March 23, 2023

  • The stars of ‘Bad Vegan’ and ‘The Tinder Swindler’ feel they’ve been misrepresented by Netflix.
  • Cecilie Fjellhøy says her Tinder scammer is a ‘dangerous person’ but doesn’t present it that way.
  • ‘Bad Vegan” Sarma Melngailis Says Netflix ‘Mocked’ Her Abuse

“‘Bad Vegan: Fame: Fraud: Runaways'” and “Tinder Hustlers” are huge successes for Netflix in 2022. But for the women who revealed their experiences at the hands of manipulative men to millions in fascinating scam documentaries, the exposure has been mixed — a source of regret, but also hope.

Cecilie Fjellhøy is the victim of a high-profile romance scam called Tinder Swindler Simon Leviev (whose real name is Shimon Hayut).

Fjellhøy said Leviev was a “dangerous person” who fell in love with him and lost all her money after months of financial and emotional abuse.

Once she realized what was going on — her lover had backed a Ponzi scheme designed to defraud women of tens of thousands of dollars — she went to the police, who just laughed at her, she told Insider.

She turned to the media in her native Norway, and her story went viral online. Raw Films, an award-winning production company in London, picked it up and made it into the hit documentary “The Tinder Swindler” for Netflix.

‘It’s just another illustration of how stupid we are in love’

Fjellhøy wanted a real documentary, she told Insider.

“I wonder why it’s so hard to catch this guy. Wonder why the cops aren’t doing enough, why is his fraud so easy? Those are the big questions I want this film to answer.”

“So I was really disappointed when we were told it wasn’t going to be that way. It was just another illustration of how stupid we were in a relationship,” she said.

“Even if you call it ‘Tinder Swindler’, it’s just been branded from the start,” she said. “It just makes it look less serious.”

Fjellhøy said Netflix focused on the ways women fell for fraud, not the brutal crimes Leviev committed.

Screenshot of Simon Leviev's phone contacts in the documentary.

Tinder Swindler published on February 2, 2022.


“A lot of people don’t even understand that this is a documentary,” Fjellhøy told Insider. “We have people coming to us like we’re actresses, asking if we’re real. Sometimes documentaries are made too well. People don’t even think of you as a real person.

“It’s hard when you’re playing your most personal stories. You have to show how you went from being very in love, you know, to having to talk about how you nearly killed yourself.”

Fjellhøy said she cried the first time she saw it. “I just felt stupid because I was chosen as a symbol of love,” she said. “I have to be honest about how many matches I’ve been on Tinder, how long I’ve been there, and how I see love. I have to say I slept with him on the first date. I have to say “I do not want to say. So you are used. “

Describing the negative feedback she received after the show aired, she said a man in Los Angeles approached her and told her she was “so embarrassed” and not the victim of a complex crime.

When asked if Netflix had correctly described the abuse, Fjellhøy said: “No, that’s why I want it to be more investigative, maybe with a psychologist. Someone to explain what the abuse really is.”

Breaking Bad Vegans

Another documentary star, “Bad Vegan”‘s Sarma Melngailis, also criticized Netflix’s portrayal of her.

Sarma Melngailis, co-author "Raw food/real world" Book Launch Celebration at Pure Food and Wine in New York City, USA.

Sarma Melngailis, co-author at the “RAW FOOD/real world” book launch at Pure Food and Wine in New York City, USA.

Theo Wargo/WireImage

Melngailis puts raw vegetarian food on the map. Her New York restaurant, Pure Food and Wine, opened in 2004, helping to transform plant-based eating from a minority to one favored by the rich and famous.

Celebrities flock to her restaurant for dishes like mango and Thai basil salad, New York Magazine Review Described as offering “as much exotic sunlight as a bowl can hold”.

Her business venture was a success, and Melngailis was welcomed. Then she met the abuser.

Netflix chronicles the rise and fall of Melngailis in ‘Bad Vegan,’ directed by Chris Smith “Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened” reputation.

Melngailis’ business collapsed in 2015 after her unpaid staff left, She is nowhere to be found.

Her employees, friends and colleagues are confused and outraged – how did this woman destroy everything she’d worked so hard to build?

Melngailis told Insider she was sexually, emotionally and financially abused behind closed doors.

Her partner, Anthony Strangis, manipulated her and ended up stealing $2 million from her investors and employees.

The pair went missing in 2016 and were found ordering pizza in a Tennessee hotel room. In 2017, Melngailis pleaded guilty to charges of stealing $2 million from investors, conspiring to defraud and criminal tax fraud.

She spent four months in jail, while Strangis spent nearly a year in jail.

Melngailis thinks Netflix is ​​making fun of her

Sarma Melngailis and her dog Leon

Sarma Melngailis and her dog Leon

Salma Mergelis

Melngailis said Netflix “played a joke” on the trauma she suffered at the hands of Strangis. She claimed that “Bad Vegan” contained many inaccuracies and was “extremely damaging to all who have experienced this”.

Probably the most exciting part of Melngailis’ abuse is the immortal dog storyline: Strangis is able to convince the successful restaurant entrepreneur, her beloved Staffy, Leon, that she can become immortal.

To those who haven’t experienced abusive control, this may sound incredible, but the documentary proves that it was Strangis who managed to take control of Melgnalis and convince her that he had superhuman powers, and if she did, she Can also use these superhuman powers what he says.

One day, while Melngailis was browsing Twitter, she came across a post from a spoof account called Perpetual Pup, run by Netflix.

“You want your dog to live forever. You’re not alone,” the tweet, which was accompanied by a video titled “Not All Dogs Have to Go to Heaven.”

Melngailis watched the video of the dog chasing the Frisbee in bewilderment, while the narrator said you could “say goodbye goodbye”.

“Side effects may include confusion, sudden changes in behavior, and/or loss of money. Excessive wire transfers may occur. If you have a history of questionable relationships, Perpetual may be for you,” the ad repeats, before cutting to Melgnailis’ face Photo, showing an ad for “Bad Vegan.”

“I’m really curious, like the study of human nature, to ask all these people to explain what they think,” Melgelis said. “Because you know what, would they make a promo like this for a documentary about Harvey Weinstein?

“I was physically, emotionally and sexually abused – they laughed at the whole thing. They were basically mocking psychological abuse.”

Sarma Melngailis' dog Leon

Sarma Melngailis’ dog Leon

Salma Mergelis

Even she doesn’t fully understand how Strangis does it, Melngailis said. “It wasn’t so much that he made me fully believe in these things, it was more that he was able to get my consciousness to grasp these concepts as possibilities, and the more I imagined them, the more disconnected I was from reality.”

“What I do know,” she continued, “is that this manipulation—actually abuse—is much more common than we thought, so for Netflix, launching this campaign is a big deal for a lot of people. Such a blow. Someone who has suffered this kind of abuse. This reinforces the idea that he can’t be legitimate, that is us is crazy. “

Netflix has not responded to Insider’s request for comment.

asked before protector If the show is fair to Melngailis, director Chris Smith said: “Look, it’s all grey.”

“We tried to represent it as accurately as possible from the information we obtained through the documents and interviews provided to us.”

Profit goes to Netflix

Romance scams and scam documentaries in general have proven to be very lucrative for Netlflix.

“Bad Vegan” and “The Tinder Swindler” both entered the top 10 most-watched shows the week they aired, According to Netflix data.

But the stars say platforming their stories won’t solve their financial toll. They say the fees paid for the rights to their stories do not cover their debts.

Melngailis said all the backlash and abuse she faced after the documentary aired was not worth it – which she blamed on the framing of the show. “They made my life harder and put me through more,” she said.

Fjellhøy told Insider that after working on a popular and influential Netflix documentary, “everyone thought we were millionaires now,” she said.

Cecilie Fjellhøy talks about falling in love with a guy on Tinder who turned out to be a seasoned liar.

In “The Tinder Swindler” Cecilie Fjellhøy talks about falling in love with a man on Tinder who turns out to be a seasoned liar.

Provided by Netflix

“The people at the bottom are all out. I don’t see that kind of success. We’re still battling debt, we’re in court and so on. But it’s been fantastic for Netflix,” Fjellhøy said.

Netflix did not respond to Insider’s request for comment on Fjellhøy and Melngailis’ complaints.

In response to Melngailis’ criticism of “Bad Vegan”, Director Chris Smith told the Guardian: “Look, everything is grey. We tried to represent it as accurately as possible from the information we obtained through the documents and interviews provided to us.”

From scam victim to heroine

In terms of the impact on the lives of scam victims everywhere, another of Simon Leviev’s victims, Melngailis, Fjellhøy and Ayleen Charlotte, told Insider they were grateful for the opportunity to help people.

Despite the difficulties of the scam itself and the aftermath of the documentary, Fjellhøy said it was “worth it” for the love she also received.

She said: “I’ve had a lot of messages saying I’m inspiring, I’m brave, and they really admire the courage I’ve taken, which makes it all the more worthwhile for them to overcome the embarrassment of being the victim of a scam.

Charlotte — the “bad bitch” victim of “Tinder Liars,” as she puts it — had a positive experience with the documentary, she told Insider.

“I want to keep his face out because my case doesn’t do anything. Second, I want to help people. That’s what I do. I mean, I get so many amazing people from all over the world. information, and I’ve given a lot of courage to a lot of people to do what I do,” Charlotte told Insider.

Melngailis remains critical of Netflix, but agrees with “One of the things I hear over and over — usually women, but occasionally men — but people who are manipulated in some similar way feel less alone. “

“I’ve also heard a lot of people tell me that watching it inspired them to try a vegetarian diet or switch to a vegetarian diet. So that’s good, at least! Some animals were saved, maybe,” she said, ending our email exchange with a wink emoji symbol.

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