The Student News Site of Stevenson University

Stevenson Villager

Stevenson Villager

Stevenson Villager

The return of “Tiger King”

The return of Tiger King

By: Kelly Mulligan

While the entire world was shut down from a deadly pandemic, a brand new and enticing documentary reached the locked-in viewers’ screens. “Tiger King,” was a household name in a matter of weeks. The documentary describes the life history and downfall of the self-proclaimed “Tiger King,” Joseph Maldonado – Passage, also known as, Joe Exotic. A lot of questions were left unturned in season one, and with the blooming success of the show, Netflix renewed the documentary for a second season, released on November 17, 2021. 

(“Tiger King” makes its way back to our TV screens.) 

At the end of season one, Joe Exotic was sentenced to 22 years in prison for the “murder-for-hire” plot against Carole Baskins, CEO and owner of Big Cat Rescue in Tampa, Florida. However, because there was not enough evidence in the case for Baskin’s murder, the Oklahoma City federal court relied heavily on illegal animal trafficking, animal abuse, and unlawful tiger breeding cases. This evidence was imposed on Exotic and his zoo, the Greater Wynnewood Exotic Animal Park [the G.W. Zoo].  

Season two of the series included five new episodes that began when Joe Exotic had been in jail for a year and a half. Exotic spoke of his struggles of being in jail, connecting it to a tiger being in a cage, while the rest of the cast of Tiger King lived lavishly. The documentary gave the viewers some more history and background on Maldonado-Passage, pre-Joe Exotic, that was left out in season one. An example of this included the history between Exotic and his first husband, Brian Rhyne. 

The second season dives more in-depth about the disappearance of Don Lewis, Baskin’s first husband and the man the world believed Baskin killed and fed to their tigers. It is revealed that Baskin knew her husband was traveling back and forth between Florida and Costa Rica- the place Lewis fell in love with and wanted to move his big cats to. Lewis’ associate in Costa Rica, Rey Rodriguez, gives the “tell-all” story of what Lewis did in Costa Rica before his disappearance. The missing person’s case remains unsolved, and even though Lewis was declared dead in 2002, Baskin’s innocence is not blaringly imminent. 

Lewis’s three daughters, Donna Pettis, Lynda Sanchez, and Gale Rathbone, pursue a popular family attorney, John M. Phillips to receive justice for their father’s disappearance. Episode three goes more in-depth about Baskin’s alibi and perspective of the night her husband went missing. Some other characters were mentioned to have a hand in the disappearance of Lewis, including Kenny Fare, former handyman for Big Cat Rescue, formerly named “Wildlife on Easy Street” before Lewis had disappeared. Fare had moved an entire small building for Lewis, and in return, received the zoo owner’s extensive and favored gun collection as a trade for his work. 

Carole Baskin, the main antagonist of the series, was not involved in any of the interviews for the second season. In fact, Baskin sued Netflix for using unauthorized footage of her for the second season. Although, Baskin’s video diary entries, which can be found on her public YouTube channel, were what were used for investigative and documentary purposes. The production also reused clips of Baskin that were shown in season one, which she gave Netflix permission to use in the first season. 

(See: for more details.) 

In September of 2020, Baskins appeared as a guest star in the 29th season of Dancing with the Stars. This aired in the middle of the production of the second season, and while the daughters of Lewis continued to do all they could to solve the case of their missing father. The family believed Baskins was doing this to put herself in a more positive light in the media since she received an intense amount of backlash from the public. 

After the Lewis family believed their hired attorney was not being of any help to their search, they turned to Troy Griffin, a psychic investigator, to find any proof of Lewis’ disappearance. Two of Lewis’ daughters took Griffin to where he was last seen, and the psychic, in a very emotional telling, declared Lewis was murdered in that exact location. 

In an ironic twist, the former attorney for the Lewis family, John Phillips, is now representing Joe Exotic to help him seek a new trial for his case. 

In the massive climax of the season, Jeff Lowe, current owner of the Tiger King Zoo, and Allen Glover, the “hitman” hired to murder Carole Baskin but never went through with it, came clean about the murder plot. Originally, the plan was to never kill Baskin. Instead, the plan was created by Lowe and Glover to murder Joe Exotic. However, when Exotic began to cause more issues for Lowe and the G.W. Zoo, the two men turned the plot towards Baskin as the victim and pinned the idea on Exotic because he had a long-going feud and hatred for the woman. This led to Exotic being sent to prison after every G.W. Zoo employee turned against Joe and threw him under the bus.  

(Joseph Maldonaldo-Passage, AKA Joe Exotic the Tiger King, speaks with interviewers for the documentary behind bars.)  

Season two does a wonderful job depicting Exotic as the true victim. Men like Eric Love, the leader of the “Team Tiger: Help Free Joe” initiative pour all their heart and soul into defending Exotic and racing to bail him out of jail. Francisco Hernandez, one of Exotic’s lawyers, said “Has there ever been an inmate that gets as much support, love, fan mail? No.” 

This new season also contains many exciting and insane twists- such as the newly developed information on the ware bouts of Don Lewis before his disappearance, and the leaders of the Free Joe Exotic campaign attending the Stop the Steal rally in Washington D.C. on January 6, 2021. 

Unfortunately, the entire second season disregards the purpose of the docuseries- the unlawful treatment and illegal cub breeding of tigers and other endangered animals kept in private zoos. There are only two mentions of the safety and importance of the tigers- episode one and the last few minutes of episode five. It is obvious through episodes one to three that the viewers and cast of the show have completely forgotten that the tigers and animals kept in captivity are the highlight and reason why the show even exists.  

There should have been more mention of the importance of wildlife and big cat protection throughout the entire docuseries. Although, no matter how much the series could encourage viewers to be more mindful, they will always be more interested in the drama- as shown in episode one. 

If you are a fan of the first season of “Tiger King,” I highly recommend you continue with the series and watch the second season. It provides watches with more background information and a substantial update on the status of Joe Exotic’s court case. The second season also shows what happened with the tigers at the Tiger King Zoo, but I won’t spoil that for you today- you’ll just have to go watch it for yourself. 

Donate to Stevenson Villager

Your donation will support the student journalists of Stevenson University. Your contribution will allow us to purchase equipment and cover our annual website hosting costs.

More to Discover
Donate to Stevenson Villager

Activate Search
The return of “Tiger King”