Dr Phil Exclusive: Ronaiah Tuiasosopo
You have heard this story playing out in the media for weeks. Notre Dame football star Manti Te’O was in a long-term relationship with a woman he had never met, but it was eventually discovered that she did not even exist. Dr Phil had the one-on-one with Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, the man behind the hoax, but I couldn’t help imagining how much better this interview might be if Oprah conducted it instead.
Dr Phil: Inside the Deception
“It’s a twisted tale of lies and deceit,” Dr Phil said, but he promised answers in his confrontation with Ronaiah. I don’t know how he deceived the entire country, but Lennay Kekua definitely deceived Manti Te’O.
In September 2012, Manti learned his grandmother died. Later that day, he told others that his girlfriend lost her battle with cancer. He went on to play through his grief to honor his fallen loves on the field. That sob story got him a lot of attention at Heisman Trophy time.
Dr Phil: Lennay Kekua & Manti Te’O
But you know the rest of the story. Lennay never died, because she never existed. Was it a prank? What did Manti Te’O know? The woman whose photo was used to represent Lennay has also been in the news as a result of this scam.
How did someone create this whole story? Was it an elaborate scheme to nab the Heisman Trophy? Media speculation ran rampant, but the biggest twist was yet to come: a man was behind the fictional girlfriend he had an online and telephone relationship with.
Dr Phil: Manti Te’O Girlfriend
Ronaiah lives in Palmdale, California, where the media was lying in wait for his side of the story. In the end, Dr Phil invited Ronaiah and his family to his own home to get to the bottom of this twisted tale.
Dr Phil’s first questions just confirmed Ronaiah’s claims as the person behind the Manti Te’O girlfriend hoax. He said he was not after money, not out for fraud, and was not looking for any personal gain from the exchanges.
“Though it was deceptive, it was a lot of positive that came out of it,” Ronaiah said of the fictional character he created in Lennay. Archival interviews with Manti Te’O do cite Lennay’s inner beauty and character.
Dr Phil: Who Is Lennay Kekua?
“I never wanted anything, and that’s what really hurt,” Ronaiah said of the speculation when the scandal broke.
Dr Phil said that Ronaiah admits he was behind the deception, but he did not do it for any financial gain. The story of Lennay Kekua dates back to 2008, when Ronaiah created the fictional alter ego by merging his grandmother’s and mother’s names.
Dr Phil: Lennay Kekua & Manti Te’O
Lennay and Manti Te’O first connected online via Facebook. Ronaiah said he randomly added people on Facebook and eventually received a friend request from Manti. Ronaiah did not want Lennay to come between Manti and his previous relationship.
Dr Phil asked about the love affair aspect of this relationship. How does Ronaiah think Manti Te’O feels like he could be blackmailed by what took place between them in romantic conversations.
Dr Phil: Lennay Kekua Vs Ronaiah
“He really had fallen in love with this, we’ll say, character,” Ronaiah said. Dr Phil pointed out that even Ronaiah talks about Lennay as another person who exists.
That’s because Ronaiah sees Lennay as another part of himself, and thinks the relationships and interactions were genuine. (Didn’t something like this happen to Rosie O’Donnell?) Ronaiah said that Lennay and Manti shared values of family and faith.
Dr Phil: Ronaiah Meets Manti
The night before a Notre Dame Vs USC game, Ronaiah met Manti Te’O in person at the team’s hotel. But of course, Manti did not know he was meeting the man behind Lennay Kekua in that encounter.
This all sounds like quite a mind game. “I wanted to tell him everything right then and there,” Ronaiah said of the meeting, but obviously that is not how things went down.