In his much anticipated first on-camera interview since a fake-girlfriend hoax took over his career and everyone else's rumor-mongering obsession, Notre Dame star Manti Te'o didn't let on too much — but Katie Couric definitely went there.
About halfway through the interview that Couric scored over Oprah, which had been hyped as much for its seriousness as its talk-showiness after ESPN's off-camera chat Friday, she asked him a question many people secretly wanted her to: "One of the many theories making the rounds is somehow you created this whole scenario to cover your sexual orientation. Are you gay?"
"No, far from it. Farrrr from it," Te'o replied, chuckling to himself and sending the studio audience into laughter as well. So, that clears up that rumor in a way that's maybe a little bit offensive....
The rest of the interview was pretty unspectacular. But Couric did her best to corner and call out Te'o, Palin-style, for different things he said in the press about his relationship with the non-existent Lennay Kekua.
Te'o said his biggest regret was not lying to the press but lying to his father about meeting Kekua. When Couric asked if he benefited from the press generated by the sob story — that Kekua died of leukemia after a car crash, right after his grandmother actually did die, and that he went on to lead Notre Dame back to glory — Te'o denied it: "The only thing I basked in was that I had an impact on people," he said, "was that people turned to me for inspiration."
Perhaps most importantly to actually sorting out this whole thing in public, the alleged perpetrator's motivation still isn't any clearer after the interview. Ronaiah Tuiasosopo told Te'o that his goal was "to help people, and that was his way of helping people," Te'o said. "Well, he didn't really help me," Te'o confessed. Which wasn't much of a confession, and Couric didn't press there.
Couric did offer this line: "Either you're the most naive person on the planet, or this is the saddest story ever," she told him at one point. "I had my doubts," Te'o countered. Te'o said one of his friend's parents, a cancer survivor, spoke with Kekua — or at least Tuiasosopo, whose lawyer says he posed as the girlfriend over the phone — and offered Kekua support during her treatment. For Te'o, that was a sign Kekua was telling the truth.
Couric also played phone recordings, which were given to her by the Te'o team (Couric and Te'o share a publicist), and which her show had released earlier in the day:
"It didn't sound like a man, it sounded like a woman," Te'o said. "If [Ronaiah Tuiasosopo] somehow made that voice, that's incredible."
As the pre-taped, syndicated interview started to wind down, and some on Twitter started to marvel at just how naive Te'o came across in the interview, some backlash to the story started to emerge:
Pretty much ready for the ghoulish public hazing of this sheltered, dim, hugely confused lummox to end, you guys.— David Roth (@david_j_roth) January 24, 2013
Except this definitely isn't the last we've heard of this story. Not by a long shot. Tuiasosopo may be in front of the cameras next. In the meantime, we've got at least one rumor answered, and one meme already born:
I'm just going to leave this Te'o joke here. twitter.com/WorldofIsaac/s…— World of Isaac (@WorldofIsaac) January 24, 2013