Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

Catfish: The TV Show Facts That Are Anything But Fake

Dating is already hard enough, but it gets even more complicated when a person falls in love with someone they've never met in person. At first, things might seem perfect: They're sending each other romantic messages every day, exchanging cute selfies, and having long, meaningful conversations over the phone.

Then suspicious details start adding up and the situation gets fishy. One of them notices that their sweetheart is never able to video chat because their webcam is broken, or they can't meet up in person because they're always too busy with work. This can go on for weeks, months, or even years.

"Catfish: The TV Show" helps the people involved in these questionable online relationships, revealing whether both people have been telling the truth or if one of them has been getting catfished. The hosts often expose shocking lies that turn the relationships upside down, making each episode an emotional roller coaster.

The show has had viewers hooked since it started airing on MTV in 2012. If you want to discover some surprising facts about the show, you've come to the right place. Let's dive into some facts about "Catfish: The TV Show" that even hardcore fans might not know.

It's based on the documentary Catfish

In 2010, the documentary "Catfish" came out, and people couldn't get enough of it. The film starred Nev Schulman — not as the host, but as the catfishee. "Getting catfished was sort of the best thing that ever happened to me," Schulman said in an interview with Page Six in 2020. "A lot of people haven't seen [the documentary] or don't even realize that the reason I'm hosting the show is because I myself got catfished in sort of a very epic way back in 2008."

The film followed Schulman as he fell in love with a woman on Facebook. He believed that her name was Megan and she had a younger sister named Abby who was an art prodigy. He traveled all the way from New York to Michigan to meet Megan and her family, only to discover that they didn't exist. A married 40-year-old woman named Angela made all of it up. While Schulman was talking to Angela and her husband Vince, Vince told them a story that inspired the title of the film, the TV series, and the term "catfishing."

He said that live cod would get mushy and gross due to inactivity when they were shipped from Asia to North America. To solve this problem, fishermen put catfish in the tanks to nip at their tails, keeping them more active. He then compared Angela to a catfish, saying that life would be "dull and boring if we didn't have someone nipping at our fins." Vince's story originates from Christian writers, including Henry W. Nevinson, who wrote nearly the exact same story in his book "Essays in Rebellion" in 1913.

Co-hosts Max and Nev have known each other for a long time

Co-hosts Max Joseph and Nev Schulman had a great on-screen dynamic. At times they seemed to know exactly what the other was thinking as they searched for clues and solved case after case. Prior to working together on the show, they had known each other for years, which explains why they got along so well on-screen. In an interview with Female First in 2013, Joseph said, "I grew up with Nev and his older brother, Rel, and we've known each other since we were like 14 ... we've always had a very close friendship and creative collaboration."

The duo had already worked together on some film projects, so when Schulman needed someone to help him with the show, he reached out to Joseph. They had a great time collaborating on the pilot episode, and MTV loved it so much that they ordered it to series. The pair exposed one catfish after another for seven seasons, then in August 2018, Joseph announced his departure from the show in a heartfelt tweet. He said that working on the show was "one of the most meaningful experiences" of his life and that he and Schulman "have become brothers."

The catfish is usually the one who reaches out to the show

You'd think that the catfishee would be the one to contact the show first, hoping to find out if their online relationship is the real deal, but it's actually the other way around. The catfish is usually the one who reaches out to the show. They often want to come clean about the lies they've been telling so they can apologize or simply let go of the burden. "These catfish, when they come out of the closet and confess their deception, they have the ability to start over fresh," Max Joseph said in a 2013 interview with Female First.

Hollywood.com spoke with six different cast members from the show, all from different episodes, and discovered that the catfish contacted MTV first in all instances but one. In a 2014 interview, one anonymous catfish told them, "You know how they said that [the catfishee] had reached out to them? I don't know why they put that in there because it's not even true. It was actually me that reached out to them."

Does this mean that "Catfish: The TV Show" has been catfishing us? No, not exactly. All reality TV shows are edited to some extent, including this one. They might change some aspects of the stories, but they keep most of the details the same. Producers usually choose to start the episodes from the victim's point of view because it makes for a more dramatic narrative. It allows the hosts and viewers to uncover the truth along the way rather than knowing the catfish's identity right off the bat.

The show isn't scripted, so the hosts have to figure things out for themselves

Some viewers have speculated that the entire show is scripted. After all, some of the stories have crazy twists and turns that lead to extremely bizarre interactions. But the show isn't scripted at all — everything that the hosts and cast members say is entirely up to them.

Kamie Crawford, who started co-hosting the show with Nev Schulman in Season 8, confirmed this in an interview with Hidden Remote in 2021. "I love when I see things on Twitter, where people are like, 'Kamie and Nev are so good with reading from their scripts.' I'm like, 'What? Really? No, you can't write this stuff.' There's no script. There's no knowing what could happen."

Producers know the details of each story, but the hosts are left in the dark along with the viewers and have to do all the investigating themselves. "We know as much as the viewers know," Crawford said. "When we read the email for the first time, that's our first time knowing anything about the situation. Most times as we read that email, we still don't have all the details."

Investigations can take much longer than you might expect

The investigations are one of the most riveting parts of the show. The hosts search for facts about the catfish, scrutinizing their profiles and seemingly cracking the case in a matter of minutes. In reality, though, the investigations take much longer than it seems — they just have to be cut down to fit into the episode. "It takes a long time," Kamie Crawford explained in a 2021 interview with Hidden Remote. "Most of the time, when we're talking to our hopeful for the first time, that's a two-and-a-half-hour conversation. Then we investigate, and that can take up to hours ... Sometimes we work into the night."

This is one of those instances when editing reality TV is a good thing. Condensing all the hosts' discoveries into a few minutes rather than several hours makes it much more exciting to watch. "People think that everything happens so fast," Crawford continued. "They're like, 'Oh, what are the odds that you send a text and then five seconds later [get] the first response?' I'm like, 'You don't understand, we've been waiting for three hours.' ... It looks like it happens really fast, but it really doesn't."

Everyone signs a waiver before appearing on the show

MTV doesn't let just anyone onto "Catfish: The TV Show." If that were the case, things could get confusing or even dangerous for the people involved. All the cast members have to sign a waiver before appearing on the show, allowing their faces to be unblurred in the episodes. On top of that, "There is a private investigator who conducts a background check, and a psychologist who does some testing," executive producer Tom Forman told Entertainment Weekly in a 2013 interview.

This setup helps ensure everyone's safety and confirms that the whole cast is on board. It also explains how the catfish always has a microphone on before coming face-to-face with the hosts and catfishee. The meet-ups often seem spontaneous, but this isn't the case: The catfish has already agreed to be on the show, so the crew is able to visit them before the dramatic reveal and give them a microphone. This might seem deceptive, but logistics demand it: Struggling to hear what the catfish are saying wouldn't be any fun. The interactions are still real, which is the most important part.

The crew screens out people with fake stories

As the show gained popularity, people started trying to catfish MTV to get their 15 seconds of fame. Marshall Eisen, executive producer and MTV senior vice president of news and docs, elaborated on this during an interview with Vulture in 2014. He said that many people would come up with fake stories "just to see if they can fool us. We just have to work harder to make sure they're real, which we didn't have to do at all in the first season. It's just a pitfall of being more of a known thing."

Of course, the crew thoroughly screens candidates before they appear on the show to prevent any fake stories from airing. First, candidates have to fill out a lengthy application with lots of details about themselves and their significant other. From there, they have to undergo a background check, psychological test, fact-checking, and sign a waiver before production begins.

"Getting to the bottom of what's going on takes a lot of people poring over the Internet late into the night," Tom Forman said (via Entertainment Weekly). People will probably keep trying to catfish the network just to get on TV, but Forman said, "It's our job to make sure it doesn't happen."

Things don't always go as planned

Even after agreeing to be on the show, people can choose not to move forward at any time. This can lead to some unexpected and awkward situations. There have been several episodes where the catfish decided not to meet up with the catfishee. They seemed to be on board with the process, but changed their mind and canceled at the last minute, much to the disappointment of the catfishee and the hosts.

The cast never ambushes the catfish to reveal their identity. Everyone has to be on the same page in order for the big reveal to happen, so if the catfish doesn't want to move forward, the catfishee is just left hanging. That doesn't mean those episodes aren't aired. Some of them are just as — or even more — compelling than standard ones.

In "Mathan & Leah," Mathan and the hosts travel all the way from Los Angeles to Washington to meet with a woman who went by the name of Leah. But when the big moment came for Mathan and Leah to meet at a café, her sister Jasmine arrived instead. "I couldn't get her to come," Jasmine said. "She chose to stay [at home] with her boyfriend." The unpredictability of these situations is part of what makes the show so suspenseful. You never know if the couple is going to end up meeting in person, and if they do, what will happen from there.

It's edited for dramatic effect, but it isn't staged

The show isn't staged, but some parts are edited and condensed to make things more exciting. "We edit the investigations down," executive producer Marshall Eisen said in a 2014 interview with Vulture. "They can be grueling. There have been very, very long days where Nev and Max are trying to figure it out, and we can't help them. The guys are better at it now, but it's not always obvious how to crack these things. We've condensed what's taken them ten hours in some instances into five or six minutes, but we try to show that it was difficult." The travel times are also significantly shortened. Many of the catfishees have to travel long distances, sometimes even out of state, for the big meet-up. 

When asked if her story was accurately portrayed by the show, one catfishee said, "Everything was real EXCEPT the email and text conversations seen on the episode. No email or text messages were saved nor shown ... [and] a lot of things were cut from the episode that I wish would have been seen" (via Hi Ho... No Worries). Although the narratives are re-framed to add to the drama, there's still a lot of truth to the show. Nev Schulman said in a 2019 interview with Newsweek that despite working on the show for so long, he still gets caught off-guard by the way things play out.

"I am always surprised ... by the emotional complications of each story — the different factors people bring from their own lives. There's a lot of unpredictable emotional terrain that I find myself constantly surprised by."

There's a therapist available to everyone who appears on the show

Being on the show is an emotionally taxing experience for the catfish and the victim. There are a lot of complicated feelings to sort through on both ends. Thankfully, the show doesn't just exploit the people involved and then leave them to deal with the aftermath. They make sure that everyone has a chance to speak with a therapist once filming ends. "Our show is about breaking through to people and getting them to see themselves and understand their decisions and their actions," Joseph said (via Vulture).

In a 2019 interview with Newsweek, Schulman explained how intricately the show is linked to mental health problems. "There are some core issues that we see over and over again. Everything from body image issues, to social anxieties, and in many cases, mental health and well-being issues." He explained how people might turn to catfishing because they're depressed, insecure about their weight, or lonely but unable to connect with people in real life. 

"I think a part of the reason why I feel so happy making the show is the real need for a conversation around well-being and personal satisfaction, especially with young people," he said. "The show is really a therapy show — it allows people to talk about their inner feelings."

If you or someone you know needs help with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.

One episode wasn't released until years after it was filmed

Some fans of the show might be shocked to learn that they missed an episode that was originally intended for the first season: "Stephanie and David" didn't air until years after it was filmed. For seven months, Stephanie had been talking to someone on Facebook who went by David. After convincing him to meet up in person, she discovered that she'd been catfished by a man who was actually named Dawuan. Stephanie didn't hear from MTV after production ended. She expected the episode to air as planned, but was surprised when that didn't happen.

"Dawuan sent me a text message stating that he [had] seen the episode and he would do anything in his power to not let the show air," she said during an interview with Hi Ho... No Worries in 2013. Schulman gave his side of the story in a Reddit post in 2012. "We had one episode that we shot last season that hasn't aired. Everything you see on the show is real life and sometimes feelings are hurt and issues come up that we can't predict. It's important to us that the outcome of being on the show is positive for everybody, and if we feel there is a chance it could go badly, we try to make the right decision and avoid any risk."

The episode eventually aired in Season 4, several years after production wrapped.

Some couples stayed together after meeting in person

If there's anything we've learned from watching the show — besides being careful who to trust online — it's to expect the unexpected. Most of the couples broke up and stopped talking after meeting in person, but not all of them. Some of them kept in touch, and others even stayed together for a while. One of those couples appeared in "Kya and Alyx" (Season 1, Episode 6). They double-catfished each other, but in the end, they still decided to give their relationship a shot. Unfortunately, they broke up after filming ended.

But let's end things on a more positive note. In "Colleen & Tony" (Season 6, Episode 11), Colleen fell in love with Tony, who she had never met in real life. When he proposed to her over the phone, she said yes, but then she met him in person and found out he'd been lying about his identity. He was actually named Jeremy and looked nothing like his profile photos. He got down on one knee and proposed to her again, saying, "I'm sorry. I'll do anything to keep moving forward with you."

After a dramatic pause, she said yes and they hugged. "I don't want to give up on you," she said. "Something's telling me not to." It turns out, Colleen was right to trust her intuition. In 2017, she gave birth to their baby boy, Toni. As of December 2022, she continues to share photos of their adorable family on Instagram, so it looks like the couple is still going strong.