This Monday, Nev Schulman and Max Joseph joined MTV News correspondent SuChin Pak for a sit-down with half of the couples from the first season of “Catfish: The TV Show,” the MTV series which, you’ll remember, started off as a Sundance doc about how Schulman’s attempt to find love online ended in deception. The show, however, follows other subjects who haven’t yet met the people they’ve been developing relationships with online. And, as MTV reality series typically go, the season was capped off with a reunion special.
But another “Teen Mom” reunion this was not. MTV.com teased the show with the headline “The Stage… And Security… Are Set For The ‘Catfish’ Reunion.” You can hear the screens already: “Jerry! Jerry!” Or is that “Max-y! Max-y!” When it came down to it, no chairs or punches was thrown — in fact, nothing much really happened. The only name-calling came from the past, when one guest explained that the woman she deceived called her a “ho” on Facebook on January 15.
That guest, Mhissy, was separated by all three hosts from the woman she deceived, Jasmine, an arrangement the hosts brought attention to in a move that smacked of “Who knows what these feisty women of color might do if we let them close to one another?” The show’s regular episodes, like the film, to be fair, have an unexpected respect for their subjects in the sensitive moments of first time in-person meetings and when real identities are exposed. But this respect and sensitivity doesn’t always come off as genuine, and the reunion special demonstrated that the show’s relationship to its subjects is, indeed, very messy.
The show’s most lackluster episodes, in which the identity of the “catfisher,” the person in the relationship with the veiled identity, was met with a muted disappointment, were all represented in the reunion episode. The installments where “true love” was still on the table by the time Schulman and Joseph did their end-of-show updates were nowhere to be seen. What was on full display was the opportunism we have come to expect from reality television contestants. Everyone was glammed out and soaking in the applause they received when they came out to chat; exotic dancer Trina the Natural, she herself reported, has parlayed her appearance on the show into a reality show.
But perhaps most disappointing was the opportunism of Schulman and Joseph who started off the hour by humbly claiming that they were just two dudes who were following these little stories. “Amateurs” was the word they used. By the end of the show, though, when talking about the show’s second season, they broke down and called themselves “experts” in online relationships. Though casting for the show is always portrayed as Schulman fielding promising emails from hotel rooms across the country, he and Joseph betrayed the fact that they were looking for stories that were extreme. Season two, they “hoped” (i.e., teased), would involve more complicated stories, “double catfishing” and, perhaps, a wedding.
While “Catfish” (the film) directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schluman (Nev’s brother) have spent the years since their Sundance debut making the third and fourth installments of the “Paranormal Activity” franchise, Nev and Joseph have taken a promising concept and their likable personalities and adapted them to the tired cliches of ’90s talk shows and 21st century microcelebrity reality television.