Nev Schulman is a man of many titles: producer, photographer, author, husband and father, to name a few. He’s most well-known as the the host and producer of MTV’s “Catfish: The TV Show,” a reality show focused on online couples meeting in real life, often revealing themselves to be entirely different people from their online personas.
Schulman has taken on an additional role since gaining fame through MTV — he’s spoken at several universities across the country to discuss topics including relationships and success. Loyola featured Schulman in a different capacity, picking his brain on ethical conundrums at the annual International Symposium on Digital Ethics on Oct. 13.
Despite all the accomplishments under Schulman’s belt, he sat down with The PHOENIX and said he feels he can do more.
“Even with everything I’ve done and everything I have and how great my life is, I still feel like I’m significantly … underperforming,” Schulman said. “I’d like to keep filling in that hole with great things that I’m proud of and hopefully, when I’m a little bit older and a bit wiser, I’ll say, ‘Hey, I feel good. I think I did it.’”
Still, at 33, Schulman has accomplished more than some do in a lifetime. He’s written a book, “In Real Life: Love, Lies and Identity in the Digital Age,” and is part of a Facebook Watch show through media site ATTN: called “We Need to Talk,” in which he discusses relationships with his wife, Laura Perlongo. His more popular show, “Catfish,” just wrapped its sixth season — a testament to the connection people feel to the show.
Schulman said when he filmed the show’s pilot episode, he thought the premise of watching him and co-host and cameraman Max Joseph talking to people on a couch about their online romances was boring. Instead, the show was a success, a consequence of the weekly mystery of the real identity of the “catfish” — the titular term for someone who lies about their identity online. Years later, Schulman credits the show’s longevity to its ability to give viewers the chance to live vicariously through the people being catfished.
“You know when you watch the show, [the catfish is] gonna not be the person [they said they were] and it’s not going to be some crazy, wild, terrible person,” Schulman said. “Once in awhile [it is], but for the most part you know you’re going to get some kind of sad, lonely person. But people feel that, they feel the temptation to catfish, they feel the desire to be catfished in terms of the emotional … excitement of having someone sort of fall in love with you, and they yearn for someone to sit down with them and talk to them.”
Schulman finds his work on “Catfish” to be especially important to younger people, as it starts conversations they might not otherwise have. He said sometimes, when he worries about exploiting people in emotional situations, his producer often reminds him of the importance of the show.
“He’s like, ‘Look, this experience for this one person will affect potentially millions of people and in a positive way. People are going to see this kid struggle and they’re going to identify with it and … hopefully something will change for them and they’ll find the help they need or they’ll tell the truth they should’ve [been telling],’” Schulman said. “And I hope that’s true. I mean from what I understand, it is. That feels like the justification we need to kinda continue making it.”
Schulman said the biggest takeaway he’s gained from the show is the power of listening — something he said his recently passed grandfather was known for. Schulman said he hopes to improve his listening in his own life, apart from the role he takes on the show.
“There’s a Nev on the show and then there’s a Nev off the show.” Schulman said. “When the cameras are rolling, it’s a job, like my job is to listen, and I’m good at it. But when it’s not my job, I’m not as good at it.”
Schulman described the double-edged sword of the internet and social media. While it’s great for meeting people from different communities, he said, the internet can be a source of negativity, such as its use by President Donald Trump.
“We’re at the climax of a viral anger. And I think Trump tapped right into it,” Schulman said. “He was like, ‘People are angry, the internet is like the perfect place to make them more angry, and I’m just gonna … feed it.”
This progressive mindset is apparent even in Schulman’s style of dress. He wore a shirt reading “Black Lives Matter” during his PHOENIX interview and often tweets about issues ranging from breaking gender stereotypes to supporting women’s rights.
When it comes to leaving his own legacy, Schulman said he wants to be a leader in advocating for social causes.
“I’d like to be considered … one of the faces of a movement that was progressive and was environmental … kind of all the things I think young people tend to be more of these days,” Schulman said. “I’d like to be thought of as someone who really moved the needle in terms of helping young people help themselves and improve their lives.”
“Catfish: The TV Show” airs on Wednesdays on MTV at 9 p.m.