Producer Nev Schulman and Director Max Joseph attends the REEL WORKS 2013 benefit gala at The Edison Ballroom on November 6, 2013. Credit: Getty Images
Realizing that the person you fell in love with isn’t perfect can be devastating. Finding out they aren’t who they said they were—on TV—is a whole different beast. For people who have been “catfished” -- the slang term for falling in love with someone’s fake online persona -- reality can be dream-crushing.
We spoke to Nev Schulman and Max Joseph, co-hosts of MTV’’s “Catfish: The TV Series” about why it is so easy for people to get duped online. (And, once and for all, we put an end to the rumors that Nev and Max are secretly lovers.)
Metro: This whole journey started with Nev’s story in the “Catfish” movie, which showed how he fell in love with “Megan” only to find out she wasn’t who she said she was online. Looking back on that, can you believe that you were duped?
Schulman: I have to sort of think about that all the time. Each episode we go into, I meet new people and we see the relationship they are having, and we hear about how in love they are. My instinct is always to think, 'What’s wrong with you? How could you do this? How could you allow yourself to feel something for someone you’ve never met.' Then, I have to admit to myself that I did the exact same thing. Being able to reference my own experience is sort of the key factor in being able to sympathize with these people.
Do you think that’s why a lot of people found it hard to believe the “Catfish” movie was real? You hear the same thing about NFL linebacker Manti Te'o or any of these “Catfish” episodes.
Joseph: I can understand when the movie came out that people thought it was too crazy to be true, and also the fact that people were filming it every step of the way also seems far-fetched. If you knew the whole story, you knew that those guys — Nev’s brother and Henry — film everything so the film actually turned into something.
I think what’s most interesting is that after the movie came out — forgetting all the controversy if its real or not — what was even more stunning was the amount of emails that Nev and everyone who made the movie started getting about the exact same experience from people who had a 'catfish' situation or was in one. The outpouring of people who identified with these situations was overwhelming, and that’s really what gave birth to the show.
Why do you think people can suspend disbelief when they think they have a good thing with a significant other?
Schulman: In a lot of cases people who find themselves wrapped up in relationships online are people who are looking for something in their life that they don’t have — that might be a career, that could be an experience, that could obviously be a relationship.
Joseph: We hear a lot about how mystery is the greatest aphrodisiac. Something we’ve found out about the show is that when someone only tells you bits and pieces, human nature is to fill in the rest of our own fantasy of who we want the other person to be. It’s very easy to do that online. You project onto this person whoever you want. You convince yourself that they are that dude.
Out of all your episodes on the show, was there just one person’s case that you thought “There’s no way this could be real”?
Joseph: Yeah! A lot! There’s definitely a bunch of common red flags that we see a lot. Any guy that has perfect abs, that’s a red flag. We’ve never seen that work out where a guy has perfect abs, and it turns out to be the guy. Also if they say that they are a model of any kind or a hip-hop star or if they’re in the same city, and they can’t meet up for some reason, they are definitely not who they say they are. If they can’t get on a web chat like Skype, they’re definitely not who they say they are.
Schulman: But that’s not true, Max! I think the one time we were sure was there was a guy who (couldn’t) get the other person on the phone! If they can’t have a phone conversation with you, then they are absolutely not who they say they are. And if they say they are a guy, then they’re probably a girl that’s pretending to be a guy.
I’m one of those people who really wishes for a happy ending. Was there any case that you really wished it was true?
Joseph: We wish all of them are true! We spend a lot of time with them. We embed ourselves in their lives. We want nothing more than their wishes to come true. Sometimes they seem like they could come true. We’re always rooting for the happy ending.
Okay, now the real question everyone wants to know. What’s up with the bromance between you two? Are you kind of surprised that there are conspiracy theories that you two are really together?
Schulman: Max and I talk about this a lot. We play with it, and certainly have fun with it. If you really want an answer, obviously the answer is we’re both straight. We both have girlfriends.