Tiger King: A comprehensive character analysis

Tiger King, a Netflix documentary, has taken the quarantined world by storm. I’m not exactly sure what it is about the pandemic that makes people want to watch a documentary about big-cat enthusiasts, but since I started the first episode at my brother’s recommendation, I couldn’t stop until I finished. There doesn’t seem to be much of a storyline—the people are what make this documentary intriguing, so without further ado, here are my impressions of the people in the Tiger King documentary.


Joe Exotic, owner of G.W. Zoo (before his incarceration), only loves one thing more than big cats: attention. Despite his insanity, I actually kind of liked him for most of the series. (I think if I’d met him in person, it would’ve been a different story.) For all of his flaws, at least he’s kind of self-aware: he knows he’s crazy. Personally, I enjoyed learning about his short-lived music career, his short-lived political career, and his short-lived anti-drug tiger/magic campaign. I also have to respect how he blew up his assets with dynamite instead of giving them to Carole Baskin after she sued him and won. Obviously he shouldn’t have ordered a hit on Carole, but like Reinke said, he wouldn’t have done it if everyone hadn’t been egging him on.

Likes: Dynamite, the Second Amendment, running for political office, mullets, cats, Doc Antle, offensively referencing Waco, bootcut jeans, his 80 viewers on JoeExoticTV, his husbands.

Dislikes: Carole Baskin, “the animal-rights people,” wearing underwear, PETA, the local sheriff, any authority figure whatsoever, formality, the legal system.

Best quote: “People don’t come to see the tigers; they come to see me.”


Carole Baskin, owner of Big Cat Rescue, prides herself on treating animals more humanely than rival Joe Exotic. She claims to want to eradicate the private possession of big cats. However, after watching this entire documentary, I still couldn’t differentiate between Big Cat Rescue and the G.W. Zoo, so I’m not entirely sure what moral high ground Carole is operating from. When Joe puts cats in cages, it’s “abuse,” but when she does it, it’s for their “protection.” Carole is perhaps most notorious for being accused of murdering her previous husband by his family. His disappearance under suspicious circumstances after asking Carole for a divorce certainly raises some questions. That being said, I did enjoy how she began all of her livestreams with, “Hey all you cool cats and kittens!” It made me feel like I was part of something. 

Likes: Flower crowns, wearing cat prints, riding her bike, pestering legislators about passing laws protecting big cats, putting her husband on a leash. 

Dislikes: Joe Exotic, her first two husbands, anything that doesn’t involve cats.

Best quote: “If somebody wanted to kill you, then they would put, like, sardine oil all over you. Something the cat wants to eat.”


Saff, former animal keeper at G.W. Zoo and a member of the U.S. armed forces, is perhaps the only hero in this story. He lost his hand feeding one of the tigers at G.W. Zoo and returned to work later that week with no hard feelings toward the tigers. I simply have to respect that work ethic and love for animals. He later left G.W. Zoo for California. Good for you, Saff.

Likes: Tigers.

Dislikes: Anyone involved with the G.W. Zoo.

Best quote: “Not a single animal benefited from this war. Not a single one.”


John Reinke, manager of G.W. Zoo, was responsible for drawing people into G.W. Zoo. I’m no tiger expert, but if a man with two prosthetic legs approached me asking me to come to the tiger zoo he manages, I would not feel secure attending. (I later learned he tragically lost his legs in a zip-lining accident, and not a tiger attack as I had somewhat reasonably assumed). Some people consider Reinke to be a voice of reason among the hysteria of the show, but I disagree. At one point, he formed a suicide pact with Joe Exotic. They agreed that if the G.W. Zoo ever got shut down, they’d shoot each other. I didn’t feel as though he had enough screen time that I could compile his likes and dislikes, but there was a scene with him driving and a skeleton riding shotgun that I enjoyed. Overall, I found him to be one of the more likeable characters.

Best quote: “I keep telling myself over and over, I’m involved in a federal murder-for-hire plot. Who’d have thought?


Rick Kirkham, producer of Joe Exotic TV, wears a cowboy hat and speaks in a distinct, nasally voice. A former reporter, he functions as a sort of narrator for this documentary because whenever Joe Exotic engages in some ridiculous shenanigans in the documentary, the camera immediately cuts to Kirkham saying something along the lines of, “That’s just Joe Exotic for you.” Most of the time, he exists to point out the obvious, but he doesn’t seem to have a very strong opinion about anything. For that reason, I haven’t included his likes and dislikes. 

Best quote: “Where do you want to start? I guess at the beginning somewhere. It was a crazy beginning.”


Howard Baskin, Carole’s husband. That’s all I really have to say.

Likes: Just about anything Carole likes. Also singing.

Dislikes: Being put on a leash… I hope.

Best quote: “I think it would be fair to say Carole is the Mother Teresa of cats.”


John Finlay, Joe’s ex-husband, deserved better. The producers of Tiger King were a bit ruthless with their portrayal of him. Although, to be fair, he lacked multiple teeth and entered into a relationship with Joe Exotic and Travis Maldonado, only to later leave Joe Exotic for a woman. That being said, he’s stopped using drugs, gotten oral surgery to fix his teeth, and overall seems a lot happier. I’m happy for him. 

Likes: Tattoos in general, his new set of teeth.

Dislikes: His tattoos of or about Joe Exotic, Joe Exotic’s songs.

Best quote: “I like pink camo. Lot of people make fun of me for it, but you know what, it’s just something I like.”


Doctor Bhagavan Antle, another breeder in the big-cat industry and doctor of “mystical science,” is considered to be more sophisticated and fearless than Joe Exotic. From the awestruck tone people use to describe him, it would seem everyone in the big-cat industry wants to be just like him. His employees seem to be even more cult-like than the employees of other cat collectors, working themselves to the point of exhaustion. He struck me as a creep—a former employee of his admitted that he pressured her to undergo cosmetic surgery, and she agreed just so that she could get some time off from working. In my opinion, Doc Antle should be in jail.

Likes: His hair, sleeping with an AK-47 under his mattress, Under Armour, the many women in his life, being worshipped as a God.

Dislikes: Anyone who questions his authority, women his own age.

Best quote: “Nothing is cooler, sexier, and more significant to the world we live in today than a tiger. It has this primordial calligraphy that tells a message just in its very image. Everyone loves them. Anyone who says they don’t is just insecure and broken.”