A new documentary series on Netflix has gripped fans with a catfishing scam that nearly destroyed the career of an American footballer who had dreams of playing for the NFL.

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In Untold: The Girlfriend Who Didn’t Exist, Manti Te'o recounts striking up a relationship with Lennay Kekua – a 22-year-old Stanford University student he had met via Facebook – during his college years.

However, he was floored when he was informed that Kekua had been involved in a car crash and later died from leukaemia.

As press began to scrutinise the story and look into Te'o and Kekua's backgrounds, a team of investigative journalists discovered that his girlfriend – you guessed it – did not exist.

With Untold speaking to both Te'o and Ronaiah 'Naya' Tuiasosopo – the person who catfished Te'o – here's everything you need to know about the true story behind The Girlfriend Who Didn't Exist.

Who is Manti Te'o?

Manti Te'o in Untold: The Girlfriend Who Didn't Exist.
Manti Te'o in Untold: The Girlfriend Who Didn't Exist Netflix

Manti Te'o is a Hawaiian footballer, best known as an All-American player for Notre Dame at college level before being drafted by the San Diego Chargers in the 2013 NFL Draft.

When Te'o joined the Notre Dame Fighting Irish football team in 2009, he soon caught the eye of fans as one to watch thanks to his impressive performance on the field. However, he then hit the headlines in September 2012 upon revealing that both his grandmother and girlfriend – Stanford University student Lennay Kekua – had died on the same day.

After the death of his grandmother, Te'o was told by a supposed relative of Lennay's that the 22-year-old had died after being in a serious car accident and diagnosed with leukemia.

Despite the tragedies, Te'o didn't miss any football games and went on to be nominated as a candidate for the Heisman Trophy – an award given to the most outstanding player in college football.

However, in January 2013, sports outlet Deadspin began an investigation into the identity of Te'o's girlfriend Lennay, who Te'o had met over Facebook and spoken to over the phone but never met in person.

Deadspin journalists Timothy Burke and Jack Dickey reported that Kekua had never existed, with there being no record of her birth or her attendance at Stanford, while the photos on her social media accounts were actually of someone completely different who had never met Te'o.

They reported that the person behind the Lennay Kekua social media accounts was most likely to be Ronaiah Tuiasosopo – who has since transitioned into a woman and goes by Naya Tuiasosopo – a classmate of the person whose photographs were used.

After the Deadspin article was published, Notre Dame addressed the report, writing in a statement: "On Dec 26, Notre Dame coaches were informed by Manti Te'o and his parents that 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.

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"The University immediately initiated an investigation to assist Manti and his family in discovering the motive for and nature of this hoax. While the proper authorities will continue to investigate this troubling matter, this appears to be, at a minimum, a sad and very cruel deception to entertain its perpetrators."

Te'o later released a statement in which he said that he developed "an emotional relationship with a woman" he met online and maintained what he thought was "an authentic relationship by communicating frequently online and on the phone".

"To realise that I was the victim of what was apparently someone's sick joke and constant lies was, and is, painful and humiliating," he said. "It further pains me that the grief I felt and the sympathies expressed to me at the time of my grandmother's death in September were in any way deepened by what I believed to be another significant loss in my life.

"I am enormously grateful for the support of my family, friends and Notre Dame fans throughout this year. To think that I shared with them my happiness about my relationship and details that I thought to be true about her just makes me sick."

Te'o had previously said that he met Kekua in person after a football game, however Notre Dame director Jack Swarbrick confirmed that Te'o had been in "exclusively an online relationship" with Kekua.

In an interview with Jeremy Schaap in January 2013, Te'o denied that he was involved in the hoax, clarifying that he had lied to his father about meeting Kekua in person as he knew "it was crazy that [he] was with somebody that [he] didn't meet", according to ESPN.

He added that he had tried to speak with Kekua over video during their relationship, however the person on the other end was never seen while on the occasions they had planned to meet in person, Kekua would call off the meeting or send others in her place.

Te'o also said that he didn't know for sure that Lennay Kekua had never existed until Tuiasosopo admitted she was behind the hoax.

The footballer went on to make an appearance on Katie Couric's show Katie, playing the voicemails Kekua left him to demonstrate how they sounded "like a girl", while Tuiasosopo was interviewed on Dr Phil, admitting to the hoax and revealing that they had used the Kekua identity as an escape after falling in love with Te'o.

Who is Manti Te'o's catfish Ronaiah 'Naya' Tuiasosopo?

Ronaiah 'Naya' Tuiasosopo in Untold: The Girlfriend Who Didn't Exist.Ronaiah 'Naya' Tuiasosopo was revealed to be the person behind Lennay Kekua's online identity, having used the photographs of a fellow classmate to pose as a 22-year-old Stanford University student called Lennay.

While Tuiasosopo, who has transitioned since the catfishing scandal, was a quarterback in her sophomore year, she says in the documentary that she only became involved in football as her family were all about the three Fs: "Faith, family and football".

"I just wanted to play football out of obedience and I wanted to make my dad happy," she tells Untold.

Whilst struggling with her identity, Tuiasosopo made a fake Facebook profile under the name of Lennay Kekua and befriended Manti Te'o.

The two developed a friendship and soon entered into a relationship, however Tuiasosopo would make excuses when Te'o would want to meet up or speak over video.

"When these guys would want to meet up, I would be like, 'Dang.' That was kind of the symbol of the end," she tells the documentary.

Tuiasosopo subsequently called Te'o as Lennay's brother to tell him that Lennay had been involved in a serious car accident and had been diagnosed with leukemia. Several months later, on the day Te'o's grandmother died, Tuiasosopo tells Te'o that Lennay had died, too.

Tuiasosopo went on to meet Te'o under the guise as Lennay's cousin after a football game – however, she later found that she "knew in [her] heart that it was not over" and rang Te'o in December 2012 saying that she was still alive – leading Te'o and his family to suspect that he was being catfished.

Where is Ronaiah 'Naya' Tuiasosopo now?

After the catfishing scandal, Tuiasosopo worked as an Assistant Store Manager of Operations at a DIY shop.

She now identifies as a transgender woman and after the hoax was revealed, appeared on Dr Phil, explaining: "The truth of it is that it happened, I grew feelings, I grew emotions that sooner or later I couldn't control anymore." She added that Kekua was "never intended to be a joke".

Speaking in the documentary, she said: "After this whole life with Lennay had ended, I couldn’t give Lennay any more of my time. And I remember telling myself, 'You wanna be a girl, so be a girl.'"

She revealed that she moved back home to American Samoa and got in touch with the LGBT community. "Moving forward, I had to just start living my life."

Untold Volume 2 arrives on Netflix on Tuesday 16th August, with new episodes being released every Tuesday. Check out what else is on with our TV Guide or visit our Documentaries hub.

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