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The internet is obsessed with a woman's TikTok story about marrying a compulsive liar

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Every now and then, something on the internet seems to take hold of the culture with a grip tighter than a giant squid on a sperm whale. And right now, that is happening with a 52-part epic on TikTok. It's called, more or less, "Who The F Did I Marry," and it began when a woman who goes by Reesa Teesa on TikTok started posting videos earlier this month on Valentine's Day.

(SOUNDBITE OF TIKTOK VIDEO)

REESA TEESA: I'm going to tell the story of how I met, dated, married and divorced a real pathological liar.

SHAPIRO: The saga now has tens of millions of views. People have held watch parties, and in case you don't have eight hours to consume the whole thing, we've invited the hosts of The Slate podcast "ICYMI" - "In Case You Missed It" - to explain this cultural phenomenon. Rachelle Hampton and Candice Lim, thanks for being here.

CANDICE LIM: Hello.

RACHELLE HAMPTON: Hi. Thank you for having us.

SHAPIRO: I'm so glad you're here because the tagline of your podcast is, we're online so you don't have to be, and I will be frank that I do not intend to watch all 52 videos. I don't have eight hours to spare. So I realize this is, like, asking you both to sum up "The Iliad" in a few minutes, but can you give us, like, the extreme Cliff Notes (ph) version of what this saga actually is?

HAMPTON: I can. I have been practicing for this moment.

SHAPIRO: Hit it, Rachelle.

HAMPTON: (Laughter) So Reesa Teesa met a man right at the beginning of March 2020. She goes on this really great date, and then Georgia shuts down because of COVID.

SHAPIRO: COVID.

HAMPTON: And she decides to move this man into her house about two weeks after meeting him. He is paying for her rent. He's paying for the utilities. And Reesa is sitting here like, I'm not going to say no. He is taking her to look at houses that she can't afford. He is taking her to test-drive BMWs and Audis. And like, I would say, any normal person whose bills are being paid - you think this man has money, except all of the gifts he keeps trying to give her keep falling through. I'm talking about three house deals, a BMW, a trip to London. And at some point, Reesa starts thinking, what's going on? And she discovers that this man has been doing this for years, and that he...

SHAPIRO: I'm going to jump in here and say, this is all alleged. This is not independently...

LIM: Oh...

SHAPIRO: ...Fact-checked.

LIM: So true.

HAMPTON: So true.

SHAPIRO: This is...

(LAUGHTER)

SHAPIRO: ...What Reesa Teesa claims on TikTok happened, and TikTok does not necessarily have the fact-checking standards of NPR. Tell us about what the societal reaction to this has been because it's massive.

HAMPTON: It's huge. The first few videos in her 50-part series have between, I would say, 25 million to 16.6 million views on them.

SHAPIRO: Wow.

HAMPTON: Women are in the salon watching Reesa Teesa on television. I saw a comment on one of the videos where someone said, I just heard Reesa Teesa playing over CarPlay in the parking lot of Kroger. I think it's absolutely massive.

(LAUGHTER)

LIM: It is massive. And something else that kind of gets thrown in here is that Reesa Teesa is allegedly pregnant. About a month or so into them living together, she does end up having a miscarriage. There's all these moments onto which Legion - by the way, that's what she calls him - Legion does not step up to the plate. And I think that is kind of what people are latching onto, the fact that - when we talk about scamming stories right now - you know, there's financial scams. There's calling you on the phone saying, I'm Chase Bank, but you're not Chase Bank. This was a bit more of an emotional scam.

(SOUNDBITE OF TIKTOK VIDEO)

REESA TEESA: Y'all, keep in mind, I am pregnant. I had a decision to make. As ugly as this decision was, you're about to have a baby with this man. He's paying all the household bills. Let him get out of the lie.

SHAPIRO: You're both podcasters. You know Americans love true-crime stories.

LIM: Yes.

SHAPIRO: You know, way back when, it was "Serial," Season 1. And then there was this viral Twitter thread in 2015 that was made into a movie called "Zola" in 2021.

HAMPTON: Yes.

SHAPIRO: Unlike other long narrative sagas that have taken hold in the culture, this one's on TikTok, which is not really known for long-form storytelling, you know? It's more known for short quippy videos, funny dances, memes. Candice, is this an evolution for the platform, do you think?

LIM: I think so. I think what really differentiates Reesa Teesa's playlist of TikToks from, like, true-crime documentaries on Netflix is that with those true-crime documentaries, you usually know how it ends. You can, like, Google it. I think what Reesa Teesa did, whether subconsciously or not - she kind of doled these out in little drops. She's actually very good at cliffhangers. I really have to give her up for that. There are some writers...

SHAPIRO: She's a great storyteller.

(SOUNDBITE OF TIKTOK VIDEO)

REESA TEESA: The conversation went like this. May I please speak with Barbara? This is Barbara. This is Shirley Jones. I am the wife of Legion. Silence - then she starts laughing. And she said to me, and I quote, "if you are calling me, then I know it's bad."

LIM: Right? There are some writers in Hollywood who are not doing what she does.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter).

LIM: And we want to see people who remind us of us - 'cause I think that's the crux of Reesa Teesa. She could be your neighbor. She could be your friend. She could be your aunt. And yet, she was bamboozled, and that's a real cautionary tale.

SHAPIRO: She says she's been bamboozled. Her ex has responded, threatening legal action, trying to tell his side. And given, like, how intimate the story is, the potential consequences, I'm sure people are wondering why she put herself out there in this way, and one thing she said was this.

(SOUNDBITE OF TIKTOK VIDEO)

REESA TEESA: I hope that there's a woman watching this, and she's saying to herself, OK, it's time for me to ask some questions.

SHAPIRO: What do you two make of that?

HAMPTON: I mean, watching this eight-hour saga is the experience of watching someone come to grips with trauma, basically. By the end of the eight hours, you can see the toll that this has on her. And I - we do audio. We know what speaking for eight hours actually entails.

(LAUGHTER)

HAMPTON: I can't imagine that she would do that just on the slim chance that it might go viral.

SHAPIRO: Right - that she'd get a movie deal out of it.

HAMPTON: Exactly.

LIM: I think what this really is about is maybe the fact that, like, no matter how smart you are, the way that people can creep into your life and take advantage of your kindness is actually very emotional. All of us are kind of susceptible to that romance, that idea of love. And I think that part drives home why this is so sad, realizing that the person she married is not who we thought he was, and I guess sharing that is sometimes therapeutic - understanding that you're not alone.

SHAPIRO: Internet sleuths love a collective mission. Have people gone in and tried to unearth more details and fact-check this and, you know, do what the internet does so - I want to say - well but occasionally poorly?

HAMPTON: Oh, 100%. I mean, they found her ex-husband before he revealed himself. People on TikTok are taking tours of these spots on their...

SHAPIRO: No.

HAMPTON: ...Phones, so that people who have never been to Atlanta can see The Cheesecake Factory where it all went down.

SHAPIRO: Whoa. It's, like, the Reesa Teesa-verse (ph).

HAMPTON: Exactly (laughter).

LIM: Yes, yes.

HAMPTON: Yes.

SHAPIRO: You know, what strikes me about this is if this were a Netflix series or a podcast, there would be dramatic music behind it. And she carries it even without the dramatic music.

LIM: Yeah.

HAMPTON: Yes. It's incredible. Her very last video in this series - she does add a little bit of music under it. And I was kind of just like, Reesa, you didn't need that.

SHAPIRO: You didn't need that, Reesa.

LIM: (Laughter).

HAMPTON: You don't even need the wrap-up music.

(LAUGHTER)

LIM: Ah.

SHAPIRO: Let's get some dramatic music to end this.

(SOUNDBITE OF BADBADNOTGOOD AND GHOSTFACE KILLAH'S "EXPERIENCE")

SHAPIRO: Rachelle Hampton and Candice Lim are co-hosts of Slate's podcast, "In Case You Missed It." Thank you so much for telling us about this viral TikTok series, "Who The F Did I Marry?" It's been great talking to you.

LIM: You too.

HAMPTON: This was great.

(SOUNDBITE OF BADBADNOTGOOD AND GHOSTFACE KILLAH'S "EXPERIENCE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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