Will catfishing be remembered as one of the strangest trends of the new millennium, or does it signify a social media-driven sickness that will slowly consume the world in a plot worthy of high science fiction? Here we examine two of the more bizarre cases of “misleading identity,” some of which end in an odd yet happy couple, other times in murder.
Manti Te’o is perhaps the most famous victim of a catfish, even if many suspect he may have been complicit in the plot from the start. Here are the facts, as best as they can be surmised:
-In fall of 2012, Te’o told several media outlets that both his grandmother and girlfriend had died on September 11, 2012. Te’o said his girlfriend, Stanford student Lennay Kekua, died after a car accident and subsequent battle with leukemia. He had promised Kekua that he would play football even if she died Te’o emerged as a Heisman Trophy candidate throughout the season, and his story was widely publicized.
Considering Kekua never actually existed, it seems trivial to point out that leukemia is not a common side effect of car accidents.
-After an anonymous tip in January, Timothy Burke and Jack Dickey of Deadspin conducted an investigation. On January 16, they claimed Kekua did not exist. Ronaiah Tuiasosopo is a family friend/acquaintance of Te’o’s and it is a classmate of Tuiasosopo’s whose image had been released to the media as Kekua.
-Notre Dame statement: “Manti had been the victim of what appears to be a hoax in which someone using the fictitious name Lennay Kekua apparently ingratiated herself with Manti and then conspired with others to lead him to believe she had tragically died of leukemia.” The university hired private investigators to uncover the source of the hoax. Te’o’s relationship with Kekua was “exclusively an online relationship,” which conflicted with previous accounts from Te’o/his family that the “couple had first met after a football game and that she visited him in Hawaii.”
-It was revealed that on December 26 T’eo said he’d received a call on December 6 from the woman he knew as Kekua, claiming she was still alive. Te’o mentioned Kekua’s death in at least four separate interviews in the days following the phone call.
-In response to the growing suspicions that he was involved in the hoax, Te’o agreed to a January 18 interview with sports journalist Jeremy Schaap in which he maintained his innocence. Te’o explained that he had lied to his father and others about meeting her in person, because he thought he would be seen as “crazy” for having a serious relationship with a woman he had never met.
Crazy…just the word I was looking for.
-Te’o said he was angered and confused by the December 6 phone call, and continued to speak of Kekua because the situation was unclear to him. He explained that Tuiasosopo represented himself as the cousin of Lennay Kekua and that the two men had communicated online over the last several years and met once in person at the 2012 Notre Dame/USC game. Te’o said that Tuiasosopo confessed to him on January 16 that he was behind the hoax.
Open and shut, right? Hardly. There are so many holes in T’eo’s story that we can only pray he has a lengthy NFL career over which we can continually harass him with the nickname Catfish.
-Finally, in a January 24 interview with Katie Couric, Te’o played three voicemails left by Kekua and said the voice “sounds like a girl”, an assessment with which many agreed. In an appearance on Dr. Phil on January 31 and February 1, Tuiasosopo confessed to the hoax and to pretending to be Kekua; describing himself as “recover[ing] from homosexuality.” Relatives of Tuiasosopo, however, told the New York Post that Kekua’s voice belonged to Tuiasosopo’s female cousin. Despite the revelation that Kekua did not exist, NFL player Reagan Maui’a said that he twice met someone claiming to be Kekua, and that they had been introduced by Tuiasosopo, whom he believed to be Kekua’s cousin
Keep your eyes on these Tuiasosopo’s….they fishy.
ROD AND EBONY
T’eo might have the high profile case, but an episode of MTV’s “Catfish” showed us one of the most extreme, confusing and emotional instances of catfishing. Stay with me here:
-Rod met Ebony on a gay dating website. Ebony was transgender identifying as a woman. Rod told her that he was actually straight and was willing to try dating her in person after four years of online dating.
-But Rod wasn’t being honest (you shocked?). He’d sent Ebony pictures of his slimmer, fitter cousin and told her his name was KJ. He apparently did it to see if Ebony was lying (can’t be that logic). When they met up Ebony was pissed, but got over it quick enough (though the name “Rod” particularly peeved her). Now time for one of the weirdest catfish lies of all time: Ebony WAS NOT transgender. That’s right, she was a 100% woman pretending to have a penis…to meet gay men?
-Nah. Ebony had actually considered herself a lesbian for the past 15 years. She had started talking to Rod/KJ (and he knew this) from a hospital bed while struggling with cancer. She was so starved for company and conversation that she sought it out anywhere she could find it. Despite being a lesbian, she’d grown to love RodJ after their years together online.
-Two, three, four big reveals? And it looks like we have the rarest of realities–a lesbian going straight for a dude. But Rod wasn’t happy. Why the heck not, you might ask? Let’s bail (like Rod promptly did) and get to the bottom of it.
-Trumping Ebony’s “I don’t have a penis but I’m a lesbian but I love you” reveal, Rod drops two bombs on “Catfish” host Nev, who for the first time seems genuinely pissed: Rod admits that Ebony had been sending him money for the past several years and paying his cell phone bills. Without that money every month, he said he probably would not have continued talking to her.
-This is the final obvious reveal, and while Ebony was hurt greatly by it, the two reconcile and remain friends. But the real twist is unstated: Rod might have enjoyed the money, but he was also dealing with his own sexuality for the past several years. He was poking around a gay website, entered a relationship with a transgender and feels quite disappointed that she is actually a woman. Rod was ready to dip his toes into the waters of dating men with Ebony, and this tactful coming out was ruined by her lesbonic ways.
In my eyes T’eo does not even come close to Rod and Ebony, but I’ll leave that call up to you.