The show presents the "hopeful" as the one who initiates contact with Schulman and Joseph in an attempt to discover the true identity of their online romance, or the "catfish".
Some of the show's casting calls do solicit stories from hopefuls, however, explained that despite the broadcast show being structured as a search by the hopeful for true identity of the catfish, it is usually the catfish who make the first contact with MTV.
boring and dull if we didn't have somebody nipping at our fin." —from Catfish On the Internet, a "catfish" is a person who creates fake personal profiles on social media sites using someone else's pictures and false biographical information to pretend to be someone other than themselves.
MTV and the Catfish film's producers, Schulman and Joseph, help people who are emotionally entangled with someone they have never met in real life.
Each episode is an investigation into whether or not the other participant in the virtual relationship is legitimate or if they are, in fact, a "catfish".
Nev Schulman explained more about the reverse-engineering in an August 2014 interview: "A lot of the stories that we get come from the catfish side of things.
People who feel so terrible [...] that they've been lying to a friend or a lover on the internet for a long time.
So [the producers] orchestrate very delicately, and staying out of it as much as possible, a scenario by which [...] the hopeful reaches out to me [...]. [The hopeful has] no idea of course that the other person's already expressed interest in meeting. In January 2016, MTV began casting a proposed UK version of the show through online ads that do specifically target the catfish, not the hopeful: "Tired of keeping secrets from your online love?