A game show to pay off student loan debt
“Paid Off” is a trivia show on TruTV created and hosted by actor Michael Torpey to help contestants pay their university loans.
The game show is about to end. Host Michael Torpey reminds Madeleine what is at play for her in this final round.
"For each correct answer, we’ll pay you a percentage of your debt. If you get all correct, we will pay you the whole amount."
Madeleine, 28, got very close. In 60 seconds, she answered correctly seven of the eight questions. Her student loan debt gets to be paid off by $24,211. This result, plus what she earned in the previous rounds — with questions such as “What’s the most romantic date you can have for under $10?”-- helped her redeem more than half of what she owes to the bank for pursuing university studies — a total amount of $41,222.
The contestant receives the news with a broad, bright smile. She claps like the winners of the top prize of classic game shows.
"I know it's not everything," Torpey says.
"It’s a lot!" she enthusiastically replies.
"I hope it helps take off some the pressure," he adds.
This is “Paid Off,” a game show that premiered last Tuesday on TruTv. “You Call This a Game Show?” was the title of the first episode. It is meant to help contestants, most of them in their twenties and thirties, to pay their student loans.
With the fashion of trivia, the TV format also dips into irony and comedy to raise consciousness about a very heavy problem in the United States: 40 percent of the university population is indebted. That is 44 million Americans carrying this financial burden since college. Going to college in the U.S. is more expensive than in any other industrialized country in OECD. The U.S. student loan debt totals $1.5 trillion. Two-thirds of the debt is held by women —they hold $900 billion of the total national debt.
Women like Madeleine, and like the wife of Michael Torpey, an actor from New Jersey known for his role in Netflix series "Orange is the New Black."
The idea of creating this show came to Torpey when he met his wife. She had been carrying a $40,000 debt for her undergraduate and graduate studies at Barnard College and New York University. They tried to cope with the debt as a couple until, according to The Washington Post, Torpey made an underwear ad. “They were able to pay down the debt and finally begin planning to buy a house and start a family.”
"If you are just tuning in, yes, this is real life, America," Michael Torpey says to the camera in one of the episodes of the show.
“I really wanted an absurd counter to what I view as an absurd crisis,” the host told NorthJersey.com. “There’s no reason that we should be saddling people with debt who want higher education. I thought it was a good idea to juxtapose the bells and whistles of a game show with the depressing subject that we are trying to explore.”
The Washington Post states that TruTV executives are aware of the “surreal” element of the show. “We’re a comedy channel first and foremost. But we fell in love with this idea because of the unique hook of a game show taking the bite out of a student debt crisis. It seemed so incredibly innovative, relatable and timely,” said Lesley Goldman, senior vice president of development and original programming at TruTV.
Many people have started asking how to sign up for "Paid Off," but the shooting of all of the first season’s 16 episodes is over.
“If you enjoy the show, tell @truTv to order more episodes. Then we’ll able to help more folks with their student loans,” Torpey tweeted.
It is not known whether any Latinos participated in any of the "Paid Off" episodes, and there is more than one reason to support seeing them on the game show. According to a report released in April by UnidosUS, experts and researchers from the Center for Community Capital at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Latinos do have more access now to higher education as the enrollment rate has increased nearly pairing with whites, but more than 30 percnt of Hispanic borrowers are not able to finish school, and still hold huge student loan debt.
“When examining where most Latino students (45%) are enrolled—at two-year public institutions—a disparity emerges: only 19% of Latinos complete, compared to 25% of White students,” the study states.
"While many of our students succeed, too many have to take on immense financial risk for a shot at the American dream,” said Samantha Vargas Poppe, Associate Director of UnidosUS’s Policy Analysis Center.
Host Torpey always gives an encouragement to finish every episode:
"Call your representative right now and tell them you need a better solution than this game show."