In 2012, Manti Te’o was the golden child of NCAA football. The former Notre Dame linebacker wasn’t just leading his team to the national championships, but was also doing so while mourning the recent deaths of his grandmother and girlfriend, whom he said died on the same day. Te’o’s story was widely reported as an inspirational tale of perseverance in the face of tragedy, and he quickly became one of the most talked-about student athletes in the country.
The only problem? His girlfriend wasn’t real.
Untold: The Girlfriend Who Didn't Exist is a two-part Netflix documentary that investigates how Te’o unknowingly became the victim of a puzzling catfishing hoax that’s since been described as “the most important story in sports internet history.” The scheme’s perpetrator was Ronaiah “Naya” Tuiasosopo. [Editor’s note: While Tuiasosopo primarily uses the nickname “Naya” now, a Netflix rep confirmed to Bustle that she still goes by Ronaiah as well.]
Tuiasosopo created a Facebook profile of a fake Stanford student named “Lennay Kekua,” and maintained an online relationship with Te’o for four years. During that time, the two only communicated by text message and phone calls, with Tuiasosopo — a woman who presented as male at the time — disguising her voice or blacking out the camera to conceal her real identity. Te’o himself didn’t learn that Tuiasosopo was behind the plot until Deadspin exposed the hoax in Jan. 2013.
So what happened to Tuiasosopo after the hoax was exposed? Below, everything to know about where Ronaiah “Naya” Tuiasosopo is now.
How Did Ronaiah “Naya” Tuiasosopo Trick Manti Te’o?
Tuiasosopo created her alter-ego “Lennay Kekua” on Facebook in 2008 by using the photo of high school classmate. She pursued multiple cyber-relationships with various guys before connecting with Te’o the following year.
Te’o’s busy practice schedule, as well as the long distance between them, made it possible for Tuiasosopo to conceal her real identity for so long. It also helped that not everything about “Kekua” was a lie: “Even though it’s like this whole fake profile, it was really, like, a lot of how I really am,” Tuiasosopo explains in the Netflix documentary. “It was me with a different name tag, a different photo. But as far as everything else, it was 100% me.”
Eventually, fearing the ruse had gone too far, Tuiasosopo tried to believably “kill off” her persona — first with a near-fatal car accident, and later with a leukemia diagnosis. After the couple had an argument in Sept. 2012, Tuiasosopo retaliated by calling Te’o as “Kekua’s brother” to say she’d passed away — only hours after Te’o learned his grandmother had also died. (Tuiasosopo would also later try to convince Te’o that Kekua had only faked her death, and was actually still alive.)
Around this time, Tuiasosopo also posed as “Kekua’s cousin,” and met up with Te’o in person multiple times before the Deadspin investigation dropped. In the documentary, Tuiasosopo claims her actions were a way to cope with her gender identity. “I truly believed in my heart, being a natural-born male, I could never be who I wanted,” she explains. “That was when I had decided that I would be able to have that experience in the life of a female. Even if it were fake.”
Where Is Ronaiah “Naya” Tuiasosopo Now?
When the initial media frenzy died down, Tuiasosopo moved to American Samoa and connected with the Fa'afafine community — a group of indigenous Samoans who identify as non-binary or by a third gender. There, she came to terms with her own gender identity. “I put myself on the backburner for all those years. So moving forward, I just had to start living my life, and I wanted to be able to live my life as trans,” Tuiasosopo says in the documentary.
Nowadays, Tuiasosopo keeps a very low profile. She’s since moved to Seattle, Washington, where she currently lives and works. Though Tuiasosopo still uses her birthname, she’s also adopted the nickname “Naya.”