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Will Catfish Help True Love Bloom Between Luis And Sydney, Or Is She Running A Covert Op On Him?

Luis wants to know the truth about his trouble-plagued online girlfriend Sydney. But is she for real, or just hiding behind an alias?

The Client

Luis, a construction worker and single father of three, in Newburgh, New York.

The Beloved

Sydney, an unemployed, intermittently homeless single mother of one, in Dallas.

The Clues

Since meeting Sydney on Facebook five months ago -- she came up as someone he might know -- Luis has seen Sydney go through some shit. A suspicious amount, you might say. When they first started talking, she was "struggling" to take care of her mother, younger sister, and daughter while her mother is incarcerated. Things got even tougher when Sydney's grandmother passed away two months ago, because now Sydney doesn't have a reliable place to live and has been staying on and off in homeless shelters the past two months. Luis wants to ask Sydney and her daughter to come live with him, but not until he can resolve his suspicions about her, because other than the Job-like calamities that have plagued Sydney of late, she's sketchy in other predictable ways. Sydney and Luis have never videochatted. Luis has asked Sydney to send him photos, but she never has. She's also never posted any photos on social media that depict her with her daughter. When Sydney told him early on that she was having a hard time feeding her sister and daughter, Luis wired her $60. He didn't wire it to her name, but just supplied a security question for her to answer.

Also, Luis doesn't mention this, but Sydney's full name is "Sydney Nicole." UH, NO, IT'S NOT, unless she's a Disney sitcom star who's used her middle name as a surname ever since an agent said her real last name is "too ethnic."

The Excuses

Sydney has told Luis that her phone doesn't have a camera. Luis couldn't wire the money to Sydney in her name because she doesn't have ID.

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As soon as these excuses leave his lips, Luis shows that he knows how bad they are, which is endearing. He also says he loves her, which is less endearing. Like, hey: I love love. But it's been five months; Luis has never met this woman; and he has children to consider. He should be more sensible -- if, in fact, he is the one who wrote in to the show which, given his general attitude of detachment, I'm not convinced he did.

The Investigation

Nev and Max start with the information Luis has supplied: her (fake) full name; her age (twenty-two); her current city; her phone number; her Facebook profile; her younger sister's name.

They start with the most obvious scrap of information: the phone number. The first database they search says it's registered to a T. [Redacted], male, in his late fifties. Max tells Nev to try it on another site, which says it's registered to a Nae [Redacted, but the same as T.'s]; they speculate that "Nae" could be short for something like Destiny...though, hilariously, that it could also be short for Sydney is not the first thing that comes to their minds. The second database says this number is a landline, but as we've learned this season, that might mean it's a web number. A third site gives them this Nae again as the owner of the phone number, but if it also reveals the origin of this phone number, we don't find out.

Having seen the same name twice, Nev and Max get down to searching Nae Redacted, and find nothing about her on Google, which is suspect in itself. But since they can't go anywhere from there, it's on to image-searching some of Sydney's pics.

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A match comes up on the first one they search, connected to a Monique [Classified]. Her profile reveals a bunch of the photos Luis has already shown them on Sydney's profile, so it seems likely that this Monique is Sydney's mask and that they have nothing to do with each other...or do they? Because one of the first results that comes back on that name when they Google it is a charge of "second degree forgery" and "fourth degree larceny and interfering with a police officer" when she was eighteen. (Which maybe she still is? That's not clear.) "This girl is up to no good," judges Nev, "so making a fake profile and using it to scam sweet, unsuspecting guys using a fake name is not something that I'd be surprised if she were doing." So many conclusions so quickly jumped to! "Could be," says Max noncommittally...

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...but he looks perplexed! "Perplexed enough to investigate any of this further?" you may ask. The answer is no!

The Presentation Of Findings

Luis doesn't indicate that Sydney's ever identified herself to him as "Nae," nor has he heard of this Monique with the criminal record and the...face he's been thinking this whole time was Sydney's. When he learns that his Sydney is not, in fact, the woman in the photos he's been looking at, he calls her deception "fucked up," though not with much energy -- which stands to reason given that their association only goes back five months. But since they have no other information to present, Nev suggests that they just call her. When they're still at the table with Luis, they get Sydney's voicemail...but when Nev and Max break for the day and are in the car about to pull out, she returns Nev's call.

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I love how this off-schedule interruption from Sydney makes them both scramble like they think they're about to lose concert tickets if they let it ring too many times. Anyway: Sydney's seen the show (I'll say; it's probably given her lots of inspiration over the years), but she's not sure if this is a good time for her to meet Luis: "I'm in a shelter?" Nev blows past that in a way that I HOPE indicates that he doesn't believe she is, rather than that he...doesn't care, and tells her about having found Monique and thus believing Sydney stole her photos. Sydney claims that other profiles are stealing her photos. Nev lets Sydney know he doesn't think that's the case; Sydney stands firm.

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Nev decides not to pull that string right now, instead telling Sydney that Luis wants to meet her, and without any further stalling, Sydney agrees to meet -- just not at a homeless shelter. Nev will accept that condition, and the deal is struck. Hmmmmmmm, I wonder where Sydney will tell them to go???

The Confrontation

In a park, where nothing good ever happens, Nev, Max, and Luis head to the spot Sydney has specified. And who is waiting for Luis?

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Hey gurl. The first question is how Nae ended up with Monique's pics; she says she randomly came across her among Likers of McDonald's (lol): "I seen that she lived really far away from Dallas, so I just kind of took her pictures, blocked her from the page." Not the furthest photo theft we've seen this season -- what up, McKenna? -- but that's a fairly smart play. Nev reminds Nae that he'd asked her if she was the girl in the pictures and she blatantly lied, to which Nae hesitantly says, "Yeaaaaaah, I didn't think, um-- I really didn't think that I would even show up today."

Things get awkward fast when Max asks what parts of the story "Sydney" had told Luis were true. Turns out: pretty much none! She's not living in a homeless shelter. Her mother is not in prison. Her grandmother didn't die. Why did she make that stuff up? "I don't know," says Nae, not really looking terribly ashamed of this fraud. "Like, at the time-- It's just hard to explain, I guess." As Luis hangs back shaking his head in mild disgust, Max tells Sydney to explain, and out comes the Catfish scammer's playbook: "At a point in time, I was just really struggling, I guess? I had just had my baby....And was like, 'Okay, baby's gonna need milk, baby's gonna need diapers, baby's gonna need clothes,' and-- And I was just talking to Luis to get him to send me money." Luis does not enjoy hearing that he was (a) a mark, and (b) so easy.

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SORRY, BRO, THE ACTUAL TRUTH HURTS, AND THAT TRUTH IS THAT YOUR BEAUTIFUL FELON DOES NOT KNOW YOU'RE ALIVE.

"That's messed up," lectures Nev. "What kind of person does that?" grits Luis. (Rhetorically.) "What you're describing is a con artist," Nev adds, after recapping Nae's actions to her like she doesn't remember what she just said, and while he's not wrong...Luis is out $60. Nae shouldn't have lied about her identity to hook him, but it sounds like the part where she couldn't pay for infant necessities was actually true; it's not like she took his three bills and played 2.4 hands of Blackjack with it. Anyway, Nae rejects the "con artist" tag: "No, I mean, because, I'm not-- That's not who I am. I basically only did that because of my situation at the time." She repeats that she was struggling, but when Max asks, she confirms that she isn't actually homeless; she lives with her mom. Her child's father isn't in the picture.

But, Nev asks, since Nae lives with her mom, her "basic needs are met"? "Yeah," says Nae. "Because of me, not nobody else." And here's where it gets confusing? Because Max asks, as a follow-up, "You work. For money." "No," says Nae, shaking her head. The best-case scenario, then, is that she's on social assistance, but that she doesn't want to say so out of pride (even though there's nothing wrong with taking it if you are in need; that's why it exists), or that the show doesn't want to air her saying so because they don't want to conflate an (extremely small-time) internet scammer with the vast majority of perfectly ethical welfare recipients? (Which: I doubt the show would be that scrupulous, but it's a possibility.) The worst-case scenario is that Nae has run this con on many other Luises, possibly for larger amounts -- but then, if that were the case, would Nae agree to go on TV with an unblurred face? Is she so good at creating fakes and hiding her tracks that she's not worried any of her other marks would watch Luis's story and connect it to her? The...medium-case scenario, I guess, is that Nae's mother supports her, Nae is basically fine financially, and she's exaggerating how bad her situation is now in order to gain sympathy, when she's clearly the one in the wrong.

"What about getting a job?" asks Max. Nae:

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Not a great answer, but also, at the same time...kind of the perfect answer. Haven't we all, at one time or another, felt that way even about jobs we HAVE? Max asks whether Nae came up with all of Sydney's trials in order to play on Luis's sympathies, and she admits that it's "messed up," but that she did. Luis, in his typical low-energy way, tells Nae "that's not something you're supposed to do," which she just said she knows. "Honestly?" says Nae. "It just wasn't about money. I mean, we talked without me asking for money. I really did care for you." Max asks whether Nae has feelings for Luis now, and Nae's like

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Got it. But also I'm not so sure Luis cares whether SHE has feelings for HIM when it's pretty clear HE does not have feelings for HER. However, her answer to Max is "Yeah, because when I talk to him, he was just a little different than, you know...you know." She thought he was "really cool and laid-back." She also adds (tipping us that she may have been the one who contacted the show), "I did really want to try and stop talking to you, but I mean, it was just really hard, because we were talking every day and everything just felt okay, I kind of, like, forgot I was me for a second." Luis has nothing to say to that, so Nae turns to Max and Nev to tell them how attractive Luis was to her once she knew how good he is at taking care of his kids. Nev surmises that Nae wishes she had a guy like Luis, and Nae confirms, "I just fell in love with him. I mean, he's great!...This is the kind of guy that I would want to be with."

Since Luis still has barely said anything, Max asks how he feels. Luis: "Like a dumbass?" Well, yeah. "I probably shouldn't have trusted so much," Luis adds. Nae tells him it's not his fault, which, duh. She says she'll still be there for Luis, however he may feel today: "I still want to be friends." One more Nae-pology later, Max calls a halt to the meeting and says they might meet up again tomorrow. OOH, COUCH TIME IN DOUBT?!

The Post-Confrontation Confrontation

Well, of course there's still Couch Time -- and actually, Luis has the right attitude about it even before he gets anywhere near Nae again as he tells Nev and Max back at the hotel, "I'm mad at her, but like, I'm a little more mad at myself, 'cause I let it get this far." YES, THAT IS HOW ALL THE MARKS ON THIS SHOW SHOULD REACT, particularly the ones with kids. I mean, honestly. Luis wants to talk to Nae some more, so off they go to her Airbnb.

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Sorry, but someone who's scamming strangers on Facebook $60 at a time doesn't have that sassy contemporary rug or cute vintage side table. She would probably have some kind of art on the wall or evidence that a baby lives there.

Anyway: Nae's still sorry, BUT! She had been nervous about hurting Luis's feelings, but when he didn't seem like he really cared, she was hurt. Luis just says he doesn't know what to believe anymore, which is fair; she said herself the day before that he has the right to feel about this however he wants, so he certainly doesn't owe her a more performative version of grief over the death of his love affair with Sydney or some shit.

Since Luis isn't really saying much, Nev and Max have to get involved and hector Nae about her sincerity. After all, she got to be a very good liar as an online scammer, so she might be lying to them, in her posture of contrition, right now! Nae:

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I would love it so much if Nae were like, "I've apologized enough. He made mistakes too. Get out." But of course that's not what happens; instead, Max and Nev harangue her about her lying some more. Nae says she might as well not say anything because they're determined to think she's lying now. "That's the problem with scamming and lying!" says Max smugly. Nev asks why they're there, and Nae, frustrated, says that since they've made up their minds about her, she might as well say how she actually feels, which is: "This means nothing to me. I guess you could say I'm cold-hearted 'cause I'm not thinking of his feelings. At the end of the day, from a mother's point of view, no matter what anybody thinks of me, if my kids need something, I can't get it at the time, I'm going to do whatever I can do to provide for my kids. That's a mother's nature, period." "Great excuse," says Max sarcastically. Nae's voice rises as she claims it's not an excuse, but this is finally what rouses Luis, who says he's been through a lot too, but that he looks after himself. "You've conned everyone," Max tells Nae, who just looks resentful, but doesn't respond.

Max then remembers that this isn't actually supposed to be about him, and asks Luis what he thinks. Luis says he thought "Sydney" was a good person, "but it's really just fake." Nev asks Nae again whether she ever had feelings for Luis, and she pivots again: "At the end of the day, yeah scam artist or scam artist [sic], whatever you want to call me, but I mean, when you are talking to somebody every day, they don't know that! So they're still telling you how they're feeling, what's going on with them, you know. So at a point in time it gets to where you are caring for them in some kind of way. Because I did talk to you about everything, and you talked to me about everything, and I feel like we kind of needed each other to get through the stuff that we were going through at the time. You really don't have to believe anything, but, I mean, that is one true thing from all of this."

Max then interrupts AGAIN before Luis can even say anything to tell Nae, "Your coming clean now is not the definitive end to this. It's totally determined by what you do after this." Luis agrees, saying he doesn't know if she'll change after they all leave: "But it's better for you, for your conscience, and for your kids to just do the right things instead of just making fake pages and stuff." Nae agrees, saying she doesn't want to keep doing this. But Nev then repeats the season thesis: "You've created a version of yourself that's so good at playing the victim that you really need to, like, recalibrate....It's important that you really, like, start speaking the truth." Nae says she's learned her lesson, and that she's never going to do this again. And I guess they must believe her because they don't even go through the charade of The Ceremonial Deletion Of The Fake Accounts. And yet isn't it strange that even though Nae says things throughout the episode that are suggestive of her having used fake accounts with other people, Nev and Max NEVER ASK HER ABOUT IT?

Hugs?

There are moderately cordial handshakes, but no hugs.

The Aftermath

No Skype check-in this time! Just Black Screens Of Judgment.

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I guess Luis really was done. Or really didn't care.

The Life Lessons Learned

Don't send money to a stranger you meet online. Don't send money to a stranger who claims not to have ID. One catastrophic life event is plausible, but if a stranger on the internet keeps piling more and more disasters onto her life story, each additional disaster exponentially increases the odds that they're all total lies. (Exception noted: Tig Notaro.) Skip the hassle of recommitting to your children after an online dating setback by just committing to your children from the start and not online dating at all!

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