A series of unexpected twists made a filmmaker one of reality TV's most interesting people
This story appears in TheWrap's EmmyWrap Reality Issue.
With a second season of MTV's "Catfish: The TV Show" debuting Tuesday at 10/9c, Nev Schulman has become one of reality television's most interesting people. He has seen himself catapulted from indie documentary filmmaker to TV's most well-known internet scam buster/matchmaker.
His reality career was created and then boosted by serendipitous story turns, beginning with the success of "Catfish," the 2010 doc in which Schulman's brother Ariel and friend Henry Joost filmed his online romance with a woman who turned out to have created a fake identity.
The MTV reality series of the same name, in which Shulman and Max Joseph (pictured) travel the country arranging in-person meetings between folks engaged in online-only romances, debuted last November to some buzz.
It had a further spotlight shone on it in January, when college football player Manti Te'o's online romance was revealed to be a sham. The show's ratings rose 30 percent with the news, and Nev found himself in great demand by reporters seeking his explanation for how such a thing could happen.
Had you ever planned to have a career in reality TV?
I never thought this would be the career path that I would end up taking. The movie came as a big surprise, and its success was also very unexpected.
The TV show sort of hatched organically from that. And now that I'm part of the entertainment industry, I feel a lot more opportunity to continue doing that, but it was never anything that I pursued initially.
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Some viewers wonder if your stories are doctored, since reality shows already carry with them the suspicion that they're scripted. How do you deal with that?
For those people who don't think the show's legit, I need only to point to Manti Te'o as a case study to prove that this is a very real thing. It's happening frequently, and basically if you turn your cameras on and go out in the world looking for it, it's there. We didn't have to script it; we didn't have to make anything up. It found us.
When the Te'o story broke, you began to investigate his case. What was it like to compete with the press at the time?
I had an interesting leg up, in a small way, because I had received correspondence from some of the people who had been involved in the story. Months earlier, they had reached out to me, prior to any of the news happening. Unfortunately, I hadn't seen those emails because they had been buried under many other emails similar in nature. But when the story broke, I reached back out to those people, and I definitely had an interesting inside angle.
But in the end, I didn't have much of an advantage over the press except that a tremendous amount of people reached out to me when they heard about the story because they thought they were in communication with or “being catfished” by the same person. That's when everybody started to realize this was not some small, strange, once-in-a-while kind of thing.
Do you plan on expanding into other reality series?
The exciting thing right now is that I'm speaking at a lot of schools, colleges and universities and not just about the show and my experiences in the film. Generally, more about the best practices in being online and protecting yourself and being accountable and honest. Sort of the unofficial rules of the internet that no one seems to have been able to establish yet.
But yeah, I'm definitely interested in working on more shows as a host and also as a producer. I think it's a field I'm well suited for.