The part of the Manti Te’o catfishing ordeal that hadn’t ‘really been explored before’
When the chance to tell his story through a Netflix documentary emerged, Te’o was adamant that his catfisher be included
It’s been nearly a decade since Manti Te’o, a former Heisman Trophy candidate and star linebacker for Notre Dame, became the center of a media firestorm when it was revealed that his girlfriend, Lennay Kekua — who had purportedly died of leukemia — did not really exist.
A Deadspin article broke the news: Kekua, who Te’o had been communicating with on a regular basis online, was actually the social media creation of Naya Tuiasosopo, who has since come out as a trans woman.
Te’o hasn’t talked to Tuiasosopo in the years since the catfishing hoax. But when the chance to tell his story through a Netflix documentary emerged, the NFL free agent was adamant that Tuiasosopo be included in the story, USA Today reported.
“We got Naya on the phone and she was incredibly raw and open and vulnerable about this whole journey,” Chapman Way, one of the executive producers, told The New York Post. “Talking to her, we realized, like, man, there’s probably a really incredible story here that goes beyond the headlines.”
Although they were interviewed separately for the documentary, both Te’o and Tuiasosopo delved into their memories to tell their sides of a headlining-grabbing story that swept the nation — a portrayal that left both “unsatisfied,” per The New York Post.
“What made these interviews so powerful is they were drawing on memories from 10 years ago. Memories that have stayed with them,” Way told The New York Post. “Very powerful memories. Very powerful emotions. I think both of them are still working through kind of what this whole scandal was and how it affected them individually.”
Way added that he believes one of the greatest strengths of the documentary — which hit Netflix in August and is still listed in the top 10 trending movies on the platform — is how it gives space for Tuiasosopo to share her perspective.
“A lot of catfishing shows usually focus on the victim of what’s happened,” Way told The New York Post. “And I think talking to Naya and trying to find out like what drove her to this, was a really fascinating conversation on her search for identity. And I think that’s something really unique that hasn’t really been explored before.”
Te’o said watching the documentary and hearing from Tuiasosopo did bring up “a lot of emotions,” but that he was able to withstand it due to his choice to forgive Tuiasosopo, according to USA Today.
“For the first three years, my life was extremely difficult, and I was desperate to find peace,” he told USA Today. “The only thing that I could think of during that time was forgiveness, was to let it go. Once I did, I felt like I then regained the power over my life and that peace over my life.”
Near the end of “Untold,” Te’o reveals how he suffered from anxiety after getting catfished, and how he ultimately went to therapy to find healing, the Deseret News reported. It was in therapy that he learned to forgive not only Tuiasosopo, but himself.
“I’ll take all the jokes, I’ll take all the memes, so I can be an inspiration to the one who needs me to be,” he said.
Where is Manti Te’o’s catfisher now?
Since the catfishing hoax, Tuiasosopo has kept a low profile. “Untold” mentions how she moved to American Samoa and connected with the Fa’afafine community — “a group of indigenous Samoans who identify as nonbinary or by a third gender,” Bustle reported.
In “Untold,” Tuiasosopo describes the incident with Te’o as being a formative time in her life.
“I still feel horrible, and sometimes I wish that everything had been undone,” she said, per the Deseret News. “But then also another part of me was like, I learned so much about who I am today and who I want to become because of the lessons I learned through the life of Lennay.”
Tuiasosopo now resides and works in Seattle, Washington, according to Bustle.