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