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The Most Jaw-Dropping Moments From The 'Joe Vs. Carole' Take On The Tiger King Saga

From the tragic to the shocking, there is no shortage of slack-jaw drama in Peacock's new original series.

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

When it debuted in 2020, Netflix’s hit docuseries “Tiger King” supplied no shortage of drama. And that hasn’t changed as the saga of Joe Exotic and Carole Baskin comes to Peacock in the form of an eight-part scripted series. Here are some of the wildest moments chronicled by the show.

1. The Death of Travis Maldonado

Travis Maldonado Tiger King

“Joe Vs. Carole" depicts Travis Maldonado arriving in Oklahoma by bus and entering into a polyamorous relationship with Exotic and John Finlay.  As Travis struggles with his relationship with Exotic, he meanders around the zoo in an alcohol-induced haze before he enters the zoo’s office, playfully puts a gun to his head, and pulls the trigger, believing the gun is unloaded. It's not, and the 23-year-old dies.

The series stays close to the truth here. Travis had struggled with meth addiction in his native California before Exotic’s employees suggested Joe take him into the zoo to help him recover, according to Texas Monthly. The Oklahoman reported witnesses saying Travis removed the handgun’s magazine, claiming the gun couldn’t discharge without it.

Joe Exotic’s gubernatorial campaign manager, Joshua Dial - who was present for Travis’s death - told People the event caused him to have post-traumatic stress disorder.

“What Travis would do in the mornings is he would kick down the door, point a gun at you, [and] that very day, he did that to me,” said Dial. “He broke in my room, pointed that new gun that he said would not fire without a clip at me, and asked me to wake up. I’m lucky to even be alive.”

2. Joe Exotic Infiltrates Carole Baskin’s Sanctuary

Carole Baskin 2

A highlight of the series is Joe Exotic's fury-filled mission to travel from Oklahoma to Florida to visit “the queen b**** herself, Carole f****** Baskin,” in Exotic’s words. With John Renke and John Finlay in tow, Exotic joins a walking tour at Baskin’s Tampa-based Big Cat Rescue sanctuary. Exotic veers off the beaten path and runs into Baskin’s adult daughter, who forwards his request to see Baskin. Instead, Baskin has the uninvited guest removed from the property, further angering Exotic.

Exotic later responds by hiring a helicopter pilot to take him soaring over the sanctuary in a profanity-laced tirade against Baskin, that causes one of her tigers to seize.

In real life, Exotic actually made two separate trips to Big Cat Rescue, one in March 2010 and one in September 2010, according to 911 Animal Abuse, a website operated by Carole Baskin. Exotic allegedly took photos and made “nonsensical comments” into the tour guide’s microphone, including hurling insults at the sanctuary’s volunteers.

The New York Daily News reports that Exotic has been accused of a similar helicopter stunt as revenge as recently as 2020. Exotic’s former business partner, Jeff Lowe, who now owns the GW Zoo in Wynnewood, Oklahoma that once belonged to Exotic, believes his former business partner masterminded a helicopter flight over the GW Zoo as well. (This is despite the fact that Exotic has been incarcerated since 2018.) Lowe reported the incident to the FAA. 

3. Baskin’s Failed Efforts To Pass Bill Through Congress

Carole Baskin 4

One might be surprised by the depiction of Carole Baskin as studious in “Joe Vs. Carole.” She's shown spending countless hours poring over the law, readying to go to Washington D.C. to have a bill passed through congress aimed at ending the private possession of big cats. With the help of her husband and daughter, she seems to memorize every detail from dozens of thick binders, expressing a subtle lack of confidence when she describes herself as “a high school dropout in a cat bra.”

Despite remarkable conviction and knowledge, her hopes to pass the Big Cats and Public Safety Protection Act are dashed when Bhagavan ‘Doc’ Antle (featured in the Netflix docuseries ‘Tiger King’) brings a tiger cub to the committee, derailing the discussion. 

It seems "Joe Vs. Carole" condensed separate incidents to convey the uphill battle faced by Baskin.

The Washington Post reported that Doc Antle did bring indeed bring tiger cubs to a Natural Resources Committee meeting in 2013.

“There were lines of staff and members down the hall and around the corner to see our animals,” said Frank Vitello, who lobbied against the bill on Antle’s behalf.

But the bill was originally introduced in 2011, according to NPR’s WUFT, years before Baskin and her husband took to the American capital in 2015. 

Although the bill failed to pass, the publicity brought on by the Netflix series seemed to work in Baskin’s favor, and in 2020, the bill passed the House in a 272-114 vote, according to CBS affiliate Tampa Bay 10. The victory coincided with a horrible accident when one of Baskin’s volunteers at Big Cat Rescue nearly had her arm torn off by a tiger that same day.

4. John Finlay’s Assault On Joe Exotic

John Finlay Tiger King

The three-way wedding between Joe Exotic, Travis Maldonado, and John Finlay brought no shortage of shock value. The wedding was zoo-themed, featuring monkeys as flower girls and a tiger-striped cake, according to Texas Monthly. But “Joe Vs. Carole” audiences do get a surprise when seeing Finlay sneaking away from the wedding to have sex with a female employee.

Indeed, Finlay reportedly had sexual relationships with several female employees at the zoo, according to Men’s Health.

Later in the series, after learning that the woman is pregnant with Finlay’s child, Exotic angrily confronts Finlay and his girlfriend in the GW Zoo gift shop. The argument escalates until Finlay viciously beats Exotic to the ground before leaving the zoo with the mother of his unborn child.

The real-life incident allegedly took place in a parking lot, and Finlay was charged with assault, as previously reported. However, Garvin County Sheriff Jim Mullett told Oxygen.com that his office had no record of that assault taking place. Exotic filed a restraining order against Finlay in 2014, but it was dismissed following a hearing. A misdemeanor charge of assault and battery against Finlay was also dismissed that same year.

John Finlay has since denounced his marriage to Exotic, claiming the wedding was a sham, according to Fox News. He also resented the Netflix series for depicting him as “a drugged-up hillbilly.”

John Finlay later married another woman named Stormey Finlay.

5. Joe Exotic Executes Five Caged Tigers

Exotic Joe Netflix

As Exotic's world unravels, he's depicted going to the tiger cages by night, contemplating his legal and personal troubles. He takes a handgun and shoots five of his tigers before returning to his latest husband, Dillon Passage, covered in blood.

This was something Joe Exotic actually admitted to after he was federally indicted in 2018, according to ABC affiliate KOCO News 5.

Along with Exotic’s foiled murder-for-hire plot against his rival Carole Baskin, he was found guilty of 17 federal animal abuse charges, according to National Geographic. The wildlife charges, including the tigers’ shooting deaths, brought a four-year sentence. In his defense, Exotic claimed they were mercy killings.

“I put five tigers to sleep because they were in pain,” said Exotic, according to KOCO. “They were in pain. They had toenails coming out of their ankles. They had no teeth. They had exposed root canals.”

Prosecutors claimed Exotic killed the animals to create space for the expected arrival of new cats.

“I thought it was more humane and more faster than 20 minutes of seizures,” said Exotic. “I have to shoot a horse or cow every day that somebody brings me. Obviously, it’s hard.”

Over the years, the USDA cited Exotic for numerous federal violations that went against the Animal Welfare Act, according to National Geographic. In 2011, the Humane Society conducted an investigation, accusing Exotic of holding tigers “caged in barren conditions, punched, dragged, and beaten as ‘training,’ and bred to provide infant animals for public photo shoots and then offloaded when they were no longer useful.”

Joe Exotic is currently serving his sentence and was recently moved to a medical facility in North Carolina following a cancer diagnosis.

"Joe Vs. Carole" is currently streaming on Peacock. 

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