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Season 3 of 'Catfish'
Courtesy of MTV

Catfish: The TV Show did not invent the idea of people assuming false identities to manipulate others, but it did popularize the term for the practice when used online. The 2014 premiere of its third season arrived at a high point for scammers who hadn’t yet been found out: the valuation of Elizabeth Holmes’ company Theranos was soaring and Anna ‘Delvey’ Sorokin was bouncing around New York pretending to be a German heiress. The year before, news broke that the football player Manti Te’o had been the victim of a hoax in which he believed his (ultimately nonexistent) girlfriend had died of leukemia. The success of Catfish—in which host Nev Schulman and his co-host (Max Joseph until 2018, and Kamie Crawford to present) investigate individuals’ claims that they are being tricked online—showed then, as it does now, that there’s something irresistible about watching a stranger realize they’ve been duped, like a cruel, 21st-century Candid Camera. The 2014 revelation that the show itself was engaging in some trickery by editing the episodes to make it seem like the potential marks initiated the investigations—even though it was often the person doing the catfishing who reached out to MTV—did not deter audiences. In season 3, ratings stayed consistent as viewers tuned in for riveting episodes (see: Schulman memorably throwing a catfisher’s phone into a river during a confrontation). Like so many other reality TV shows, the third season of Catfish, with its suspenseful narratives and compelling characters, offered storylines that audiences found even more compelling than the truth. —Mahita Gajanan

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