On Wednesday night, Catfish returns to MTV for a new season; earlier this year, however, the future of the popular reality TV show was in serious question.
In May, Ayissha Morgan published a series of videos alleging sexual misconduct on set. Morgan accused “the main guy on the show,” assumed to be host Nev Schulman, of sexually harassing her throughout her Catfish appearance.
As The Daily Beast previously reported, “Morgan described a pattern of harassment that included excessive compliments and unprofessional come-ons.” The examples Morgan gave included Schulman suggesting she “re-evaluate” her sexuality by sleeping with him, inviting himself to her hotel room and asking her to cuddle. Schulman emphatically denied the allegations, saying, in part, “I have always been transparent about my life and would always take responsibility for my actions—but these claims are false.”
After Morgan’s story went public, MTV announced that, “We’re working with Critical Content, our third-party production company, to conduct a thorough investigation and we’ve put a pause on shooting until the investigation is completed.” One month after the production pause, MTV explained that, “The independent investigator found the allegations made in the YouTube videos to be not credible and without merit,” and confirmed that Catfish would resume filming.
Last month, Morgan revealed to The Daily Beast that she never spoke with the third-party investigator. She said that a Catfish producer attempted to reach out to her on three occasions, and sent her the investigator’s contact info. Heeding her lawyer’s advice, Morgan waited to reply. Morgan told The Daily Beast in October that she intended to cooperate with the investigation eventually, and was never informed that the investigator was on the verge of clearing Schulman and deeming her claims “not credible.”
“Had that happened I would have, you know, disregarded anything my lawyer said and I would have spoken out out of fear that they were going to resume,” Morgan explained. “But they never made anything clear, they never said anything.” She emphasized, “My lawyer wasn’t even contacted by anyone’s lawyer.”
An MTV spokesperson at the time told The Daily Beast, “Multiple attempts were made to interview the claimant during the course of the investigation, and in those attempts, she was given the name, phone number and email address of the lead third-party investigator for the firm that conducted the investigation.”
“I feel like the return of the show, for me, is a reminder that Critical Content still has yet to speak with me in regards to the allegations,” Morgan said, speaking to The Daily Beast again ahead of the premiere.
Morgan has repeatedly stated that she came forward out of fear that Schulman, who once admitted to punching a woman in college, might sexually harass others. She drew a connection between Catfish’s return and Schulman’s capacity to victimize more women, saying, “This is a person that is good at manipulating women, and it terrifies me that he is in a position of power.” She continued, “One of the main reasons I waited to come forward is because while observing his authority with those who work for him while filming, I knew that this was someone who can make any situation work out in his favor.”
Morgan said that she has been experiencing “extreme anxiety” ahead of Catfish’s season premiere, and hasn’t been able to sleep through the night.
The October Daily Beast piece quoted a source close to production, who said, “If [Morgan] decides she wants to participate, they would of course have the investigator meet with her.” But Morgan revealed that, “No one related to Catfish, MTV, or Critical Content has reached out to me in response to the article. No one from Critical Content or MTV reached out to me at all, not even in the wake of the suspension of production back in May. They had a producer from Catfish let me know that they wished to speak with me, and after that I didn’t hear anything.”
MTV claimed in an updated statement to The Daily Beast that after learning of Morgan’s desire to cooperate, the independent investigator “made every effort to reach” her on November 19, “including sending texts to every number we have for her.” Morgan, however, claims she has not heard from anyone involved with the investigation since May. “They cannot expect me to have the same number from three years ago,” she said. “It’s hard to believe they ‘texted’ me but didn’t reach out via Facebook or Instagram? And they have about three of my emails.”
Morgan also mentioned the other allegations she made in her videos, against an unnamed production assistant whom she accused of sexually assaulting her in a hotel room during filming. “That’s two people too many on the same team,” she told The Daily Beast. “How can you resume production without investigating either one of those allegations? How is it that without seeing any receipts, they were able to resume production?” She emphasized again, “Nobody spoke to me.”
“I feel like the only reason they suspended production was to make it look like they were handling it, so that when production resumed everyone would think they actually investigated the allegations and he was found innocent, and he would be off the hook.”
“The entire team knows what happened to me,” Morgan continued, citing an April 2017 exchange in which she detailed her sexual harassment and assault claims to a Catfish producer. Those emails were reviewed for the earlier Daily Beast article, and Morgan has subsequently shared the exchange in a YouTube video. “You cannot justify my efforts to inform the producer over a year ago with no luck. If this was for publicity, I would have come forward when I communicated with the producer. If this was for publicity, I would never choose Schulman of all people—he looks like the nicest person in the world! Why would I put myself in the tough position of proving the allegations if it did not happen?”
Morgan concluded, “I deserve to be heard, and I deserve a fair investigation.”
This article has been updated with an added statement from MTV and Morgan’s response to it.