Joe Exotic: The New King of Netflix


As President Trump and the tribal and state leaders of Oklahoma increase safety protocols in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, folks are stuck at home (with their kids) searching for entertainment. Upon scrolling through Netflix, a new show popped up on my recommended feed: The Tiger King. Spoiler alert if you haven’t watched this train wreck yet!

According to Business Insider, The Tiger King has been #1 nationwide for nine days straight. It is classified as a true crime documentary, and does justice to the genre. With that being said, imagine the volume of views it has.

The Tiger King is a fitting title. This is a documentary about an Okie named Joseph Maldonado-Passage, more commonly known as Joe Exotic. In Exotic’s own words, “[I am…] a gay, gun-carrying redneck with a mullet.” The 7 part series is an absolute whirlwind full of everything from tigers, arson, polygamy and even a murder for hire plot. The entire series centers around an allegation that Exotic hired a hit man to kill his competitor, Carole Baskin, who ran the PETA-loving Big Cat Rescue down in Florida.

Exotic is a man of many words. His park was the The Gerald Wayne Exotic Animal Park, or G.W. Zoo. The zoo lies on a space in Wynnewood, Oklahoma (which is a crisp 50 minute drive from Ada). This park has everything — reptiles, apes, bears, zebras — but they don’t call Exotic the Tiger King for nothing. The park is home to over 200 tigers, lions, ligers and any other form of big cat. Exotic was famous for being able to walk into cages with up to four to eight tigers and petting them like they’re house cats. Exotic and his multiple husbands ran the park until an unfortunate accidental suicide of second husband, Travis Maldonado. His other spouse, John Finlay, left and remarried a female park employee shortly after. Exotic remarried as well his current spouse, Dillon Passage.


Shortly after his spouse’s death, the accusation of a murder-for-hire plot sprouted. Exotic did not like hippy-dippy-bicycle-millionairess Baskin, and that was no secret since Exotic muttered “that ***** Carole Baskin” almost daily on his internet show. Baskin’s Big Cat Rescue in Tampa also housed big cats in cages that was open to the public like Exotic’s zoo, but somehow the animal rights organizations loved her .  Exotic could not abide this.  Nevertheless, Baskin and Exotic public quarrelled and defamed each other constantly. Baskin had thousands of followers (unpaid volunteers) behind her, which was something Exotic did not have. This lead to her “followers” stalking his traveling big cat show, trying to get into his zoo, and many other things. Exotic vented continuously on his internet show (say it again with me, “that “***** Carole Baskin”).  They feuded for years.  Baskin eventually sued Exotic due to some copyright issues. The lawsuit was about a logo that G.W. Zoo released that supposedly looked too close to Baskin’s logo for her Big Cat Rescue. This simple copyright lawsuit drained Exotic of everything due to the settlement of 1 million dollars that Baskin wanted paid in full. This is allegedly where the plot began. Exotic was accused of paying and sending a zoo employee to dispose of Baskin. He also transferred all assets of his zoo to Jeff Lowe, a man from Las Vegas, to avoid attachment to the lawsuit.


Alas, Baskin has her own dirty laundry that is a full episode in the show. She was married to a multimillionaire, Don Lewis. They founded the Big Cat Rescue in 1992 together. They were together up until his mysterious disappearance just after he sought a protective order against her. Baskin says a couple things about the last thing Lewis said to her, and those change every time she is asked on camera, but she told Florida authorities that her husband said he was leaving in the morning to Costa Rica and then disappeared.  His van was found abandoned.  He did not take his millions with him.  Several theories exist about what happened to Don Lewis. Tone is that Baskin killed him, ground him up in a meat grinder, and fed him to the tigers. Tigers have a very acidic stomach and break down every thing they consume, including bones. The second theory is the new septic tank she got after his disappearance is hiding his body. The third is that he just ran off to Costa Rica.   Authorities looked but could not prosecute due to there being no body recovered. If this occurred in Ada, Oklahoma– history (and John Grisham) have shown us that you can easily be prosecuted without a body.  Back to the feud, however, Exotic also released a song “Here Kitty Kitty” about Lewis’ disappearance complete with a music video of a Baskin look-alike feeding body parts to tigers.

Baskin was never killed.  The employee says he never even drove to Florida.  Lowe, the new owner of the zoo, set up Exotic on a recorder and allegedly helped the federal authorities entrap Exotic into admitting his part in the murder for hire plot.  Exotic was arrested and charged with that and other counts relating to animal welfare, including the killing of five tigers.  Exotic was found guilty of all charges and sentenced to 22 years in prison.  He is currently in a COVID-19 quarantine in the federal correctional facility in Fort Worth, Texas.  Lowe runs the zoo, which he now calls the”Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park.” It is still open and thriving today. Lowe was contacted for an interview request, but had not responded as of press time.

Did Carole kill her husband?

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This series was the perfect quarantine show. These seven episodes are full with the most redneck things, too many to mention here.  The cast of real life characters is even too broad to fully mention (but look out for the guy on the jet ski — wow, just wow). More memorable moments of the show is: Exotic ran for President, then Governor but lost with 19% of the votes; he stared a tornado down while on a four-wheeler before deciding if it hits the park–it is what it is, and then drove off. The memes and spoofs on the internet are endless.  People are posing with their dogs and cats, acting like they’re Exotic in a tiger cage. As a result of the show, the case of alleged disappearance of Don Lewis has been reopened. The downside is people see this and think this is what Oklahomans are like. We are not.  Now excuse me, this mullet is not going to trim itself.