Because the entire concept of the MTV reality series Catfish: The TV Show—investigating and uncovering the deceptions of devious people in Internet-born romances—is based on the big twist ending of the documentary, it's not much of a surprise when MTV follows an online relationship and it turns out that someone fabricated their online identity, looking nothing like the hot person in the photos on their Facebook profile. But the show still has an element of mystery, namely: How do fours and sixes become convinced that tens have fallen in love with them?
While Catfish the film explores questions of identity, deception and the authenticity of human connections made through modern technology, the TV show is steeped in something a little more interesting: the immense powers of hubris and delusion. And it puts shallow people on blast way more than the liars who duped them.
It's one thing for regular-looking people to think that super gorgeous models they've met online have taken an interest in them. But how can they not even slightly question it? Like, why, if someone is so conventionally attractive (and has a great personality to boot), would they need to turn to strangers on Facebook for a love connection instead of say, going to a bar? Why is this person so cagey and unwilling to meet up in real life after months—sometimes years—of correspondance?
It's totally understandable why a person would lie about what they look like. What's not understandable is why, in this day and age, someone wouldn't do a simple Google search to check out the background on an Internet stranger. Isn't that standard dating protocol for any kind of new relationship? And why aren't they utilizing Skype and Face Time and all the other technological advances that make long-distance relationships more manageable?
The answer all of these is probably that they don't really want to. It feels better to just believe that a gorgeous person loves you. It's the ultimate flattery. Undoubtedly, the fantasy isn't limited to being with someone who is super hot; it's as much about fantasizing that you're hot enough to be with a hot person. This was the case with Sunny, a young woman featured on the first episode of the show who had exchanged "I love yous" with a male model named Jamison who was going to school online to become an anesthesiologist. Oh and he also is a writer for Chelsea Lately.
"He's so smart," Sunny said. Something that she, evidently, is not.
Jamison is really a male model and is seriously gorgeous. He is clearly out of Sunny's league. He's also not the person with whom she was speaking. His identity was stolen by a teenage girl named Chelsea who used his name and photos to create a fake profile on Facebook as a way to explore her sexuality. (She has since come out of the closet.) Sunny was mortified, as she should have been. But instead of being mad at herself for being so naive, she was mad at Chelsea for being "a lesbian or something."
Then there was Trina, a 24-year-old female stripper from Maryland who fell in love with a male stripper named Scorpio. They'd had a relationship for over a year, and he'd only sent her three pictures, all shirtless professional portraits that highlighted his washboard abs. When she found out that the man with whom she'd had so many daily intimate phone calls and text exchanges was actually an out-of-shape, regular-looking guy named Lee, Trina wasn't as bothered by his lies (about his age, location, career, and number of children he had) as she was by his true physical appearance.
Trina's friend pointed out how shallow she was being about the man she had previously claimed to love, asking her, "But what if he really does care for you? What if he really is a sweetheart?" But Trina didn't have a decent response. Ultimately, it seemed like she preferred being in fake relationship with three hot pictures than a real one with someone not conventionally attractive. But honestly, you see dating situations like Trina and Lee all the time. She isn't beyond his reach, looks-wise, although for some reason, the both of them had become convinced of the opposite.
Matt and Kim had one of the sadder stories. They began their relationship 10 years ago, before Facebook and all of that. But he never wanted to meet and Kim knew that was weird. Still, she never cut off ties with him, and they talked about how much they loved each other, even though she was in a serious real life relationship with another guy, unbeknownst to Matt. The truth of it is that Matt had only been showing her old pictures from when they first began speaking, because over the years, he'd gained a significant amount of weight, several hundred pounds. He was too embarrassed to show himself to this girl that he loved.
Kim ultimately decided to not take their relationship to the next level. It was pretty clear that if he had been more appealing to her, physically, she would've gone for it. The irony is that in the time since they had begun corresponding, she had gained 160 pounds herself.
Technically, because he hadn't lied about who he was, but just used the most flattering pictures available, Matt isn't a "catfish," which is a term that the show's host and producer Nev Schulman is trying to make happen to describe "someone who pretends to be someone they're not using Facebook or other social media to create false identities, particularly to pursue deceptive online romances." Nobody used that term before the documentary came out, and nobody has really used it since, mostly because that's not even what it meant in the film. The term was actually in reference to a parable told in the movie about cod and Asia and keeping people on their toes. It's super convoluted, but two people who have never made any other entries on Urban Dictionary made sure to add these definitions of "catfish" shortly before the film's release.
It's appropriate and very meta. The Internet is the perfect tool to will something—be it a colloquial term or romantic relationship—into existence through the power of suggestion.