It didn’t take long for human beings to figure out the creepy capabilities of the Internet and social media. Nev Schulman learned about them firsthand and for the all the world to see in the 2010 documentary Catfish, when he and his two best friends followed a months-long string of Facebook conversations with his online crush to an alarming and surpising end. (Hint, hint: she wasn’t who she said she was, like at all). Now, Schulman revisits the subject weekly in MTV’s Catfish TV show, which was just renewed for a second season. Following similar stories of people in long internet-based relationships with no face to face contact sometimes up to a decade, Schulman brings them together for final revelation and resolution. Here, he speaks about the sweet side to online relationships, whether he’ll ever pursue one again, and the reality of it all.
Had you always planned to make a Catfish show once the documentary came out?
Not at all. In fact, we didn’t have any expectations for the film more than getting into a few festivals. So the success of the film came as a huge surprise. Although, I’m comfortable saying, as somewhat of an outsider in the technical filmmaking side of things, when it comes to the film, I had enough of a perspective to know that what my brother [Ariel Schulman] and Henry [Joost] were making was special, but I never ever thought it would come out in theatres across the world and certainly not that I’d be hosting a TV show. That was never on my projected life plan.
How do you find your subjects?
Many of them started as people who would email me, having seen or heard of the film. And we connected with them, and in some cases those people ended up being on the show. And in other cases, we put up just some sort of general, I don’t know if you would call them casting calls, but message boards basically saying, Hey, if anyone’s out there in an online relationship with someone they’ve never met, we’d love to help. So send me an email.
How many people have approached you with their story?
Thousands. I mean tens of thousands.
Can you describe your process for picking your subjects?
The interesting part of the show and something that makes it sort of exciting and special for me is that I’m not involved in the casting process very much. Me and Max and basically all of the crew, we’re experiencing this for the first time. So when you see me reading an email from Jared, I’m reading that email for the first time on camera. I don’t know where he lives. I don’t know where we’re going, I don’t know any details about his relationship. So that makes it easy for me, to just be authentic and make decisions as I go and as things happen.
Why do you think so many people get tricked into these relationships so easily? Shouldn’t red flags being going up after a few months of limited communication? I think in one episode someone said they didn’t have Skype. I mean, it’s not something that’s un-acquirable.
Surprisingly, it’s not even so much the technological element that keeps these relationships from progressing. In a big way, and I can speak to this obviously from my personal experience, but there’s something incredibly exciting and wonderful about having a crush and having someone have a crush on you. And when it’s online and over text messages and even on the phone, it’s very safe and still feels kind of personal, and you can continue with your own life and doing your own things, and you don’t necessarily have to worry about the hard physical realities of a relationship–going out all the time, in some cases, spending money on dates, wondering how to dress, how you look–all those things all those insecurities and physical concerns people have disappear. And all of sudden, you’re just getting the emotional rewards of being in a relationship. I think everyone is looking for the special someone who you can have that special connection with. And if you find that connection, you’re certainly willing to look past geographic and technological barriers and hopefully maybe sometime in the future maybe be with that person.
Will you ever pursue an online relationship again?
The answer to that is not necessarily that I will pursue an online relationship, but that I will pursue any kind of relationship. Certainly, I’ll pursue something if I feel in my heart and my gut that it’s something that I should be doing. Sticking to my instincts has done me well.
How have your online habits changed?
In some strange way, most notably, I no longer have a personal Facebook page, which took me a long time to really come to. I thought about it and toyed with the idea of closing it, but strangely felt I’d be disconnected from my friends if I did that.
And were you?
Not at all. It made no difference. The people who I see I still see, and in some cheesy way, I still have Instagram, which is the preferred way to keep up with my friends. But in a bigger picture way, the way I really use social media now is to really send a message, where as before it sounded meaningless to some extent. Now, all of a sudden, I have something to say and people who want to hear it, so sort of spreading the message you know from online identity, to Internet privacy, to relationship advice, and that’s really fun for me. It makes sense to be posting things on my fan page, because those are the people who are most affected by what I say, and this is the place to share it.
Do you see yourself sticking around in the reality TV genre?
Not to sound like a broken record, but I really don’t make much of a plan for myself. Things just sort of happen to me, and that’s partly why my brother sort of turned the camera on, because I have a way of finding strange and unusual situations and interesting opportunities. But, yes, I do think there’s more to explore in this area, and reality TV is an interesting place for it, and it’s a good fit, but, of course, also making some moves into movies and into exciting interesting different genres of entertainment and information.
What kind of career do you envision for yourself?
I’m very happy and comfortable to be on camera, and people seem to enjoy watching me, so I think I would be absolutely be thrilled and honored to continue hopefully into long and successful career in TV. If anybody reading this wants to make me a judge on The Voice, I’d be happy to take that meeting.
Is that your dream gig?
No, but the idea of being a judge on one of those shows just sounds really fun.
What projects do you have coming up?
So obviously fingers crossed, season two of the show, because there are still a lot of stories to tell, and then I’ll be doing some speaking engagements, talking about my experience, talking about social networking, the pros and cons and best practices for maintaining your privacy and personal identity, which is something I think young people need to be thinking about more and more these days. I’m also really excited to be working on developing a film with my brother and Henry, who as you know are wonderfully talented filmmakers.
Can you tell me about the film?
Well I can tell you it’s a departure from our previous collaborations. It’s a narrative comedy feature sort of loosely based around the advertising world. Not much more to tell. I wish I could tell you Ben Stiller was attached, but he’s not.