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Separating Fact From Fiction In 'Joe Vs. Carole', A Closer Look At The Tiger King Saga

The Peacock series is able to provide a more intimate look into the lives of the extraordinary people who form the Tiger King universe.

By Jax Miller
Peacock’s “Joe Vs Carole” Cast Breaks Down How Scripted Show Is A Fresh Take On ‘Tiger King’ Saga

There is a lot to parse in the real-life saga of Joe Exotic and Carole Baskin and much to be learned in the new scripted series based on the Wondery podcast, "Joe Vs. Carole."

Peacock’s eight-part original series of the same name examines the lesser-known - and often surprising - backstories of this now-infamous feud. Audiences get to see how Exotic and Baskin became rivals, an intimate look at their personal lives, and even how their bonds with big cats were first formed. “Joe Vs. Carole” chronicles the stranger-than-fiction events using emotion as a tool to show what drove these caricature-like people before their thrust into the spotlight.

We meet a young Joseph Schreibvogel (before he was Joseph Maldonado-Passage, a.k.a. Joe Exotic) struggling with his life as a closeted gay man. It's revealed that Schreibvogel, played by John Cameron Mitchell, was in a car accident he caused when attempting suicide.

In real life, Schreibvogel, then a 19-year-old police officer in Texas, was devastated when his father disowned because he was gay, according to Texas Monthly. His father went as far as to shake Scheribvogel’s hand and make him promise that he wouldn't attend his funeral. As a result, Schreibvogel attempted to drive his police cruiser off a bridge, veering into a concrete barrier that left him severely injured.

He moved to a rehab facility in West Palm Beach, Florida, and underwent months of physical therapy. “Joe Vs. Carole” depicts Schreibvogel as a timid young man who stumbles upon a fellow patient who’d brought wild animals into the facility, Schreibvogel’s first introduction to tiger cubs. According to New York Magazine, he first encountered cubs while working at a pet store in West Palm, through a friend who worked at a nearby drive through safari. 

But perhaps the most formative event in the life of the man who would become Joe Exotic was his 16-year-long marriage to Brian Rhyne and the adversity they faced when trying to be public about their relationship.

In 1997,Schreibvogel used part of a financial settlement following his brother’s untimely death to open the GW Zoo, where Schreibvolgel and Rhyne lived in Wynnewood, Oklahoma, according to Bustle. The married couple raised animals and built a life together until Rhyne became ill.

In 2001, Rhyne died in Schreibvogel’s arms in the parking lot of a hospital, a turning point in Schreibvogel's life. While "Joe Vs. Carole" doesn't show Rhyne's death, it does show the emotional aftermath. 

The series’ more-refined view of Joe Exotic is as insightful as the trials and tribulations faced by the woman who would become his arch nemesis, Carole Baskin. Baskin, played by Kate McKinnon (SNL), documents her dark past and the early stages of the Exotic-Baskin rivalry.

The series reveals Baskin being trapped in a physically abusive marriage with her first husband, Michael Murdock - the father of Baskin’s child. After a particularly heated incident, Baskin flees the home when Murdock goes to beat her. While walking barefoot in the street, she meets her future second husband, Don Lewis.

The depiction reflects the real-life meeting between Baskin and Lewis when Baskin was still a teenager, according to CBS News. The real-life Carole Baskin claimed that when she met Don Lewis in 1981, he said his name was Bob Martin, as portrayed in the series.

“He told me his name was Bob Martin and that he was just a poor, lost boy that worked for this really evil guy, Don Lewis,” said Baskin in Katie Piper's "Extraordinary People" podcast.

"Joe Vs. Carole" also dives into Baskin’s relationship with Lewis before his 1997 disappearance, a marriage rife with betrayal, and Lewis’ frugality (as seen in the series when Lewis dumpster dives and buries jars of money in the yard).

Lewis' reputation for being cheap is well established. When he and Baskin were married in 1991, "he gave her a $14 wedding ring during a courthouse ceremony," reported People. 

“In the few years preceding his disappearance, Don’s behavior was gradually showing signs of mental deterioration,” Baskin wrote on her Big Cat Rescue website. “Don, from time to time, would buy vehicles or other equipment at auctions with a view to reselling them, although mostly he never got around to reselling them. But gradually, his hoarding of junk that he brought to the 40 acres the sanctuary now sits on increased and involved junk of no value. He deteriorated into dumpster diving and even got stuck in a dumpster and called me crying because he did not know where he was.”

“Joe Vs. Carole” shows the climb to the characters’ stardom, including how Baskin came to learn about Joe Exotic, her campaign to stop his big cat tours, and the back-and-forth lawsuits that came before the 2020 docuseries. 

Of course, one can expect a layer of laughter when dealing with the characters of the Tiger King universe, but beneath the surface is a story filled with heart and passion, even when it has disastrous results.

“Joe Vs. Carole” is streaming on Peacock

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