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John Finlay to discuss ‘wild’ Tiger King series, addiction struggles in Zoom Q&A

John Finlay, known for his appearance on the “Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness” Netflix series, will be answering students’ questions Thursday at 6 p.m. via Zoom. SPECIAL TO THE ORACLE

Tiger King’s John Finlay will be showing off his new smile to USF students through a virtual Q&A on Zoom on April 23 at 6 p.m. 

Finlay is most recognized for his missing teeth — which have now been redone — tattoos and shirtless appearance on the Netflix docuseries “Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness.” 

If students had any reservations or questions about his life living at a zoo, the details of his polygamous marriage, his relationship with ex-husband Joseph “Joe Exotic” Maldonado-Passage or if he thinks Carole Baskin killed her husband, Thursday evening would be the time to find out. 

The event was organized by the Campus Activities Board (CAB) on the Sarasota-Manatee campus, but the Zoom link will be open to students at the Tampa and St. Pete campuses as well. 

Christine Uphoff, CAB coordinator for the Sarasota-Manatee campus, said Finlay will also be talking about overcoming his struggles with addiction. 

Finlay told People magazine that he is six years clean from meth and “hopes to work with youth to fight addiction.”

Given the popularity of the series, Uphoff thought it was a good opportunity for students. 

A CNN article written April 8 said roughly 34 million Americans watched the series over the first 10 days of its release on March 20.

Some of the show may be of interest to USF students as it was partially filmed in Tampa to capture the woman behind the “Hey, all you cool cats and kittens” catchphrase. 

The Tampa campus is only 25 minutes from Big Cat Rescue, which is where owner Baskin showed off her animal sanctuary and filmed scenes with her husband, Howard Baskin.  The docuseries also addressed the disappearance of her former husband, Don Lewis.

Students will need to register if they want to get to know the man behind the screen. The Zoom link will be sent via email 30 minutes prior to the event. 

People will be admitted on a first-come, first-serve basis. Uphoff said Finlay’s contract states that the virtual Q&A can only hold a maximum of 500 participants. 

Students can also bring along friends and family at no charge. 

“​Why not make this a family night while everyone is at home?” Uphoff said. “Officially, we are not going through and checking if students are registered [students].” 

As of 5 p.m. Wednesday, 113 had registered. On the registration form, students can select if they are a USF student, faculty, staff member or if they are a part of the Cross-College Alliance partnership — a network-building organization that Sarasota-Manatee is a part of. 

“Qualtrics tells me that of those numbers, 69 are currently enrolled students, but some students might have selected a different “relationship” on the registration form so I believe the number is a little bit higher,” Uphoff said. 

Uphoff said the contract was executed April 14 and the purchase order — the official offer of agreed prices — was completed April 20. 

The contract for the event with Reel Management is $4,000, according to Uphoff. Reel Management represents “reality TV stars” for events such as college lectures, spokesperson jobs and TV appearances.

Normally during the spring semester, Sarasota-Manatee CAB and the criminology club would work together to bring a speaker with a true crime background. But, that had to be canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

However, Uphoff said CAB was able to find Finlay because vendors had been emailing to try to set up virtual programming events.  

Zoom has been criticized lately for its security and privacy issues, especially because uninvited attendees have been joining sessions and “Zoombombing.”  

However, Uphoff said there have been several test runs to ensure there wouldn’t be any issues. 

“We wanted to make sure the information was not passed around which is why we created the registration form to make sure USF students who wanted to attend could get into the event,” Uphoff said.  

If all goes well, Uphoff hopes virtual events could be a new addition to USF. 

“We wanted to try to bring different events to our students virtually and thought it was a good idea,” Uphoff said. “If it does well, we would like to consider these in the future since our students at [Sarasota-Manatee] are all commuters and it would allow us to share with the other campuses since it is digital.”