Throughout this coronavirus pandemic, there has been one thing – or, rather, one person – on everyone’s minds.
I’m talking, of course, about Netflix’s Tiger King – the docuseries about the larger-than-life Joe Exotic – which has been the platform’s most-streamed content for the past few weeks, across both the USA and UK.
Over the weekend, a follow-up episode – The Tiger King And I, hosted by Joel McHale – landed on Netflix. In the episode, old Tiger King favourites like John Finlay, Erik Cowie, Jeff Lowe and Kelci “Saff” Saffery returned to talk about how they’re getting used to their new celebrity status.
More importantly, though, they sat down to spill the tea on Exotic himself. And it seems that, while many viewers have taken the Oklahoma criminal to their hearts, he is not well-liked among his former staff.
Not one of the OG Tiger King crew believes that Exotic is innocent
As we learned in the initial Tiger King series, Exotic – real name Maldonado-Passage – was convicted to 22 years in prison for animal abuse and plotting a murder-for-hire.
And, while many Netflix viewers have since campaigned for his release (there’s a petition going round which claims he was “set up” by the much beleaguered Carole Baskin), hardly anyone who starred in the show alongside Exotic believes he’s actually innocent.
“It’s a complete crock of shit,” Jeff Lowe said of people believing Exotic was set-up. “Joe was his own worst enemy. He should’ve gotten up on the stand and testified against himself, because those videos where he’s shooting Carole, hanging Carole, blowing Carole up…
“Joe didn’t get set-up. Joe killed the tigers, he admitted to killing the tigers from jail… he’s where he belongs.”
There isn’t much love for Tiger King’s Joe Exotic. At all.
Zoo employee Cowie said a firm “good riddance” to Exotic, insisting that he’ll likely die in jail. Joshua Dial opined that “people in Oklahoma hate Joe Exotic.” And zoo manager Saffery, who lost an arm in a tiger attack, added that he trusts the tiger that attacked him more than he trusts his former boss.
It was Rick Kirkham, though, who dished the most dirt. Revealing that he’s sorry he ever met the self-dubbed ‘Tiger King’, Kirkham recalled how Exotic – terrified of his own animals – would only ever pose with two tigers who were blind and tranquilised.
“Joe was terrified of big cats,” Kirkham said. “He was scared to death of lions and tigers. And in the shots that you see in there, where he’s in with the two tigers, the white one and the other one – the white one is blind and the other one is on tranquilizers. It’s idiotic to think how he’s become famous as ‘The Tiger King’ when he’s so terrified of big cats.”
Tiger King’s Joe Exotic was incredibly cruel to animals, even more so than viewers realised
Kirkham shared an upsetting story about a longtime fan of Exotic’s zoo, who brought the ‘Tiger King’ her aging horse and asked him to give it a good home in its advanced years.
“No sooner did that lady get off the park than Joe said, ‘Rick, follow me,’” Kirkham said. “Walked right up to the trailer, pulled the Western revolver out of his holster, shot the horse dead, and said, ‘I don’t take care of nobody’s animals. Now they’re tiger meat.’ And he had the horse cut up and fed to the tigers.
“It was unbelievably cruel.”
But, despite this, Joe Exotic is not a two-dimensional villain
During the bonus Tiger King episode, Saffery insisted that Exotic is more than a two-dimensional villain.
Citing the Thanksgiving dinner that Exotic served the public for free in the doc, Saffery said: “Every single year since I’ve been there – and I’ve been there for almost 10 years – I’ve seen him give the jacket off his back for people.
“And I think that wasn’t highlighted enough. Joe did a lot of messed up stuff. That’s a fact, and that’s shown, and now the entire world knows it. But he did a lot of good things, too.”
When asked about Exotic’s conviction and sentence, Saffery said, “I think justice was served – but I still don’t want to see that man die in prison.”
And you better believe Joe Exotic is enjoying his newfound fame as Netflix’s Tiger King
“You know, this is a notoriety and fame that Joe always wanted,” Lowe said. “And it’s pretty ironic that he’s now stuck in a cage where he can’t even enjoy it. He’s where he belongs, and I would probably just tell him, ‘Gotcha.’”
However, Dial noted that Exotic is “communicating with some of his old fans and he’s having them run Facebook pages.”
He added: “So he’s getting all the messages people are sending, all the money people are raising for him. He’s getting all that. He’s in the loop on this and he’s loving every minute of it. I guarantee that.”
Kayleigh Dray is Stylist’s digital editor-at-large. Her specialist topics include comic books, films, TV and feminism. On a weekend, you can usually find her drinking copious amounts of tea and playing boardgames with her friends.