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Will Catfish Help Marvin & Austin Go From Grindr To Grinding (on each other)?

Marvin just returned from basic training in the National Guard and is new to Joplin, Missouri. Will Catfish help him figure out how the model he met through Grindr has been so hard to meet in person?

Absent from this episode is Nev, on parental leave with his brand-new daughter Cleo.

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UGH, FINE, SHE'S CUTE. To take his place this week, Max has lined up a "rock star" (if you say so, dude) named Chantal Claret.

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Max describes Chantal as an "old friend" of his, but whether she's actually just a showbiz "friend" -- someone he's run into at MTV events over the years -- isn't clear. She turns out to be a p dece substitute host anyway -- and, let's face it, at this point Max is the real draw of this show while Nev adds nothing, so if one of the regulars had to be out, we can all agree it's the right one.

So: to business.

The Client

Marvin, who's just completed two years of National Guard training and now lives in Joplin, MO. Okay, I already have questions. Two years of National Guard training? Google "national guard training" and on the page of results it says National Guard boot camp is ten weeks. Was Marvin doing it that long because he's a National Guard instructor? He's twenty-two, which seems young for that to be the case. Did he just fail the course eleven times before he passed it? (Based on his intelligence as displayed in this episode: maybe.) Spoiler alert: none of this gets clarified in the episode.

The Beloved

Austin, a model, also of Joplin.

The Clues

Marvin is new to Joplin -- his mother decided to move there from St. Louis and Marvin came with her, despite the fact that he's twenty-two and doesn't necessarily have to -- and took to "dating" apps to try to meet someone. Sidebar: before it was revealed that Marvin's mother was the reason he moved, I did Google whether there was some kind of National Guard HQ there that he'd been assigned to: inconclusive...

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...but seeing the proximity of the Army National Guard Recruiter to the plasma collection center suggests that both are in a neighbourhood known to locals as Little Despair. Anyway, "All the guys I encountered only wanted sex," Marvin writes, "until I met this handsome guy named Austin on Grindr." Chantal:

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Exactly. That was three months ago. Here's what Marvin thinks is curious: even though they both live in this relatively small city (population: 50,000), they've never met in person.

Here's what Marvin doesn't think is curious at all: that Austin is a model. And like, the person in Austin's pictures probably is a model?

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But what Max and Chantal and you and I all know is that this is a red flag -- and would be even if these two lived in Los Angeles. A professional model in Joplin, Missouri? NO. (For that reason, it's probably a good thing that Marvin claims Austin's looks weren't the first thing that attracted him, and that if it turns out Austin doesn't look like his photos, it might not be a dealbreaker.)

Marvin also doesn't seem to think it's that strange that one time when he and Austin were talking on the phone, Austin went to the bathroom and gave the phone to his sister, who talked Austin up effusively; then as soon as Austin returned, he asked Marvin to send him a dick pic. And Marvin did!

The Excuses

Whenever Marvin suggests getting together, Austin's at a photo shoot. Chantal:

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Marvin conjectures that Austin might be hiding something, "like he's insecure about something." Yeah, we've all read about the rampant insecurity that tends to afflict MODELS.

It should be noted here that Marvin has an excuse, of sorts, for being so credulous: he's never been in a relationship with a man before. If Marvin sounds like a VERY young twenty-two?

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He also looks it. If I saw this kid at the grocery store, I might think he was a high-school freshman. Am I crazy? ("No, you're old." - you.)

The Investigation

Perhaps because he's on-ramping Chantal, Max starts by just looking around Austin's Facebook page, which anyone who hasn't spent the past two years flunking and re-taking National Guard training would immediately recognize as a thirst trap.

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Another praise-seeking missile...

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...actually leads to some usable intel: a comment from someone named Woody offering, "Come to the salon and I'll take care of that luscious hair." Max and Chantal decide to send him a message, since he seems to know Austin IRL.

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Wait. Who's friends on Facebook? Max friended Woody on Facebook? Woody accepted the request immediately? Is EVERYONE in Joplin desperate for any kind of attention?!

Woody having been VERY EASILY reached and friended, it's on to the reverse image search. The first couple don't lead to anything...

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...but the next shows that he belongs to the #instagay community. The good news is that he actually is a model! The bad news is that his name isn't Austin Sanderson and he doesn't live in Joplin; he's Myles Sexton of Toronto, and since Grindr matches users by their geographical proximity to each other, the likelihood that he's been talking to Marvin under a pseudonym is very low. When they find his (apparently) real Facebook page, they see lots of evidence of his real life -- including his boyfriend -- and message him to let him know he might be involved in the episode they're working on.

THEN they get a message back from Woody, who says he knows Austin: "My friend hangs out with him." Max and Chantal jump into the car. To the salon!

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Me, you, probably Chantal and Max's inner monologues: "Woody is Austin." Instead of just asking "YOU'RE AUSTIN, RIGHT?," Max asks Woody to step outside for a quick conversation about it, even though Woody is clearly in the middle of working on a client. She tells him it's okay, but will his tip suffer?! (We don't find out. Catfish needs an after-show.)

Turns out what Woody knows about Austin can barely be called "information." Woody doesn't know Austin, but he and Woody's friend Kurt hang out. (In the original sense of the word: Max assumes Woody means Kurt and Austin are dating, but Woody thinks they're just friends.) "I think he's seen him at a party or something," says Woody vaguely. Seems like this whole interlude resulted from Woody's desire to get on TV, so: mission accomplished, Woody. Also, remember this?

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Whose page is that? If Woody's, why is the photo blurred? If it's so that the first shot of Woody, a heavyset man in his late forties (IF I AM BEING GENEROUS), would be a shocking reveal, why not just angle the camera when shooting his Facebook page or crop the shot?

Anyway, Chantal asks how to get in touch with Kurt, and Woody readily hands over Kurt's phone number. Kurt says he does know Austin: he and his boyfriend met him "at, uh, one of the clubs here in town." What sells this report is its specificity. Max asks what Austin looks like, and Kurt describes the guy in the photo that got the most #instagay hits. "So Austin is real!" says Max. This seems to be a tactic Max is using to keep Kurt on the phone and not evidence that Max is buying this, and it does work in terms of getting more data out of Kurt: he says that Austin does live in Joplin; Kurt doesn't have his phone number, though. Max hangs up and tells Chantal that whatever's going on, Kurt is part of it, and off they go to tell Marvin the story so far. Hey, is Max going to search the phone number Marvin uses to talk to Austin? He's not? Cool.

The Presentation Of Findings

Marvin, when Max tells him that Kurt's description of Austin matched his photo:

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Marvin when Max shows him Myles Sexton's Instagram feed:

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Oh, Marvin. "Now that you know that the pictures are Myles," asks Chantal, "what do you hope for the best-case scenario for this?" "That I can still meet this guy," grins Marvin. So he WAS really into Austin's personality? Huh! Max brings up the girl on the phone, obviously not ready to rule out the possibility that she might be the real Austin. "Whose wiener is that?" Max adds. Probably not the girl's, but then, really, who's to say.

Speaking of wieners: they've dicked around enough, so Max suggests calling the number Marvin has for Austin and setting up a meeting...except that number is not accepting calls. HMMMM. Max tries texting instead.

Inside, Marvin tells Chantal he hopes Austin, whoever he is, still cares about Marvin and that he's not "some sick bastard." He's upset about having sent Austin his pictures: "That makes me look bad. I gave myself-- myself up, you know, to somebody that I hardly know. And I know better than that. That I know. I know better." I guess I'll take your word for it despite all...evidence to the contrary?

Max is still loitering outside when his phone rings with a FaceTime call...from Myles! He immediately brings the phone inside so that Marvin can interact with him and have no doubt that Austin isn't Myles, which I think he already got, but I guess it can't hurt to reinforce the message. It's awkward, because Marvin has obviously been attracted to this face for months and still is even if he knows they don't actually have any connection, so he's still a little bit flirty. I'm partly disappointed by Myles and wish he were less nice and just told Marvin he has a boyfriend, but mostly relieved that he's kind and empathetic about this incredibly weird situation he's been implicated in without its being at all his fault.

Max and Chantal are driving back to the hotel when Max gets a call from a Joplin number. The caller identifies himself as Isaiah, Kurt's boyfriend. Isaiah's just heard about Max's discussion with Kurt about their relationship with Austin: "And I guess you could say I'm fed up with the drama." He wants to meet up tomorrow so that he could "try to explain some stuff." TWIST!

The Confrontation

The next day, the trio of truth-seekers show up at Isaiah's house. He comes out and, with very little preamble, announces, "Austin's not a real person." "I'm aware of that," says Marvin. "Now," he does not add. "Kurt is behind it," Isaiah explains. "I don't know why -- I wish I knew why. It would make my situation a lot easier." Isaiah says that when he found out about the fake profile, he "tried to put a stop" to it; he's very sorry for what Marvin's gone through.

Speaking of Kurt: where is Kurt? Isaiah says he went to a friend's house: "He knows you guys are here -- he has to know you guys are coming." I'm sure that's true, but is Kurt dreading it, or is he another "Kelsey," bouncing up and down with anticipation of sharing his grand design with the world?

Kurt's friends' house is close enough for everyone to walk there, and when Max knocks on the door, it's opened by...

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Max asks for Kurt, and Jason disappears back inside mysteriously; after a moment...

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...Kurt comes out. He's grinning and squinting curiously at Marvin, greeting him affably, but when he puts out his hand to shake, Marvin declines. Before long, Kurt is joined by Jason and an as-yet unidentified woman, presumably "Austin"'s "sister." Marvin asks why they lied to him, and Kurt chirps, "You weren't really talking to me." No one knows what that means, so Kurt explains, "I knew about the profile -- I even helped create the profile. But you were actually talking with Kylea."

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Kylea confirms that she is the woman Marvin spoke to on the phone, and in a very rehearsed way adds, "All of us had the password to the account. All of us saw every message." As if it's not bad enough for Marvin to find out these three sociopaths -- NONE of whom EVEN wants to fuck him (presumably) -- were witness to three months' worth of his extremely personal correspondence, Chantal then asks what Marvin probably couldn't even contemplate, which is whether the three of them are the only people involved. Kurt says they are, and since he's such a trustworthy person, we must believe him!

Max asks them to start from the beginning of the story, and Kylea says that originally the profile was a honeytrap, basically: they used it to catch people cheating with strangers online. As Max laughs in disbelief (at which Kylea and Jason both take offense, which is pretty rich), Marvin mumbles that he wasn't cheating on anyone. Jason "You, unfortunately, got caught in the crossfire and we started talking to you quite a bit, and, um."

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"I guess we liked you!" I'M SURE THAT'S A COMFORT, JASON. Back to the story: Kurt says he set up the profile, and adds, "I didn't talk to any of the people on the profiles," so there were more than one fake. Kylea was the one who talked to people: "She liked talking to Marvin," according to Kurt. Jason's job was to find potential targets to engage with. "Even though we have hurt you, we really care about you," claims Kylea, even spreading her hands in supplication. "That's it, that's all you guys got?" needles Max.

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Max further demands to know how many other "Marvins" are out there, and the perps estimate ten or fifteen. Hey, that's a whole GARDEN of Marvins! (Sorry.) (...Not really.) Listen, if you have plus or minus a dozen possible cheaters in your immediate circle of influence in your CITY OF FIFTY THOUSAND PEOPLE, your friends suck. Then again, if you would go to these lengths on a misguided mission to expose them, you suck too. Apparently there's an unusually high population of assholes in Joplin, Missouri! Marvin, you are clearly not very bright, but you don't seem like a bad person: you should move.

Back to Max, who asks what the shitty avengers would do when they found a cheater, and Kylea says they "outed one person." Max scoffs at the idea that Kurt & Co. would go to this much trouble to catch one person. It's at this point that Jason seems like he's starting to get a bit salty about all this...

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...so when Marvin takes over from Max to whine that he feels like he's "been tormented for the past three months," Jason shoots back, "What made you think all this was real?" WELL, JASON HAS BEEN WRONG ABOUT A LOT, but he's not wrong to ask this question. I mean, a fashion model in Joplin, Missouri? Marvin could have saved himself a lot of heartache if he had USED HIS HEAD. After a long pause in which, I assume, Marvin is internally acknowledging that JASON HAS A POINT, he yips, "I don't know, I was giving it a chance!" Marvin says it's not fair for them to ask why Marvin thought "this" (relationship? person?) was real when he can just as easily ask why they were making this account. True, but: fashion model. In Joplin. MISSOURI. Max disingenuously says he doesn't understand the question: "Why wouldn't he think this was real?" Jason, I regret to say, speaks for me: "Do you really think that somebody like that would live here?" "That's not what we're talking about," says Max. It's not, but it should be? Maybe part of the mission of this show should be redirected toward proper social media hygiene and Marvin should be framed as the cautionary tale that he actually is? Jason says he "wouldn't be so ready to be sending pictures and stuff like that." HONESTLY ANOTHER FAIR POINT! Marvin's face does not see things that way.

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"You're not about to blame the victim, here, are you?" asks Max, leadingly. "That sounds like where you're going with this, and that would be really fucked up." I hate to belabour this, but since the show does, I must: Marvin is partially complicit in his own victimization! When a hot guy started hitting on him, he chose not to ask any VERY OBVIOUS questions lest they lead to an outcome in which no one touched his peen! Which is fine -- he's only human -- but it also means that treating this as if "Austin" broke into his house and held Marvin at gunpoint until he supplied a dick pic is ridiculous. "I think that's what he needs to know," says Jason to Max and Max's indignation. Chantal says that Marvin can come to that conclusion himself, but like, if he could, none of this would be happening, which is pretty much what Jason says. Here's Max's summation: "You found a vulnerable guy who had just moved to town, you're tempting him with a good-looking guy, and you're asking for pictures -- and then you're going to blame the person you're seducing? You're shaming him for falling into a trap!" Welllll, they're shaming him for stepping into a trap that was covered with, like, a leaf.

Kylea has a better sense than Max does of how to make good TV and cuts off this unproductive exchange, telling Marvin, "I don't feel like anything we could say to you is going to make you feel better." "That's probably correct," sniffs Max, before he and Chantal usher Marvin back to the car with no talk of Couch Time. But since Kurt, Jason, and Kylea still have their mic packs on, we get to hear them discussing it when they go back inside. "They made us look a lot worse!" snaps Kylea, apparently thinking she might get the hero edit in all this. "Yeah, Max was pretty harsh," says (I think) Kurt. "How'd you think it was going to be?" asks (I think) Jason. "I mean, we were fucking with people. What do you think -- they're going to be nice about it? Seriously!

The Post-Confrontation Confrontation

Of course there is Couch Time, back at Jason's. Max serves up a softball, asking how they all felt after the previous day's events, to which Kylea volunteers, "Horrible," before claiming all three of them had various forms of breakdown yesterday.

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Jason's body language tells a different story; he doesn't seem sorry at all, really, and doesn't even so much as pat Kylea on the arm as she cries and explains that she's been "on the other end" a lot: "Most of my boyfriends have not ended up straight. I've been that cover story for almost every single person I've dated, so I had a Grindr account to see if anybody I dated was on there." To background-check them? Oh, honey. That sucks, but this has turned into an extremely elaborate way to strike back at all gaykind. Max asks how Kurt and Jason got embroiled in this, and Jason repeats the finding-cheaters line. That's where it gets personal for Jason, who was in a relationship until recently, and that it ended because there was "a lot of cheating going on." (That passive voice is a bit suspect, but we won't find out who was to blame.) Kurt also repeats that he was just on tech.

Kylea starts to lose the thread when she's asked why she kept talking to Marvin and replies, "I was trying to keep him interested enough to want to meet us in person...to tell him the truth, that the profile was fake." Me:

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That makes no sense, unless they talked themselves into the idea that they were going to teach Marvin a valuable and edifying lesson for which he would thank them. Max says it's more likely that they didn't think of Marvin as a real person on the other end of the connection and that they had fun mocking him (and his dick pics); when Kylea says that's not the whole story, Max and Chantal both challenge her, and she admits that, okay, fine, yes, when the dirty talk started, they were typically all together, and it was kind of funny, "but it wasn't fun." It was funny...work? "I don't think it's funny anymore," says Kylea. Sure now that you're on TV.

Marvin finally comes to life to say again that they were fucking with his feelings, which reminds Max that this is actually about him. He sets up Team "Austin" to promise this will end so that others don't get hurt like he has been, asking if they could leave a message on the fake profile indicating its fakeness. "Yeah, we could," says Kylea, who's crying again. Chantal's like, uh, now? I will say again what I say every time they do this, which is that as long as the account is linked to an email account that the fraudsters have access to, they can just undo whatever they do as soon as the cameras leave -- and in this case, Max doesn't even make them let him change the password to something they don't know (for a while), so it means even less than usual. But then it's over!

Hugs?

There are no hugs.

The Aftermath

Two months later, Marvin has stayed off dating apps and is being more careful. Chantal promises that the right person is out there for him and that he'll meet that person soon: "You're the best!" He may not have much appeal for the intellectuals, but sure. Jason, Kylea, and Kurt claim to be staying out of other people's business and not using any fake accounts, and what could be more credible?

The Life Lessons Learned

Don't send a dick pic to someone you've never met in person. In fact, maybe don't send dick pics at all. Don't look for real love on Grindr. Don't trust a model from Joplin.

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