Untold: The Girlfriend Who Didn't Exist — who is Manti Te'o? Who was the Catfish? Your questions answered

The Girlfriend Who Didn't Exist — who is Manti Te'o?
Untold: The Girlfriend Who Didn't Exist is a shocking true story. (Image credit: Netflix)

Untold: The Girlfriend Who Didn't Exist follows the tragic true story of football player Manti Te'o, after both he and the wider community believed that he’d lost his grandmother and his girlfriend on the same day, a tragedy that motivated him to become an even better player and dedicate his game to them.

But, believe it or not, Manti’s story is actually a lot more tragic than this as it was revealed his girlfriend Lennay Kekua did not actually exist, and the supposed "love of his life" wasn’t real and was actually an identity scam, commonly known as "Catfishing".

Fans of Nev Schulman and Max Joseph’s work on the documentary Catfish will be all too familiar with the term, but for those unaware, it refers to a person who pretends to be someone else online in order to deceive and are commonly found on dating profiles using fake names and someone else’s pictures. It’s grown in popularity in recent years, especially with dating apps and social media becoming commonplace in our lives.

With this in mind, the new two-part Netflix drama explores how Manti T’eo believed a lie, and had to come clean to those he knew that they’d never met in person, despite claiming that he’d met up with Lennay. In addition to this, the real person behind the Lennay profile has her say in the documentary too, so we get to hear both sides as well as follow the process of how the catfisher was unmasked.

Here’s everything you need to know about the two-part Netflix documentary...

Who is Manti T’eo?

Manti T’eo is an American football linebacker who was caught up in a public scandal following his online romance with Lennay Kekua after it emerged she wasn’t who she said she was.

Manti developed a strong connection with Lennay over time despite never meeting, and had claimed to family and friends that he had spent time with her in person. Everyone thought they were in a strong, committed relationship but this couldn’t be further from the truth, as Lennay was being deceptive from day one.

At the time, Manti told many media outlets that both his grandmother and his girlfriend had died on September 11, 2012. He revealed that his girlfriend, Stanford University student Lennay Kekua, had been injured in a car accident, and was discovered during her treatment to have leukemia. 

Following on from this, Manti did not miss any football games for Notre Dame, saying that he had promised Lennay he would play even if something had happened to her. 

Many sports media outlets reported on these tragedies during Te'o's strong 2012 season, so everyone knew about the two deaths that devastated the star football player, however, no one could’ve imagined that he was actually the victim of a catfishing scam. So, not only had Lennay not died, she didn’t even exist in the first place.

Investigations proved that Lennay was fake and had not died, with Deadspin concluding that Lennay had been fabricated and the whole thing was a lie. For a while, some even thought Manti himself was behind the profile and he later agreed to an interview with sports journalist Jeremy Schaap in which he maintained his innocence. 

During the interview, Manti explained he had lied to his father and others about meeting Lennay in person because he thought he would be seen as "crazy" for having a serious relationship with a woman he had never met.

At the time of the bombshell revelation, Manti Te’o released a statement that said: "This is incredibly embarrassing to talk about, but over an extended period of time, I developed an emotional relationship with a woman I met online. 

"We maintained what I thought to be an authentic relationship by communicating frequently online and on the phone, and I grew to care deeply about her. To realize that I was the victim of what was apparently someone's sick joke and constant lies was, and is, painful and humiliating."

Where is Manti T'eo now?

Since the events detailed in the documentary, Manti Te'o has healed from his experience and is now married to model Jovi Nicole Te'o and the couple have a child together, with the two often posting updates on social media.

The couple married in 2020 and Manti wrote: "I couldn’t give you the world but I think I did better... I gave you my last name and it looks good on you Mrs. Te'o."

During his career, Manti has played for the San Diego Chargers, New Orleans Saints, and the Chicago Bears and his career highlights include winning the Maxwell Award, Lott Trophy, Chuck Bednarik Award, and the Walter Camp award all in the same year!

Who is Catfisher Naya Tuiasosopo? 

Lennay Kekua was later revealed to be one of Manti T'eo's childhood friends, and they had created the fake profile using stolen images of a woman named Diane O'Meara, and the lie went undiscovered for a while until Deadspin's investigation exposed the truth.

After receiving an anonymous tip about the online romance, reporters at Deadspin investigated Lennay's real identity and published an article revealing that she was actually a fictional character created by a man named Ronaiah 'Naya' Tuiasosopo who set up the profile to catfish Manti after falling in love with him.

Initially, Naya was using the profile to explore her feelings about identifying as a woman, and she ended up getting in too deep with Manti, which caused her to try and find a way to break things off for good. This is what led her to fake Lennay's death and consequently leave Manti devastated.

The Girlfriend who Didn't Exist Naya Tuiasosopo

Naya Tuiasosopo was the real person behind the Lennay Kekua profile. (Image credit: Netflix)

Naya also appears in the documentary and revealed: "I created this fictional character. I totally felt fear, I didn't have courage to just be like, 'This is who I am.' I didn't expect it to blow up so quickly."

Since the events of the documentary, Naya came out as a transgender woman and has kept a relatively low profile. She has apologised to those involved in the controversy following her actions, hoping that her story might be able to help others also struggling with their identity.

She added: "Truth of it is, that happened, I grew feelings, I grew emotions that sooner or later I couldn’t control anymore. When I tried to end things I tried every other way to end this I tried this lie and this lie and this lie but nothing would work. He really fell in love with this character. It is what it is."

Naya currently lives in California and works as an assistant store manager at Lowe’s Home Improvement, she appears to feel total remorse for her actions and has closed down her fake profiles. 

Is there a trailer for The Girlfriend Who Didn't Exist?

Yes, the trailer sees both Manti T’eo and Naya giving their version of events, as well as focusing on the media fallout from the catfish controversy...

How can I watch The Girlfriend Who Didn't Exist?

Untold: The Girlfriend Who Didn't Exist is available to stream worldwide on Netflix now.

Lucy Buglass
Senior Staff Writer

Lucy joined the WhatToWatch.com team in 2021, where she writes series guides for must-watch programmes, reviews and the latest TV news. Originally from Northumberland, she graduated from Oxford Brookes University with a degree in Film Studies and moved to London to begin a career writing about entertainment.

She is a Rotten Tomatoes approved film critic and has a huge passion for cinema. She especially loves horror, thriller and anything crime-related. Her favourite TV programmes include Inside No 9, American Horror Story, Stranger Things and Black Mirror but she is also partial to a quiz show or a bit of Say Yes to the Dress