Untold: The Girlfriend Who Didn’t Exist revisits  the notorious Manti Te’o catfishing hoax highlighting the cruelty of American media

by Gordon Shelly

As a high profile Notre Dame linebacker on his way to the NFL, Manti Te’o dedicated his senior year to the memory of his grandmother and his girlfriend, both of whom died on the same day.

Just as his college career was coming to a close and the prospects of a professional career loomed on the horizon, a story broke on Deadspin revealing that Te’o’s dead girlfriend never actually existed.

The new Netflix Documentary Untold: The Girlfriend Who Didn’t Exist takes a sincere look at the incident ten years later and how it developed, blew up, and impacted everyone involved.

Te’o became the butt of jokes in the meme and social media culture, with people speculating about his gullibility for not realizing his girlfriend of three years was a man, and did not exist.

The documentary opens doors and eyes to reveal how, the recently transitioned Naya Tuiasosopo, who formerly went by Ronaiah, created a fake Facebook personality and came to be in a relationship with Te’o. 

Every detail leading up to the relationship, the actual relationship, and the aftermath are detailed by Tuiasosopo, who acknowledges the role she played. Tuiasosopo is apologetic, and while her experiences elicit sympathy, what she did Te’o does not, and she understands this.

The aftermath of the high profile catfishing affair impacted Te’o on a grand scale, impacting his draft status, his overall persona, and his emotional stability. Needless, to say, Te’o has had a rough go since the incident.

What the documentary does best, is in the second episode, when we see how the hoax was revealed, we also see how horrible America can be in media and social media. People in this country love to see their heroes reach the highest peaks just to come crashing down.

The only culpability Te’o really has in all of this is that he was a sweet and caring person, who was fooled by Tuiasosopo, but American media and the public crushed him, mocked him, and tore him apart.

It is very interesting to hear the sides of Te’o, Tuiasosopo, as well as the two reporters from Deadspin who initially broke the story.

What Tuiasosopo did is wrong, but the tragedy in all of this is seeing the burden Te’o now must bear at no fault of his own. It is a story of the cruelty of the media and America at their worst.

Gordon’s Grade: B+