Online romance has always been a topic that makes me skeptical. I have many friends who have found love online and are happy. But for me, it actually frightens me.
MTV's new show "Catfish" is just a realization of my fears. Originally a documentary film by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, the movie "Catfish" followed Yaniv Schulman, also known as "Nev," while he embarked on a journey of online romance. The documentary has twists and turns, almost like a movie, so I won't give too much away, but in the end, Nev finds out that who he fell in love with online is most definitely not who he meets in real life. I would recommend watching the documentary, but you don't have to in order to understand the TV show.
Nev has said in the previews for "Catfish" that the movie was his story and the television show is your story. After the documentary aired, Nev had an outpouring of people contact him with similar stories about online love.
To me, these people seem gullible. I've always been a skeptical person and with the internet: you can be whoever you want to be. The Internet gives people a shield to make everything seem the way they want.
The first episode of "Catfish" followed Sunny, a bubbly blonde who is going to school for nursing. She also is in love with a male model-actor from Los Angeles named Jamison who she calls "RJ."
Sunny is head over heels in love with RJ, which makes me judge her sanity. A male model is looking for love online? And he wants to marry you? And he's hot and perfect and everything you've ever wanted?
OK, Sunny. I get it. But I don't.
Nev, pronounced "Neev," helps her find Jamison. He has told her a couple details of life, including that he had three sisters and they died and that he works for the "Chelsea Lately Show" as a cue card holder.
Nev and Max, his fellow host and cameraman, start digging. They find that Jamison is a real person, he is a model and he has three sisters. Present tense, HAS. Lie No. 1 is found and Nev and Max are worried how this is going to play out. Through more digging, they find that he does not work for "Chelsea Lately," so lie No. 2 is found as well.
They report their findings back to Sunny, who, of course, is still in denial. Jamison would never lie to her, he's perfect, blah blah blah. They've been talking for eight months - why would he lie to her? They've only IMed and phone chatted, never Skyped - never anything that is face-to-face. I mean, I'm not the maker of Internet dating rules, but I would like to think that the first rule would be to validate that who you are talking to is really who you are talking to.
I spoke with a friend who has tried Internet dating before and I asked her why she would ever believe anything someone she doesn't know says. She told me something that is very true, "When you're desperate to be loved, you'll believe anything."
That's what the people on these shows are looking for. And Nev and Max find this when they find out who Sunny really is speaking with. Jamison is really Chelsea, a young girl. A GIRL. Obviously, Sunny is horrified by this - she and "Jamison" had had intimate conversations. She lashes out in anger at Chelsea, who is heavier and boyish and immediately brings out the lesbian card. You can tell in the show that Chelsea is defensive, but handles it with grace, in my opinion.
Nev sits down later with Chelsea and they discuss why she would do this. Chelsea tells Nev that she knows Jamison from school, so that's why she picked his name. She also tells Nev she was bullied a lot in school, and pretending to be someone else gave her control over a situation when she couldn't have control over others.
"Catfish" producers promised that not all of the episodes were going to be uncovering fakes, and that there are true love stories of Internet romance, which gives hope to places like eHarmony, Facebook and MySpace being potential places to find a mate.
The problem with the Internet though, is that you can be anyone you want to be. And there are emotional predators out there completely willing to compromise an unsuspecting person's sanity and emotional state just for the thrill of it.
I'm interested to see how future episodes play out. A lot of critics have been calling "Catfish's" bluff, saying the documentary and the show are fake and staged. Find out for yourself.
"Catfish" is on MTV Mondays at 11 p.m.