encounter

Who TF Is Reesa Teesa Now?

The TikToker knows some think she’s dumb for believing her ex-husband’s lies, but she’s being smart about getting her bag.

Photo: Courtney Sofiah Yates
Photo: Courtney Sofiah Yates
Photo: Courtney Sofiah Yates

An hour before her Good Morning America interview, Reesa Teesa is texting her lawn guy. Focusing on the grass and shrubs back home in Atlanta is helping her “not freak out about this,” she says while riding the elevator to hair and makeup. “This” — appearing on the country’s No. 1–rated morning show watched by millions of people — “is terrifying.” The door opens to a backstage area, where Robin Roberts is walking by. The anchor pulls Teesa to the side. “Thank you for having the courage to tell your story,” she says. “Don’t make me cry,” Teesa responds. The TikToker then drops her luggage off in the greenroom, where she tries to calm herself with deep breaths: “My whole prayer right now is like, ‘God, please, I don’t want to sound like a babbling fool.’”

Reesa Teesa, whose real name is Tareasa Johnson, is adjusting to her new reality as a folk hero for scorned women. The night before the GMA taping, in the dimly lit lobby of a midtown hotel, we talk about her “Who TF Did I Marry” series and whirlwind rise to fame. Fresh off a plane from Atlanta in a baseball cap and bedazzled hoodie, she tells me that a woman recognized her in the airport. “Dammit, so the hat didn’t work,’” she says with a laugh and snaps her fingers. “To say it’s overwhelming and it’s surreal is an understatement.” Three weeks ago, the 39-year-old was still angry over an ugly divorce when she Stitched a TikTok video asking, “What’s a f*cked up thing that your ex did to you?” Teesa told the internet that hers turned out to be a “pathological liar” who made up family members, faked entire phone conversations, and forged documents in order to buy a house. “In the end,” she says in the video, “the only thing that turned out to be true was his name and his date of birth.” In a follow-up, Teesa gave a ten-minute synopsis of the relationship she had with a man she calls Legion since meeting him online in 2020, getting married the following year, and divorcing seven months later. Commenters said the story sounded like a Lifetime movie. So Teesa decided to record more videos — in batches owing to her phone’s limited storage, all off-the-cuff, sometimes while driving to work with silk curlers in her hair.

The result is a 50-part series lasting more than eight hours. Although Teesa looks like a natural in front of the camera, the four-day process took a toll. “It was actually hard to do the entire series,” she says. “You’re putting yourself out there in a very vulnerable way.” Teesa didn’t know whether to continue recording when she saw TikTok sleuths posting her ex’s real name, Jerome McCoy, and photo online. When she finished the last video, in which she realizes Legion never liked her — never mind loved her — she cried in her bathroom for 15 minutes.

In the age of infinite scroll, Teesa didn’t expect much traction (that name, by the way, comes from a cousin who couldn’t pronounce Tareasa as a baby; an aunt used to call her “Reesa May”). By the time she finished recording the series, her follower count had jumped from 8,000 to 300,000. As of March 4, it’s at 3.6 million, and part one of the series has 39 million views. The videos are plot-driven and bingeable, more voyeuristic than reality TV, and totally unstaged. Teesa recounts every detail with a burn-it-all down intensity, but she’s also funny. The pseudonym she chose for her ex is a biblical reference to a man possessed by multiple demons, and she speaks in memeable catchphrases like “the United Nations of Red Flags” and “trust but verify” that Etsy sellers have already made into T-shirts and water bottles (from which Teesa hasn’t made a dime). What’s most compelling, though, is her willingness to admit that she deluded herself and made stupid mistakes. “If you’re going to tell this story, you’re gonna have to admit that you fucked up,” she tells me. “I can’t sit here and say that I don’t still blame myself. The feelings that I had in 2021, those feelings are trying to come back in 2024.”

Teesa hopes the series serves as a cautionary tale to anyone else who ignores warning signs in their desperation for a fairy-tale romance. Her DMs are now filled with strangers’ stories about deceitful relationships. “There are a lot of people who are really not sure who the heck they are with,” she says. “And they are afraid to look deeper.” While there’s lots of trauma bonding in the comments sections (“Girl, this sounds like my ex”) and supportive messages (“You are not to blame for that lunatic’s actions”), other feedback has been downright cruel. “Seeing some of the TikTok lives where they are bashing the hell out of me, I’ve absolutely broke down crying,” she says. “I have always been a bit self-conscious about my weight.” One of the nastiest reactions came from radio host Charlamagne tha God, who called Teesa a “big back” and said she “wanted to believe whatever was coming out of his mouth because she wanted a man so bad.” “It disgusted me,” she says. “It reminded me of those guys you go to school with who think it’s cool to pick on the big girl.”

Legion, too, has come out swinging. In a two-hour interview with a TikToker and in other videos circulating on the platform, McCoy denied all of Teesa’s claims and told an alternate version of what went down. He alleges she cheated on him and got pregnant with another man’s baby, then he broke up with her after failed marriage counseling. (In Teesa’s telling, she kicked him out on his birthday.) When I reach McCoy by phone, he claims that two months ago, Teesa told him, “If you don’t take me back, I’m gonna do something to destroy your life.” “This is what that is,” he says of the TikTok series. “This is a woman scorned with a bunch of lies.” (“No comment,” Teesa says to this allegation.) He has also threatened to take legal action against her, according to TMZ, but she tells me she isn’t worried — she has two lawyers now — nor is she surprised by her ex’s responses. In a recent video, Teesa claimed her ex’s (real) brother let her know that McCoy was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and schizophrenia as a kid. (McCoy tells me his brother “is a liar.”) Teesa wasn’t aware of any mental-health issues and never saw her ex take any medication. “Do I see him differently? Not really,” she says. “There are people who struggle with mental health who were not diabolical in how they lied to you. So I don’t give him a pass.”

Teesa was born in New Jersey and raised by a single mom on welfare. When she was 10, they moved to Marietta, Georgia, where her mother eventually got a full-time job and started making more money. Teesa is an only child, and she says that while she and her mom are close, their personalities are very different. “I’m very extroverted,” she says. “I can talk to anybody. My mom will sit in a corner.” One friend likes to say that Teesa “takes the 285” when she tells a story — a reference to a circular highway around Atlanta — rather than the 75, which runs straight through the city. Growing up, other kids put it to her more bluntly: “You sound like a white girl.” “They would make fun of me, saying, ‘You try to be too posh. You’re trying to be too eloquent,’” she remembers. “In fifth grade, I won the Most Talkative award.”

Now, she’s putting that accolade to good use. Teesa is suddenly being stopped by starstruck strangers while eating dinner, shopping for groceries, or just walking down the street. She’s humbled by these fans and pleasantly surprised that they include white women as well as the “stereotypical sister girls” back in Atlanta. While we’re talking in the hotel, a blonde woman in a puffer coat giddily approaches us with a friend. “I love you. I believe everything you say,” she says. “I went through something similar with a friend who was a compulsive liar.” Teesa smiles and asks for the woman’s name as her publicist starts filming the interaction on his phone. “I hope that you are getting your bag from this,” the woman says before leaving, “because you changed the landscape of TikTok.”

HANIFA Miya Knit Cardigan Dress in Purple, at hanifa.co. BEN-AMUN BY ISAAC MANEVITZ Gold Hammered Hoop Drop Clip-On Earrings, at Neiman Marcus. Photo: Courtney Sofiah Yates

She’s certainly trying. Although there has been speculation on social media that Teesa has earned up to $100,000 from TikTok through its Creator Fund, she tells me she’s actually made less than $5,000. There are other perks: Two fans bought her a trip to London and Paris — places Teesa’s ex had said he would take her — and Hilton will cover her hotel stay. Delta gave her a free flight credit. Car companies and other hotels want Teesa to do sponsored content. One perk, however, remains elusive. In her TikTok series, Teesa details how her ex was supposed to buy her a dark-blue BMW SUV, the X5 model, with a cognac interior. BMW capitalized on Teesa’s virality, posting a TikTok video of the car and clearly referencing her series. (“They’re forgetting the dark rims, but we’re not going to hold that against them,” she says.) Tyler Perry slid into Teesa’s Instagram DMs to ask whether she’d been gifted one. “It’s interesting how BMW is tagging me because they realize that they are getting advertisement,” she says. “In my garage right now is not a BMW.” TikTokers are pissed off on her behalf that the company, in one commenter’s words, “HELLA pulled a Legion!” Would she take a freebie? “In a heartbeat,” she says, fixing me with a serious stare.

Figuring out brand deals is new territory for a woman who still works a regular nine-to-five in law enforcement. Although she took a few days off for the New York trip, her boss still expects her to respond to anything urgent. (It’s her first time in Manhattan, and as a history buff, she wants to see the Freedom Tower and “anything 9/11.” Like every tourist, she also wants “a real slice of New York pizza.”) After the GMA interview, Teesa checks her work phone while waiting for the elevator beside Roberts. “Thank God my boss hasn’t emailed me,” she says with relief. She wants to stay at her job until her fame becomes a liability, but things are already getting weird around the office. Last week, a colleague Teesa had never spoken to did a double take when she passed him. “Oh my God,” he said, putting a hand over his mouth. “You’re Reesa!” One of her bosses finds the situation hilarious, while another seems perplexed that she has millions of TikTok followers. “I don’t think he’s watched it,” she tells me.

Meanwhile, calls from the media and Hollywood are pouring in. A New York Times reporter texts her cell phone while she’s in the ABC studio. “How they got the number, I have no idea,” she says. While her lawyer doesn’t want me to publish specifics, she says there’s interest from “everyone” — agents, networks, and production companies. (On March 5, she signed with talent agency CAA.) Some have floated A-list talent for a Who TF Did I Marry adaptation. In Teesa’s ideal world, Shonda Rhimes or Ava DuVernay would direct and she’d be played by Jill Scott, Natasha Rothwell, or Danielle Pinnock. (Pinnock, who stars in CBS’s Ghosts, has been vocal on social media that she’d love to play Teesa.) She also wants to write a book that includes details she left out of the TikTok series. “There are some big bombshells,” Teesa says, like how she found pictures of naked men on her ex’s cell phone (“Lies,” McCoy tells me) or that he shamed her for having a miscarriage (“Never happened,” McCoy says). “I’m not holding anything out.”

The opportunities are exciting, but they also make Teesa nervous. At first, it felt as if the brands reaching out considered her easy prey. “They saw a woman who was really naïve who made bad, bad decisions. I think on some level, they were banking on ‘Is she still dumb?’” she says while a makeup artist brushes black powder on her lids. “I felt they did not take me seriously until I had to name-drop that I have an attorney.” Although her lawyer thinks she has the potential to make $2 million this year and up to $4 million the next, Teesa likes the stability, benefits, and retirement plan that come with her current job. She knows viral fame can be fleeting. “As quickly as this has happened is as quickly as you will find yourself on your ass,” she says. “No job, no money, no friends because you were feeling yourself too much because you ended up on Good Morning America.”

This post has been updated.

Who TF Is Reesa Teesa Now?