MTV struck reality TV gold last month with the premiere of their newest hit show, Catfish, which has just been renewed for a second season. The series, which is based on a 2010 documentary, delves into the alluring and often deceptive world of online dating.
Every week, host Nev Schulman helps people investigate their online love interests — to determine if they're telling the truth or they're a "catfish," aka someone who has created a phony Internet identity — while cameraman Max Joseph captures the entire thing on film.
Wetpaint Entertainment recently caught up with Nev and Max, who were eager to share their own personal experiences with online dating, why the topic is so utterly fascinating, and how their foray into fame has altered their own sense of identity.
Wetpaint Entertainment: We're a few episodes into Season 1. What's the response been like so far?
Nev Schulman: It's been incredibly positive. The reviews we've gotten have been pretty good and everyone's comments have been very positive. And more than that, people are very engaged with the subject material. They're getting involved with the story and they're reacting to the story as it's happening.
You were very open about your experiences with online dating when you starred in the film Catfish. What's it like being on the other side, helping others get through it?
Nev: It's been incredibly rewarding. The film was my experience, with my funny, strange, embarrassing online romance, and now being able to parlay my experiences to a show that really helps other people who are going through what I was going through on what could be a really unhappy negative experience into something positive — and in some cases life changing — has been very rewarding. Not only as a human being, but also as a filmmaker and documentarian.
Why do you think people are so fascinated by this topic?
Max Joseph: Everyone knows someone — their sister, their brother, their parents — who has been in online relationships, who either have amazing success stories or horrible stories of deception, some like the ones the show has already exhibited. This is really the first show to tap into online romance and digital love, which is amazing to me.
The reason why I think the show is speaking to so many people, is that this is the first time in the history of the world that you can reinvent yourself and have people interact with your reinvention of yourself … And more than that, they can have someone fall in love with that person.
Do you think this experience has reinvented you?
Nev: I think it totally helped me understand myself, it re-positioned me for how I relate to people in my life, my family and my friends, and gave me some amazing tools that I had somewhat developed, but hadn't really fine-tuned, how to relate to people, how to understand people, and how to give people the comfort and opportunity to feel safe, discussing very personal and intimate parts of their life. It's just helped me a better friend.
What's it been like being thrust into the spotlight and having all these new Twitter followers and fans?
Max: It just started! I've been a filmmaker and I've made films online, so I've built a following up through my work. And it's interesting now, because of the show, to all of a sudden gain even more of a following. I'm seeing the numbers of my Twitter followers, Facebook followers, and Instagram followers really start to jump up. And it's surreal. It's definitely something that's going to take a little getting used to.
Nev: I know a little bit from the film about having strangers reach out to me, and for me it's sort of reinvigorating. Unlike a "catfish," I don't personally like to live too much of my life online. I'm much more interested in real-life experience, so sometimes I get kind of turned off, but it's been so exciting because the activity that I've been getting is all overwhelmingly interesting and positive and supportive. It's kind of given me an extra boost of energy to keep doing this and to start thinking about Season 2 and what we can do differently and better, and how to get this conversation even bigger.
Have either of you been recognized on the street yet?
Max: Everywhere we go, someone random recognizes Nev. We've gotten a lot of those interactions on camera too. They're really funny and great.
Nev: Before the show aired, I was going through security at LAX airport, and I went through the body scanner and I was waiting afterwards for the image to come through and for them to clear you, and the TSA agent looked at me and smiled and said, "I'm really excited for your show." And the other day I was walking in Los Angeles and I passed a couple young kids sitting at a bus stop, and I heard them say something about Catfish, so I turned around and they were like, "That is you!"
Before you got involved with Catfish you were a photographer, and now you're directing and hosting a reality TV show. Where do you see yourself going from here?
Nev: That's a great question, something I'm still very much figuring out, as was the case for much of my young adult life. I'm not much of a planner. Things have a funny weird way of finding me … but I will say that throughout this past year, I'm more and more clear that the direction I'd like to take is being at the heart of the discussion and continue to go out and connect with people, young and old, who have questions or are going through situations.
I feel as if I have a real opportunity to get out there, meet people, help them, discuss, think, feel, and share their feelings, insecurities, ideas, and start conversations, between kids and parents, kids and teachers, and perhaps even bigger ones between constituents and representatives. So that's something I'd like to do more of.
Catfish airs Monday nights at 11 p.m. ET/PT on MTV.
Lindsay Dreyer is an editor at Wetpaint Entertainment. Follow her on Twitter @LindsayNYC.