‘Catfish’ is back and fueling our addiction to watching Internet love go wrong

Catfish Season 2 headerYou know that feeling you got as a kid the night before the first day of school? It was just like any other day, except that it wasn’t at all. You were excited and nervous and anxious, wondering what it was going to be like to see all your friends again, what – if anything – would be new or different. And even all the things that were the same, you were sort of looking forward to the pre-nostalgic comfort of returning to it all. 

Yeah, all that. That’s sort of what yesterday was like for all of us Catfish fans out there.   

That’s right, the documentary-inspired show is back for a second season. So go ahead and don your snuggie that smells like regret and self-deprecation, grab a box of cereal for you to mindlessly eat, settle in, and take a trip with me into Season 2, Episode 1 – thusly to be referred to as maybe the most messed up Catfish episode ever. Let’s experience this together, shall we?

First things first – Max and Nev! They’re back! Those two sweet, in love-with-love, sort of hapless do-gooders have returned to help everyone blinded by romance find out if their virtually-based significant others are real or … you know … some old guy living with his mom who has way too much time.

If you like Catfish even a modicum of the amount I do, then you’re simultaneously finding Max and Nev to be so intensely genuine and so heartbreakingly simple that it hurts. They really, really want to help you find your online lover’s identity! There is no pretense there, zip-zero-none. Let’s remember Nev lived this guys, and Megan turned out to be Angela, and heartbreak ensued.

But damnit, every time they tell the confused and questioning young (usually star-crossed) lover that they need to “take some time to investigate” I just sit there #smh. Because “investigate” is a generous term for what they actually do:

1. Facebook. Max and Nev (this is generally just Nev logging on while Max berates him adorably from behind the safety of what MUST be a micro four thirds from a sponsor company because, damn, I am not impressed with that image quality) get onto Facebook to find the suspected person. If they can’t view everything they want to, they direct message a friend and try to get some info or a phone number.

2. Google reverse image search. Max and Nev pull an image from Facebook (or elsewhere) and run a reverse image search to see if that person’s picture is tied to someone with a different name altogther. It’s a smart step but they make it sound like they’re hacking the FBI’s mainframe or something. You’re draggin’ and you’re droppin’ guys. End of story.

3. The phone call. And then the technologically simplest yet most effective step: Max and Nev call the suspect and arrange a time to meet up and maybe issue a few very simple questions to gauge if they are who they say they are.

It’s a genius (and mind-numblingly obvious) formula and the crazy part is that it actually works! These people didn’t do this stuff beforehand. It’s just flabbergasting and that is not a word I use lightly (because it’s a silly word). And guess what, folks?! The season two premiere was no exception. So let’s dive into what the hell just happened there.

I CANNOT EMPHASIZE THIS ENOUGH: SPOILER ALERT

We meet Cassie. She is very sweet and has a very sad story involving the death of a family member and past substance abuse issues. But – but! – everything’s been getting back on track since she met Steve on Facebook. He is now her fiance. You read right: Fiance. Yikes.

cassie catfish

Problems, though! Steve can’t talk on the phone hardly at all because, you see, he’s an aspiring rapper and always in the studio. Also, he can never get his webcam to work. (Red flags, Cassie! Red flags! Put down the laptop girl!)

Welp, turns out, those photos aren’t Steve (they’re a rando-model, as Catfish formulas tend to go) … and those sick tracks he laid down don’t belong to him either.

Cassie’s cousin made Steve up. Not surprising – it yet again follows the Catfish formula. But, there’s a twist! Usually, the person who fabricated the faux significant other did it for revenge reasons but in this case she did it to save Cassie, who she saw going into a downward spiral. Still, does catfishing for good mean catfishing is OK? Cassie still thought she had a fiance (an Internet-made one, albeit) and you’ve got to imagine her relationship with her cousin will be strained at best. 

I also have to question the authenticity of the situation altogether. Cassie got over the whole my-cousin-concocted-my-fiance thing a little too easily. And the entire story is so heartwrenching and horrible it’s all just … it’s all just a little too perfect for the season premiere of Catfish

We want it to be really real because the heightened anxieties of engaging in romance in the digital age are really real. And sometimes you just want to relate.

The show has risen to new fame thanks to the success of its first season and – let’s be honest – all the Manti Te’o insanity. Could it be that Catfish‘s viral rise has also netted some fakers? MTV was using Craigslist to look for potential show subjects awhile ago, and maybe there’s a touch of what happened to The Real World happening here: At first, the show was actually a reality show about seven strangers picked to live in a house … and then it was about seven camera-hungry, unemployed attractive people that would do just about anything to be on television. 

But if Catfish lost its “real” hook, it would doom the show – because it isn’t about glamorous young adults boozing it up. It’s about Facebook-obsessed teens in small towns who found some sort of obscure love and, damnit, they need to know if it’s too good to be true! There’s something about the reality of the whole situation: Most of us haven’t had to wonder if the person on the other side of the screen is real, but we have trolled their Facebook profiles. Clicked through their photos (don’t comment on that photo from 2006, don’t you dare!). Reread their emails. Wondered what their texts meant. Stared in paralyzing silence at our phones until we finally got that call back (and wondered if maybe we should let it go to voicemail so as to not seem desperate). 

We want it to be really real because the heightened anxieties of engaging in romance in the digital age are really real. And sometimes you just want to relate. It’s comforting to know you’re not the only one with Internet-made romance problems.

Here’s hoping Cassie’s story was the real deal. I’ll reserve further skepticism until we’re a few more episodes in, once I’m fully immersed in the reverse image searching and Facebook-stalking of it all. One thing is for sure: Catfish is back to solve our romantic Internet mysteries and as simple as their methods and suspect their stories, I just can’t get enough. 

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