When Netflix executives scheduled the release of a seven-part docuseries on the wild world of private exotic animal zoos (or, more accurately, the people who run them) to debut on March 20, 2020, little did they know that they were contributing to what would become a cultural phenomenon. Of course, with a title like Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem, and Madness it was bound to find an audience, but thanks to the start of the Covid-19 pandemic and resulting stay-at-home orders, that audience was massive, bored, scared, and looking for a distraction.
Then, in walked a tiger-owning, fame-obsessed, gun-toting gay Oklahoman with a bottle-blonde mullet and political aspirations, who goes by the name “Joe Exotic.”
When the first season of Tiger King aired, most people had never heard of Exotic, an incarcerated former zoo owner, or his nemesis, Carole Baskin, co-founder and CEO of an animal sanctuary outside Tampa focused on rescuing big cats. But now, we’ve not only seen those episodes and the follow-up special, we’ve also had more than a year of news coverage featuring Exotic’s antics from prison and pleas for his freedom, along with memes, late-night parodies, and a disturbing amount of Tiger King merch. Because of all that, the second season hits a bit differently than the first.
Exotic isn’t the same can’t-take-your-eyes-off-him character anymore; in fact, he doesn’t feature prominently in this season, serving more as a behind-bars color commentator than protagonist. And while his demotion is hardly surprising given his current residence at the Federal Medical Center in Fort Worth, there are so many other people in the Tiger King universe with similar stranger-than-fiction backstories that it’s hard to go into the five new episodes without the expectation that they’ll be equally shocking and over-the-top.
Despite the oversaturation of all-things Tiger King here are a handful of genuinely WTF moments throughout Tiger King 2. Here are a few that stood out.
Warning: Spoilers below.
There was a different murder plot involving Exotic
Those who came to the second season hoping to learn more about Exotic’s plan to off Baskin — the one he was convicted of planning, and is currently serving 22 years for — had to wait until the final episode to get new information on the poorly conceived hit. So, remember Allen Glover — the one who testified that Exotic had hired him to kill Baskin? After contemplating (and feeling guilty about) his role in having Exotic put away, Glover decided to come forward with new information.
In September 2021, Glover recorded a sworn affidavit detailing supposed plans he and Exotic’s former business partner, Jeff Lowe, had made to kill Exotic. Lowe, he explained, is listed as a beneficiary on Exotic’s life insurance, and stood to inherit 50 percent of his estate in the event of his death. Interestingly, their alleged murder method of choice was nearly identical to the one Exotic supposedly hatched to kill Baskin: decapitating him while he’s driving his four-wheeler (in Baskin’s scenario, it was a bicycle). Viewers never find out what happened to that supposed plan, and according to on-screen text at the end of the episode, Lowe declined to comment on the allegations Glover made against him in his sworn affidavit.
Exotic was once on the other side of the law
Before he became the Tiger King, Exotic had a career in law enforcement. In 1982, he entered the police academy straight out of high school, graduated at the age of 19, and was promoted to police chief of Eastvale, Texas the same year. Exotic, as well as others interviewed for the documentary, indicate that he was the youngest police officer (or, in some mentions, police chief) in the state’s history, but Rolling Stone was unable to independently verify this claim.
Team Tiger has a scheduling problem
In September 2020, Exotic sent former President Donald Trump a handwritten letter (accompanying the 275-page petition from his attorneys) requesting a pardon for his role in a failed murder-for-hire plot, and violation of multiple federal wildlife laws — crimes for which he was sentenced to 22 years in prison. Ultimately, the pardon didn’t pan out, but that’s not for lack of trying on the part of Team Tiger, a group campaigning for Exotic’s release from prison, led by Texas millionaire Eric Love.
Three weeks after they hand-delivered Exotic’s pardon petition to the White House, members of Team Tiger, including Love, were scheduled to attend a fundraising luncheon in Hidalgo County, Texas, where they were supposed to meet with Don Jr. to discuss the pardon, Love claims in an interview for the documentary. As it turned out, the members of the Trump family were unable to make it because they had something else to deal with that day: the president and first lady’s Covid-19 diagnoses.
Love decided to reschedule, and the date he selected was Jan. 6, 2021. At a press conference held before dawn that day, Love spoke to reporters, predicting that it was “going to be a great day” before boarding the private plane (“Exotic 1”) that would bring Team Tiger to Washington, D.C. Once in the city, the Team noticed that others had picked the same day to gather in the nation’s capital. Undeterred by the competition, they unfurled their “Pardon Joe Exotic” tiger-print banner, but were not warmly welcomed by their fellow protesters, including one who repeatedly called them “gutter sluts.”
Exotic had a short-lived stripping career
For a brief period, around the time he was a teenage cop, Exotic was engaged to a woman named Kimberly Craft. During their engagement, Craft says that Exotic would frequently come home late and visibly drunk. It wasn’t until later that she found out he was stripping for the town’s mayor and her friends. “They would have big parties and pay him to be a stripper,” Craft says of her ex-fiance moonlighting as an exotic dancer. “Later in life, I find [that to be] kind of hilarious: the chief of police stripping for the mayor.” In Exotic’s version of the story, he stripped down to a G-string to help raise money to buy a new fire truck.
Lowe apparently got away with charity fraud
In addition to his supposed plot to get rid of Exotic in order to (presumably) get his hands on whatever amounted to 50 percent of his estate, Tiger King 2 delves into some of Lowe’s other alleged criminal activities. His standout scheme — which a local reporter referred to as “one of the darker, sadder moments” to come out of her years covering him — involved Lowe posing as an employee of a shelter for survivors of domestic violence. In this role, he allegedly diverted $14.2 million in donated goods to his liquidation company, where he sold and profited off them. According to Lowe, “the feds” were watching his bank account closely, and wanted to charge him with five counts of wire fraud — a felony charge that can come with up to 20 years in prison. But that never happened, and Lowe wasn’t required to pay back any of the money.
Don Lewis had some super shady stuff in his past
An entire episode is dedicated to Don Lewis, Baskin’s ex-husband who has been missing since 1997. Unlike the first season, which focused on accusations that Baskin murdered him and then either fed him to their tigers, or buried him in a septic tank (allegations she has repeatedly denied). This time, all eyes are on Lewis, and what he was doing during his frequent solo trips to Costa Rica. The episode also raises questions regarding whether Lewis was murdered, or ran off in 1997 and is possibly still alive somewhere — although it provides no answers.
What it does provide, however, is a glimpse into some of what Lewis — who, if alive, would be 81-years old — supposedly got up to in Costa Rica, based on interviews with his former lawyer, neighbor, hotel manager, farm worker, airplane mechanic, chauffeurs, and other associates. This included allegations of money laundering, flying a plane without a license, and bringing hundreds of thousands of dollars of cash into Costa Rica for the purpose of hiding it.
And then there was his alleged penchant for underage girls. According to several of his employees, Lewis owned a hotel-cum-brothel in San Jose, which he kept stocked with very young women who answered the ads he placed in the English-language newspaper looking for a companion. In an interview in the documentary, one of his former chauffeurs said that Lewis liked Costa Rica “because it was a paradise where little girls are sold.” Though he said that Lewis had sex with many underage girls, he had a favorite named Corina, who he believes was around 15 years old.
At this time, Netflix has not announced whether there will be a third season of Tiger King, but considering its cumulative cast of characters — most of whom have spent the past 20 months embracing and capitalizing on their time in the spotlight — it’s unlikely this is the last we’ve heard of Exotic and company.