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The Real Reason Max Left Catfish

When MTV's "Catfish" debuted in 2012, the internet dating landscape was a somewhat simpler, but no less dangerous place. Though dating apps were still in their relative infancy, social media had already long served as a platform where the line between "bending the truth" and engaging in all-out fraud wasn't just thin, but near invisible. After documenting his own experience with a catfish back in 2010, co-host Nev Schulman was inspired to create the now-well-known series (via MTV). While a major part of the show's appeal comes from each episode's alternately heartbreaking, humorous, and baffling revelations about both the catfish and the catfish-ee, Schulman and the series owe an inarguable debt to his co-host, filmmaker and TV personality Max Joseph.

For nearly seven whole seasons, Joseph acted as Schulman's sardonic, silver-haired investigative partner, approaching each case with a relatable and eye roll-filled skepticism that balanced-out Schulman's borderline guileless optimism. Then, in 2018, after starring in well over 70 episodes, Joseph exited the series for good. From a PR standpoint, his timing probably couldn't have been worse. That same year, MTV suspended production of "Catfish" and conducted an investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct against Schulman, and though the network found the accusations baseless, it was all too easy to suspect a connection between the two events. The truth, however, is that Joseph's departure had little to do with the series, and everything to do with his career. 

Max left Catfish to pursue filmmaking

In August of 2018, Max Joseph announced he was leaving the show in a lengthy Instagram post, wherein he revealed the real motivation for his moving on. "For a while now I have been straddling two careers as TV host and filmmaker," the former "Catfish" co-host wrote. "[W]hile this level of busy-ness is a dream come true, my life can no longer sustain it.

Long before he began helping the lovesick and lonely uncover the true natures and identities of their virtual romantic interests, Joseph was directing, filming, editing, and even starring in various short films and documentaries. In 2008, he made his directorial debut with the short "State of the Economy: Oil Addiction," before going on to create a series of socially conscious documentary shorts that covered a range of topics, from the environment to education to immigration. Later, in 2015, he took a hiatus from "Catfish" to create and complete his feature directorial debut, "We Are Your Friends." Joseph both co-wrote the adapted screenplay and directed the film, and although it starred a hot-off-of-"Neighbors" Zac Efron, it failed to impress either critics or audiences (via Rotten Tomatoes).

Despite the disappointment of his feature debut, Joseph did indeed continue to work on various side projects both during and after his final season of "Catfish."

Max's movies reveal his complex relationship with social media

In 2017, Max Joseph created a series of documentary shorts, including the ironically-titled "D***s: Do You Need to Be One to Be a Successful Leader?" and "Bookstores: How to Read More in the Golden Age of Content." Both are part of Joseph's Charismatic Thinker series, a project title of which he said, "It had a nice ring to it, albeit a bit self-aggrandizing." As he told Bookstr, however, he actually shot and edited the series before his "Catfish" exit. 

Joseph was commissioned to create the shorts by Vero, a would-be Instagram rival that promises users several things that are impossible to guarantee on social media (see: "Catfish"), including transparency, trust, and "meaningful connections." In an ironic twist, if his television career exposed the unreality of social media, his film career appeared, initially anyway, to be promoting its potential benefits. In 2021, however, Joseph re-embraced his social media wariness in a new documentary titled "15 Minutes of Shame." Directed by Joseph and executive produced by Monica Lewinsky, the film explores public shaming in the 21st century, and investigates the many ways in which the internet has made the age-old societal impulse even easier. 

By all appearances, there is no "Catfish"-esque twist to Joseph's departure, and he really did leave the show to focus on his passion for filmmaking. (That said, there is no way to "reverse Google image search" a career move, so, can we ever really know for sure?)