'Tiger King' helped me escape reality for 24 hours

You thought your life was crazy? Look at Joe Exotic's

I thought I had seen it all on Netflix. From true crime documentaries to cheesy Korean dramas, I ticked off most boxes on the streaming site's catalogues. 

Given my current circumstance of having to stay home, I was worried there was nothing for me to watch — no new binge to breeze through. 

But then, I saw his blond mullet. Joe Exotic's choppy bangs and silver earrings caught my eye, causing me to scroll over the title, "Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness." 

The trailer began to play and within seconds, I was hooked. That intrigue took over my life for the next 24 hours as I watched the entire series in that time. 

If you haven't scrolled through Twitter or looked on Buzzfeed's homepage lately, "Tiger King" is an original, limited series on Netflix that chronicles the life of American zookeeper Joe "Exotic" Maldonado-Passage. 

After its premiere on March 20, the series took the U.S. by storm and still holds a spot in Netflix's Top 10. Nielsen estimated that "Tiger King" yielded 34.3 million viewers within the first 10 days of its release. 

But what is so interesting about a zookeeper? How is Exotic's life different from that of anyone else in the business? 

Two words, one name — Carole Baskin. The pair's feud over animal injustice creates the most insane circumstance you could ever imagine. 

"It's not every day that a zookeeper went to prison for murder-for-hire," said John Reinke, former G.W. Zoo manager, in the Netflix trailer for the show. 

While watching, my parents and I were left gobsmacked, as our jaws dropped with each revelation uncovered on the show. From the conspiracy theory that Baskin fed her husband to the tigers and Exotic's various attempts at running for government office, "Tiger King" seemed more like fiction rather than fact. 

I was enthralled and could not peel myself away from the television screen. At that moment, the outside world was not on my mind. Instead, I was transported into a world of lions, tigers, but sadly no bears.

You thought your life was crazy? Look at Joe Exotic's. 

Life in Wynnewood, Oklahoma, was anything but picturesque. Exotic's employees at the G.W. Zoo lived in trailers with rats and without air conditioning, even though the temperature would reach above 90 degrees. They procured expired meat off of a truck from Walmart, and instead of feeding it to the animals, they kept some for themselves. 

The people Exotic is connected with, who make up the cast involved in the show, are often exactly like what you would expect when you see them. However, they still have a degree of complexity to them — they are flamboyant and animated, keeping the show lively. 

Whether it is Bhagavan "Doc" Antle, a fellow big cat keeper, or Jeff Lowe, a shady businessman, they constantly surprise you with each episode. You think you know their true character, but you could not be more wrong. 

And Exotic is truly the king of them all. Everything about him is over-the-top, and his shimmering shirts and so-called budding music career are the cherry on top. 

The more you watch, the less likely it is that you'll be able to step away. After binging the first three episodes, I was eager to finish the whole thing. The moment I woke up the next day, I practically begged my parents to stop what they were doing just so we could watch "Tiger King" together. 

I was searching facts and watching WatchMojo.com videos to catch up on all things related to the series. As long as I was only focusing on this show, I did not have to think about the pandemic occurring outside my door. I could escape the hectic reality for an even more absurd alternative.

Everything about the show seemed unreal. It was a train wreck I couldn't take my eyes off of. 

I became Charlie from It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, stressing over the existence of Pepe Silvia. I practically had a board covered in papers and red strings to connect the dots of the who-done-its presented in "Tiger King." 

Was Exotic really framed? Why do they keep talking about Travis in past tense? Will John Finlay ever get new teeth? 

These questions and more flooded not only my mind, but those of others, including Cardi B. 

No matter who you are, if you watched "Tiger King," you were probably consumed by the plot, unable to break away to do anything other than sit and watch the chaos ensue. 

The show might be over, but the story seems never-ending, with controversies about the show's characters continuously coming to light. With a fictional depiction of the show's events in the works, who knows what's next for Joe Exotic?  


Reach the reporter at omunson@asu.edu and follow @munson_olivia on Twitter. 

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