In 2010, the world met Yaniv 'Nev' Schulman and learned a profoundly poetic alternate definition for the term "Catfish" when Nev's online suitor turned out to be the fictional identity of a middle-aged woman named Abby. Her husband relayed this story: When live cod were shipped to Asia from North America, the fish's inactivity in their tanks resulted in mushy flesh in the Asian markets. Eventually, the fishermen discovered that putting catfish in the tanks with the cod kept them active. Vince feels that people like Angela are catfish, who keep other people active in life.
Catfish became a controversial word-of-mouth hit as people questioned the voracity of the filmmaking -- but following the film's release, Schulman was inundated with emails from strangers claiming to be dating Catfish as well. Turns out, his audience ended up being the ultimate validation. Now, Schulman and Max Joseph are taking their quest for online transparency to MTV with Catfish: The TV Show. ETonline caught up with the guys in NYC to find out what realizations they've come to as a result of studying this substantially larger sample group.
ETonline: I would imagine that this show born out of people approaching you and saying, "The same thing happened to me."
Yaniv Schulman: Yes. After people saw my story, they started to look at their similar experiences and start to think, "Something's not quite right with my online love affair." I started getting thousands of emails after the movie saying, not only is the movie stranger than fiction, but it's happening to me. Somehow I became an expert because I'd been through it.
ETonline: What's the biggest misconception people have about Catfish red flags?
Schulman: It's a misconception that everyone has a smartphone. People in big cities and higher socioeconomic groups have smart phones and use Skype and Facetime. It's not that common to video chat in certain parts of the country where people are not all walking around with an iPhone, or using high-speed internet.
ETonline: Then what do you look for when first trying to decipher if someone is who they claim to be?
Schulman: This was a learning process for us because I've never investigated false online identities before. We figured things out as we went, but there are a few things that should immediately make you suspicious. Like, if they have a Facebook page with less than 100 friends. Sometimes that's a sign. If they've avoided the opportunity to video chat more than one and they always have an excuse, it could be a sign.
Max Joseph: If they're a model.
Schulman: Modeling is not usually a solid career to build a relationship off.
Joseph: Sometimes Catfish don't feel that being a model is enough either. Lots of slashes – that's a red flag.
ETonline: Obviously everyone's story is different, but what are some commonalities behind what drives one towards a life of Catfish-ing?
Schulman: Having met these people and seen what they've been through, it's remarkable that some are still standing. Often times, they turn to these internet relationships because they don't have a strong support group, whether that's friends or family. They're getting the feedback and support and attention that they so desperately need. In many cases, it's accidental. They started with one small lie and it grew and grew. Often times, they've been wanting to tell the truth but not knowing how too, so hopefully we provide a safe, supportive place to finally come clean.
ETonline: Did you find one gender was more likely to be the Catfish?
Schulman: No. It's very balanced. If there was anything that surprised me, it was the transgender element of the Catfish. The pansexuality. I'm thrilled that our generation and one right below us really feels very liberated in identifying themselves in any number of different ways and sexualities. That was great to see and something new to deal with.
ETonline: One woman in the trailer (below) says she's been in an online relationship for 10 years without having met the person. Did the length of these relationships surprise you?
Schulman: Yeah. Oh man.
Joseph: But it's more realistic than what you think. It's not that she spent 10 years lusting after this one person and never had another relationship. She met this guy 10 years ago and have maintained an online conversation all that time, while continuing to live her life. At various times, one liked the other more, but they were in a relationship, and vice versa.
Schulman: For most of these people, it's not about online dating. These aren't people looking for a boyfriend. It's friendships that start, relationships that build and a majority of the relationship is a real friendship. Sometimes it's financially supportive, it's always emotionally supportive – they stay in these relationships because they're meaningful.
Joseph: The biggest surprise for me was how much the life of the Catfish changes once the show is over. Generally the Catfish is someone who is sitting on a lie for a considerable amount of time. It's like coming out of the closet – and in some instances, it is literally coming out of the closet. The brain power that is now freed up to put towards other endeavors is massive. Sometimes they take all this energy and dedicate it to a positive project. We've seen people do complete 180's with their lives, and I didn't anticipate that.