Coronavirus? What coronavirus? We thought everyone was staying inside to binge on the latest Netflix sensation, Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness. Directed by Eric Googe and Rebecca Chaiklin, the seven episodes tell the story of Joseph Maldonado-Passage, or Joe Exotic, and his park for exotic animals in deepest Oklahoma. By Monday just gone, it was the most-streamed show on Netflix. 

As you begin to dip your toes into the tale, you find Joe with a beautiful, blonde mullet and a wardrobe filled with wonders, a pair of husbands, and a dramatic feud with the owner of the local big cat sanctuary, Carole Baskin. That’s only the run-in to craziness, there’s plenty of fun still to come. The weird really ramps up as Tiger King gets going; everyone you encounter has a deeper layer, their own twist in the tale, and plenty to shock you as you work through the drama. Joe runs for president and governor, tries for a country-music career, and makes a series of videos accusing his local rival of feeding her ex-husband to her tiger.  

The weirdness that oozes from all of this is very American and weirdly comforting. As strange as an existence with coronavirus is, there’s a whole lot more strange that goes on out in the world. Fingers, toes, and legs crossed, the world can return to its amazing madness once this is all over – although whether there’ll be another Joe Exotic seems sadly unlikely. 

Released on March 20, there have already been plenty of news stories delving deeper into this frankly bizarre tale, hunting down the real people and events that weave the story together. Gael Fashingbauer Cooper put together a list of nine weird facts about the series for cnet, where this article originally appeared. We’ve got some spoilers coming up, but for those who’ve come here looking to learn more about what you’ve already watched, here’s the extra details you really need to know about Tiger King.


He’s a singer, but not the singer

Throughout the series you see Joe proudly declaring details of his successful singing career, with songs featured like “I Saw a Tiger”. You don’t need to be a maestro to tell that the professional voice of a country music veteran is a far cry from Joe’s southern drawl. The actual pros, Vince Johnson and Danny Clinton, were the driving force behind the music of Joe’s Milli Vanilli act. According to an interview Johnson gave to Vanity Fair, they had both worked for free, believing the money would land with a reality TV deal about Joe that never landed. TMZ sadly reported that Clinton passed in October. In a report in the L.A. Times, directors Goode and Chaklin said that it had transpired Joe did do a little bit of singing on the songs but decided not to call him out on the facts during filming.

The innocence of the tiger

The first episode features Kelci Saffery, an employee of Joe’s, who got bitten by a tiger. She decides to have her hand amputated instead of enduring countless surgeries, returns to work within the week, and has a stump throughout the rest of the series. Saffrey is adamant that no blame be attached to the tiger, and although it’s not commented on in the show, the tiger wasn’t put to sleep. Back in 2013, Saffrey said, “I broke protocol and stuck my hand in a cat cage instead of using the stick provided.” In a video interview with David Spade that was put out on March 27, she also added, “I just got complacent,” in reference to her injury.  “(The tiger) wasn’t put down, we just moved it off of the park, off of display,” Saffery confirmed.

John Finlay visits the dentist

Actor David Spade is open about his obsession with the show. So obsessed that he interviewed more than just Saffrey from the cast. One such interviewee was John Finlay, a former romantic partner of Joe Exotic. Finlay’s fame stems from his lack of teeth in the show, a far cry from his current appearance with a full set of dentures. “It took a while,” Finlay explains of his recent dental work,  “but after I got ’em fixed the right way, they were perfect.” The pain of getting his teeth fixed was apparently worse than any of his 51 tattoos, and he also confirmed that Joe was the creative force behind the three-grooms, pink shirts wedding scene.

Do the alligators look familiar?

Tigers are the stars of the show, as the name might suggest, but the reptilian co-stars do feature in a sad story in which their enclosure gets set alight. Finlay told Spade in their interview that the alligators kept at the exotic animal park were brought in from Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch. The crocs and gators posed bigger threats than the big cats, partly because of their huge, dangerous tails. Nowadays, Finlay no longer speaks to Joe and is planning on getting all tattoos that refer to his former partner covered up as he plans to marry the woman he’s now engaged to.

John Reinke’s leg accident was more horrific than you thought

The old manager at Joe’s exotic animal park, John Reinke, was featured wearing and removing his artificial legs multiple times. Losing his legs wasn’t down to a cat attack but a whole other accident. Like every other tale you get told in Tiger King, there’s plenty more going on here. In 2010, Reinke talked to a local Oklahoma paper about his accident. In the show, the story goes he injured his legs in a zip-lining accident, yet he told the paper he’d had a bungee jumping accident – either way, he fell, from very high up. He said that a pulley went wrong and he tumbled 55 feet and hit the ground feet first. Could it be worse? Well yes, yes it can. He didn’t land on solid ground, but rather on to a 6-inch metal spike that went through his colon and stomach, according to the newspaper report. It took over 20 operations to fix up his legs.

Shaq and Joe aren’t besties

The twists and turns are so epic in Tiger King, you’re forgiven for forgetting that NBA star Shaquille O’Neal rocks up to feature in an episode. O’Neal said on his podcast on March 25, The Big Podcast with Shaq, that he’s not buddies with Joe. He said that he did go to the park a couple of times since he’s a tiger lover, but he “had no idea all that stuff was going on.” Shaq is still a tiger fan and has sent money to support them, but he doesn’t have a close relationship with Joe Exotic. “I was just a visitor,” O’Neal asserted on his show. “I met this guy, not my friend, don’t know him, never had any business dealings with him.” You’re not going to see any big cats at the former basketball star’s home, even though his bank balance wouldn’t strain at the thought, “Do I own tigers personally at my house?” O’Neal said, “no.”

The tiger cubs weren’t treated great

Joe Exotic’s business model is to attract visitors to his park and charge them for selfies and photoshoots getting cuddly with cubs of his big cats. The directors never went in for the big kitten cuddles, they told the L.A. Times, especially after what they witnessed. “Most of the tigers we were around were subjected to abject cruelty,” reported Chaiklin. “We saw babies being torn from their mothers and screaming. They’d get sick from being handled so much and get ringworm and mange. It was disturbing.”

The husband is still a no-show

Arch-nemesis Carole Baskin is one of the main features of the series, and her husband is still missing after his 1997 disappearance. Joe is currently in prison, serving 22 years for crimes against Baskin, and he maintains to this day that Baskin killed her husband, James, and fed him to the big cats. Carole has made a statement on the website for Big Cat Rescue, the organization that she runs, refuting her portrayal in the documentary series. “(The directors) did not care about truth,” she says, “the unsavory lies are better for getting viewers.” Whatever the truth about how she’s shown in the show, her husband remains listed as missing and there are no clues in the case. Monday saw the Hillsborough, Florida, Sheriff Chad Chronister tweet asking for any potential leads in the missing person file.

Joe Exotic vs Carole Baskin. Image credit: tvinsider.com

Joe’s overjoyed at his celebrity status. Obvs.

If you take away one thing from Tiger King, it has to be that Joe Exotic craves fame and public attention. He might be locked up in prison, but the show directors told the L.A. Times that Joe is aware of his new-found celebrity and is filled with joy. “He is absolutely ecstatic about the series and the idea of being famous,” said Goode in an interview, “he’s absolutely thrilled.” The pair who made the show aren’t persuaded by Joe’s sudden about-turn. “He is in a cage and of course he’s gonna say that he now recognizes what he did to these animals,” Goode reports.