Catfish Faces Botched By Nature In The Battle Of The Traveling Life-Changers
Two sets of urban gentlemen travel to the flyovers to change lives -- one via plastic surgery, one via image search. Who does it better?
At face value, Catfish and Botched By Nature have little in common. Of course we're all familiar with Catfish, an MTV gold mine that began as a feature-length documentary film on internet fakery and is now in its fifth season of unmasking online deceptive suitors. By comparison, Botched By Nature -- in which the doctors make house calls across the country in a spinoff of the plastic surgery repair show Botched -- is only a couple of episodes along. But I'd be willing to bet that the folks behind BBN were influenced, overtly or subliminally, by several aspects of the venerable Catfish, as the two seem to share some significant DNA...enough that a Show Down seems in order.
Now, grab your neck pillow, fire up Google image search, and please change into this gown (opening goes in front). Let's begin!
Which hosts have the most impressive (TV) résumés?
While Catfish's Nev Schulman and Max Joseph have been at their current gigs for a good long while, BBN's Paul Nassif and Terry Dubrow also boast impressive creds, and I'm not even talking about how they both made it through med school before Schulman or Joseph started growing body hair.
Outside Catfish, Schulman's only other career accomplishment appears to be Suspect, a show so successful that Schulman doesn't even mention it on his self-penned biography. Joseph's directorial debut, We Are Your Friends, is notable only for its ignominious box office.
Though BBN's progenitor Botched premiered in 2014, its surgeons had been popping up on television for over a decade -- most significantly as spouses in the Real Housewives franchises. Nassif was on the first three seasons of Beverly Hills with his ex Adrienne Maloof, while Dubrow remains a fixture on Orange County beside his wife Heather.
But how much sparkle does being on a Housewives series get you in this day and age, when it seems like everyone and his brother's been on one of those shows? Schulman and Joseph are on the front lines of a show that became enough of a juggernaut that everyone says "Catfish" any time they're discussing online skullduggery. They even changed the dictionary!
Which show gives the most "local flavor"?
In both Catfish and BBN, our hosts cross the U.S. to visit people who've begged for their help -- on Catfish, typically someone seeking the truth about a loved one; and on BBN, those seeking surgery for a disfigurement. But you can't talk to internet dummies and people with a third arm growing out of their forehead all the time, right? Sometimes, you gotta take in the sights.
I have always appreciated that many of Catfish's investigations take place in what's clearly a locally-owned coffee shop, as opposed to a sponsored chain joint (Walmart's Catfish Cafe, anyone?). But that's often where the local juice ends, as most of the non-interview footage seems to take place in an indistinguishable series of two-star hotels.
Dubrow and Nassif, on the other hand, take full advantage of the settings they find themselves in. For example, while in a rural locale, Nassif (who, humorously enough, is not the breast guy -- that's Dubrow) confesses to a lifelong desire to milk a cow, and so they do.
And when in Las Vegas, the two go to one of Nassif's chain of frozen yogurt shops (idk you guys), where Dubrow demands nearly every item on the menu, then tears into it all like a bear just out of hibernation.
Sorry, Nev and Max, I get plenty of crappy hotels in my real life! Give me some livestock, or, at the very least, more Alaskan bar-goers. Until then....
Winner: Botched By Nature.
Which show's guests are the most compelling?
You know the Catfish drill: Nev and Max come to town and talk to some dumbass who (the show claims, sometimes falsely) contacted them about a dubious online suitor. But I must be honest with you and say that I find many of these people to be extremely frustrating knuckleheads who make their own problems in life! Oh no, some rapper/model who friended you out of the blue might not be who he says he is? It is difficult to get my compassion up for a lot of these folks.
The suitors/deceivers are also an engagement issue, since they all seem to fall into a similar pattern of defensiveness, self-pity, or aggression when they are found out. It's like they are all handed the same script! (I do not actually think they are handed the same script, I just think there's less variation in the human condition that we'd like to believe there is.)
BBN's format is like Catfish with lipo: twice an episode, Terry and Paul show up at the home of a person suffering from a disfigurement caused by accident, incident, or illness. They're met by the person and his or her family, and are told how the deformity has affected the patient's daily existence -- sometimes by causing pain or restricting activity, other times simply because the patient believes that his or her appearance is such that they cannot live a normal life. The doctors then examine the patient, tell him or her what surgical steps (if any) they can take to treat the issue, and head out.
In some cases, you might think "ugh, this is not that big a deal," like in the case of this woman's weird toe.
Does that toe look funky? Yes. Would it make me insecure enough to keep socks on in mixed company? Sure. But I don't think I'd cry about it, or argue that my toe situation was keeping me from reaching my full potential in life.
But in other cases, like a woman who was left with damaged breasts after she was struck with lightning, or a (hilarious, delightful, and married) man with in utero appearance issues that lead people to assume he's mentally impaired, the story of how they've made it this far is fascinating.
Winner: Botched By Nature.
Which show has the greatest stakes?
It's true, without Catfish, most of the show's victims of deceit would never be enabled to confront the offender. After feeling like a fool for falling for a fake, it must be great to be flown to another city, put up at a motel, and have Nev and Max yelling at someone for you. And resolution is good.
But, come on, the people on BBN have, in some cases, the kind of disfigurements that make it hard to leave the house without being stared at (or worse). When BBN flies them to L.A., it's not to yell at some guy on an Airbnb lawn; it's to receive life-altering surgery. That's heady stuff.
Winner: Botched By Nature.
Which show has the most satisfying conclusion?
After four years on the air, Catfish can still occasionally surprise us, usually by featuring a suitor who is, indeed, real. But most often, the episode ends with a tepid conversation with the Catfish, and a follow-up video chat where everyone announces that they're doing great and got new haircuts.
The final scenes of BBN are my least favorite, probably because they feel the most fake. Following a graphic surgery scene that always seems to begin right as I put a bite of food in my mouth, we see a brief post-op visit where the subject looks so bruised, swollen, and stricken with pain that I resolve to live with however I look, no matter what happens. The there's a super-stagey post-recovery visit scene at a bar or restaurant, where the patient comes in, ostensibly to reveal the new them...to the same family and friends that presumably see them every day. Yes, the results are always impressive, but I find the fake big reveal "reaction" from the people who in some cases live in the same house as the patient to be so dreadfully disingenuous that I can barely enjoy it.
Winner: Neither. They both need work.
Which show deals with societal standards of attractiveness the best?
As my esteemed colleague Tara Ariano noted regarding a recent episode of Catfish, "this show is great at raising the issue of how people's lives can be painful if they're not conventionally attractive, and terrible at any kind of follow-through on them." Which is weird, because on paper, you'd expect that two relatively young, liberal arts-educated New York guys would be able to dance "fuck you, societal demands that people look a certain way!" circles around a couple of fifty-something LA-based plastic surgeons. But that is not the case!
While Schulman, Joseph, Nassif, and Dubrow have all developed generally solid and respectful approaches to dealing with fragile and damaged people, in the game of "look at me, I'm hideous" chicken, Max and Nev blink and mutter platitudes about society being mean or whatever.
Not so for Nassif and Dubrow, who are ready with an "okay, well, here's how to fix that" that never feels like an overreach -- they aren't telling the woman with tubular breasts (it's what it sounds like) that she'll be posing for Playboy, nor are they suggesting she, or anyone, should want to. They have a proactive matter-of-factness that cuts through the bullshit. "Yeah, he looks bad," Dubrow says in one case, "and he'll never look perfect, but we can make him look a lot better."
Can you imagine Nev and Max having the balls to acknowledge that someone is ugly? No, you cannot, and of course, Nev and Max aren't plastic surgeons, and if either of those guys dared to make a suggestion about how someone might change his or her physical appearance, my virulently angry tweets would likely get me banned from the platform forever. But that doesn't mean the two of them can't look straight into the eyes of a guest who feels his or her appearance isn't good enough, listen fully to what the guest has to say, and to use the platform they have to give more of a voice to why some people who have dark skin, or are a certain size, or whatever else (though it's usually one of those two things, sad to say) feel that the only way they can get even fleeting affection is by pretending to be someone else.
Winner: Botched By Nature.
What a wonderful world we live in, where you can find two shows involving teams of men visiting small towns to change residents' lives -- and playing on the same night, no less! And with current television technology, there's no reason you can't watch them both. But if this were twenty years ago and you had to pick...well, the online networks that are the reason Catfish exists wouldn't, so never mind.
But, seriously. Even Nev and Max seem over their gig, visibly rolling their eyes as they launch into yet another (likely Production-created) email from a Catfish-ee seeking her Catfish. Compare that to the visible excitement and enthusiasm Terry and Paul demonstrate as they discuss the case in the car, examine the patient in his or her home, and tackle the tough case in the surgical theatre, and the winner is clear.
Winner: Botched By Nature.
For Booze Week, we ask:
What would cocktails named after the hosts of Botched By Nature and Catfish contain?
- The Dr. Terry Dubrow: Diet Slice and Midori on the rocks, twist of pomelo
- The Dr. Paul Nassif: Two shots mezcal blended with a scoop of rum raisin ice cream, serve with boba tea straw
- The Max Joseph: Dewar's Highlander poured from a Deanston Highland Single Malt bottle, hard pretzel garnish
- The Nev Schulman: Big glass of warm Pumpkin Spice Kahlúa poured from that bottle some asshole brought to a party you threw in 2013