Who would have thought MTV would ever come to Sussex County? But when Solana Alvarez told television producers about her close friendship with a young man she’d never met, the entire crew of “Catfish: The TV Show” descended on Ocean View in March.
The episode “Solana and Elijah” just premiered on Wednesday, June 18.
Based on a documentary of the same title, “catfish” means to pretend to be someone else online, by providing false information or photographs, usually to gain someone’s trust and love.
Now living in Virginia, Alvarez told the story of Elijah Prok, a boy she befriended online at 14, who helped her through tough times.
Then suddenly he disappeared — his MySpace account was deleted, and she couldn’t contact him.
Now, she’s 20 and was surprised to receive a Facebook message from someone claiming to be this close friend from years ago. She began texting Elijah again, but he claimed not to have neither phone, nor webcam, but just an iPod texting app.
Was this the real Elijah?
“Catfish” hosts Yaniv “Nev” Schulman and Max Joseph flew to the East Coast in March to solve this mystery and find the real Elijah — if he was real — once and for all.
“I just need to solve this thing because it’s been lingering,” said Alvarez, who had a new, local boyfriend, Danny. “It’s basically been holding me back from Danny, and that’s not fair to him … I don’t want to wonder ‘What if?’ about this person for the rest of my life.”
“This cyber-courtship needs to end,” Joseph said.
“Or perhaps begin,” she countered.
Alvarez first met Joseph and Schulman via webcam, then at her work at All About U! salon and spa in Ocean View.
They made plans to find Elijah Prok, 20, in Minnesota.
“I’m at a point in my life where it’s basically now or never,” Alvarez said in the show. “I know it’s short notice, but I think it would be really worth it.”
“What if I’m not what you imagined?” was his response.
The man behind
A day later, and a time zone away, the travellers nervously knocked on the door, Elijah didn’t answer. His mysterious brother opened the door, then left to find Elijah, leaving the visitors and camera crew alone to wait.
Finally, a familiar face entered the room. The real Elijah had arrived.
He and Alvarez looked nervous, but amazed to see each other.
Although she had talked to him for years, Alvarez said she never knew 100 percent who was behind the texts.
“It was more weird when Max and Nev found the all the stuff” online, including other names attached to his many copycat web accounts.
MTV was a staple for Alvarez when she was younger, and “Catfish” seemed the perfect opportunity to meet her distant friend.
Making reality into TV
“It’s very long days,” she said of the filming. “I had to be ready early in the morning and then film all day.”
A professional aesthetician, Alvarez did her own hair and makeup, flawlessly setting her platinum blonde hair, ruby red lips and jet black eyeliner. MTV staff only asked to approve her wardrobe, devoid of trademarked logos or brand names.
“Timing” was the biggest difference between reality and television. Alvarez said she wrote to MTV before she even met Danny, “so it’s weird that they even replied to me.”
Surprisingly for viewers, the two ended the trip with matching shoulder tattoos: a lion and lioness.
“Me and Elijah had talked about getting tattoos for a very long time. We’re both very into artwork and tattoos,” Alvarez told the Coastal Point.
With MTV footing the bill, getting inked was a no-brainer.
“We’re still friends. We’re cool. We’ve always been kinda off and on. We’re both in different parts of our lives.”
The show’s epilogue ended on a surprising note a month later: Alvarez was now married. To Danny, the hometown man who made her happy. They married in April and now live in Portsmouth, Va.
“People still think that Elijah and the brother are the same person,” Alvarez later told the Coastal Point. One can almost hear her shaking her head over the phone. “Yeah, they’re different people,” she confirmed.
Filming in Delaware
Back in Ocean View, locals were sworn to silence until the “Catfish” premiere.
With confidentiality contracts now ended, Maria Fraser shared the excitement of hosting film crews Café on 26. In March, she said, producers were looking for a “cute” café to film Joseph’s and Schulman’s online research scene. She still laughs, bluntly wondering, “Why are you in little Ocean View?”
“The associate producer asked, ‘Have you ever heard of Catfish?’ I said, ‘We serve catfish here all the time!’”
When he mentioned MTV, she asked if it was a cooking show.
A day later, packed into four black SUVs, a fleet of directors and cameramen did a final inspection.
“I cracked up ’cause you’d think Obama was here,” Fraser said. “Half of them were New Yorkers; the other half were California dudes.”
The director walked around, peering though the rectangle of his fingers, already envisioning the shots.
Filming began a day later.
“It was everything we expected, but it’s amazing how every light, and every angle, and every sound matters to them.”
With super-sensitive microphones, the crew asked café staff to stop laughing in the kitchen. Fraser said they were barely tittering above a whisper.
“They just taped for eight hours … all that tape condensed into 20 minutes,” she mused.
Although the café was never identified in the show, Fraser said the staff knows the location, and they can see their friends’ artwork on the walls.
Locals can also pick out familiar spots, as Joseph and Schulman drove down Route 1 and Route 26 in snowy March to solve the mystery of Elijah.
New episodes of “Catfish” premiere Wednesdays at 10 p.m. on MTV. The “Solana and Elijah” episode can be viewed online at www.mtv.com/shows/catfish/video.