In the three weeks since Netflix dropped the wild quarantine binge we didn't know we needed, Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness has become a cultural phenomenon, and Joe Exotic and Carole Baskin have become household names. This past weekend, by popular demand, Netflix came out with a reunion special hosted by comedian Joel McHale that featured shocking revelations from a handful of the show's subjects.
The follow-up episode completely changes some of what we thought we knew about the cast of characters; for one thing, Joe Exotic is allegedly afraid of big cats. But one of the biggest surprises has to be the transformation of Exotic's former husband, John Finlay, who spent the majority of the series shirtless during interviews with several missing teeth. Six days after Tiger King's Netflix debut, Finlay started his own Facebook page called The Truth about John Finlay, which he used to reveal to the world that he'd undergone a dental makeover during the filming of the show — but he claims the "after" didn't make it to the final cut.
"Netflix had two interviews where I did have my teeth fixed," Finlay tells Refinery29. "I suppose when you are trying to make a story, you create characters, and perhaps they felt it was best just to keep my 'character' how I used to look."
Finlay says that the fictionalised version of himself that was portrayed in Tiger King led to a major misconception about his drug use. "In the series, there's a scene where the sheriff is talking about 'meth mouth,' and the next shot is of me with my limited teeth. With that editing, it was all but saying I was a drugged-out hillbilly," he says. "It is a huge misconception that drugs were the cause of my dental issues. I was four years clean from drugs — something else they left out. I had a genetic issue relating to my teeth and had made several previous attempts to repair them."
The journey wasn't an easy one for Finlay, who finally got his full set of dentures in June 2019. Past dental work had deteriorated, but after discussing marriage with his now-fiancée, he decided to invest in a permanent fix for wedding photos. What he didn't expect was the pain that came with the procedure. "They had to do serious work to remove all my remaining 25 teeth," he says. "Yes, I did have that many — they were just badly damaged and broken." Finlay says the makeover was more painful than getting his 50+ tattoos, and the long road to recovery involved bleeding, swelling, and stitches.
As much as Finlay would have preferred to have his new smile shown on the series from its original launch, he is ultimately happy with the makeover for giving him a fresh start and newfound confidence. "I did this dental transformation as a way of closing a prior chapter of my life, so it also signified my new chapter, the new me," he tells us. "I am not someone who is very vain or necessarily minds what others look like as I never judge a book by its cover, but for my self-esteem, the new teeth have done wonders."
Now, smiling with his brand-new pearly whites, Finlay is appreciative of the overwhelming support he has received from fans of the series. He's even joined video-sharing platform Cameo, where he's given "tons of shout-outs to first responders, nurses, birthday [wishes], or even just pep talks to help get folks through this difficult COVID-19 pandemic." But most importantly, with six years clean under his belt, he looks forward to being a motivational speaker to attest to the dangers of drug use. In his words, "If I can help even one person avoid using drugs and making mistakes, all of this is well worth it."