[TV REVIEW] Manti Te’o’s Story: God, Country, Notre Dame, Lies, Redemption

Manti Te’o. The name once spread around the world sparked by the star linebacker’s pure athleticism, talent, confidence, and unlimited swagger showcased throughout his four years at Notre Dame University. Leading the 2012 Notre Dame Football team to an undefeated season and securing a spot in the BCS National Championship, Te’o had ignited a fire of college football that spread through South Bend. The fire lasted until Annette Santiago, his grandmother, and Lenay Kukua, his girlfriend, died in the same morning.

The story shocked the world of college football. Te’o was honored for the adversity he faced and the standout leadership skills he boasted throughout the tragedy. He even went onto national television and dedicated the rest of his senior season to his grandmother and girlfriend, leading the media to herald him as a selfless person and the future of football. However, just a few months later, the once-heartwarming story of Te’o and his struggles came to a screeching halt when news from Deadspin writers Timothy Burke and Jack Dickey broke that Te’o made up every detail of the story, including the very existence of Lennay. Top news networks like NBC, CNN, FOX, and ESPN instantly picked up the story and spread it worldwide. Te’o was no longer a hero – he was a liar.

Released on Aug. 16, Untold: The Girlfriend Who Didn’t Exist highlights one of the wildest stories in sports history. Split into two hour-long episodes, the mini-series describes Te’o’s journey to Notre Dame University, the problems he faced along the way, the aftermath of his situation, and the in-depth details of the scandal. It highlights Te’o’s emotions, experiences, and mental health. This docuseries intricately reports the whole, truthful story behind Te’o while diving even deeper into Lennay Kekua’s identity and story.

The Untold documentary film series published its first installment in 2021 on Netflix, and since then, it has produced nine documentaries on controversial and famous events in sports. Te’o’s story is no different.

Untold: The Girlfriend Who Didn’t Exist illustrates a complicated and detail-oriented story in a smooth, calculated way. Director Tony Vainuku thought through the angle and how to spread all of the information in the most concise yet comprehensible way possible. Visually appealing b-roll for interviews, old news clips, Te’o’s in-game film, and the variety of interviewees only elaborate on the brilliance of the docuseries.

The love for Te’o stormed back into Notre Dame Stadium just weeks after the docuseries release. Te’o made an appearance on campus on Sept. 17 for the first time in more than a decade, and the cheers flooded in. It is safe to say that Notre Dame can once again be classified as the place where Manti Te’o shattered records and brought the identity of college football back to Indiana, not where his career crumbled.

Overall, Untold: The Girlfriend Who Didn’t Exist is a must-watch, especially for college football fans. The story strays far enough from football to allow a non-sports fan to comprehend the details and gravity of the situation. From the deep web of lies and thoughtful execution to the global spread of the story, Te’o’s docuseries will keep any viewer on the edge of their seat.

Rating: ★★★★★

If you liked Untold: The Girlfriend Who Didn’t Exist, you might also like other Netflix sports docuseries like The Last Dance or Cheer.