Screens: MTV

Will Catfish Help Ayissha Find Love With Sydney...Or Is 'Sydney' Just An Alias?

Ayissha's not sure if her online girlfriend Sydney has been stalking her. And it would be hard for her to know, because they've never met.

The Client

Ayissha, a part-time retail manager/part-time student in San Bernardino.

The Beloved

Sydney, occupation unknown; when she and Ayissha first "got together," she was living in Texas while attending school, but now she's apparently returned to her hometown of Los Angeles.

The Clues

In three years, they've never videochatted. As for meeting in person: even since Sydney's relocation to Los Angeles, very near San Bernardino, Sydney's never managed to make it to any planned meeting with Ayissha. You would think the exception would be the time Sydney told Ayissha she was having surgery and that she really wanted her to be there, and Ayissha decided not to take her midterms so she could try to go: "I called every hospital in L.A., pretty much, and gave them a name; they didn't have a record of anybody with that name." SO EVEN THOUGH AYISSHA WAS OBVIOUSLY IN TEXT CONTACT WITH SYDNEY AT THAT TIME, SHE DIDN'T (A) JUST ASK HER WHICH HOSPITAL SHE WAS IN, NOR (B) THINK IT WAS WEIRD THAT THIS WAS NOT INFORMATION SYDNEY SUPPLIED WHEN SHE BEGGED AYISSHA TO COME TO HER BEDSIDE?! How does this story even progress past this point, you might wonder? Well, here's where your sympathies might get you off Team Ayissha entirely: "If you don't take midterms, you know, you can't really pass the class? So I dropped out. It ruined a lot." No, YOU ruined a lot. Also, Max just says it's "messed up" that Ayissha couldn't find Sydney, not that it's RIDICULOUS that Ayissha threw away a semester of school on a wild goose chase after someone who at this point sure seems like a giant liar, and not even one who could be arsed to Google a list of hospitals in Los Angeles and pick one to sell the lie, probably because she was sick of this relationship by that point and trying to think of a foolproof way to get out of it.

God. Anyway. After confronting Sydney about never getting together to meet in person (viz "Am I a secret?"), Ayissha and Sydney started arguing a lot and broke up...but then she started getting vaguely threatening messages from Sydney that suggested she knew a lot about Ayissha's movements and was possibly stalking her?

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Then Sydney

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sent Ayissha a new photo

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and announced that her name was actually Whitney.

The Excuses

Ayissha, in her initial email: "I was never a fan of videochatting, so I never asked. I trusted her." Uh huh. According to the b-roll of their supposed texts, Sydney's excuses for blowing off in-person meetings with Ayissha revolve around the several jobs she apparently has. And the reason she didn't make it easier for Ayissha to find her in the hospital is that she didn't want Ayissha to see her like that the first time they met -- so they actually got past that and continued "dating" for a while after that, until Ayissha got too sick of the meeting blowoffs. Why not just cut things off, Nev asks? Ayissha says the people she's dated post-SydWhitney have been "horrible," and furthermore: "She's a good person!...Even though she's a liar, I feel like I deserve to get to know the person that I was in love with -- with who they really are, though." Even Nev can barely get it up for this shit:

Gif: Previously.TV

Gif: Previously.TV

The Investigation

Ayissha has already determined, before Max and Nev's arrival, that the girl in the "Whitney" pictures is not actually the Whitney Ayissha's been talking to: she posted a photo on Twitter asking if anyone in all of Twitter knows who she is, and I guess Ayissha has a shit-ton of followers because someone did, and Ayissha's been in contact with the actual girl in the photos.

But, since Max and Nev have to start somewhere, they go to "Whitney Shanice"'s Facebook page first. She has over 1500 friends, so they start with the ones who have posted on Whitney's wall and/or are tangentially connected to Ayissha, messaging a few to tell them they have questions about Whitney. Okay, so a couple of things about this:

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I assume that Ayissha gave Nev and Max her Facebook credentials so that they could get to Whitney's page, in case she was secretive about it, which is why we're seeing that this Markeith, one of Whitney's Facebook friends, has 66 friends in common with Ayissha (and they later say Whitney probably created a profile to friend Ayissha's friends to keep tabs on Ayissha, which is how she was able to track Ayissha's comings and goings from wherever Whitney was). So at least some of those are real people Ayissha really knows who just friended this alleged guy...why? I really need like a half-hour Catfish special on what goes through the mind of someone who friends a complete stranger. What do you have to gain? Is it that important to you to beef up your friend count even if it means adding people to the rolls you never have had any interaction with, and probably never will? WHY?! Nev also determines that the Whitney profile has existed since 2010, and that in the early years she wasn't doing anything on or with it (though he doesn't seem to consider that she might have just deleted old shit -- people do) except friending people to boost its seeming legitimacy.

They then move on to PeopleSmart, where they enter Whitney's phone number and get back evidence that it's registered to Whitney Shanice [Redacted]; they also now have her address. End of investigation...or so one would think. Overnight, Nev got a couple of messages from the guys they messaged, saying in basically identical phrasing that they don't know who Whitney is, even though they've posted on her wall; before they head out, he gets a third, from our old friend Markeith. This all seems to prove that Whitney's created a bunch of fake people to make her profile look real. But, weirdly, Whitney texted Ayissha overnight to tell her she heard Nev and Max had been contacting her friends about her, so either (a) Markeith et al are real and Whitney just proved they all text-lied to Nev, or (b) Whitney just blew up her own spot by making it obvious that all the messages Nev sent to these guys actually went to Whitney, because she is those guys. Either way, this is not an evil genius who's going to any effort to hide her tracks/obviously the person who actually contacted the show about this mishegoss because she's sick of keeping it up.

The Presentation Of Findings

There's really nothing to tell that Ayissha didn't already know or strongly suspect, other than her street address, so here's where the production tries to start selling the "Abusive Whitney and her crazy temper are making life hell for Ayissha" narrative when the truth is probably more like, "Hi, ever hear of blocking? If she were trying to get at you in person you would have met her by now, DRAMA QUEEN." Also, hilariously, Nev claims they spent "all day yesterday" working on this one. If it really took you "all day" to produce do what I summarized in three paragraphs, you really need to consider whether this job is right for you.

Anyway, Nev takes ten seconds to walk Ayissha through the new information: Whitney's real full name and address. Does Ayissha want to try to meet her? She does.

Nev goes out to Ayissha's deck to call Whitney, and...I mean, we've seen some very fake Nev phone calls on this show over the years, but this is the fakest.

21:18: Whitney declines a meeting, telling Nev, "My life is too busy right now. I'm about to start a second job. I have no time for this."

21:40: Whitney says she's scared.

21:53: Whitney caves. "You know, you're right. I'm ready."

Granted, a longer conversation was almost certainly cut down in the editing, but it's not like we start out at noon and end up at dusk. Nev doesn't even move from one part of the deck to another. Faaaaaaaaake. But whatever: let's go to Houston!

The Confrontation

In a park, where nothing good ever happens, Nev and Max bring Ayissha to meet Whitney. Is she the girl in either of the photos?

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Nerp. Her name actually is Whitney, though, and while I was alarmed by how young she looks, she claims to be twenty-six. She has a bunch of fake profiles -- "maybe eight to ten," of which she claims she's not currently running any -- and while she used them to trick other people the way she did Ayissha, she adds, "I never dated them like that." Why did she lie about her real identity for so long? Whitney says, of Ayissha, "She's somebody really attractive, and I didn't know, you know, if she would accept me." Ayissha:

Gif: Previously.TV

Gif: Previously.TV

What no one in this scene, including the two black women, elect to mention is the matter of how much lighter-skinned the women are in the photos Whitney stole; it's not really a coincidence how often that occurs on this show. Not that I think Catfish is really the venue for exploring colorism in the black community, but it is a real thing.

Why did Whitney spend so much time nurturing her relationship with Ayissha? Whitney -- who seems like she's either not that bright, not that introspective, or not that interested in laying bare all her motivations for MTV -- says they just kept reconnecting and she's not really sure why. And while I was never really particularly aligned with Ayissha, who certainly didn't have to go along with Whitney's obvious lies, here's where she decides to get up on her high horse about everything and lose me permanently. "Now that I think about it," she says, "it's like you knew everything about me but I didn't know anything about you." Note: she's not saying, as is sometimes the case, "Everything you told me about yourself is a lie": she's saying Whitney didn't give her anything at all. So even though Ayissha has described herself as being "in love" with Sydney/Whitney at several points in this episode, whatever they had was obviously extremely one-sided, not only because Whitney was lying but because AYISSHA WAS SO NEEDY SHE NEVER NOTICED Whitney wasn't sharing anything back, probably because she wasn't trying to get to know more about her. "I could call her no matter what time of the night and she's gonna answer" is another thing Ayissha said earlier. So what attracted you to Whitney was how available she was to supply your needs? Sounds like a great love affair. And yet, no one in the scene says anything like this, about Ayissha's complicity in keeping the lie going or how self-involved she OBVIOUSLY is; they just let Ayissha whine on and on about how badly wronged she was. It is boring.

What about all the "stalking" -- how did Whitney know where Ayissha was and what she was doing all the way from Texas? She wasn't trying to scare Ayissha. What about the fake people who were shitting on Ayissha on Sydney/Whitney's Facebook wall, against whom Sydney/Whitney would defend her? Whitney thought it would make Ayissha like her more to see Whitney defending her honour/looks. Which is a weirdly middle schoolish notion, but also: apparently she was right, because Ayissha has been hanging on for years.

What about the hospital thing? Whitney "doesn't remember" that incident "exactly." This is so shocking to Ayissha that she goes stalking away, marveling, "She's lying!" Well...yes. That's why we're all here.

Does Whitney still have feelings toward Ayissha, even though Whitney's now dating someone else? She does. She's sorry she hurt Ayissha, but she didn't mean to hurt her. She then takes the prompt for her own sob story, and duly cries as she talks about how hard it was for her to come out when she didn't know anyone else who was gay and still doesn't, and that the response from some people she knows was that they tried to "beat it out of" her. So she's had a hard time.

There's more berating Whitney for not understanding the damage she's done, and more effort to make this pretty standard story seem more "scary" than it is, but finally, someone gives a signal to wrap shit up about five minutes too late.

The Post-Confrontation Confrontation

Ayissha sees why Whitney did what she did, but she makes Whitney tell her, essentially, why Ayissha was so great that Whitney went to so much effort to keep up all her lies to keep her. "You came along and you showed me the love that I've never had, ever, in my life," she says. It made her feel good that Ayissha was always there, and that she cared. Whitney cries, again. Ayissha looks like she feels kind of bad. Whitney apologizes. Ayissha accepts, and also tells her she was a good girlfriend to Ayissha. "Now that I see you face to face, you don't have any control over me anymore," Ayissha adds, saying she doesn't say it to be mean. ...'Kay? Each says she'll be there for the other if she's ever needed, but not like before. Sounds solid?

Hugs?

There is a handshake, but no hug.

The Aftermath

Two months later, Ayissha's back in school, and kind of maybe not really seeing someone. She's had no contact with Whitney. "Now, with relationships, I know what I deserve, so I won't settle for less." That seems like the lesson Whitney should have learned, but okay.

Whitney's enlisting in the Navy. She says she no longer uses any of her fake profiles, so it must be true. "I learned that just because you've been hurt doesn't mean you have to hurt other people."

The Life Lessons Learned

Even if you've never liked to videochat: videochat. Ask your online girlfriend a question about herself one or two times in the YEARS you're seeing each other. If your online girlfriend demands that you meet her in a hospital before her surgery, demand to know WHICH HOSPITAL.

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