The biggest lies they showed on Catfish

Catfish is a creep show. Since 2012, MTV's long-running reality series has lured viewers into the darkest margins of the online dating world, exposing a grime-flecked underworld of narcissists, liars, perverts, and sociopaths. But it's the victims — the catfishees — who really stay with you. How can these lonely Internet dwellers fall so helplessly in love with someone they've never met IRL, only to discover (on national TV) that they've been duped, dissed, and emotionally debased by some agoraphobe who looks nothing like their photos?

MTV's docu-series is the small-screen spawn of the controversial 2010 documentary Catfish. Most episodes follow a particular formula: Co-hosts Nev Schulman (the subject of the original film) and Max Joseph (who left the series in August 2018) come to the rescue of a doomed romantic, helping to unearth the unseemly truth about their online sweetie, usually with readily available technology like Google's reverse image search. Each episode culminates in a big reveal and an explosive confrontation, which often takes place outside the catfish's dilapidated house.

Despite (or because of) the sleaziness of the subject matter, Catfish has made a huge cultural impact. Thanks to both the film and the TV series, the word "catfish" was officially added to the Oxford dictionary in 2014, and it's defined as the act of luring someone "into a relationship by means of a fictional online persona." Without further ado, let's take a look at some of the biggest lies we've ever seen on Catfish.

Not that it's a competition.

Utter insanity: Artis & Jess

In 2013, Nev and Max stumbled upon one of their most outrageous cases. In fact, Digital Spy lauded "Artis & Jess" as one of the Top Ten "most incredible Catfish episodes ever." The segment revolves around Artis (pictured left), a young man who thinks he's dating a girl named Jess that he met on Facebook. Despite only seeing one photo of "Jess," Artis is willing to break up with his girlfriend (the mother of his three kids.)

But that photo of "Jess" was taken from an adult site, and "Jess" turns out to be a young man named Justin (pictured right.) Artis and Justin eventually meet face-to-face in a parking lot. After dramatically slamming his keys against the roof of his car, Justin performs an ominous slow clap. Wild-eyed, he reveals his motive: "My message is, look, you can't just f**k around on the relationships you're in" (via Vulture). Justin says he catfishes to "get these dudes to leave their steady chicks for me." He also tells Artis he can still be his "chocolate kiss"…and somehow doesn't get smacked.

After Artis leaves, Justin spouts more eerie rhetoric to Nev and Max: "Not everything is how it seems. Not everything you see, or want it to be, can be what you want it to be. And I am living proof of that. And I felt that. And I felt the necessity to put myself out there." 

Justin is, in fact, very out there, and he kicked up another layer of controversy after the episode aired.

​The case of the catfished grandma

It's a fact of modern life: Anyone can be catfished — even grandma. This lamentable truth is highlighted in the 2016 episode "Jeanette & Derick," a techno-horror story that's among the series' most haunting episodes. 

The saga begins innocently enough, with Jeanette's daughter, Shuntay, allegedly approaching Nev and Max with some familial concerns. Jeanette (pictured left) allegedly met a man named Derick on dating site Plenty of Fish, and they've been getting along swimmingly. Despite their age difference, they've even discussed marriage. Right off the bat, there are enough red flags to constitute a parade. This "Derick" has lots of excuses why meeting in person can't work. Their planned video chats never pan out, either.

Turns out the "Derick" in the photo is a high school student. Meanwhile, Derick's phone number belongs to a woman in Georgia named … Derica (pictured right.) In a squirm-inducing confrontation, Derica reveals that she dates women and only created her Derick persona to have "something to do" and "just to have fun." Jeanette doesn't accept that: "I'm pi**ed off … These are my feelings, this is my heart, you just pi**ed all over me, pi**ed all over my feelings." Boldly, Derica claims: "I'm still that person." 

Jeanette snaps: "You had me lusting on a 17-year old … did you know that? I want to hit you so bad." By episode's end, nobody gets hit, but plenty of people get hurt.

Ari, Lanum, and Max's verbal tongue-lashing

Meet Ari (pictured left), a 21-year-old who lives in Los Angeles and is entirely smitten with her online suitor. Theoretically named Lanum, he allegedly has loads of tattoos, tons of muscle, and enough charisma to persuade Ari to send him some compromising photos. So far, so sketchy … and Nev and Max come to the rescue armed with plenty of unsavory intel about this alleged 25-year-old Texan. You see, Lanum's photos are fake, and he's pulled this stunt before — on about 40 other women.

It turns out "Lanum" is actually Marcus (pictured right,) a forty-something who shares much in common with "Lanum," except he doesn't have tattoos or muscles and isn't named Lanum. "It just started out as a social experiment," Marcus says when confronted outside his house. "And then it turned into an addiction. I work nights, so I sleep during the day. It kills your social life, so I had to create something."

Episode highlight: When Max loses it and goes off on un-Lanum: "Since we've been making this show, every girl or guy that's ever been in Ari's place fears that they're talking to some mid-40-something-year-old man who's sad, sitting home in his crusty boxers, typing into the computer. And you're that guy."

John, Kelsey, and 'King of the Catfishes'

Poor, poor John (pictured left.) Back in 2014, the Detroit native appeared on Season 3 of Catfish, hoping Nev and Max could help. John wonders if his online love interest is the proverbial Real Thing. He first "met" Kelsey while gabbing in a psychology chat room. She seems intelligent. Looks cute. But Florida-based "Kelsey" is unwilling to meet John in person because of … her "body dysmorphic disorder," according to People. Though John works in IT, he refuses to do any cyber-sleuthing of his own, out of respect and love for "Kelsey." Big mistake.

Before kicking the investigation into high gear, Max tells Nev: "He must really be in love with this girl, in order to basically overlook all these red flags." For one thing, Kelsey doesn't have any other online accounts, and he's only heard a "snippet" of Kelsey's voice once. Plus, Kelsey refuses to call or video-chat with any other members of the chat room. This includes Ellie, a psych chat room dweller who now considers Kelsey a friend.

Nev, Max, and John hightail it to Orlando when "Kelsey" agrees to meet. The final confrontation introduces us to nefarious internet rogue Adam (pictured right,) who glibly refers to himself as "King of the Catfishes." He reveals he created Kelsey to distract John from Ellie — the real-life girl that both men fancied. 

"This is the kind of loser that gives our show a bad name," Max says.

Thad, 'Sara,' and all the drama

Thad (pictured left) wasn't the first guy to be burned by Phony Sara. As the corrections officer explains in a 2015 Catfish episode, he met his online sweetie during a shaky time in his marriage, but Sara could be frustrating. Every time they arranged a meet-cute, Sara had the perfect excuse for standing him up. Once, she'd had a seizure. Another time, her ex-boyfriend had popped 'round and kidnapped her. These little white lies prompted Thad to investigate Sara, and he discovered someone named Ashley has stolen Real Sara's photos. For quite some time, Ashley's been using those photos to deceive men.

It's not long before the whole gang — Nev, Max, Thad, and Real Sara — are headed to Oklahoma to confront Phony Sara, hitherto referred to as Extremely Troubled Ashley (pictured right.) "This has been a way of not owning up to my own problems," Extremely Troubled Ashley reveals. "Most of my life I've had a weight problem, and I wish I could be someone almost completely different."

This has a startling impact on Real Sara, who leaves the scene to collect herself. She tells Max: "I know we look like two different people, but I want to tell her, 'I know how you feel.'" Sara tells Extremely Troubled Ashley that she should never feel like she's "not enough." It seems like a major psychological breakthrough… but nerp: This Ashley person reportedly continued using Sara's photos after the filmed confrontation.

Still… that's almost moving, right?

​Zac conned more than 400 women

This is the alarming true story of a young man named Zac who somehow manages to con approximately 400 women into sending compromising photos to him. Our introduction to Zac begins when a single mother of two approaches Max and Nev with deep suspicions about her online paramour, "Lucas." Jayme met "Lucas" on a dating app, but subsequently discovered his photos were fake by using Google's reverse image search.

That's when Urszula enters the picture. Urszula reaches out to Jayme because she'd also been flirting with "Lucas" online and came to learn he's a dirty little liar. Urszula and Jayme both sent nude pics to "Lucas," and "Lucas" promised to move to each woman's hometown so they could live happily ever after. Of course, "Lucas" subsequently peaced out on both Jayme and Urszula. Later in the episode, yet another woman materializes: Yes, Sarah is also an unwitting victim of so-called Lucas' caprices.

To make a long, sleazy story short, "Lucas" is the aforementioned Zac. As Reality Blurred reports, during a confrontation among Jayme, Urszula, Sarah, Max, Nev and Zac, it's revealed that Zac flirted with hundreds of women, collecting their photos and keeping copious notes about each mark. He assures everyone he's "deleted" the photos, but there they are actually saved on his phone. As the disgusted crew leaves the premises, Zac pulls a deeply insincere: "Miss you all."

​Antwane, Tony, and OMG

Meet sweet Antwane (pictured.) This Cincinnati resident only craved love, but he'd never landed a real relationship. Instead, he spent three long years pursuing "Tony," a person he'd a met on one of those phone lines that promises to hook you up with hot singles in your area ($2.99 a minute.) His cousin Carmen contacted Nev and Max, sharing her concerns that Antwane was being conned by "Tony."

As People reports, Carmen had very good reason to suspect Tony wasn't who he seemed. Tony remained tight-lipped on personal details. He wouldn't even share a personal photo with Antwane, yet Tony assured the smitten fellow that he was very tall and quite muscular. That seemed to be enough for Antwane.

For much of the episode, it looks like Antwane's virtual lover is an incarcerated convict. This turns out to be less of a catfish, and more of a red herring. After Max, Nev, Carmen, and Antwane visit three locations, they're still no closer to the truth. Suddenly! Carmen causes the Earth to spin off its axis by sharing a shocking revelation: She's Tony. She flirts on the phone with Antwane in her deep, sexy "Tony voice." She has a motive, too: Antwane once teased Carmen about her weight in front of the whole family.

"There was a house full of people when he did me," Carmen quips after the big reveal. "So there's a world full of people when I did him."

​Cassie, 'S-Killa,' and serious pants on fire

"I need help meeting my fiancé."

So begins Cassie's plea to Nev and Max, and they're quite eager to help. After all, Cassie's been in a downward spiral ever since the murder of her father in 2010. Still, one shining beacon of hope peeked out from all this darkness: Cassie (pictured left) owned a cache of six photos of "Steve," her online love. He was allegedly an aspiring rap artist with rippling abs who performs under the stage name S-KILLA.

Cassie didn't want to scour the internet for intel on Steve, insisting that she "trusts him" and doesn't "want to be FBI." It only takes Nev and Max a few minutes on Google Image to discover the alleged Atlanta-based rapper S-KILLA isn't who he claims to be. In fact, the images apparently belong to a male model, and his wildly wack rap songs are the work of "Ynotparty," the moniker adopted by a certain Tony … who just so happens to be the cousin of Cassie's best friend, Gladys (pictured right.) It's a tangled web of lies, complete with terrible rap music.

Gladys created "Steve" so her BFF didn't "screw up [her] life forever" by getting pregnant by some soused rando. This revelation makes Cassie retreat into a car to scream uncontrollably. Cassie winds up forgiving her friend the next day: Though she was "a lil' mad," she "couldn't ignore the fact that [she's] a better person than she was before [Steve]."

Producers reportedly cast the liars first

It's not a bad idea to break down some of the inherently deceptive ways Catfish is presented to audiences. As we mentioned earlier, episodes typically open with Nev (pictured right) and Max (pictured left) mulling over an email they allegedly received from someone looking to connect with an elusive online love interest. 

In reality, it's usually the catfish who approaches producers first via an online application. An anonymous former Catfish cast member (and catfisher) revealed to Hollywood.com: "You know how they said that [the catfishee] had reached out to them? I don't know why they put that in there because it's not even true. It was actually me that reached out to them." Another anonymous source (who also appeared on the show) told the gossip site: "Really, I'm just frustrated that people don't know the whole story."

In fact, the online Catfish casting application even includes the question: "Are you keeping a secret from your Internet crush that you're dying to confess?" In 2014, the show's executive producer, Marshall Eisen, told Vulture: "It's often the catfish we hear from first because they're looking to unburden themselves. It's not always the case, but it probably happens more than people realize." In his opinion, it's not all that important whether they hear from the catfisher or catfishee first "because we're not doing an ambush show."

​Hosts reportedly don't know the catfishers' identity…but producers do

Of course Catfish is contrived. After all, the catfishers are already mic'd when Nev and Max arrive at their front porch with their emotionally battered internet victim, but if MTV execs can be believed, Nev and Max are truly left to their own devices and have to crack each mystery from episode to episode. Meanwhile, the producers know the whole story from the get-go. 

Speaking to Entertainment Weekly in 2013, one insider explained the working process like so: "We have erected a complicated Chinese wall between the [production] office in L.A. and the team that's out in the field." The production office reportedly tracks down the potential catfisher, and a private investigator performs a background check. Finally, a psychologist supposedly conducts a few tests on the person. According to this insider, "That's when we turn Nev and Max loose, give them a name, and they start their journey from scratch."

Marshall Eisen, the show's executive producer, told Vulture in 2014: "Our whole mantra for the guys is, 'If you can't figure it out, just go with it and see where it takes you. … It's a total surprise to them what's going to happen. Sometimes they get really flustered by what they see."

As do audiences. Trust.