On Jan. 17, 2013, Nev Schulman and Max Joseph, who star in and host MTV’s new reality show “Catfish,” spoke out about Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o, saying they believe he was probably not involved in a hoax regarding a romance with a now presumed dead girlfriend. Instead, they believe he was the victim of an online prank, much like the stories they feature on the popular series.
According to the Detroit Free Press, Schulman coined the “catfishing” phrase after filming a documentary called "Catfish" that followed his own Internet relationship saga and betrayal by an online “girlfriend.”
Te’o’s story involves an online romance and the girlfriend's supposed death from leukemia in Sept. 2012. According to media reports, the girl, Lennay Kekua, apparently never existed and the circumstances surrounding the situation still remain unclear.
“My gut feeling is that he’s a victim here. I don’t thing he was in on it from the beginning,” said Schulman, according to the Free Press. “I don’t think it was some scheme for him to get media attention in an effort to win the Heisman Trophy, and maybe that’s because I’m hopeful in believing that’s not the case, because I think that would be really devastating. That’s just my gut.”
After Kekua’s alleged death, Schulman received an email on Dec. 9 asking for his help. Someone claiming to be Kekua’s sister, Donna Tei, told him that Ronaiah Tuiasosopo was behind the hoax and pretending to be her sibling.
On the MTV show, Schulman and Joseph assist people who have been involved in online relationships, but are suspicious about whether the person they are communicating with is actually who they say they are.
Joseph said regarding Te’o’s situation, “…we really don’t know… a lot of the details about how they related to one another… We don’t know a lot of things, which really would be important to know in terms of identifying red flags.”
On Jan. 16, Notre Dame Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick said he is confident the school's linebacker, Manti Te’o, was the victim of an “elaborate, sophisticated hoax” regarding Kekua.