Next Gen: WNC represented in the MTV series 'Catfish'

By Shelby Harrell Staff Writer | Oct 26, 2013
Photo by: Donated photo Pictured from left is Heather Padgett, Michael Bradley, Suchin Pak, the reunion show host, Caroline Ledford, Max Joseph and Nev Shulman during the Catfish Reunion show in New York City.

Some residents in Western North Carolina may have seen familiar faces on MTV recently after two former WNC residents were represented on the docudrama television series, “Catfish.”

Waynesville native Caroline Ledford was contacted for the show because Heather Padgett, who currently lives in Pensacola, Florida, used Ledford’s photos to pretend to be “Caroline Rhodes” on Facebook. The pretense was to woo a guy named Michael Bradley who also lives in Pensacola.

During the show, Michael discovers that his online girlfriend who went by the name of “Caroline Rhodes” was actually Padgett posting photos that were not her own. After refusing to meet Michael in person for over a year and a half, Catfish show hosts, Nev and Max finally introduced Michael to Padgett — the real girl behind the Facebook profile.

Both Ledford and Padgett are graduates of Tuscola High School. Ledford is currently attending UNC-Charlotte. Padgett grew up in Waynesville and attended Western Carolina University, but left in 2009 and later moved to Pensacola.

Even though they attended the same school, Ledford said she'd never met Padgett before the "Catfish" reunion show.

Not only did Padgett provide photos that were of another person, but she falsely told Michael she had colon cancer. It is the cancer lie that she regrets the most.

“I regretted saying that the minute it came out of my mouth,” Padgett said. “I just told him I was sick and then he told me his mom was sick. If I could go back and change anything, that’s the do over I'd ask for.”

Now that the experience is in the past, both Ledford and Padgett are now feeling positive about it and have become Facebook friends. Padgett and Michael are currently not on speaking terms, and she feels hurt by that. According to her, Michael had promised to be there for her no matter what the show revealed about her.

“He said ‘We can go to therapy together — I will sit there and be with you and hold your hand,’" Padgett said. "I kept trying to get reassurance from him. I would ask him, ‘What if I eat a lot of doughnuts?’ ‘What if I don’t have red hair?’ He always said, ‘It doesn’t matter what you look like.'”

Padgett admits to having anxiety issues, but said she is trying to better herself after seeing the episode. She has been eating healthier and blogging about her personal experiences as a way to explain what happened on the show.

Padgett said she agreed to do the show with Michael, even though she was very scared and nervous about it. She said letting him go now has been difficult because she misses him.

“When I got a phone call about doing the show, I literally cried,” Padgett said. “I freaked out. I said I didn't want it to go that far, but Michael said he would still be there for me. But he sent me away like a piece a trash. I get it, I lied about some stuff, but my personality and the things I did were real. My personality is what drew him to me originally.”

Padgett was weary of watching the episode and seeing herself portrayed on TV. When she did see parts of it, she said it made her angry because the show portrayed more of Michael’s side of the story.

“It’s a one-sided story,” she said. “They made it look the way they wanted. They portrayed me as a fat, crazy stalker. I may be a big girl, but it doesn’t make me crazy.”

To get her side of the story out, Padgett has been posting videos of herself on YouTube explaining her experience. She also said she had been in contact with a publishing company about writing a book.

After all has been said and done, Padgett said she learned three important principles to live by.

“Don't catfish, don't lie about cancer and don't fall in love the wrong people,” she said.

A newborn activist

While Padgett is working on bettering herself, Ledford is taking matters in her own hands to prevent other online dating disasters.

Ledford said it had been a surreal experience to have her photos taken by someone else.

“I actually didn’t believe it at first,” Ledford said, adding that it didn’t become a reality to her until she met Nev and Max via video chat. “I was really surprised that someone would use my pictures. I'm a small-town girl, not an actress or a model. It definitely was flattering.”

After having her photos stolen and used by another girl, Ledford is interested in seeing changes in North Carolina law.

“I was really shocked when I saw someone else’s words behind my image,” Ledford said. “It made me realize that there were no laws for online impersonation, so I would like to pass a bill in North Carolina against online impersonation.”

Ledford said New York, Texas and California have already made online impersonation illegal. In New York and California, online impersonation is considered a misdemeanor and renders a fine, but in Texas it’s a third-degree felony.

To get the process started, Ledford sent a letter to N.C. Rep. Joe Sam Queen requesting that a bill be introduced. While North Carolina has passed a statute against creating fake profiles related to cyber bullying, Ledford said passing a law against fake profiles in general might help prevent other situations like the one that happened to her.

“Online communicating is not going to become less common, so we need to pass a law before North Carolina has to experience further online crimes,” Ledford said.

Ledford has no hard feelings toward Padgett. She said she was able to meet Michael and Padgett in person when she flew to New York to film the "Catfish Reunion" TV show.

“I thought it was great to meet Heather and Mike in person and ask them the questions I had,” Ledford said. “It was nice to hear her explanation. I never had negative feelings against Heather — I don’t know her feelings, and I don’t know what she’s going through. It wouldn’t be fair to make a statement about who she is and what she’s like. I don’t know her personally.”

Box info

What is MTV’s Catfish?

Catfish is an American reality-based docudrama television series that airs on MTV about the truths and lies of online dating.

The series is based on the 2010 film “Catfish” and is hosted by Nev Schulman and his filmmaker friend, Max Joesph.

The duo helps couples that have never met in real life discover if the person they’ve had an emotional relationship with online is legitimate or if they are, in fact, a "catfish.”

cat·fish noun \-ˌfish\: a type of fish that has a large head and long thin parts that look like a cat's whiskers around its mouth.

verb: when someone pretends to be someone they're not using Facebook or other social media to create false identities, particularly to pursue deceptive online romances.