Last night, MTV premiered the second season opener of its erstwhile docu-reality series, Catfish, the television arm (fin?) of the tiny empire started by Catfish film star Nev Schulman that now swims unstoppably, improbably on. Like the eleven episodes before it that only focused on the couples caught in the net of Internet romance (we won’t count reunion episodes, because who would?), this episode is titled after its paramours – “Cassie and Steve.” Even if you’ve never watched Catfish, “Cassie and Steve” is a strangely prototypical episode of the show, one made season premiere worthy by its even more strangely heightened emotions and situations. Sure, Cassie is now in love with a guy from the Internet who she has never met in real life, but they are engaged. He doesn’t send her a lot of hot pictures, but they frequently have phone sex. He’s in the studio a lot because he’s a rapper/producer, but his songs sound totally amateur. Oh, and he came into Cassie’s life unexpectedly after a major traumatic event in her life. This sounds really, right? Guys? Right?
Like most people who watch Catfish the show, I’m enthralled and flummoxed by the bare facts that 1) people continue to go on it, despite the fact that not a single episode has ended with both people on the other end of the modem (just go with it) being exactly who they’ve said they are and a true romantic connection that translates to the real world (a handful episodes have ended happily, but even those were first based on lies – see last season’s “Mike and Felicia” for a prime example of this) and 2) despite the show’s subjects obviously being very familiar with host Max Joseph and Nev’s methodology, they’ve never tried this stuff out themselves (the central lesson of Catfish has long been “run those sexxxy pixxx through Google ASAP, okay?”). It’s a show populated by fans that also appear to be somehow unaware of the show’s track record and major lessons. It’s like they are hardcore fans that have never turned on an episode.
Basically, they’re oblivious. And that’s the problem from the jump. Inspired by Cassie’s obliviousness (and the obliviousness of so many who have come before her), we set out to track how romance blossoms in the Catfish universe. It’s strange, bizarre, sweet, funny, weird, and ultimately wrenching. Wait, that sounds like romance in the regular universe.
How do you find love in the modern, Catfish-y age?
1. Get a random friend request on Facebook from an aspiring rapper. Don’t think it’s weird that this happens immediately after your father has been murdered in his home country and you’ve tried to cope with your heartbreak through poor decision-making. Also don’t balk at the fact that you work at a radio station and this person is, again, an aspiring rapper.
2. Don’t think it’s weird that they’ve only tried to video chat once, but their camera and microphone were broken. He knows other people with computers, right? A pal with an iPhone?
3. Exchange I love you’s! Eh, why not?
4. Ask him to marry you. Seriously, why not?
5. Engage in copious amounts of phone sex. Also, don’t think it’s strange that he’s only sent you six pictures over the course of your relationship (which has run for two and a half years). But, yes, by all means, have phone sex.
6. Email Nev and Max! Even Max, who does this professionally, will wonder aloud, “who gets engaged over the Internet?”
7. Meet Max and Nev, share your legitimately tragic story and make everyone feel really sad. Cassie, your story is tragic. We’re sad.
8. Spout reasons for not investigating your rapper/producer fiancé on the Internet because you don’t “want to break that trust.” Oh, Cassie.
9. Give the search over to Max and Nev. Shockingly, rapper/producer Steve (“S-Killa”) doesn’t come up on Shazam, doesn’t show up in Google, and – you saw this coming – apparently stole those six pictures from a clearly legitimate male model’s Facebook fan page.
10. Allow Max and Nev to come up with an amazingly prescient theory that sounds perhaps too spot-on to not be fake. Cassie, you were going through a hard time, perhaps someone who cares about you made up Steve to give you something positive to focus on. Someone who didn’t know what to do!
11. Get pedicures with Max and Nev. And also your best friend Gladys, your very best friend who cares about you so much.
12. Be rightfully depressed when Max and Nev show you their findings.
13. Let Max and Nev do some rudimentary computer scouring of Steve’s songs. Scouring that turns up a username that does have a Google result or two.
14. THAT’S GLADYS’ COUSIN!!!!
15. Basically go kind of nuts in a really believable and sad way. A way that makes most Catfish-watchers feel incredibly depressed (or, at the very least, should make most Catfish-watchers feel incredibly depressed).
16. Eventually discover that your Internet fiancé was created by your concerned best friend and her somewhat weird cousin. Gladys does all the texting (she has two white iPhones, you never noticed), and cousin Tony does all the sexy talking.
17. Freak the eff out. While all your viewers freak the eff out, too, because this is the most sad and twisted Catfish yet and why can’t people just be who they say they are?
18. Sort of forgive your lying best friend, downgrade her to just a pal, seem zen about it. Remind your viewers that, even in the midst of years of lies and delusion, there are still people out there who are open to big possibilities. And who also don’t understand how to use Google.
Catfish continues its second season on MTV every Tuesday night. Maybe one day something nice will happen on it.