Justin himself recognized said hard work and reached out to me for an exclusive interview.
Most recently, Justin has buddied up with Artis, the poor sap he supposedly duped on MTV’s Catfish. This guy:
Also a pretty decent GIF.
Why is all of this table-setting so important?
Because, like so many others out there, I had my doubts about Catfish from the start. We’re all grown ups. We know that reality TV is more cheap, scripted TV than documentary, but Catfish resonated with audiences early on because it was the first show to really cast a spotlight on (and name) a phenomenon that so many people have experienced in the world of online dating.
The show felt plenty real, and that was real enough.
But the “Artis & Jess” episode was so over-the-top, thanks in no small part to the belligerent and endlessly-quotable performance of Justin Voel-Pel, that the whole “suspension of disbelief” thing really started to unravel for a lot of people.
I’ve tried a number of times to get Justin to admit to me that Catfish is staged, scripted, and set up; I’ve pointed to editing inconsistencies, bizarre and surreal “plot” points, even staging evidence (like how Justin was mic’d when he stepped out of the car for the reveal); I’ve asked him if he thinks that Catfish in fact “catfishes” its entire audience by lying about people lying about pretending to be someone they’re not online.
He’s been ambiguous in his responses at best, probably because of a non-disclosure the length of his arm that MTV had him sign.
But now it’s a year later, and both Justin and Artis are feeling pretty burned by their experience with Catfish. I don’t know if their non-disclosures expired, or if they’re brazenly poking the bear, but whatever their reasons, they’ve decided to tell their story once and for all.
And for our purposes, “their story” is basically that MTV’s Catfish is a load of crap:
Who knows what’ll happen with this. But I, for one, want to believe that Catfish is staged, weird, and even a little predatory. This is confirmation bias enough for me, and it might be for most of you too.
Yeah, Justin from Catfish is pretty weird. But I believe him.