Back in late August, MTV's Catfish introduced the world to Justin Voel-Pel, a sweaty, eccentric online dating vigilante who took it upon himself to teach the episode's subject, Artis, a lesson about fidelity.
You had to hand it to him, it was a pretty clever angle. Justin hid behind "Jess," a flirty fraulein who was so terrified of her abusive boyfriend she could never actually meet Artis, despite being desperately in love with him. Artis, meanwhile, was trapped in a dead-end relationship with the mother of his young child, and was desperate for a new chance at love. So desperate, in fact, that he looked past Jess' obviously fake profile, filled with photos of some porn star, to what he wanted to see: A way out of his unhappiness.
When "Jess" was revealed as Justin, a slow-clapping madman with absolute, chilling command of the situation and crazy eyes that reached through the TV pulling Catfish's audience to the egde of their seats, well... we all felt like anything could have happened. Justin could have beheaded everyone in the park with a machete stuffed down his basketball shorts right then and there, and we would have bought it.
Well, that didn't happen. The situation defused, and Justin proved to be eloquent and charming, even if tainted by an axiomatic creep-factor. Confusion about the boundaries between reality and reality TV spread, and anyone watching Catfish that night took to the message boards and social media to ask a question they still haven't really found the answer to yet.
"Who the hell is this guy?"
Well, after talking with him, it's my opinion that he's pretty much just a normal guy. A normal guy with a lot of stage presence and an aggressive personality, sure, but a normal guy nonetheless.
I'm not much of a fan of Catfish. You don't have to be in the media to be acquainted with the pitfalls of reality TV: The questionable/manipulative editing, the admitted staging, the more-frequent-than-you-think outright scripting, etc. I even asked Justin how he got a mic on him when he rolled up to meet Artis and co. without us noticing. "No comment," he replied.
Catfish is no different. Nev Schulman's personal project has had its staunch critics alleging that the whole thing is staged since the 2010 documentary film, which Morgan Spurlock called "the best fake documentary I have ever seen."
But, a lot of people were searching for information on "Catfish Justin," so I did some research. I watched "Artis & Jess" online, and wrote this recap article in which I openly accused the episode of being scripted and staged.
I did a little more digging on "Justin" and wrote this article, pulling together his limited digital trail and the rumors being passed about by everyone who claims to have come into contact with the guy over the years. Even for the digital age, there wasn't much to speculate on.
But it was enough to get Justin's attention. He reached out to The Inquisitr, we talked, both of those articles continue to do well for the site, so I assume that you're still looking for information about this guy and decided to write another.
Basic Fact-Checking And ClarificationIt'll help if you familiarize yourself with this article on Justin before you take on this section. First, his full name is indeed Justin Voel-Pel, as has been reported. He stands six feet tall and weighs in just under 200 lbs. Yes, he used to be a model, but he tells me that his Explore Talent listing is "bullsh*t."
"I was a model before I was on TV and had to lean out for shoots, which explains why I lived like a bulimic," he tells me. "But, I never created a profile while modeling. I hated the lifestyle and kept it to myself. In fact, my true passion is the weight room, which is why I gave up that bullsh*t and put on more pounds. The leanest I had been was 160 while under ketosis and that was never documented."
Then, there's the matter of this video, which was widely circulated after the Catfish episode aired.
It's real, and he tells me it was made long before Catfish.
"The videos I made were long before Catfish. I made them on a friend's computer while living in my car. Thankfully, no one minded me coming over and using their sh*t."Then, there's the matter of Ross Reeder. Ross is a Twitter user who kicked up some dust online after claiming to have grown up with Justin. He said that they were both physically abused, and floated a very interesting theory about Catfish: Namely, that Artis and Justin already knew each other, and that they staged the whole thing to put one over on MTV.
Interesting. But whether it's true, Justin won't say.
"Ross Reeder is someone I would love to work with in the future. I've seen his work and am interested. However, I cannot confirm if I knew him before his interview with you or at any point in time for that matter. I'll leave that up to the imagination. But, anyone who shows interest in me, I have to say I'm interested in what they do, so hopefully he and I do meet."Moving on...
Let's Talk About CatfishThe only thing is, Justin doesn't want to talk about Catfish. Or he can't, because of some thing he signed (that's normal, we're not crying conspiracy here). I asked him point-blank if he had known Artis previously, and if they staged a "sting" on the Catfish crew. Here's the ambiguous answer I got back:
"I think whatever people believe is what they want to believe is most fun for them. I can't dispel any rumors because they are only that--just rumors until I say so. At this point, I can only acknowledge that I am aware what kind of people watch the show and I know what they think. I knew what they were going to think. I respect the intelligence of the small percentage of fans. But, people believe what they see, not what they don't know. They are afraid of what they don't understand and turn to media for answers. Media is a form of entertainment that pays other people's bills...it's a business. Fans are just customers. I love the conspiracy theories. Keep them coming. I can't say if any are real. Maybe one is? But who knows?"I asked if him he's crazy, what he thinks of people who say he's crazy, and if he's ever sought help for depression or schizophrenia.
"I don't believe I'm any crazier than someone who watches TV. I think that's fair. Everyone has something wrong with them. I'm aware of what I've been through so that doesn't make me crazy, it means my life has been crazy. I don't think I need help if I'm on TV, let's get serious. If you believe what is presented to you and that only, I won't tell you you're wrong. Live as you wish and make fun of someone on TV. But you have to think.. 'Wait a minute, how did he get to do that, and why am I still working the same job..watching him?' "Did he pass on the Catfish reunion episode?
"I wasn't there. Neither was Artis. No, I cannot confirm why. I'm still loyal to MTV and hope to do future projects if the fans agree that it would be good entertainment."Does that mean things are sour with MTV right now?
"I think it's safe to say most people at MTV really don't like me. I know I didn't confirm why I wasn't at the reunion before, but I can tell you there were a lot of politics involved. Not everyone would have been thrilled to see me. I'm not a guy who lights up a room. I'm still grateful for everything MTV has done. Be that as it may, I don't believe backstage politics should out rule what the fans want to see. After all, I'm here to make MTV money and I'm sure that would have been the end result. I WAS willing to do business, but I think some people took personal issues before business priorities and the fans missed out because of it. Long story short, some guys at MTV think I'm an a**hole."Is he?
"I think I'm a good person by heart, but I can be an a**hole."
Is Justin Gay?A memorable part of the episode came when Max Joseph asked Justin if he's gay. Justin gave kind of an ambiguous answer to that question, and even though we found out pretty quickly that he has a girlfriend, the question of his sexuality remained. Here's what he had to say about it.
"I questioned Nev's [sexuality] as soon as I met his boyfriend. But in all seriousness, if I was a gay dude, what do people have against homosexuality? I spend a lot of time in the gym and I've met some of the gayest people ever. I have never had a problem with someone's sexual preference. So why is that still a big deal in this modern world? People were calling Artis and I a couple of "homos" or "fags" or whatever. I'll admit I laughed at all that sh*t, but honestly if he was, who cares? Look, I have a girlfriend. But what if she had a penis and liked to go weightlifting with me and then take a nice, cool shower to call it a night? Who wouldn't be happy? You're telling me that's a bad thing? That's the f*cking jackpot!"
Justin's TV Ambitions, Future PlansObviously, Justin was/is hoping to parlay Catfish fame into a TV career. He admitted as much to me:
"I wish to pursue a career in TV. After all the publicity that erupted and all the wallets I filled, why wouldn't someone want to do business with me? People watch whatever is on TV whether it's worth their time or not. Nothing I have seen is worth my time so I am sure I could shake that up. Personally, I'm tired of all these clowns with no charisma getting all the hype. I know I can do better. I have done all of this without networking or nepotism. I know I can go further and make more rich people richer."He did take acting classes, and would like to take on serious roles:
"What I can tell you is that I am looking for work right now for TV. To confirm one thing, I did take acting classes, but they were for serious roles. At that point in time, I found it therapeutic since my life wasn't the greatest. I blew everyone away, man. I could cry on command so that didn't hurt, either! But, I'd like to do some serious roles later. I like entertaining people and making them laugh. You don't have to be Brando to get a point across. Just make them laugh and you're in business. Tell you the truth, I'm working on casting calls that would like to do a commercial."Hell, he'd love to "work" with Artis again:
"I think it'd be a great attention-getter if Artis were a part of it! No Catfish reference, no MTV involvement to avoid that court shit. Just two guys entertaining the public eye for 20 seconds of new material. Hell, they STILL rerun that episode anyway, why not do something new? I bet you anything he would do it too. Only in America. That's legendary."Now all I have to do is talk to Artis.
In The End...Justin knew he couldn't say much about his time on Catfish, and honestly, I understood. He told me that he was "honored to be a part of the show" and that it was "far more pleasing than half the bullsh*t I have seen on any network in a long time."
"Whether TV is real or not shouldn't be a concern," he added.
And though he feels like the network has swept him "under the rug," he'd like another shot.
"I could give them a much better show than any of these chowder heads they're hyping over Artis and myself. Its sad, really. Anytime anyone else is given an opportunity to go on a show or on the radio, a fan always asks what happened to us... and it's not like I'm going away, I am like herpes. I want to be on TV, I want to make MTV money, but they believe I'm replaceable. I don't see it. But that's their decision, not mine. I can't confirm why they're doing it but I don't think they're helping anyone's credibility in that nature...but I still give them my gratitude for letting me be on the show."There isn't really any other way to close this out except to say that after speaking with Justin Voel-Pel, I haven't the slightest farking clue whether or not he is a paid actor brought in to help Catfish Season 2 top the first, or the desperate sociopath we all saw on TV together.
All I know is this: Catfish Justin made for some damn good television.