It speaks to the compounding unreality of Tiger King that a young woman agreeing to a breast augmentation, just so she could take a few days off her work at an exotic animal zoo, likely ranks as the nineteenth-craziest element of the series.

Now, the creators of the Netflix documentary have elaborated on what they describe as the cultish influence zoo owners like Joe Exotic and Bhagavan “Doc” Antle have over their staff, explaining how the show’s characters don’t just exert power over animals.

Speaking with Variety, Tiger King creators Rebecca Chaiklin and Eric Goode said they hoped the series expressed how Exotic and his ilk lured vulnerable individuals into their unique and frequently confronting worlds.

Exotic “was owning them in a cultish way by giving them money and toys and drugs and guns,” Goode said, referring to the complex relationship Exotic had with his staff, and husbands John Finlay and Travis Maldonado. 

Goode alleged Antle “would indoctrinate the young girls” by encouraging them to change their names and to fit his ideal body image, but would also “force them to watch The Devil Wears Prada to learn the culture”.

That’s on top of what the show insinuated about Antle, and his alleged insistence that staff reduce contact with the outside world to focus on his business. For what it’s worth, Antle has disputed the way he was portrayed in the series, saying it was “more focused on shock value and titillation than fact.”

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by Dr. Bhagavan Antle (@docantle) on

Discussing the relationships on display between Exotic and his partners, Chalikin said. “There may not be a balance of power, but we wanted to show that and not dictate to the viewers, but let them come to their own conclusions.”

“He didn’t play by society’s rules in any way, shape or form, and that caught up to him,” Goode added.

“And Doc Antle did the same thing, and Carole [Baskin], in her own way, did it slightly differently.”

The way each of those big cat owners parlayed the animals into power over people was “the bigger point that we wanted to address,” he said.

It’s a fascinating look behind a series which has already captivated audiences worldwide. I highly recommend you read the entire chat at the Variety site here.

Image: Boston Globe / Getty Images