Catfishing scandal rocks hit TV show
Hit reality series RuPaul's Drag Race has been hit with a bizarre catfishing scandal surrounding a contestant who makes her debut in the show this week.
Drag queen Sherry Pie (real name Joey Gugliemelli) will appear on the show in the second half of the two-part Season 12 premiere, screening in Australia today on streaming service Stan.
But just hours from her TV debut, Pie has been "disqualified" from the competition after a slew of disturbing catfishing allegations about her surfaced.
The first allegation was made by actor Ben Shimkus in a March 4 Facebook post. Beginning "I have a weird story to tell about Sherry Pie," Shimkus alleges that Gugliemelli, a former friend, had preyed upon him while hiding behind the false online identity "Allison Mossey."
Shimkus and Mossey, who purported to be a casting agent, exchanged "over 150 emails" in which she expressed interest in hiring Shimkus for exciting acting opportunities.
Eventually, those promises led to a request for audition tapes: "The specific video submissions I sent were of me taking steroids and immediately growing larger muscles and gaining physical power. The character, Jeff, talked about how much his armpits began to stink and how much he liked that," Shimkus wrote. The uncomfortably sexual nature of the audition tapes eventually made gim realise something was not right.
"It was a tough pill to swallow, knowing that I hadn't listened to my gut instinct about how uncomfortable I was. That I had sent suggestive videos of myself, and I didn't know what the videos were being used for," Shimkus wrote.
Shimkus said after sharing his story with friends, one revealed a colleague of theirs had gone through the same experience with "Allison Mossey".
"Wherever Sherry seemed to go, Allison would follow. Since being open about my experience, six people have corroborated stories with me."
Since Shimkus' allegations went viral, several more former friends of Gugliemelli have come forward with similar claims.
One, 23-year-old Australian-born actor Josh Lillyman, told Buzzfeed News he thought Mossie was an HBO casting agent, and was considering him for a major part on the network. Gugliemelli helped him work on his audition tapes - and, he alleges, coerced him into masturbating on camera.
"I did everything he asked me to because at that point he had built up so much detail for the show that I was truly convinced it was real and associated with HBO," Lillyman told Buzzfeed News. "It took a lot for me to break that delusion. I was willingly doing all the things he was asking me to."
Of Gugliemelli, who he met through his local theatre: "He sort of groomed me, I would say."
The other men who've come forward have all shared strikingly familiar stories: A former friendship with Gugliemelli, then online contact from the mysterious "Allison Mossey," soliciting increasingly intimate videos for the promise of acting work.
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As the scandal mounted, Sherry Pie penned a public apology via Facebook:
"This is Joey, I want to start by saying how sorry I am that I caused such trauma and pain and how horribly embarrassed and disgusted I am with myself. I know that the pain and hurt that I have caused will never go away and I know that what I did was wrong and truly cruel. Until being on RuPaul's Drag Race, I never really understood how much my mental health and taking care of things meant. I learned on that show how important "loving yourself" is and I don't think I have ever loved myself. I have been seeking help and receiving treatment since coming back to NYC. I truly apologise to everyone I have hurt with my actions. I also want to say how sorry I am to my sisters of season 12 and honestly the whole network and production company. All I can do is change the behaviour and that starts with me and doing that work."
It has not been received well. "Did you apologize to the guys you did this to? That's who needs the apology," one commenter wrote.
"Having mental illness and being a predator are not the same thing. You're just upset you got caught," said another.
The producers of RuPaul's Drag Race have today taken the unprecedented step of "disqualifying" Sherry Pie from the competition - a difficult move, seeing as the entire season (bar a live grand finale) have already been filmed. She is expected to appear in the already-filmed episodes but has been disinvited from the finale, which usually showcases contestants from across the season.
"I have heard rumours that Sherry does well on drag race," Shimkus wrote in the Facebook post that sparked the scandal. If true, it means fans of the show are in for an uncomfortable season's viewing.
...Out of respect for the hard work of the other queens, VH1 will air the season as planned.— RuPaul's Drag Race (@RuPaulsDragRace) March 6, 2020
Sherry will not appear in the grand finale scheduled to be filmed later this spring.” – spokesperson for VH1 and World of Wonder
An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified Sherry Pie's stage name. We regret the error