Joe Exotic had hundreds of tigers in the Netflix ‘Tiger King’ documentary. The Wild Animal Sanctuary saved 39 of them.
There was only one way for Joel McHale, host of the “Tiger King” aftershow “The Tiger and I,” to kick things off: just like Big Cat Rescue founder Carole Baskin, the person Joe Exotic allegedly tried to have killed.
“Hey, all you cool cats and kittens,” said McHale, borrowing Baskin’s greeting captured in “Tiger King.”
The former host of “The Soup” said he “devoured” the episodes centered on Joe and his former zoo in Wynnewood, Oklahoma.
Joe, whose real name is Joseph Maldonado-Passage, is serving 22 years in prison for attempted murder for hire and killing five tigers, among other charges.
McHale joked that the special’s forthcoming revelations would include if his interview subjects had a strong enough Wi-Fi signal to converse via video chat. But, of course, we learned so much more.
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“Tiger King,” starring Joe Exotic, is now available for streaming on Netflix. (Photo: Netflix)
Joe Exotic had good and bad sides
Joe was both panned and praised in the special episode.
Erik Cowie, head keeper at the G.W. Zoo, says Joe had a short fuse.
“You couldn’t talk to him without getting yelled at,” Cowie recalls. “He’d run people off in 20 minutes, just by the absurdly crass things that would come out of his mouth.” It’s Cowie’s firm stance that Joe should remain in jail, predicting: “(Joe’s) gonna die in there, so … good riddance.”
Former zoo manager John Reinke also speaks of Joe’s ill-temper, saying he “was always belittling somebody. Always.”
In contrast, Kelci “Saff” Saffery, a former animal keeper, makes mention of Joe’s good side.
“I’ve seen him give the jacket off his back for people,” says Saffery. “And I think that wasn’t highlighted enough.
“Joe did a lot of messed-up stuff,” Saffery added. “That’s a fact and that’s shown, and now the entire world knows it. But he did a lot of good things, too.”
Perhaps the most shocking characterization comes courtesy of Rick Kirkham, who produced Joe Exotic TV. Kirkham claims “Joe was terrified of big cats” and “scared to death of lions and tigers,” oh, my!
According to Kirkham, when Joe was filmed with tigers, they were sedated or posed no threat.
“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,” said Kirkham. “It’s idiotic to think how he’s become famous as ‘The Tiger King’ when he’s so terrified of big cats.”
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President Donald Trump says he’ll “take a look” at the legal case of Joseph Maldonado-Passage, also known as “Joe Exotic,” who is the central figure of the new Netflix series “Tiger King.” (April 8)
Jeff Lowe afflicted by portrayal
Lowe, who took over the zoo from Joe, isn’t happy with how he comes off.
“I think they tried to sensationalize the story a little bit to give it a villain,” he said. He also challenged those who believe Lowe set Joe up in the murder-for-hire plot.
“You guys saw all the (threatening) videos that Joe was posting,” Lowe said. “Those videos where (Joe’s) shooting Carole, hanging Carole, blowing Carole up. … Joe was his own worst enemy.”
Lowe’s current employee Cowie appeared to be a fan of his boss, describing Lowe as a “pretty calm guy.” But Joe’s former campaign manager Joshua Dial believes the docuseries is “fair” and “balanced.” He wrote off Lowe’s criticisms with the adage “The truth hurts.”
John Finlay is upset about how he’s represented in the series
John Finlay, who was previously married to Joe, said he binged “Tiger King” in preparation of things to come.
“I actually watched it that night, and me and my fiancée both binge-watched it in seven hours,” he said. “I had to know what was on it, and so did she. And we had to be kind of prepared to know what was gonna go on.”
But after his binge, Finlay was upset over how he came across on screen.
“I was portrayed as a drugged-out hillbilly, and that was not me then,” he said. “At that time, I was four to five years clean.”
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Joe Exotic feeds a tiger. (Photo: NETFLIX)
Travis Maldonado’s death still haunts Joshua Dial, who witnessed it
Dial shared the lingering affects of witnessing Joe’s husband, Maldonado, self-inflict a fatal gun wound. Dial saw Maldonado shoot himself in the head in 2017. According to The Associated Press, authorities ruled the 23-year-old’s death an accident.
“I had to go into that office every day and sit in that same chair and look at that bullet hole in the wall every day for a year-and-a-half after Travis killed himself,” Dial remembered. “I never was able to get counseling because Joe didn’t help me and neither did Jeff Lowe.”
After Maldonado’s death, Joe “spoke to a shaman” instead of seeing a therapist, Dial said, which Dial believed “worsened his condition.”
Dial hopes to raise money so he can pay for counseling and medication, and get back to working on political campaigns when he’s able.
Dial believes Maldonado’s deadly actions were accidental, and that he was trying to prove his gun wouldn’t fire without a clip.
“I was looking at him in the eyes when he did it, and I could see the surprise and the fear in his eyes,” said Dial. “I mean, basically translated, he’s like … ‘What did I just do?’”
Erik Cowie claims killed tigers were healthy
When asked about his regrets while working with Joe, the deaths of his tigers were top of mind for Cowie.
“A lot of times, when we put cats down, they’d use me, because … I could get a cat up to the side of a cage where we can dart it and tranquilize it so they could be put down and stuff,” he said. “Those cats trusted me up until the end. And, somehow, sometimes I swear they were like, ‘Dude, you let me down.’ I could see if in their face and their eyes.”
When McHale brought up the assumption that a tiger would only be put down if there was a medical or other reason, such as if the animal posed a threat, Cowie responded: “You would think, but no.”
Like others, Cowie is adjusting to his newfound fame following the release of “Tiger King.”
“It’s rather odd – walking through the parking lot and everybody’s got their cellphones out,” he said. “I’m just a (expletive) guy.”
Reinke is also getting recognized. Being in public now is “a lot different, actually,” he said.” You’re waiting on somebody to come up to you. They don’t care about the COVID. They want to shake your hand, get a picture with you. It’s pretty crazy.”
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