The Kingdom of “Tiger King”: Rated from Pretty Okay to the Absolute Worst
*WARNING: This article contains spoilers for the Netflix docuseries “Tiger King.” Reader discretion advised.
“I really appreciate the fact that none of these people like me.” One of the many infamous quotes said by Carole Baskin in Netflix’s hit docuseries, “Tiger King.” As it turns out, this quote is applicable to most of the people featured in the show.
The series released on March 20 of this year and it became an instant hit. Social media blew up with memes, conspiracy theories and the occasional problematic “hot takes.” The internet’s response aside, one thing is certain: most of these people are pretty terrible.
Here’s a list of the main players of “Tiger King” rated from best to worst, according to me. Feel free to keep your own list but if you call Joe Exotic a “gay icon,” your opinion is immediately invalidated.
10. Saff Saffery (Former keeper at Joe’s zoo)
Saff is, by far, the best person in this series. He is one of the few voices of reason and seemed to have a pretty neutral view on how things went down. Saff really just wanted to do his job and have a bit of fun in the process. While trying to do his job, Saff got his arm bitten off and it only deepens our sympathy for the poor man. (Especially when Joe’s more worried about his finances than Saff’s well being…more on that later.)
Speaking of standing up for Saff, he is a transgender man and was repeatedly misgendered by everyone in the entire series. It made my blood boil. Even the show creators used his dead name in his introduction text. In the bonus episode that premiered on April 12, Saff spoke about the continued misgendering. He was his usual calm, collected self and claimed that audiences were more outraged about the inconsideration than he was. In the words of the youth of today, we have no choice but to “stan” Saff.
9. Joshua Dial (Joe’s former campaign manager)
Arguably, Dial is not a major component of this story. But he was the only one to make me laugh out loud in the course of this ridiculous, upsetting journey. He, like Saff, was one of the few saving graces of the series. His dry humor and blatant honesty made me want to be his friend in real life.
He called his job as campaign manager for Joe Exotic “the worst experience of his life.” Perhaps that’s what makes him so likable; he’s honest about how awful Joe is and doesn’t make us sympathize with him like other people do (ahem, the director…but we’ll get to that). Dial also witnessed the suicide of Joe’s late husband Travis, making us sympathize with him. The incident truly portrayed just how horrendous the situation that Joe dragged him into had become.
8. John Finlay (Joe’s ex-husband)
This poor man. He was manipulated in so many ways. He said, in the first episode, that he met Joe when he was about a month out of high school. Joe abetted John’s drug addiction and preyed on his vulnerability to make him “fall in love” with him…which, of course, we all know wasn’t really love. In fact, John admitted later on in the series that he wasn’t even gay and had been cheating on Joe for quite some time with a woman. They eventually divorced.
Although John worked at Joe’s twisted zoo and was his right-hand man for quite some time, he was ultimately the victim of a disgusting and selfish manipulator. Not to mention the fact that the directors only used interviews of him with his shirt off and portrayed him as a clueless meth addict. (That cut of talking about “meth mouth” and going to John smiling…clever editing but insulting to John.)
7. Rick Kirkham (Joe’s former producer)
I’m just going to say it: Kirkham’s voice annoyed me. Obviously, this doesn’t make him a bad person but I just thought I’d throw it out there. What does make him a bad person is the fact that he didn’t care that Joe was a horrible, abusive, manipulative person; he only cared that the man made “great tv.”
I admire Kirkham, in a way, for being a successful producer and journalist. But I do think his ethics were flawed in trying to make Joe a national sensation when he knew how poorly Joe treated his animals and staff. He was also one of the ones who repeatedly misgendered Saff. But, in the end, he’s just a man who was trying to do his job. Comparatively, he’s not all that bad. But he’s not great.
6. Howard Baskin (Carole Baskin’s current husband)
I would argue Howard is chaotic neutral. He does whatever he’s told by Carole and he didn’t do anything explicitly dreadful like others in the series. I definitely think Carole’s manipulated him in ways similar to Joe manipulating his husbands. However, by doing everything Carole says, Howard probably did some pretty questionable stuff.
For example, regardless of their intentions, Carole and Howard sued Joe Exotic’s mother, a woman already being sucked dry by Joe, and bankrupted her. They undoubtedly hurt several others in their pursuit of putting an end to Joe Exotic’s empire, like suing several of the zoo’s blameless staff members. The couple probably views these incidents as collateral damage but they affected real lives in their vendetta. Howard also aids his wife in the hypocritical caging and profiting off of big cats. In the end, though, you can’t hate the poor dude for being whipped. Also, on a separate note, that photo was truly amazing.
5. Eric Goode (Director/producer of “Tiger King”)
One of the worst people involved in the series is barely seen on screen. Eric Goode, an entrepreneur and filmmaker, has become a bit of a household name with his breakout hit “Tiger King.” What people might not know is that he is also a “wealthy hospitality mogul” who owns several swanky hotels and restaurants in Manhattan.
In their tell-all article, Buzzfeed News detailed the chronicles of the workers laid off by Goode in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. According to the article, approximately 70 waiters and cooks were laid off by the director in March. While other employers have worked to provide for their unemployed workers, Goode’s former employees reported that he hasn’t lifted a finger to help them in their time of need, despite his millions and newfound Hollywood fame. Further details about Goode’s blatant disregard for his employees can be found here.
In addition to his recent corona controversy, I have qualms about the way Goode portrayed the people of “Tiger King.” Throughout his series, he victimized Joe Exotic (a narcissistic, manipulative animal abuser), villainized Carole Baskin (who is not great but surely does not deserve all the hate she’s receiving as a result of this show), portrayed multiple subjects (John Finlay, for example) as clueless rednecks, let everyone misgender Saff, and barely even drew attention to the main issue at hand (the abuse and problematic keeping of big cats). While the series is certainly entertaining, it can be seen as problematic.
4. Carole Baskin (Owner of Big Cat Rescue)
Ah, Carole Baskin. Although that Carole Baskin remix of Megan Thee Stallion’s “Savage” is one of the best things I’ve ever seen, I think the fact that social media has decided to make her the main antagonist of this story shows just how misogynistic our society really is, whether implicitly or explicitly. With that being said, Carole is not guiltless.
I have differing opinions on the circumstances of Carole Baskin possibly killing her husband. But murder is murder and I think she probably killed her husband. Which is pretty bad. Regardless of if she really did it or not, Carole took a large sum of her husband’s abundant assets after he disappeared. By doing so, she stole a large portion of her husband’s inheritance that should’ve gone to his first wife and their daughters. In addition to her fishy handling of her missing husband, Carole did some bad sh*t long after the murder debate was a hot topic in the 90s. Carole and Howard sued several staff members of Joe’s zoo in order to get to Joe. Carole exploits hundreds of volunteers for free labor. (Which can be seen as a smart business decision but like…it’s wrong. It’s like an unpaid internship.)
Finally, my biggest grievance with Carole Baskin is, what I see as, her blatant hypocrisy. She advocates for big cats to be free, to not live in cages and what is Big Cat Rescue? A “sanctuary” full of cages. Despite her intentions, I think it goes against everything she stands for. To make matters worse, she profits off of her so-called selfless pursuits. It all seems very suspicious. The show’s “facts” from Carole Baskin and Joe Exotic seem like a bunch of he said/she said and, to me, it’s all bullsh*t.
3. Joe Exotic (Former owner of the Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park, main subject of “Tiger King”)
So…to recap: he’s manipulative, greedy, narcissistic, and all-around just ridiculous. He openly admitted to manipulating two vulnerable straight men to have sex with and marry him by preying on their substance abuse. He created horrible conditions for his employees to work in; the trailers provided for their lodging were disgusting and they made so little that some took expired meat from the Walmart trucks to eat for themselves.
He was obsessed with Carole Baskin and made horrific threats against her life (shot a doll that resembled her in the head, put venomous snakes in her mailbox, made lots of verbal threats, the list goes on and on). As the end of the series revealed, he shot and killed five tigers and Saff claims the number of murdered tigers is even higher. Joe bred and abused tiger cubs and profited off of their unfair treatment. Something that is not detailed in the series is that Joe did not actually make the music featured on the show. As Vanity Fair revealed, Joe stole the work of a songwriter and vocalist and passed it off as his own. It was heavily hinted in the series that Joe was the one who burned down his own recording studio and alligator house. Personally, I definitely think he did.
Last but certainly not least, regardless of if he was coaxed into doing it or not, Joe Exotic tried to hire someone to kill Carole Baskin. It baffles me that many people on social media want to see Joe exonerated. I think he’s exactly where he belongs.
2. Jeff Lowe (“Businessman,” 2nd owner of of the Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park)
Oh my God, I could go off for hours about how much I hate this man. He is truly the worst. To start, one of the first things he said in the series is “A little p*ssy gets you a lot of p*ssy.” He was referring to his usage of tiger cubs to lure women into having sex with him. This is obviously insulting to women and it shows that he has no remorse for literally stuffing tiger cubs into suitcases and dragging them around Las Vegas.
He treated his animals with no respect, just like he treated women. He’s constantly reducing women to their looks and sees them as sexual objects. In the last episode of the series, Lowe said the first thing his wife needed to do after giving BIRTH was “go back to the gym.” I mean, are you f*cking kidding me? He was especially horrible to women but he really treated everybody like sh*t. He was rude to everyone, even the innocent workers at the zoo. Lowe completely screwed over Tim Stark when he tried to open another zoo with him.
I think he definitely set up Joe to be caught for trying to murder Carole Baskin. He pretends to have an incredibly lucrative lifestyle but he’s lying to everyone and is drowning in debt. All the man cares about is money and sex and he doesn’t care who he hurts to get to both. He deserves to rot in jail right next to Joe Exotic.
1. Doc Antle (Owner of The Institute for Greatly Endangered and Rare Species)
Of all the d*cks in this series, this man might be the worst one. He is manipulative, sick and greedy. I refuse to call him “Bhagavan” because I think his entire treatment of Eastern culture is cultural appropriation.
As seen in the series, Antle uses his entire sanctuary as a kind of cult. He lures women in with promises of a wild lifestyle with tigers. Once they’re trapped in his web, he holds sex over their heads as a way to move up in management. He manipulates them and uses them for sex. Not to mention the disgusting way he exploits them in their catsuits and tiny uniforms. He, like Jeff Lowe, objectifies women and uses them for his own benefit. He makes me so sick.
I think one of the saddest moments in the series is when the crew went to former Institute worker Barbara Fisher’s house and she detailed her horrid experience at Antle’s organization. She explained how the workers work almost all day, every day while not getting paid enough to pay for basic necessities. She shared that Antle made her get breast implants so that she would be more “sexy” for the park. Her account showcases the disgusting nature of Doc Antle.
Then there’s the way he treated his animals. It was heavily implied that Antle kills tiger cubs once they get too big. Joe Exotic furthered these suspicions when he claimed Antle murders tigers in gas chambers so that he can breed more. Once he breeds more, he sells the cubs to anyone who will buy them, including circuses and poorly managed zoos. PETA and other animal rights organizations have accused Antle of animal abuse for years but, somehow, his park is still running.
Not everyone in “Tiger King” is inherently good or bad. In fact, there were a fair amount of people who were simply normal, like former G.W. Zoo manager John Reinke, former G.W. zookeeper Erik Cowie and reporter Sylvia Corkill.
Hopefully, this list will make you think twice before you praise Joe Exotic for being a “gay icon” or call a white man “Bhagavan.”