You remember Justin, the crazy-eyed online dating vigilante from the latest episode of MTV’s Catfish: The TV Show, right? What if I told you that he was an actor all along, that Artis was in on it, and that together, they pulled off the greatest “catfish” of all time… on the show itself? Pretty meta, right?
Let’s rewind for a moment. We spoke at length about Catfish: The TV Show’s latest in this post, where I simply shared my personal doubts about the legitimacy of the “Artis and Jess” episode. Particularly, I singled out what I regarded as a scripted “performance” by the episode’s “Catfisher,” the unsettling yet eloquent Justin.
Justin’s persona on the show seemed deliberately over-the-top. He vaguely detailed a history of abuse, homelessness, and depression, though how that rubbed elbows with his desire to entrap and expose “cheaters” online was not clearly explained. He seemed quite unstable at times, then at times merely mischievous, or protective, or loyal, or tortured, or cynical, even affable and reasonable.
If it was a performance, it was a masterful one fraught with ambiguity and layers that are pretty unusual even for a show like Catfish, which has been accused of being completely staged, even scripted, by some.
So… Who Is This Guy?
The search for confirmation of Justin’s identity is still going strong nearly a week after his Catfish episode aired. He doesn’t have much of digital trail. No Facebook, no Twitter account, nothing like that (unless he operates them under different names). He does have a YouTube account, but only one video, posted last summer:
This video is currently making the rounds on social media, and provides us with just about the only concrete look at who Justin is/was before Catfish. This video was made over a year ago, and as you can see, Justin doesn’t seem to act very different than he did on the show.
Hollywoodite published the video, along with a new biographical detail: His full name is Justin Voel-Pel, son of the late Ted H. Voel-Pel III who passed March 8 2010.
In the video, Justin claims to be suicidal, schizophrenic, formerly anorexic and bulimic, shows aggressive behavior, and says he’s working on a book about his life and experiences. So this Justin in the year-old video seems to match with the Catfish Justin we saw this week, and if we extend the benefit of the doubt that both depictions are not performances but reality, we could close the case right there like Hollywoodite did.
But We Won’t
Here’s where things start getting really speculative.
There are a ton of details being shared and a ton of conversations going on about this over at Twitter right now. Out of all the noise, we managed to find a guy who says that he knows Justin Voel-Pel and has (sort of) been answering questions about him.
His name is Ross Reeder, and he claims to be a childhood friend of the Catfish star. He corroborates Justin’s claims of childhood abuse, and says that if we knew what had happened to Justin, we’d understand why he acts the way he does. He emphasizes that his friend is “not a psycho” and considers it a “miracle” that both of them are “fully functioning adults” (Reeder says he’s a victim of child abuse, as well).
Ross also makes a very interesting claim… that Justin’s Catfish appearance was completely staged (like we thought), but not by MTV.
— Ross Reeder (@BossReeder) August 26, 2013
— Ross Reeder (@BossReeder) August 27, 2013
One Twitter user asked: “You’re saying the two [Artis and Justin] knew each other beforehand and planned it Jerry Springer style?”
“Yup. It’s all fake,” Reeder replies. “Justin is that damn good of an actor.”
We should note that we reached out to Mr. Reeder in an attempt to verify his relationship with Justin Voel-Pel, but he turned us down. Therefore, we’ve included his tweets on the subject in the gallery above in full. You’ll have to decide for yourself whether he’s the real deal. At this point, we can’t vouch.
One Last Piece Of Evidence
The last thing I have for you is this account.
It’s a listing for a “Justin Voel-pel” at Explore Talent, a directory of actors, models, etc. It lists him as an actor, model and dancer. It shows he is 24 years old, 5’10,” with brown hair and eyes. He location is listed as Chicago, IL. Aside from that, there’s not much else. No photo, no contact information, no way to know when the profile was even created.
So could it be him?
In the YouTube video, Justin does say he used to be a model. Chicago is about an hour away from Marengo, where his episode of Catfish took place. So… maybe. Take it or leave it.
But the ultimate question is whether or not he’s just an actor who managed to pull one over on the boys at Catfish. My gut says yes, Justin Voel-Pel is a slightly unstable mastermind and actor. My reasonable side says no, the simplest explanation is the best one, and that would be that this is a seriously haunted kid struggling with who he is.
You’ve got all the circumstantial, you can decide for yourself. But if Justin managed an extremely meta-catfish of Catfish: The TV Show, then the only reasonable thing for MTV to do is hire him. Sorry, Max.
Oh, Here’s Justin’s Girlfriend
A lot of people are asking about Justin Voel-Pel’s mystery girlfriend. She’s real. Here she is:
Almost makes Catfish Justin look normal.