In its second episode, “Sweet Bobby” regales us with the origin story of the catfish. Supposedly, the story goes that when live cod were being shipped to Asia from North America, the fish’s inactivity in their tanks made them atrophied and mushy by the time they arrived. However, the fishermen found that by putting catfish in the tanks with the cod, that kept them active, ensuring the fish would be firm and tasty. The catfish kept the cods’ lives interesting.
Only, this story isn’t backed up by any fact. There’s no record that this is even some old wives’ tale. This story came from Catfish, the 2010 documentary that followed Nev Schulman, now the host of Catfish: The TV Show, as he was catfished into a romantic relationship online. That story was told by a man named Vince, the husband of the woman catfishing Nev, claiming that his wife made the lives of those around her interesting by pretending to be someone else online. And thus, the term “catfish” was born.
“Sweet Bobby” was, unsurprisingly, not so sweet.
Which brings us to “Sweet Bobby,” a psychological thriller that reveals its twist in the opening credits: Bobby was not who he made himself out to be. This Tortoise podcast follows the story of Kirat Assi, a British radio host who fell in love with a cardiologist named Bobby. The two had fallen in love online over the course of years, messaging on Facebook, sending sweet voice memos, falling asleep over the phone. But, once again, the point of this story is that Bobby is not real, well, at least the online version of him wasn’t, and for 10 years, Kirat was maliciously catfished to the point that she nearly took her own life.
“Sweet Bobby” is a six-part, live investigation into one of the most sophisticated catfishing schemes experts had ever seen. A serial podcast, the six episodes are just 30 to 45 minutes each and need to be listened to in order, unless you want some major spoilers in the third episode.
This podcast isn’t just the recap of a crime, its investigation, and its conclusion. It never really presents itself as an investigation of who did this, because we know who did it. And Kirat knows who did this to her. “Sweet Bobby,” hosted by Alexi Mostrous, Investigations Editor at Tortoise Media, instead asks how and why. How did this grown woman, who had grown up in the millennial age of the internet, manage to find herself in a 10-year scam?
“Sweet Bobby” goes deeper into the psychology of catfishing and manipulative, coercive relationships. Throughout the podcast, Mostrous reiterates to himself, and to us, that he cannot judge Kirat for what happened. While we can see the red flags now, there were none that Kirat could see.
Because Kirat actually knew the real Bobby.
Somewhat. She was a member of London’s Sikh community, thus in connection, and essentially family friends with every Sikh in London. And Bobby was the same, so while they didn’t know each other directly, their families did. In fact, her cousin had dated Bobby’s younger brother, JJ. So, there was no need to question the online identity of Bobby.
It’s a long story, but when Kirat’s cousin broke up with JJ in 2009, JJ began messaging Kirat on how to win her back. They messaged for five months when, suddenly, JJ died. Just, dropped dead, out of nowhere. That’s when Bobby came in; they began messaging in 2010 through grieving for JJ. It began as a friendship that spanned years and continents before Bobby died. And then came back to life. Because he was in the Witness Protection Program. And somehow this brought them closer together because in 2015, Bobby left his wife to pursue a romantic relationship, still online, with Kirat.
There’s plenty more catfishes in the sea.
Like we said, a long story. A whole decade of a story. Mostrous talks to psychologists, detectives, prosecutors, and experts on manipulation and coercion, and they reiterate how easy it is to be fooled by all of it. He speaks to us about what Catfish and Catfish: The TV Show revealed to the world about the dangers of the internet. He tells us that a group of US psychologists found that 1 in 4 women and 1 in 3 men have admitted to catfishing online. Now, given that 40% of relationships start online, that’s a lot of potential for abuse.
“Sweet Bobby” isn’t an easy listen as you hear in real time a woman getting manipulated by someone she actually knows. You hear how easily someone else, even Kirat again, could fall for it. Luckily, Kirat has recovered from the decade she spent under the thumb of “Bobby,” and if not just for entertainment value, this podcast is a lesson on questioning everything.