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New Netflix doc revisits an NFL player’s secret, scandalous online relationship

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A new 2-part Netflix documentary project unpacks the catfishing scandal from a decade ago around footballer Manti Te’o — including how the outlandish series of events began in the first place, and the way a resulting media firestorm added a whole new dimension to it.

The linebacker from Notre Dame had seemed on his way to a promising career when the scandal at the heart of this new Netflix release exploded. While still at Notre Dame, his playing attracted national attention. He also inspired millions of people around the country after Te’o announced the death of his grandmother as well as his girlfriend. And then came a 2013 investigation from Deadspin. The headline, a devastating gut punch:

“Manti Te’o’s Dead Girlfriend, The Most Heartbreaking And Inspirational Story Of The College Football Season, Is A Hoax.”

Untold: The Girlfriend Who Didn’t Exist Netflix documentary

This new chapter in the Untold Netflix documentary series hit the streamer on Tuesday, August 16. “Born into a Hawaiian paradise,” Netflix explains, “All-American football standout Manti Te’o leads a simple life summed up in just three words. Faith, family, football.

“College football’s golden boy could do no wrong. But when tragedy strikes, the increased scrutiny of his online relationship causes a media maelstrom that threatens his future and legacy. Featuring in-depth interviews with Manti Te’o (he/him/his) and the person behind the online identity, Ronaiah ‘Naya’ Tuiasosopo (she/her/hers).”

In earlier installments of the Untold Netflix documentary series, the filmmakers revisited one of the most embarrassing incidents in NBA history. It was an early-season game in late 2004 between the Indiana Pacers and the Detroit Palace. When one fan threw a cup of beer onto a player, a huge and ugly melee ensued. The “Malice at the Palace,” as it would come to be known. The Associated Press called it the most infamous brawl in NBA history.

These are the kinds of sports moments the Untold series excels at training its documentary lens on. Per Netflix: “From football to basketball and streetball to sailing, these stories aren’t the ones you’ve heard before, even if you think you have. Premiering weekly, each film kicks off at a pivotal moment and then delves deep into what happened beyond the headlines, as told by those who lived it.”

READ MORE: What people are saying about the #1 Netflix movie in the US right now


“This was a very sophisticated hoax”

Te’o, meanwhile, once explained to ESPN the faith at the heart of his devout Mormonism. “Faith,” he told the network, “is believing in something that you most likely can’t see, but you believe to be true. You feel in your heart, and in your soul, that it’s true, but you still take that leap.”

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Footage from the Netflix documentary “Untold: The Girlfriend Who Didn’t Exist.” Image source: Netflix

It’s the kind of thing that makes this Netflix documentary hit so much harder. And break your heart all the more. Te’o eventually released a statement, confessing that the whole episode was “incredibly embarrassing to talk about.”

Nevertheless, he acknowledged how “over an extended period of time, I developed an emotional relationship with a woman I met online.”


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Andy Meek profile photo

Andy Meek is a reporter who has covered media, entertainment, and culture for over 20 years. His work has appeared in outlets including The Guardian, Forbes, and The Financial Times, and he’s written for BGR since 2015. Andy's coverage includes technology and entertainment, and he has a particular interest in all things streaming. Over the years, he’s interviewed legendary figures in entertainment and tech that range from Stan Lee to John McAfee, Peter Thiel, and Reed Hastings.