Opinion: Limited Netflix docu-series, “Tiger King,” gives viewers a rollercoaster


Graphic by: Yasmin Myers

Yasmin Myers

Murder, mayhem but mostly, madness.

With students staying home due to Covid-19, Netflix presented a new addition to the selections they already offered on March 20. Among these new shows and movies lies the documentary series that immediately became a hit, “Tiger King”. There are 7 episodes and 1 “special” episode, which each range from 41-48 minutes. Many of Tiger King viewers have been instantly drawn to the eccentric main character who the show revolves around.

Joseph Allen Maldonado-Passage, better known as “Joe Exotic,” not only has a mullet that should have been shaved long ago, but is also a openly gay, polyamourous country singer who ran for president in 2016 and was the seemingly proud owner of a wide variety and collection of animals, including but not limited to, big cats.  

Senior Ravyn Limon shared her thoughts on Tiger King, “It was only entertaining because of Joe Exotic’s music videos and diss tracks.”

Maldonado-Passage’s nemesis, Carole Baskin, is a flower-crown wearing, leopard print fanatic, ironically enough. Baskin prides herself in “Tiger King” as being an animal rights activist who worked with well-known animal rights organization, PETA. Baskin and Maldonado-Passage are a dynamic duo who detest each other and whose relationship resulted in numerous lawsuits from Baskin. 

Now a question that the viewers of Tiger King are yearning to know, did Baskin allegedly kill her ex-husband, Don Lewis, as suggested by Maldonado-Passage and others that follow the show? Who really knows. If she did, she hid it well enough. She certainly had a motive. Lewis became a self-made millionaire through selling used cars and real-estate. Lewis disappeared on Aug. 18, 1997 and was declared legally dead five years later although his body was never found. Maldonado-Passage went as far as making a fairly catchy song and music video with a Baskin look-alike that suggests that Baskin killed her husband and fed him to tigers she owns. Numerous other people in the show also have the same suspicions as Maldonado-Passage, including Lewis’ daughters, ex-wife, and Lewis’ lawyer. Limon additionally shared that, “[Baskin] Most definitely [killed her husband], she only likes her cool cats and kittens, so why would she even want her ex around? I don’t even understand how she currently has a husband.”

Following the debut of Tiger King, Hillsborough County sheriff, Chad Chronister asked for new tips on the active cold case. So far, they haven’t received any leads that weren’t theory driven and were based on hard evidence. Sophomore Inman Costa shared that, “I do [think Baskin killed her husband], all the evidence points towards it.” 

The Baskin and Maldonado-Passage feud involved bad-mouthing each other, and quickly escalated to Maldonado-Passage hiring a hitman to kill Baskin. According to cnn.com, Maldonado-Passage had tried to find someone to kill her since July 2016, and had unknowingly met with an undercover FBI agent to discuss details of the planned murder, according to the court. Maldonado-Passage is now facing a 22 year prison sentence for murder-for-hire and animal abuse charges. Costa further voiced that, “[Maldonado-Passage] should be freed [because] he could die from Covid and he’s my bae.” 

The simple truth is, Baskin is just as atrocious as Maldonado-Passage. Sure she didn’t hire an ex-con to get rid of anyone, or there’s no proof related to any alleged murders, but her association with PETA isn’t something to be proud of either. According to petakillsanimals.com, 89.4% of animals put under PETA’s care have been killed within one year. Not only does this raise some question marks coming from an organization that is supposedly against any unnecessary harm of animals, but the fact that Baskin affiliates her “non-profit animal sanctuary” with such an organization immediately alarmed me personally. Moreover, video clips from her “sanctuary” in Florida show a scene too familiar, animals in cages. 

The sad thing is, the story of Tiger King just doesn’t end there. In 2015, Jeff Lowe bought a tiger-lion mix and the two bonded. As the costs over the Baskin lawsuit mounted, Joe offered to put his zoo in Lowe’s name as a way to protect his assets from Baskin, making Lowe seem like the knight in shining armor that Maldonado-Passage needed so badly. At first glance, Lowe seemed like some sort of millionaire, he had the shiny red Ferrari and a house that made Maldonado-Passage’s zoo look like a cardboard box with holes. As the series progressed, Lowe’s dirty secrets were revealed. Lowe was, in reality, a convicted criminal who had pleaded guilty to federal mail-fraud charges after he posed as an employee of a charity for domestic abuse victims and obtained $1 million worth of merchandise that he resold later.

Although Maldonado-Passage is currently in a federal prison, he didn’t go without a fight. According to screenrant.com, he is seeking a Presidential pardon from Donald Trump. He is also currently suing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for $94 million, claiming false imprisonment, entrapment, and false arrest.

In the end, Maldonado-Passage is a man who claimed to be in the animal industry for all the right reasons when he ended up getting carried away. What once began as a Maldonado-Passage’s pet shop opening, within years, became a murder-for-hire and animal abuse case.

Infographic by: Yasmin Myers