It’s probably safe to assume that if you haven’t watched it yet, you’ve *at least* heard about Tiger King. The latest Netflix craze—which launched on March 20 and was filmed over five years—has taken up the number-one spot in everyone’s quarantine viewing cue. Captive audiences have been eagerly binge-watching the seven-episode series and dying to find out what happened to the documentary’s main characters. But if you haven’t seen the doc yet—you’re probably *a little* confused. Because there’s a LOT going on.
In a nutshell: It follows the made-for-TV character of Joe Exotic, a big-cat-loving gentleman who ran an Okhlahoma-based exotic animal park, and his nemesis Carole Baskin—who ran a competing big-cat sanctuary. But, TBH, that is literally skimming the thinnest of surfaces. Because the series is about SO much more than just competing tiger parks. There’s murder! Polygamy! Lots of bad tattoos and piercings! Everyone, it’s bonkers.
With all your friends starting Zoom calls saying, “Hey, all you cool cats and kittens!,” you’re probably left wondering:
y’all what is tiger king and why everybody talking bout it
— JAY VERSACE (@JAYVERSACE) April 1, 2020
Here, an encyclopedia of all the characters and terms in the world of Tiger King. SPOILERS AHEAD.
— Deana Harley (@Deanaharleynews) March 27, 2020
Bhagavan “Doc” Antle
Bhagavan Antle, also known as Doc Antle, is the Myrtle Beach-based owner of T.I.G.E.R.S. wildlife refuge, now called Doc Antle’s Myrtle Beach Safari. He’s a mentor of sorts to Exotic and also probably running a polygamist cult? Per Vice, according to a former employee, women who worked for Antle were kept in horse stall-like accommodations, forced to change their names and pressured into undergoing breast augmentation. Through the docu-series it becomes kind of evident that Antle lures young women with no place to go into his business and then acts like he has to sleep with them in order for them to be successful—super skeevy and problematic.
Antle is still running his Myrtle Beach Safari. He has been critical of the Netflix documentary.
Don’t worry, everyone’s fave early aughts singer does not make an appearance in the documentary—although how great would that be? But, that doesn’t mean that she *isn’t* a part of the Tiger King universe and the world of big cats. After the doc started streaming, people on the internet were quick to note that Spears is familiar with several of the series’ main characters, specifically from the earlier days of her career.
Recently, a photo has emerged of Spears getting ready to perform at the 2001 Video Music Awards. She looks smokin’ and is standing beside a *massive* tiger—which in itself isn’t too surprising considering she has been known to feature exotic animals in her performances. But who else was caught in this now iconic photo feeding said tiger? None other than Doc Antle!
The big-cat trainer was obvi there to help keep the tiger under control, but also leaves us with so many questions, like: Did Doc try to get Britney to come “work” for him? What does she think of using exotic animals for performances now and, most importantly, what’s Doc Antle’s fave Britney song?
One of the main characters in the series is Carole Baskin, a cheetah-print wearing, flower crown-loving animal rights activist and founder of Big Cat Rescue, which provided new homes to animals bred in captivity. She is also the bane of Joe Exotic’s existence.
In 2011, Baskin sued the Exotic for trademark infringement and won a $1 million settlement. That bankrupted her foe, which only further inflamed tensions between them.
Baskin still runs Big Cat Rescue with her second husband, Howard Baskin.
John Finlay’s now iconic teeth. Throughout the doc, Finlay (one of Exotic’s ex-husbands) was repeatedly interviewed sporting some sparse teeth that could have been used as a prime example of social distancing. He seriously had about four top teeth. According to Finlay, this was the result of a genetic disorder, but the good news is that—since the series was filmed—Finlay has gone on to have a new set of chompers!
— Miss Degoba (@jankomah) March 26, 2020
Don Lewis doesn’t physically appear in Tiger King, but his presence is felt. Lewis was Baskin’s first husband, who mysteriously disappeared from Tampa, Florida in August 1997. According to reports, Lewis—who ran a wildlife sanctuary with Baskin at the time—left his home and never returned. The day after his disappearance, police found his van at a private airport. Baskin, for her part, claims she believes her former hubby just up and left her, potentially relocating to Costa Rica, where Lewis owned a 200-acre park.
Since his disappearance, rumours have been swirling regarding what happened to Lewis, the most salacious of them—no surprise—coming from Baskin’s foe Exotic, who has repeatedly accused Baskin of killing her husband and feeding his body to her cats. Potentially for insurance money.
Baskin denies all claims that she killed her husband, but a lot of people are suspicious, to say the least:
We’re all in agreement that we need to stay inside, wash hands, and that Carole killed her husband, right? #TigerKing
— Stassi Schroeder (@stassi) March 24, 2020
Since Tiger King aired, a Tampa-based sheriff has asked for anyone with new leads into Lewis’s disappearance to contact police.
Honestly, of all the things to happen in this docu-series, the reveal that Exotic’s zoo was serving customers pizza with meat that had been salvaged from a Wal-Mart parking lot dumpster is the least of our worries. And, yes, this really happened.
— Ray (@Ray_885) March 22, 2020
But also, that’s what you get for eating at an exotic animal zoo?
“Here Kitty Kitty” music video
“Here Kitty Kitty” is a truly bonkers music video, starring Exotic, that *heavily* implies that Baskin killed her first husband—Don Lewis—and fed him to some of her tigers. And by heavily implied, we mean that the music video literally features a flower-clad Carole Baskin lookalike feeding dismembered parts of a male mannequin to tigers with a tong.
It is…a lot.
But the song is kind of a bop?
— Chanel🦋 (@Chanelsobubbly) March 25, 2020
Also for those wondering, unfortunately Exotic’s silky smooth country pipes are about as fake as that Don Lewis mannequin head. According to those behind the scenes, the former zookeeper can’t hold a tune, and musicians Vince Johnson and Danny Clinton sing most the actual songs.
“Hey, all you cool cats and kittens!”
The greatest catchphrase to come out of this series. “Hey, all you cool cats and kittens!” is Baskin’s signature greeting, first introduced to audiences via her YouTube videos for her organization, Big Cat Rescue.
In the videos, Baskin clearly uses the phrase to address any viewers who may be tuning in to her vids. Is it a sign of endearment? A fun little pet name? Can she really only communicate with people if she thinks of them as actual felines? Or is she actually addressing literal cats and literal kittens? Carole, how would they even log on to YouTube?!
The main subject of the documentary series, Joe Exotic (a.k.a Joe Maldonado-Passage) was the owner of The Garold Wayne Exotic Animal Memorial Park in Wynnewood, Oklahoma. He is a self-described “gay, gun-carrying redneck with a mullet,” and in addition to founding and running the park, is a country singer, reality TV star and former politician. (He ran for Governor of Oklahoma in 2018 and President in 2015.)
And folks, he is a character. Not only does he have more piercings than Christina Aguilera in the Dirty music video, but he has had four husbands (with relationships often overlapping).
Exotic is currently serving a 22-year prison sentence for 17 counts of animal abuse and two counts of murder-for-hire, after allegedly trying to have his arch nemesis Carole Baskin killed.
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No, this is not the URL for a pornographic site—although it might as well be. JoeExoticTV is the YouTube channel and web series, started by Exotic and produced by former crime reporter Rick Kirkham, that followed the zookeeper in his day-to-day life. Kind of like a reality TV show, but with bigger cats. The account still posts videos, although they now seem to be more compilations of Exotic singing then anything. Kirkham has since moved to Bodo, Norway.
Finlay was a romantic partner of Exotic who first came to the park in 2003 at age 19. In 2013, Finlay took part in a three-way wedding with Exotic and a then 19-year-old Travis Maldonado.
During their relationship, Finlay got a tattoo reading “Private Property of Joe Exotic” (which is…super not chic). As mentioned, he was well known—and identifiable—in the docu-series for his teeth…or lack thereof, and for spending most of the series with his shirt off.
Finlay was president of the park until 2013, when he left after claims of domestic abuse against him. He’s now a welder lives in Oklahoma with his fiancée, Stormey.
Kelci “Saff” Saffery
One of the former staff members at the wildlife park, Saffery is best known having one of his arms ripped off by a tiger in 2013. It was mayhem and gave us this iconic moment, in which Exotic shed his cheetah print for an EMS bomber as he headed over to inspect the scene. (Quick Qs: Where did he even get this? Can you legally walk around in a medical uniform if you aren’t trained and certified? Does he even know basic CPR?)
— NIKMOE (@NIKMOETHO) March 29, 2020
And that isn’t even the most bonkers part. Not only was Saff attacked, but he opted to have his entire hand amputated so he could return to work sooner—just five days after the operation. FIVE DAYS.
In a statement at the time, Saffery took full responsibility for the attack, saying: “I broke protocol and stuck my hand in a cat cage instead of using the stick provided. The cat let go and pushed my arm back through the cage. This tiger was not aggressive towards me.”
Saff left the zoo in June 2018.
The Garold Wayne Exotic Animal Memorial Park
Now known as the Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park, the Garold Wayne Exotic Animal Memorial Park in Wynnewood, Oklahoma was founded by Exotic after the death of his brother in 1997. Exotic used the settlement from his brother’s car accident to build a refuge for rescued animals in his brother’s honour. Also known as the G.W. Zoo, it was named after his brother, Garold Wayne. In 2016, Exotic effectively signed over control of the zoo to current owner Jeff Lowe.
Another one of Joe Exotic’s ex-husbands (part of the throuple with Finlay), Travis Maldonado accidentally shot himself in 2017 after discharging a gun he didn’t know was loaded.
According to several reports, Maldonado (and Finlay) weren’t actually gay and Exotic kept both men as his husbands by feeding their meth addictions. It’s all incredibly sad.
Oh, and Exotic talked about his deceased husband’s balls being on his face…at said husband’s funeral.
— Amber Kinzie (@AmberKinziee) March 21, 2020
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Just started watching Tiger King on Netflix. Crazy that this meme is 100% accurate. 😂 pic.twitter.com/3f3hrl8PQ9
— Matt Iannacci (@miannacci8) March 26, 2020