That’s Enough With the Special Guest Stars, ‘Catfish’

By  · Published on July 10th, 2014


MTV’s Catfish doesn’t always save the big catches for its season finales – the first season finale centered on a tale so classic that it seemed as if it should be served with a side of fries and some coleslaw, a genuine romance marred by one half of the couple sending pictures of someone else and lying about her life (they eventually worked it out, at least for a bit), while the second season ended with a somewhat similar storyline (though this one was elevated by the revelation that the Catfisher had already run this same game on the Catfishee before) – so while we’ve come to expect blockbuster season finales from most other shows, the reality program seems disinterested in delivering that kind of television. Unless, of course, there’s a supermodel available to assist hosts Nev Schulman and Max Joseph as they go about their searching (read: stalking, Googling, making that Spokeo money).

For last night’s third season finale, Schulman and Joseph were joined on the road (and in their investigation) by supermodel Selita Ebanks, who apparently tagged along because she’s a big fan. No, really. Catfish, a show that has never really tried to deliver a truly shocking season finale, appeared to randomly do just that – but not because of the actual story at the show’s heart, but because an (obviously very nice) supermodel wanted to come to North Carolina and Iowa and watch two people be humiliated on camera. Let’s never do this again, okay?

The episode itself was relatively innocuous and straightforward (at least, as straightforward as Catfish gets) – Bianca, a young lesbian from a small town in North Carolina who is big into music and body modification, spent about five months talking to the intriguing Brogan online. Brogan, like Bianca, is a lesbian who likes tattoos and piercings and music (and is even from a small town!), and the pair apparently connected on a number of levels. (Of course, they never video chatted, but they traded tons of texts and pictures.) Then, Brogan disappeared. A year later, she came back, and Bianca was too happy to hear from her lady love again to ask the obvious question (where the eff did you go?). Fed up with not knowing, Bianca calls in the Catfish boys (or did she?).

Spoilers ahead.

By all accounts, this was a middling storyline, one spiced up by the addition of a supermodel and a random phone call from David Spade (really). Both Bianca and Brogan (who was eventually revealed to be a girl named Tia who was not the girl from the pictures) eventually went deeper into their lives – a scene with Bianca’s mom was touching no matter how you slice it, and Tia later talks about a difficult period in her early high school life – but none of that stuff got the kind of respect or screentime it deserved. After all, there was a guest star to cater to.

And, yes, it was not a salacious episode in the least (the infamous “Clapfish” episode still holds that honor) and it didn’t even feel particularly sweet (though it did seem staged). It was middle of the road, expected Catfish fare, with added supermodel.

There were some weird things about the episode, however, including a very loose explanation of how Tia picked the tattooed and pierced Chloe to serve as the object of her impersonation, if Chloe’s pregnancy had anything to do with Tia stopping the ruse for a year (those pictures would have been hard to explain), and why it seemed as if it was Tia who wanted to make this whole thing happen (a recent Vulture piece on how episodes of Catfish are made indicated that, sometimes, it’s the Catfisher who calls up the show, desperate to come clean, though the show is always framed as being requested by the Catfishee).

Ebanks’ interest in online relationships in general and Catfish in particular certainly seemed genuine, and she proved to be adept at the investigation process and asking some incisive questions (a weirdly fraught moment with Tia was driven by Ebanks, who didn’t let her off the hook when she delivered a blithe answer about why she catfishes people, or at least why she catfished Bianca).

Still, her presence was distracting (and a running gag that she was going to steal Joseph’s job was not okay), and her emotional engagement with the subjects (lots of pet names and hugging) was flip-floppy and against the grain of what the show usually goes for. Schulman and Joseph tend to get protective of their Catfishees, but that doesn’t mean that they’re constantly going in for a hug when things get a little rough – this show is not about them (well, mainly), it’s about these people. A host who interrupts a big breakthrough to hug someone and call them “boo” isn’t a very good host at all. Instead of adding emotion, Ebanks’ involvement diffused it. For a show that’s all about heightened feelings and situations, it would take the addition of a supermodel to derail that.

Let’s not do it again.