Ronaiah Tuiasosopo on ‘Dr. Phil’: The Voice of the Manti Te’o Hoax — VIDEO

Ronaiah Tuiasosopo

Part two of Dr. Phil McGraw‘s interview with Manti Te’o-fake-Internet-girlfriend hoaxer, Ronaiah Tuiasosopo took a turn for the dark and psychological — a highly different tone from the questioning, salacious side of the story presented the day prior.

Here, Dr. Phil was getting down to the hypothetical whys of the situation, as a way to figure out how Tuiasosopo might have reasoned with himself to perpetuate the Lennay Kekua myth. We were presented with a cavalcade of Tuiasosopo’s devastating life experiences. (Note: the following deals with abuse and explicit sexual experiences happening with a minor, reader discretion is advised.)

None of them, it seems, were easy: Tuiasosopo dealt with having an absent father until age 5, the strict upbringing of a deeply faith-focused family, and his habitual rape and molestation as a child by a “close family friend,” who seems to have been a troubled youth pastored by Tuiasosopo’s father. It was a sad look into the ramifications of occurrences that may have led Tuiasosopo to live an alternate reality online.

The Dr. Phil show wasted no time in its part-two interrogation, trying to answer all the questions the audience wanted answered. Namely, why would someone create and perpetrate such a hoax? Tuiasosopo methodically broke it down:

It was an escape from what he’d been through in his life, all that he was too scared to confront prior to the scandal.His father is a pastor, and his family is prominent in the football world. He felt what he’d been through was too “horrific and horrifying” to share, so he tried to find an escape from the real world.

His psychiatrist is still on hand for part-two. It was this very psychiatrist (celeb-centric Dr. Charles Sophy) that encouraged Tuiasosopo to do this interview and also, gross, appeared on camera throughout the interview.Tuiasosopo has been hiding a painful secret for years. He was molested a number of times over a number of years. He was 12 when it started, by someone close to him who was close to his family. An older person who may have been mentored by Tuiasosopo’s father: a Mormon pastor for troubled youths.

He had no idea what it all meant when it first happened. It started slowly and was his first encounter with sex. He hadn’t even had a sex-ed class or “the talk” with his parents.He wasn’t close with his dad; mostly raised by his grandparents, his mom, and “mainly his mom’s sisters.”His father returned to his life at age 5, and got very involved in the church.

Dr. Phil made sure to really make sure everyone understood how terrible they should be feeling by saying that the abuse happened “on his [dad’s] watch.” As if the family hasn’t gone through enough and gets the gravity of the various situations.Tuiasosopo was too ashamed to tell his father about the abuse; he didn’t want it to make his dad “hate the church.”

It kept happening: going from touching to “every form of molestation and abuse you could think of.” He was raped more than once, to the point that he physically couldn’t walk. He didn’t tell anyone about it. Just hoped it would go away. But it didn’t.

It was a lot for the viewer to take in, but Dr. Phil still felt that the connection between the two events needed to be made explicit, so he pushed on farther with Tuiasosopo. Why did he feel moved to create an alter-ego? Why represent himself as someone other than Ronaiah? And why, if it is connected to his past abuse, does it surface all these years later, in this fashion?

Well, Tuiasosopo felt he couldn’t do, accomplish, or live certain things out as Ronaiah, stemming from the insecurity and confusion he felt given the abuse and the what he perceived to be the pressures of being from his family. Especially one so entrenched in the football world. He felt “dirty and filthy and couldn’t say it.” Shame.

But why Lennay Kekua, a woman? Why not just another man with a different face and name? Tuiasosopo claimed it was further psychological damage related to the abuse: he said he felt as though he was being touched and spoken to as if he was a girl, not a boy.

It makes one wonder if Tuiasosopo divuldged those details of abuse to Te’o as though they were Kekua’s experiences. Perhaps something like rape and sexual abuse — something so inherently considered a female-only targeted abuse — were easier to digest (and believe) when they’re told from the point of view of a woman’s experience.

It’s no secret that the sexual abuse of men is not something often spoke of with any sort of regularity. There’s a lot of shame there, too, that is discussed less (and is also, as far as we know, a far less-prevalent experience) in public.

And through Kekua, Tuiasosopo felt validated as a person; that he was, and could be, loved because for who he was. The things that connected Kekua and Te’o were the real parts of Tuiasosopo that he felt he couldn’t properly express.

Afterwards, Tuiasosopo’s parents were brought into the discussion. They had no idea or even an inkling that Tuiasosopo was the person behind Kekua. And when they found out? “It felt like drinking from a fire hydrant. Smacked us right in the face,” explained Tuiasosopo’s father.

When it came to divulging the whole story to his parents, he started from the beginning — sat them down and told them about the abuse first, to help put things into perspective. His father’s first response? “I love you, son. Nothing changes that.” It seems as though his mother was slightly less understanding at first, explaining that she didn’t get what he was trying to tell her. He broke down and shared a little bit over several conversations with her to finally get the point across.

Her first reaction? Upset, thinking of Te’o, his family. and his parents. She couldn’t believe her son “was capable of doing something like that.” While they do not think less of their son, it seemed visually clear that there was going to be a long healing process ahead for everyone involved. Tuiasosopo’s father admitted that he wasn’t proud that he never had a father/son relationship with him. “It was difficult but necessary to hear, as a father.”

So, too, was the realization that his father was not that far away when the abuse was going on. At most, he was probably a room away. Dr. Phil explained Tuiasosopo’s reasoning as one of desperation for his father to remain in his life. Tuiasosopo willinging “paid that price because it was worth it to have [his father] there,” stated Dr. Phil.

His father agreed, saying that it gave him an understanding of why Tuiasosopo did what he did. On a happier note, his parents both agreed that the love they feel for their son is unconditional — whether he is gay or not.

Tuiasosopo went on to apologize to several people along the way, including a look-dead-at-the-camera apology to Te’o and his family. But can Tuiasosopo move forward and live life beyond the computer screen?

He needs to really learn to feel sorry about it, Dr. Sophy explained, and move forward in order to become the person he wants to be, and not use this to “manipulate the system.” Because, as we learned throughout the ordeal, and especially at the end of the episode, Tuiasosopo has a real talent for deception.

Dr. Phil was still in no way convinced Tuiasosopo was the voice behind Kekua. Which — and perhaps this is just me — I wasn’t? Listening to Tuiasosopo’s voice and knowing he’s a singer, it seems less surprising that he can move his vocals up and down octaves in order to achieve a different sound. But it was shocking to see that this ability not only tricked so many in the public, but also the top three forensic voice analysts in the country.

When Dr. Phil took his “control” (recordings of Tuiasosopo talking during the first part of their interview) and sent it to the aforementioned top forensic voice analysts, they all said no match. He averaged about a 16% match on a scale of 1 to 100 where anything over 60 is considered a viable match. Many fancy analysis were performed! But Tuiasosopo remained adamant it was him on those recordings, joking that the country might not be as safe as everyone thinks it is if he could deceive these scientists.

The vocal analysis was performed another two times. First, behind a privacy screen in front of Dr. Phil and a few others. Both times he recreated the three separate voicemails already out to the media. Tuiasosopo feels as though he didn’t do his best because the false-sense of privacy afforded to him when he was sitting at home alone in the dark allowed him to fully “get there” and perform the voice.

He felt very uncomfortable and awkward. Those vocal samples were sent off and the numbers climbed fairly dramatically, giving Tuiasosopo an 87%, 40%, and 42% match, respectively.

So Dr. Phil felt that a final sample was warranted: this time by returning to the “scene of the crime.” Dr. Phil sent a producer to get one last sample: at Tuiasosopo’s home, in the dark. She first took Tuiasosopo’s phone away to make sure there was nothing he could use to manipulate the situation.

She watched him record the female voice, by calling back to the audio booth at Dr. Phil’s offices, from the producer’s phone. At that point there was no question, it was a match: 87.9%, 100%, and 75.4%, respectively. With scientific certainty, it was Tuiasosopo on the other end of Te’o’s phone the whole time. One of the analysts was even quoted as being surprised by Tuiasosopo’s ability to change his voice, calling it a real “talent.”

In the end, Tuiasosopo was apologetic for the pain and embarrassment he’s caused, but what do you think of the whole tale? Can the Te’o story finally be put to rest? Or is a bigger conversation about the Internet still to be had from this? Let us know in the comments!

[Photo Credit: CBS Television Distribution/Peteski Productions]

Follow Alicia on Twitter @alicialutes


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