“Real”ity TV: Why Catfish Didn’t Hook Me

Today was a good day at the gym, television-wise. There are four TVs in the fitness center of my apartment complex and generally when I arrive to exercise, unless it’s just as the gym is opening (annoyingly late on weekends—some people want to work out before noon, Ithaca College), I end up watching whatever’s already on. That tends to mean the Food Network or endless episodes of Say Yes to the Dress (there’s usually only girls at the gym, which probably explains this). Today was a good day because I was the only one in the room for a while and so I got put a football game on one screen and a hockey game on another*, but that’s not the point of this post.

Best workout tv ever.
Best workout tv watching ever.

*I’m in the market for a hockey team. I’ve just started watching the sport and I was watching the game today because one of my friends is a big Blackhawks fan and another is a die-hard Red Wings supporter. I still haven’t determined my allegiance yet but I figure I have to give the Flyers a chance, at least, even if it’ll destroy my “hates all Philadelphia sports except Union because their fans made that John Terry sign that one time” cred.

Point is, the other day some fellow college student had chosen MTV’s Catfish TV show as their workout soundtrack. Since it was on, and I was there, I watched half of two episodes (the second half of one and the first half of the other). Now, I remember hearing about the Catfish documentary when it first became famous, but I have never seen it and this was my first experience with the tv show, and the first episode I watched surprised me. In it, a girl who had been friends with a boy for ten years went to meet him in person for the first time. It turned out that the only reason he hadn’t wanted to meet was that he was embarrassed about his weight. They ended the episode as friends; it was very sweet.

The other episode was more what I was expecting. A woman had been “dating” someone she had “met” online despite having never spoken to him on the phone, video chatted with him, or seen him in person. The show’s host and the camera man (are they dating, by the way? I know the Catfish doc was about the host and his online girlfriend, but…) pointed out inconsistency after inconsistency in her beau’s story, and each time they laid out another piece of evidence the woman said, sounding surprised, “Oh, I guess that is pretty weird.”

It made me wonder, did she really not think about any of this before? I assume that the show is mostly scripted—why would the liars agree to expose their lies on television?—but are there really people this naive? I’ve met a number of friends on the internet and while I have no experience with or interest in online dating I can say that I would never start a relationship with someone who wouldn’t at least Skype with me. The days of shady AOL chatrooms are long gone; now we might be sharing our personal information with everybody, but they are sharing their personal info with us in turn. And if they’re not, things get suspicious.

Of course, there’s another option. Does this woman want to believe so badly that she’s willing to overlook obvious signs that her BF is lying to her? It happens in real life, so it makes sense that it would happen on the internet, too. But the fact that she’s even agreed to be on the show indicates that she must have some doubt about his sincerity; surely she knows the premise.

Seriously though, are they together?
Seriously though, are they together?

I suppose that this is the inherent flaw in reality tv that pretends to be “real,” but has a premise other than “do what you want and we’ll film it” (and even on that type of show, there’s always the question of how many storylines were suggested by the producers of the Real World or the Jersey Shore). Everybody who appears on American Idol knows what they’ve signed up for. Everyone on Four Weddings and all those other shows we usually watch at the gym are aware that their appearances will follow a certain format.

And so, too, must the “characters” on Catfish; one participant agrees to be on the show because they feel like the person on the other end of the computer is hiding something, and the person hiding something agrees to be on the show knowing that the truth will come out. When that truth is a nice kid who is self-conscious about his weight, that’s fine, but while the massive secrets that cause the most drama may make for good television, they feel cheap. They feel fake.

If these are characters, then we should be able to root for them. There are clear villains, but when the “hero” is someone who is “innocently” clueless about their partner’s deception and yet is aware enough to sign onto the show in the first place, I just don’t care. I’ll stick with the cooking and wedding shows. The former may make me crave a gourmet meal (not what you want to be thinking about when you’re on the elliptical) and the latter may make me seriously judgmental of women who deserve to have wedding dresses that are exactly what they want (no matter how much of lace-covered monstrosities those dresses may be). But I know what I’m getting, and even if it’s not real, it doesn’t feel fake.

Tom Colicchio would never lie to me.
Tom Colicchio would never lie to me.

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