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Max Joseph, co-host of MTV's "Catfish: The TV Show," says he has Manti Te'o to thank for catapulting his series into the national spotlight.
"Manti Te'o got catfished. It happens. We see it happen every week," Joseph said. "I mean it was amazing for the show, not so amazing for Manti Te'o."
The term, which refers to someone using a fake identity to seduce another person online, gained momentum as the title of a 2010 documentary on the topic. It has since become mainstream lingo and was used in a story line on Fox's "Glee" after the former Notre Dame linebacker's fake girlfriend episode.
Now Joseph and his pal Nev Schulman travel the country to film people embroiled in catfish scenarios.
"You've got the catfish, who has been lying and is nervous and doesn't necessarily love the idea of meeting the other person, but maybe realizes to some degree they need to (do so) in order to move on with their life," said Joseph, explaining the show's premise. "And you've got the hopeful, who is in love with someone who has kind of evaded them, and they desperately want to meet that person to see if their love is real."
In a recent interview, the Los Angeles filmmaker discussed what's in store for the series' second season, and why "The Great Gatsby" may be the original catfish.
AP: Why would someone who suspects their love interest is a fraud or someone lying about their identity decide to be on your show?
Joseph: Most people come on the show because that's their only opportunity to either meet the other person or to come out of the catfish closet and tell the other person the truth in a kind of protected safe environment where they know that we are going to be there and we are going to mediate and kind of make sure that the other person doesn't judge them immediately. It gives them an opportunity to say their piece.
AP: Why are catfish schemes so easy to pull off?
Joseph: The more we are involved in social media, the easier it is for someone to lie about who they are and to kind of fabricate a story about them, fabricate a life that is grander than the one that they lead. That is the story of 'The Great Gatsby,' which is a film that just came out. And obviously this has been kind of an American trope since at least since the 1920s, but definitely before then. This idea that in America you can be anyone you want. You can reinvent yourself. Well, I think that the Internet has maybe taken that kind of American idea and has democratized it for the world.
AP: What are the lessons here?
Joseph: I think it's an amazing lesson for everyone out there that you got to be careful online. I don't think the Internet is necessarily a dangerous place. It's only dangerous if you don't make people earn your trust. You can't take people at their word. You got to do a little digging and make sure to verify that you are talking to a real person or the person that you think you're talking to.
AP: Do you ever get upset with people on the show?
Joseph: This season we definitely met people who don't feel guilty at all and are doing it for really terrible reasons and aren't repentant about it. And there are times when Nev and I have gotten really angry with people. And it's hard because you want to maintain kind of an open-mindedness and you want to not judge anyone and to be compassionate. But there are some people who really test that, especially this season.
AP: After filming season one, do the stories still surprise you?
Joseph: The variety of stories in season two kind of blows season one out of the water. ... The stories are crazier. More complicated, more interesting. ... Just when you think you understand why people do what they do or why a catfish would lie to someone that they're talking to and you pretty much think you know the range of reasons, along comes a story that really turns the whole thing on its head.