Will Catfish Help Sort Out The Convoluted Story Of Andrea, Alex...And Andrea?
A YouTube star seeks help tracking down the person or people who've been impersonating her and her family online, in the process crossing paths with a singer-songwriter. Have there ever been two people less likely to want to tell their stories on MTV?!
Andrea Russett, someone I feel I must tell all my readers over the age of fifteen is a YouTube star. (Also: I don't want to prejudice you against her before we've even really started, but this white girl from Fort Wayne, Indiana does her YouTubing under the username GETTOxFABxFOREVER. NOPExBARFxDELETEYOURACCOUNT.)
"Andrea Russett." TWIST! This person no one with a driver's license has ever heard of is so famous that she's got a problem: someone's impersonating her online. Actually, according to Andrea, lots of people impersonate her online (...okay), but one in particular has gone so far as to create fake accounts not just for Andrea but for several of her family members and friends, all of which interact with each other, and Andrea would like him/her/them to knock that shit off -- particularly if whomever is behind these accounts is also the dude who, not so long ago, stalked her in real life. (Spoiler: this person never comes up again, and I don't want to be rude, but maaaaaaybe Andrea just mentioned him to make herself seem important enough to have a stalker.)
Andrea's biggest clue that this other person probably isn't Andrea is that SHE is Andrea? You know what: there's a lot more convolution ahead, so let's come back to this one.
When they get to Los Angeles, where Andrea lives now, Max and Nev (and Andrea) start this one with a classic firehose approach: they start messaging as many of the friends or followers they've seen interacting with the fake accounts to see who, if anyone, gets back to them. Right away, they hear back from a Jared, who knows "Anna" (Andrea's sister) through "Arden" (Andrea's best friend). That this piece of information is hardly a bombshell -- is it that shocking that the faker would have created an account for Andrea's friend if he or she did it for each of HER PARENTS?! -- doesn't stop Andrea from showing off her YouTube-pro form.
It's Catfish, not a Christmas panto. Dial it back.
Anyway: Jared has talked to "Arden" on the phone, and supplies both the phone numbers he used to converse with her -- both in the 706 area code (basically Atlanta where, from what we can surmise, none of Andrea's loved ones is from). Nev tells Jared the bad news about "Anna" -- kind of perfunctorily, because there's just not going to be time to break shit to anyone gently given the cast of thousands involved in this story. After they've hung up on Jared, they search the phone numbers, both of which are, sure enough, registered to Columbus, Georgia, though without any name attached.
The next day, they check to see if anyone else has gotten back to them, and an Alex Gresham has. Alex tells Nev he "used to be close to the entire family" -- very Catfish: The Movie -- but that some things transpired that led him to consider writing the show himself. Hmmmmm. And he's right there in Los Angeles! Hmmmmm! Nev and Max arrange to meet him at a coffee shop, but BEFORE WE GET THERE: the official story of this episode is that a bunch of Andrea's million social media followers all wrote in to the show on her behalf. But: Alex, who "happens" to be in the same city as Andrea, also "happens" to be a singer-songwriter. WHAT A CRAZY COINCIDENCE THAT A SINGER-SONGWRITER SHOULD END UP ON THIS SHOW THAT AIRS ON MTV!!! I don't want to say which of Alex or Andrea is more of a shameless fame whore, so let's call it a tie.
This is Alex.
Apparently someone told Alex at some point that he vaguely resembles Reeve Carney, whereupon Alex just started running with it and never looked back. "Andrea" messaged him after one of his shows and they kept talking, during which time she became his best friend, "and maybe more." He adds, "I mean, I wrote an incredible amount of songs about the situation," and the show plays a bit of the video for one, but since I love you more than Catfish does, I am deliberately not putting that emo shit here.
What were some of the issues that had led Alex to consider narcing on "Andrea" to Catfish? Let's find out!
Nev asks whether Alex and Andrea were dating; in their first phone call Alex, with a shrug in his voice, says, "Yeah?" In person, though, he backs it down to "definitely headed in that direction." But although Alex spoke to this maybe-girlfriend Andrea a lot on the phone, he never met her in person, nor any member of her extended network, though they talked about going on trips together (weird detail). After they'd been talking for a while, she started sending him her YouTube videos; when Max (knowing the answer) asks whether any of them ever included Alex's name or messages for him as opposed to THE WORLD, Alex admits, "Not that specific." They never FaceTimed or Skyped...though SHE was the one who was always pushing for them to. Also, after she started sending those videos, he noticed that her voice in them didn't match her voice on the phone. The longer their conversations went on, the more he got barraged with messages from, it seems, everyone Andrea had ever met -- not just her immediate family and best friend but also her ex, her ex's best friend, and on and on: Andrea's sister hit on him; Andrea's ex ordered him to back off. The drama was finally what made him drift away from his relationship with her, such as it was.
Every time Alex tried to videochat with Andrea, the feedback he'd get was that there were connection problems on his end. Seems unlikely, but okay. The difference between her voice on the phone and in videos was, according to Andrea, due to her having a cold.
So first, after letting Alex tell his whole tale, Nev pretty bluntly tells him what's going on and that Alex was never talking to Andrea, and considering that Alex said he had suspicions to that effect, he seems surprisingly dismayed to have them confirmed?
Here's the other reason I call shenanigans on the official story of this episode: the next thing Nev tells Alex is that they're going over to see Andrea and tell her what they've learned (nothing), and would Alex like to come? NOW, given that Andrea has told them by this point that (a) she had a stalker and (b) there are people floating around who think they're engaged to her, would they have suggested bringing some rando to her
Airbnb "house" if he hadn't already been vetted by someone responsible?
Of course, none of that makes it to air (if in fact, it occurred; of course I am just speculating), and Nev and Max show back up at "Andrea"'s laughably gigantic house with Alex in tow. He's clearly trying to keep a lid on his excitement as he's introduced to the real Andrea and Max explains that Alex was "dating" her fake. Andrea seems empathetic, but there's not really much she can say other than that she's sorry that happened; Alex is too. "Maybe you should give him a hug," Max suggests. Maybe someone who's been stalked by her fans shouldn't be encouraged to make physical contact with a stranger who ever thought she was his girlfriend? MAX? But (again, supporting my theory that Alex passed a background check of some kind before he was brought anywhere near her) Andrea duly hugs him. Still: shut up, Max.
To try to obscure the fact that Max and Nev actually have zero information about fake Andrea and her fake relatives, they make Alex tell Andrea what we just heard him tell Nev and Max, and then are like, well, nothing left to do but call the number! These lazy dicks. The first two numbers they try go to a "TextMail subscriber," but on the third, a woman picks up.
Andrea, if all your reactions are this big, when you actually DO meet this fake, you're going to have nowhere to go with them. CALM DOWN.
Nev asks if he's speaking to Andrea, and the woman on the phone does the classic long pause before saying she is Andrea, and asking who he is. Nev tells her his name and that he's from Catfish; duh, she's familiar with the show. Nev either dodges or accidentally tells the truth when he tells "Andrea" the show is working on Alex's behalf; he then adds, "I probably don't have to tell you that you're not Andrea Russett, because I'm sitting next to Andrea Russett." He asks "Andrea" if she's involved in this "very confusing scenario," because he thinks she knows a lot about it. "Andrea" understands, and says, "As far as all that goes, you have the right person." Nev asks her name, and she hems and haws and tries to make him wait until their in-person meeting to disclose it, but Nev really just needs to call her something, so she admits that her name is Zoie. Honestly, the stupid name spellings on this show. Did a WHOLE generation of parents huff glue?!
Whatever: Nev proposes that they meet, and Zoie briefly stalls before (inevitably) agreeing, so they're all off to Atlanta.
Before they confront Zoie, I feel personally attacked when Nev and Max go to Alex's room, where he tells them, "I actually woke up around 4 AM and wrote a whole song." Nope, nothing suspicious about the fact that he ended up on MTV at all! (Barf.)
Once that is (blessedly) behind us, they get into the car and drive over to Zoie's. There's even less suspense than usual about this part of the episode given that she's already admitted her name, and none of Nev and Max's sixteenth-assed sleuthing turned up so much as a single photo of what she MIGHT look like, but whatever: here she is.
Zoie starts, duh, by saying she's sorry for using Andrea's and her family members' photos: "It was never anything personal. At the time, I was being really selfish, like, that's the best excuse I can say." Andrea and Alex take turns accusing Zoie of failing to consider the real people whose lives she was messing with, but since Zoie's already admitted that she was being selfish, there's not really anywhere to go with that line of discussion. Zoie's intention wasn't to be malicious; she wanted "to find something that [she] didn't have -- put on a mask and be able to connect with people." In other words: her story is, so far, no different from 95% of the stories about fakers who aren't conventionally attractive.
Things get slightly amusing when Max asks Zoie why she chose to impersonate Andrea online, obviously expecting Zoie to say she was a fan and wanted to steal some of Andrea's glow. Instead, Zoie shrugs, "I Googled 'pretty Tumblr girl' and she popped up, and I was like, 'Okay.'"
HA! Burn. Suck it, SHITHEADxJERKxFOREVER.
Moving on: Zoie created all the other fakes because, of course, Andrea's real fans were calling her out, and she wanted to make the primary fake look more convincing.
Andrea changes the subject back to Zoie's claim that she wasn't trying to be "vindictive," but notes that she's seen some instances in which Zoie, in the guise of Andrea, was abusive.
Zoie admits that she did that, and calmly says she knows it wasn't okay.
Max then hilariously claims, of SINGER-SONGWRITER Alex, that MTV "picked [him] out of a hat," AS THOUGH. Is Zoie saying Alex was the only one she let believe "Andrea" was dating? Zoie claims Alex was the only one with whom she connected "emotionally," but that there were three others she was talking to. (So...nine?) Hearing there are more dudes out there thinking they're dating her makes Andrea mad again, or some more.
Then it's time for the shaming, as Alex gravely intones, "I've heard you when you're sincere. This doesn't seem sincere." He claims that Zoie knows he's a caring person, and that she could have been honest with him about her identity and he would have still been her friend, because I guess he hasn't been watching the show this whole time and thus hasn't seen the pile of evidence to the contrary. Zoie just says again that what she did was "really wrong": "I'm sincerely sorry that that's what happened, I can't change it, but I am sorry." Fucking Max then declares, "What scares me a little bit is how resolved you seem about all this." "Scared" seems like a little much. She went to great lengths to pull off her con, but it's not like she showed up at Andrea's house and tried to steal her face. But once Max has opened the door, Andrea rushes through: "Seems rehearsed." "Seems a bit canned," Max agrees. Guys? You fucking called her yesterday, if not even earlier than that. She's had a lot of time to think about how she was going to look on TV and what she would say when the cameras arrived. You haven't actually ambushed her. And by the way, all of that is assuming this whole episode didn't happen at HER initiation. I mean, I honestly don't know why they keep including the part where they tell the faker that he or she doesn't seem sincere or emotional or regretful enough. With very few exceptions over the whole run of the series, they're ALL sincerely sorry, and if they don't seem like it, it's because they're ALL socially maladjusted and clinically depressed -- if they weren't, they wouldn't have created false identities for themselves online in the first place! This snitting about the apparent depth of Zoie's remorse is particularly irritating given how studied Andrea and Alex ALREADY WERE in their own stony glares before Andrea had even said anything at all.
To break the stalemate, Nev comes up with some bullshit about there being "a barrier" between them and Zoie and suggesting that they pause. As she goes inside, Alex whines, "She really doesn't get it." SHE GETS IT, SHE'S JUST ALREADY SAID SHE'S SORRY 500 TIMES, AND YOU'RE ALL ACTING LIKE YOU'RE NOT GOING TO BE SATISFIED UNTIL SHE OPENS A VEIN. Alex repeats his claim that he knows what Zoie sounds like when she's emotional; Max leadingly asks if he doesn't think she's just nervous, but Alex says no, and stupid Nev, based on nothing, rules her "stone cold." Max lets himself be swayed by the groupthink that she had rationalizations for all the questions they asked, and Andrea eagerly adds, "Right away, like without thinking, she just had it ready." Again: she's had several hours, if not days, to think about what she would do in this moment -- you know, like YOU did when you told YOUR story, Andrea. Shut it, all of you.
Nev volunteers to go inside and see if they can "go a little deeper," and should, I feel, explicitly walk back his assessment of Zoie as "stone cold" when he finds her in the powder room, sobbing. When he gets her to come out, she can barely catch her breath as she tells him she's overwhelmed at the realization of what she's done to Andrea and Alex. "It hurts that I've hurt him," she says of Alex, and I don't blame her for not including Andrea among those she's hurt since Andrea's been such a rag. Zoie tells Nev she's bad at expressing her emotions, but Nev tells her this is her chance to do that with Andrea and Alex so that they will be less mad at her, basically. As she tries to compose herself, Nev tells him she's willing to try.
Zoie is still gulping and trying to settle down when all her visitors file into the living room; seeing how upset Zoie is, Andrea and Alex both seem to soften. Alex, unfortunately, goes back to droning about how it "really scared" him to see her acting so emotionless before. Let's reserve the word "scared" for things that are actually scary and not just those you feel judgmental about but that don't actually affect you at all anymore. Zoie says that seeing everyone together, physically in front of her, made her understand the enormity of what she did. She knows she "could have gone about things differently," but turns to Alex and tells him he changed her life. It kills her to know she hurt him, but before they started talking, the only relationship she'd ever been in with a guy was unhealthy. Her ex drank and was abusive with her, but she stayed: "And then I got pregnant. And then I miscarried." At this, she starts crying again, and...ugh, I hate that I'm even going to say this because if this story is true it's HORRIBLE, but this is...also exactly the kind of thing these liars say to engender sympathy and get themselves off the hook. (See also: Angela from the Catfish movie and the cancer she never had.) Either way: no one, obviously, challenges Zoie on this part of her story, and everyone feels bad for her. Zoie thanks Alex for helping her leave that guy and develop self-respect, thanks to her conversations with him. Alex tells her that he may need some time after all this, but that she does want her still to feel that she can talk to him. Zoie is grateful.
Zoie then turns her attention to Andrea, and apologizes to her and to her family. Andrea lectures her about there always being a person on the other side of a stolen photo, but she manages to keep her remarks brief. (Max tries to prompt Zoie to fluff Andrea by praising her persona as showcased in her YouTube clips, but I respect you too much to include it.) Andrea's glad they all got to figure this out, and she hopes they can trust Zoie's done with the fakes...
...which is Nev's opening for the Ceremonial Deletion Of The Fake Accounts. Except, hilariously, Max's toy camera manages to capture a shot that shows exactly how easily Zoie could just go ahead and start them up again.
Buuuuuuut everyone decides not to talk about that and act like this is definitely going to be the end of this for sure.
Everyone hugs Zoie.
Alex is definitely the best (or maybe neediest) hugger in the crew, and tells Zoie that, in case he wasn't clear earlier, he forgives her. He didn't have to do that, but good for him. (Or, good for him to play to the cameras, but he seems sincere.)
Two months later, Andrea has turned twenty-one and dyed her hair blonde. All the fake accounts for her family members are still gone. There are a few fakes still kicking around for Andrea herself, but none she thinks are operated by Zoie, I guess.
Zoie tells Max and Nev, "I haven't been catfishing people!" and if she says it I guess it must be true. She claims she's better since they last saw her. She hasn't had any further contact with Andrea or Alex because she feels that chapter is closed. She misses talking to Alex, though, saying he'll always have a special place in her heart. She ends by thanking Max and Nev for their help: "I wouldn't have done it without you guys." Admission that she was actually the episode instigator? I guess not necessarily. I think she might be, though.
No one cared to reconnect with Alex? Good, I definitely didn't.
Don't be a YouTube star.