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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

We watched Netflix’s Tiger King And I special so you don’t have to: 6 things we learned

Illustration for article titled We watched Netflix’s Tiger King And I special so you don’t have to: 6 things we learned
Screenshot: The Tiger King And I (Netflix)

Capitalizing on the massive popularity of Tiger King, Netflix gathered some of the subjects interviewed in the documentary series for a new special hosted by Joel McHale—though sadly not Joe Exotic or Carole Baskin—for The Tiger King And I. Joe’s and Carole’s absences are not surprising, given that the former is in prison and the latter has said she feels “betrayed” by the docuseries’ producers, but their presence is still missed in a corona pandemic-era special in which McHale (whose former series Community was just added to Netflix’s library) spends time video-chatting with Jeff and Lauren Lowe, John Reinke, Joshua Dial, John Finlay, Saff, Erik Cowie, and Rick Kirkham.


McHale announced the special last week, saying it would be “eye-opening and hopefully funny.” Unfortunately it was not much of either, though there were still a few moments fans of the series will find intriguing. So if you’d rather not sit through the 40-minute special, which launched today, here are a few highlights.

1. Robert Kirkham says that Joe Exotic is actually terrified of big cats

“The one thing that wasn’t pointed out in the docuseries that’s really important to know, too, Joe was terrified of big cats,” says the former journalist, who at one time was producing a reality series about Joe Exotic’s zoo. “He was scared to death of lions and tigers. In the shots that you see in there, where he’s in with 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.”

2. Zoo employees allege that Joe Exotic killed healthy tigers—and a horse

“They used me because just by my appearance or my voice, I could get a cat up the side of a cage where we could dart it and tranquilize it,” says head zookeeper Erik Cowie, who still works at the zoo under the Lowes and has not watched the series. “You know, those cats trusted me up until the end. And somehow I swear they’re, like, ‘Dude, you let me down,’ kind of thing.” Former zoo staffer Saff also opens up about staying on even though animals were being killed at at the zoo. “At that point, it was out of my control,” he says. “Joe always had a way of explaining his actions. ‘They were old.’ ‘They were injured.’ ‘They were suffering,’ is what we got.”

Kirkham recounts a time when a woman asked Joe Exotic to let her horse live on the zoo property. “‘I don’t take care of nobody’s animals, and now they’re tiger meat,’” Kirkham recalls the zoo owner saying after killing the horse.


3. Footage of the tiger encounter in which Saff lost his arm was used as a training video at the zoo

“There was a time when we actually used it as a safety video,” Saff says. He recalls Joe Exotic reasoning, “This should be the one thing people need to see before they decide if this is a career move they wanna make.”


McHale also brought up Saff, who is transgender, being misgendered in the documentary. “I don’t think it bothered me as much as it bothered everybody else,” Saff says. “I didn’t really pay it any mind.”

4. Joshua Dial is raising money for counseling and medication to help him deal with the trauma of watching Travis Maldonado shoot himself

One of the most shocking moments of Tiger King is when viewers are shown security camera footage of Joe Exotic’s campaign manger reacting in horror as Joe’s husband shoots himself in the head off-screen. “I was looking at him in the eyes when he did it, and I could see the surprise and fear in his eyes,” Dial says of the incident, which he still believes was not a suicide. “I mean, basically, translated, he’s like, ‘Oh crap, what did I just do?’” He explains, “I had to go in 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.”


5. Joe Exotic’s former colleagues all believe he got what he deserved

“Not no, but fuck no,” Cowie says when McHale asks if Joe Exotic should be released from prison. “He’s gonna die in there. Good riddance.”


“I mean, he asked me to kill Carole one time,” Kirkham tells McHale. “But you know, it was, like, a joke. He was like, ‘I’ll make you a rich man if you kill Carole.’”

“Joe is his own worst enemy,” adds Jeff Lowe. “Joe didn’t get set up. He admitted to killing the tigers from jail.”


Saff has a more nuanced take on the situation. “I think justice was served, but I still don’t wanna see that man die in prison,” he said, also highlighting some of Joe Exotic’s good deeds. “He fed people a whole Thanksgiving dinner for free that him and his family cooked, you know, for the entire night prior,” Saff explained. “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.”

6. Everyone involved has thoughts about the actors who should portray them

We have our own ideas about who should be cast in Kate McKinnon’s upcoming limited series and Ryan Murphy’s potential project with Rob Lowe, but Tiger King’s stars have their own dream cast. John Reinke wants Matthew McConaughey to play him; Saff suggested Johnny Tsunami’s Brandon Baker from himself, while McHale offered up his Community costar Ken Jeong; and Kirkham wants to be played by Billy Bob Thornton. Erik Cowie didn’t offer up any suggestions for his portrayal, but he certainly did not like McHale pointing out that people are comparing him to Vince Neil. “Oh, god. I fucking hate Mötley Crüe,” says Cowie. “They ain’t never been my thing... too plastic.”