Manti Te’o saga puts MTV’s Catfish in limelight

Catfish Nev Schulman Max Joseph Manti Te'o

In the wake of Manti Te’o’s incredulous story, MTV’s Catfish is getting some serious exposure.

The Notre Dame linebacker, who was runner-up in the Heisman voting, was duped into a relationship online with a girlfriend who never existed. Deadspin broke the story and since there’s been an avalanche of speculation, accusation, and overall mind-boggling dispensation in regards to how it happened, what Te’o did or didn’t know and what all of that means. In other words, the guy’s life is now like an episode of Catfish – just on a much more massive scale.

One of my personal favorites, Bill Simmons, addressed the correlation to this many-faceted story and the MTV show in his recent popular mailbag post via Grantland. He labeled Te’o’s own catfish situation as, “the weirdest sports story of our age.” I don’t think I’d disagree. Simmons wrote:

Can you remember anyone inadvertently benefiting from a sports scandal more than the guys from Catfish? They parlayed a contrived indie movie (by the way, I enjoyed it) into an even more contrived MTV series (by the way, I enjoy it), and within 24 hours, suddenly we’re using “catfishing” as a verb and these dudes are being trotted out for TV shows the same way we trotted out legal experts during the O.J. trial.

Nev Schulman introduced the world to the concept of “catfishing” with his 2010 documentary Catfish in which he followed his own story of tracking down a false identity. Now the concept comes to us weekly in the form of a well-received MTV show that’s only going to grow in popularity in the wake of this headline-dominating story. Schulman and show co-creator Max Joseph have suddenly become two of the most sought out experts by news agencies.


Nev Schulman has become personally involved as he told MTV he was contacted in December by a woman, Donna Tei, claiming her photos were being used by someone with a connection to the non-existent girlfriend of Te’o.

“Someone tweeted at me, because she was trying to get a hold of me to help her with something related to her image being used in some kind of ‘Catfish’ hoax. And, having just heard of the story, I went into my ‘Catfish’ email account, and I have an email from this said person from December that I had not seen, where she does ask for help in regards to someone who was using her picture to create a fake profile. So there’s definitely a connection, and this person obviously knows of me and the show and was making an effort to somehow get to the bottom of this.”

Schulman has since reached out to Te’o via Twitter:


USA Today got a hold of Schulman and Joseph to ask them about how Te’o’s saga is manifesting itself in their world. Here’s an excerpt:

USA TODAY: What has the response been since the Manti Te’o story broke?

Max Joseph: Really, what’s been going on is America is really becoming, is getting tuned in to something that we’ve known now for a while, which is that this is not an isolated phenomenon. It happens all the time all over the country, and in fact, all over the world. When the film came out, Nev pretty much believed this was a once-in-a-blue-moon kind of event. Once it came out, he started receiving thousands and thousands of emails from people who said they believed the same thing was happening to them, is happening to them, and that they were kind of too embarrassed to tell anyone about it until they saw his story. Basically, since then, that gave birth to the show and now we both receive hundreds and hundreds of emails a week from people desperate to find out if this person they’re talking to is real or not and whether or not we can help them. So this is not at all a new phenomenon. It’s been going on for a while, and I think it just hit the tipping point.

USAT: Have you noticed any quantifiable increases in the messages you’ve received, interactions on Twitter, etc.?

Nev Schulman: Absolutely. For starters, it was Twitter that in fact got me involved in this. Of course, the athletic director mentioned the show and the movie, but it was my connection to the story through Twitter that sort of got me hooked. I’ve had my highest retweeted tweet to date when I sort of first learned of the story and I mentioned that I was sort of on the case, which I have been. People were really excited that I was not only aware of it, but that I was involved and looking into it. And of course, what’s really been interesting to see is a community of people, primarily football fans, who haven’t really heard of Catfish – the film or the show – who are now turned on to this idea and are aware of it. So there’s definitely been a huge surge in my followers. I’ve been receiving mentions from people both on Facebook and Twitter. A lot of sports news syndicates picked up my tweet, and I sort of strangely become a figurehead in the sports world – which was never an area that I thought that my name would be on the tip of everyone’s tongue.

Catfish is reeling in over 2 million viewers a week and has already been picked up for a 2nd season. It should be interesting to see how the ratings look following the upcoming episode on Monday. Something tells me there’s going to be a spike.

Here’s a sneak peek:

Photos: MTV

  • Jen

    Some of the episodes lately are looking staged, though. Fake. Such a shame, because the show would be just as popular being legit if MTV would just give it a chance to be.

  • Manti’s Invisible Girlfriend

    Manti Te’o knew she was fake and did this for publicity. I don’t care what he, Notre Dame, that Ronaiah Tuiasosopo person, etc says. He was NOT “Catfished.”

    All of the evidence against him makes it SO obvious, ESPECIALLY the new story by Sports Illustrated where they released their transcript interview with him. He made up answers as he went along. He had certain answers already memorized before the interview, which is why they were so detailed, and the questions he hadn’t thought he’d be asked he gave the most ridiculous answers to. Even the reporter said multiple times through the interview things like “that’s unbelievable”, “i’m confused”, “we’ll check the facts on that”, etc. He even knew his story was fishy back then.

    How can he claim that he was a victim of an internet catfish when he said he met her in person after a game, touched her hand and they exchanged numbers? How can his dad say she visited him in Hawaii often, but now claim he never met her? How can he not have Skyped her, Facetimed her, etc? He claims he spoke with her for hours a night before bed, where are those phone records Te’o? I’m willing to bet money on your phone records indicating no such phone calls, EVER.

    Not to mention the fact that he never visited her in the hospital after her car accident, he never visited her while she was in the hospital with leukemia and he never want to her funeral??? But he can tell the world the exact time her casket closed? Yeah, true love! He says he sent her flowers, i’m willing to be Te’o never ordered any flowers to be sent to a funeral home in California. Notice how when talking about the three hospitals she was in before her death he only named one by name, and that being St. Judes? Because that’s the only hospital he knows! The other two he referred to as “a hospital or the hospital”

    Jarvis Jones or Jadeveon Clowney should have been in New York for the Heisman ceremony instead of Te’o. The ONLY reason he was there was because of sympathy. He gained attention for being able to have such success through such a difficult time, while Jones and Clowney were snubbed for having better years than him but playing under normal circumstances.

    This man is a lying PHONY. He has some serious issues. Instead of being drafted into the NFL, he needs to be sent to a mental hospital.

    • Manti’s Invisible Girlfriend

      I also forgot. Other huge red flags were also during the SI interview when they asked him when she graduated from Stanford and what her major was. He said something like “she graduated in 2010 or 2011. 2011” And then with her major he said something like “It was in English and something. I’m not really sure”. I can see MAYBE not knowing her major exactly, but how can you NOT know what year she graduated???

      And of course the BIGGEST red flag (see there are so many i forgot them in my original comment and am probably still forgetting some!) was the he gave like 3 or 4 different dates of death for her!!! HOW can you forget when your girlfriend, supposed love of your life DIES??????????????????????

  • Jenn

    Personally, I don’t give two fucks if this kid lied about a girlfriend or not. That shit is off the field, this guy plays GREAT football. That’s his career. Has nothing to do with this. Also, if you thought he should win the heisman because of what he went threw his last year of college football you were wanting him to win it for the wrong reasons. This man will still be a #1 draft pick next year in the NFL and I hope the colts pick him. Be great to keep him in Indiana.

    I don’t care about Manti Te’o’s off the field personal problems, this story is getting to much press its sick.

    • Manti’s Invisible Girlfriend

      You’re out of your mind if you think Te’o is going to be drafted first over all in the NFL Draft. He may go top 10 (we’ll see after this whole scandal plays out), but he certainly will not go #1. (I can almost guarantee you that Jarvis Jones gets drafted before him-he also should have been a Heisman finalist instead of him). PS he isn’t being drafted next season, he is a senior and will be entering the NFL Draft THIS year. Also, the Colts made the playoffs this year, their draft pick will be towards the bottom. (Projected to have the 24th pick). You don’t know much about football, do you?

      And the story is getting press because he milked his “girlfriends” death to every media outlet that would listen! Nobody would give a damn if he never created some huge sob story for sympathy and publicity. He made this public all on his own.

    • Charla

      He wasn’t even going in the top ten before the controversy! Do you watch football? I mean seriously? And many heisman voters took into account the tragic story of the love of his life and grandmother dying in the same day and he being able to overcome that and play a great game. He would not have been nominated for a heisman if it weren’t for the sob story.

      • Jenn

        Well then that sounds like personal problems for people who are voting for all the wrong reasons. And yes hunny I watch football, I also don’t take it oh so serious like everyone who is taking this story.

  • D

    Well being a college kid and knowing other college kids at other colleges, rumor is he started dating some girl from NDs sister school right after his gf “died”…