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The Story Behind ‘Catfish’

The Story Behind 'Catfish'“To think about the definition of ‘Catfish,’ it’s really anybody that is willing to take a risk, push the envelope, leave their comfort zone.”
~ Nev Shulman

Nev Shulman, a 20-something photographer from New York City, was heartbroken to discover that the girl he was falling for online was actually a disturbed, middle-aged mother who took on the role of several false personas. Catfish, the 2010 documentary that featured Nev’s journey, encouraged others to share stories of their own. “Catfish,” the television show, debuted this past November on MTV; Nev and his filmmaker friend, Max Joseph, travel around the country to help those involved in online relationships meet face-to face.

The catch? They all hope that the person they’ve emotionally invested in is who they say they are.

Spoilers below, so stop reading if you don’t want to know what the series is about.

What I’ve personally found interesting is getting a glimpse into what’s really occurring behind the scenes. Why do some people feel the need to pretend that they are someone else, or why promote other levels of deception? And why does the person on the other end want to believe that it’s all true?

The very first episode features Sunny, a 21 year-old college student, who fell in love with Jamison after talking online for several months. They phoned, e-mailed, texted, and even went as far to discuss a future together, children included. He portrayed himself as a model, a television writer, and an aspiring anesthesiologist. Too good to be authentic?

“I bet everything in my life on this,” Sunny told Nev. Nev and Max researched Jamison’s history and discovered that basic aspects of his life simply did not check out. For one, his claim to writing cue cards for Chelsea Handler is dismissed as soon as it’s uncovered that cue cards on the Chelsea Handler show don’t even exist.

Finally, they organize a meeting in person, only to unfortunately realize that he is a she (Chelsea), who was impersonating this gorgeous boyfriend-figure the entire time. “I made a Facebook to get revenge, and it turned into something it wasn’t supposed to,” she said. This 18-year-old girl has been Jamison for four years (it turns out, he is real, and she’s been using his actual photos to carry out the charade).

Why did she do it? My favorite part of the Catfish episodes is when Nev plays the role of therapist. He sits down with Chelsea, as she candidly opens up about her past and being bullied by her peers. By creating a fake identity, she felt she was able to exert control via taking advantage of someone else.

I thought it was so sad that Chelsea was picked on to such an extreme, and she didn’t even wish to be herself anymore. However, Nev reminds her that even as “Jamison,” she was still able to get along with those she’s befriended; all those great qualities really did come from her true self.

Sunny was devastated when she found out that her love interest was not who she thought, yet she decided to honestly believe in what she was told during their interaction together. Nev, who had his own share of heartbreak over his failed online relationship, shares why he so readily took the bait. “There was definitely an aspect of me wanting to believe,” he said in an interview with The Jewish Chronicle Online. “It was flattering, it was interesting, and (Meghan) was much more fun than all the women I knew.”

“Catfish” airs on MTV on Monday nights at 11/10 Central.

The Story Behind ‘Catfish’

Lauren Suval

Lauren Suval studied print journalism and psychology at Hofstra University, and she is a writer based in New York. Her work has been featured on Thought Catalog, Catapult Community, and other online publications. Lauren's e-book “Coping With Life’s Clutter” and her collection of personal essays, “The Art Of Nostalgia,” can both be found on Amazon. Lauren's latest E-Book, "Never Far Behind," a collection of poetry, is available on Smashwords, Apple Books, Barnes and Noble, and Kobo. She loves to be followed on social media, including her Facebook Writing Page,

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APA Reference
Suval, L. (2018). The Story Behind ‘Catfish’. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 30, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 20 Dec 2012)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.