Screen: MTV

What's The Real Reason Catfish Aired A "Midseason Reunion" Last Night?

We have a theory.

Given the intensity with which I watch and the stinging judgments I live-tweet during each episode of Catfish, you can probably imagine how annoyed I was to switch to MTV last night and find that instead of an all-new liar/chump pair about to get their lives ruined, it was a rehash of past chumps and liars, a.k.a. a "midseason reunion." Well, you actually don't have to imagine it because I was first to register my disgust on the internet.

In the annals of historic outrages, I'll grant that this is somewhere in the middle (less offensive than cookies with raisins in them, but definitely more offensive than envelopes you still have to lick -- in this day and age?!). But the more I thought about it, the more I convinced myself that there's something nefarious going on here, and I would like to share my theory with you so that you can agree that I am not a crackpot.

The fun of Catfish -- the only reason to watch, really -- has always been the pleasure of judging the people on it. This goes back to the Catfish movie, too, by the way, despite its attempts to turn Angela's grim yet ultimately pretty banal life into a grand tragedy (like, did anyone really think she had cancer just because she said she did?). Similarly, the show tries to give itself a veneer of respectability by first pumping up the mark's credulousness as romantic optimism, and then excusing the grifter's con by encouraging him or her to barf up the sad circumstances (spoiler: low self-esteem, almost every time) that made him or her fake a new online identity. The first season followed this pattern so closely that, at the time, I wondered if the show owed viewers a happy ending, just so we'd know that was ever a possible outcome. (Eventually, there were two.)

Once that first season ended, though, I kind of thought the premise had run its course. Much as I always figured that drug addicts must watch Intervention, if for no other reason than to recognize the signs when an intervention was about to be sprung on them, surely everyone who was either in an online relationship with someone they'd never met or carrying one on under false pretenses would have watched that season, right? I mean, I know it's basic cable, but still, people they know in real life would have told them about it? After a whole season of watching Nev and Max do literally the bare minimum amount of online "sleuthing" to unmask the fakers, surely there couldn't be anyone left in America who had suspicions about his or her online "partner" yet wouldn't undertake to copy exactly what Max and Nev do in every episode?

Well, I guess the joke's on me, because there have been enough lazy/unimaginative/determinedly credulous/purposely self-deluded boneheads to fill out half a season so far. But have you noticed that the stories are...nicer? There was, of course, the one where the guy turned out to be exactly who and what he'd said he was; there was also the one where the guy who had a real-life girlfriend finally gave up his fantasy of the "model" he was dating online (lucky real-life girlfriend!!!), and the one where the hot online boyfriend turned out to be the sad girl's well-meaning friend -- stories where the online deception arguably served to improve the marks' offline existence. MTV wanted so much for you to remember Lauren's and Dorion's happy love stories, in fact, that their episodes were followed by after-show specials in which they supplied even more details of what happened after their Catfish experiences. "See?" the show seemed to be saying. "We're not just about sad fat people in Florida! We're making real love connections!"

Then along comes this "midseason reunion" bullshit, in which almost all of the season's chump/liar pairs were trotted out...except did you notice how no one seemed mad anymore? Deceptions that, when unmasked on the real show, were treated as unforgivable are now just funny stories in the course of (we're supposed to think) real friendships.

And ALSO, did you notice who didn't show up for the reunion? Why, it's Skylar/Bryan, the one Nev and Max acted so superior to and the one who didn't fit the show's current narrative because he hadn't invented an alternate online persona for love or out of poor self-esteem but just for sport. The reunion featured an interview with his mark, Jen, but if you want to remind yourself of what went down between her and the guy who tricked, her, you can't; MTV took down their episode.

Screen: MTV

Screen: MTV

So HERE IS MY THEORY. The midseason reunion didn't just pad out a season that may be short because people are getting wise to online con artists' MOs; it's also reinforcing the notion that even though most episodes of the show revolve around sad, broken people, on the whole it's actually doing a service to its participants, bringing them closer together to the people they lied to or by whom they were deceived. And I also think that because they're going to run out of gullible morons soon, if for no other reason than the show's legitimately important work in introducing the average viewer to the existence of GOOGLE IMAGE SEARCH, if it's going to continue it will have to reposition itself as the thing it always purported to be: an online dating show. Maybe in Season 3, there won't even be the "investigation" element (which frankly is getting more and more threadbare with each episode); it'll just be about flying people places to meet people they like.

Will it be more boring? Sure. But if I want to judge liars on MTV, I'll still have all the trifling teen dads on Teen Mom.

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