Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem, and Madness

I saw people talking about this show all over Instagram and I was not interested at all. Not even a little bit. I saw images of this man with 20 ear piercings and a mullet and I was not intrigued. I also didn’t understand what the title was about – now that I’ve seen it the title couldn’t be more obvious, but I wasn’t into it. I watched this because my boyfriend and I have seen almost all the episodes of Shark Tank and Gordon Ramsay’s 24 Hours to Hell and Back on Hulu, and he wanted to see this show. I can’t say whether I enjoyed it or not, but I finished it. If you’re not interested in watching, this is a full recap and my biased opinions on the characters in the show. If you already saw it, I’m curious to read what your thoughts were about the show. *Spoiler alert: I made no effort to not discuss all the plot lines in this series.

The Rundown

Tiger King tells the stories of several people who own big cat zoos, reservations, and “sanctuaries” in the U.S. The main character of the story is Joe Exotic, who owned the Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park in Oklahoma (G.W.). He has made it part of his life’s mission to challenge and antagonize Carole Baskin, who owns Big Cat Rescue in Tampa, Florida. This documentary series mainly covers these two individuals, but it also does smaller stories and takes commentary from other big cat owners. It is a story of murder, abuse, and people who’ve gone mad with power.

Directors: Rebecca Chaiklin and Eric Goode

Filmmaker/Researcher: Eric Goode

Stars: Joe Exotic, Carole Baskin, Bhagavan “Doc” Antle

Release date: March 20, 2020 on Netflix – 7 episodes 

The “Good” Stuff

Honestly, nothing that the people in this documentary did was good. All of these people should be in jail. Let’s go through the main characters:

Bhagavan “Doc” Antle

First of all, I just googled this man and his name is Kevin. I think in the documentary they said that Bhagavan means holy or God-like, and it became obvious why he would name himself that as they revealed more about him. Anyways, Kevin lives in Myrtle Beach and is the founder of The Institute for Greatly Endangered and Rare Species (TIGERS). He owns tigers, lions, ligers (humans are so dumb for creating that animal), bobcats, and Lord knows what else. He claims to be trying to raise awareness and save endangered species, just like everyone else in this film, but he clearly seems to be in it for money and power. 

Most of the documentary used Kevin for commentary on the Joe vs. Carole debacle, but they also covered his zoo briefly in the first couple episodes. The two things that jumped out to me the most were that he uses his power to get the girls on his staff to have sex with him, and he kills the tiger cubs after they’re too big for him to make money off them. The first thing I thought was Wow, this man is the R. Kelly of tiger women. He doesn’t force them to do anything, but they really have nowhere else to go and they want to stay with the tigers, so they comply. They had a girl who worked at TIGERS for almost ten years, and she got breast implants for this man! Mind you, this is not a good-looking man. He’s older, with a long white ponytail, and he probably smells like cats – do tigers have the same highly-distinguishable smell that cats have? 

I want to see a documentary on Kevin by himself. He’s a manipulative guy, and there seems to be more surrounding the story with him. I’m also curious about killing the tiger cubs just because they’re too big for people to play with. I don’t know how this man got away from the show without more scrutiny! AND, he seems to have convinced many of his Instagram followers that he’s still a good person. Unbelievable. 

Carole Baskin

Where do I start with this woman? Something ain’t right about her. Carole is the owner of Big Cat Rescue in Tampa and clearly considers herself one of the good guys in the big cat world. I would disagree. When I was watching this film, it didn’t seem to me like she was any better than any of the other people who own big cat facilities in the U.S. The stories they introduced about her confirmed my feelings. 

One of the most troubling things to me about Carole (aside from her dead husband, which I’ll get to shortly) was the way the volunteers on her staff were treated. NO ONE at Big Cat Rescue gets paid. People’s level of responsibility was communicated by their shirt color, and people would have to work at the reservation for YEARS to get the navy blue shirt, which was the highest level for volunteers. For no pay. And Carole didn’t even bother to learn names or remember people until they’d been there for years. That just didn’t sit right with me. It seemed like all the employees at the big cat zoos shown throughout the film were severely underpaid, but Carole was the only one who didn’t pay anything.

The other big problem with Carole is that she’s probably a murderer. I don’t know for sure, but all signs pointed to the idea that she killed her millionaire husband who wanted to divorce her. So much stuff just didn’t add up. He filed for a restraining order 2 months before he disappeared. Her brother worked on the police force. His assistant’s paperwork making her (the assistant) the executor mysteriously disappeared and was replaced with paperwork making Carole the executor upon his death or disappearance. I mean, really?? OR DISAPPEARANCE? Who puts that in their will? He told several people he wanted to leave her. She also never held a memorial service for him after he was presumed dead – which she had the state do as soon as she possibly could. It was all a mess. They used a whole episode for this woman and her alleged murder! That + the mistreatment of her employees makes her just as bad (if not worse) than everyone else in my book. Also, I was thoroughly creeped out by all the clips of her riding around on her bike like the female Jigsaw. 

Joe Exotic

There is so much to say about this man. Joe Exotic is the former owner of G.W. Exotic Animal Park. He is also a self-proclaimed redneck gay country singer who owned over 200 tigers. To be honest, I don’t like Joe. 

One of the biggest issues with Joe is that he bred tigers. A lot. Like all the time. He had cubs everywhere, and one of the biggest attractions for G.W. was the fact that people could come and pay to play with little tiger cubs. He was completely in it for the money, and he didn’t mind slightly abusing tigers and heavily exploiting employees to get more cash. It didn’t matter to him that he was making more and more tigers who would live their entire lives in captivity, and that bothered me. 

Joe was also incredibly annoying. I can understand why someone would hate Carole Baskin – she pretends to be better than everyone else when she really is the worst one out of the group. But unlike all the other people who spoke unfavorably about Carole, Joe took it 20 steps too far. He made a dummy of Carole and shot at it several times (he also shoved a dildo in its mouth). He said he wished she was dead. He traveled all the way to Florida to protest outside of Big Cat Rescue. He dedicated dozens of episodes of his web show to tormenting her. It was excessive. Again, I agree that she’s a terrible person, but he was doing too much. I also understand that he had a personal vendetta against her because she was ruthless in their court battle, but he still did too much. The court battle started because he was antagonizing her! He even changed the name of his web show to be as close to hers as possible and made a logo that looked exactly like hers. He had a demented obsession, and it was uncomfortable to watch. 

One of the weirdest parts of Joe’s life was his relationship with his two husbands, both of whom were straight men. How did he get them to pretend to be gay for so long? Meth and tigers. One of the husbands left him for his secretary and immediately got her pregnant. The other killed himself as Joe’s campaign manager (did I mention Joe ran for governor of Oklahoma?) sat across from him. It seemed like Joe was a manipulative partner. He wouldn’t let Travis, his late husband, leave the park or do anything without his approval. It’s not clear if Joe was the sole reason for Travis taking his own life, but the way he treated him certainly played a part. 

Towards the end of the documentary, we learn that Joe gave the park to Jeff Lowe, a wealthy man who had his own tiger ranch in some other part of the country. Jeff helped Joe during his court battles with Carole by loaning him some money. That was really the end of his kindness. Once he had control of the park, he gradually turned into a more terrible person. Based on the way the documentary portrayed it (I have no interest in researching these situations any more than the 7 episodes I watched), Jeff set Joe up to go to prison for hiring someone to kill Carole. Mind you, Joe did hate Carole and wished she would die, but he maintains that he did not try to hire anyone to kill her. I believe him, and I think Jeff Lowe is a shitty person. He’s currently taking all of Joe’s tigers (and a bunch more) to build a much bigger zoo in another part of Oklahoma. He took advantage of Joe and now owns everything he cared about. 

Although I think the situation with Jeff is completely wrong and Joe shouldn’t be in jail for trying to kill Carole, I still don’t like him. He is not a good person! I think the injustice he suffered at the end of the series made people want to like him, but he should still be in jail. The way he treated his tigers and the way he abused his partners probably warrants at least half of the 29 years he was given.

The Other Stuff

I think this documentary was one of the wackiest things I’ve ever seen. A woman getting her arm bit off by a tiger was really only a two-minute blip in the show. A man committing suicide on tape was only a five-minute story. It was crazy! I’m sure the owners of the zoos wish they had never agreed to do this, because we would’ve known nothing about their corrupt and illegal actions if they hadn’t. They would’ve been free to do their tiger business in peace.

Although I understand that the personal lives of these people were too good not to talk about, I think this documentary skimmed over what should’ve been the main message. Tigers shouldn’t be in captivity. They shouldn’t be pets for celebrities and there shouldn’t be more tigers in captivity in the U.S. then there are in the wild everywhere else in the world. The way people are using them for entertainment and economic gain in this country is sad. It would’ve been nice to see more talk about the actual tigers, and not this crazy crime setup. 

Overall, every person in this documentary should be in jail. Joe, Carole, Jeff, Kevin, and their employees have done some awful things, and they shouldn’t be able to continue like this. It was disgusting to watch. I hope that the backlash makes them rethink their ways and try to do things differently. At minimum, this show made me aware of a huge problem that I didn’t even know existed. Unfortunately, they didn’t point us to any reliable organizations we can donate to that are fighting people like the ones in this documentary, so I’m not sure what to do about it. Great entertainment, but not very helpful. 

Overall rating: 5/10

What did you guys think of the series?? How do you feel about Joe? Carole?? Kevin? Jeff?! Do you think any positive change will come from this? What do you think of Florida police reopening the case for Carole’s dead husband? I’m dying to know what everyone else thought of this. Comment below or let me know on Instagram!

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