The game show I’m about to describe to you is both incredibly fucked up and also, essentially, like any other game show, where people who need money, often desperately, compete for it.
TruTV’s new trivia game show, Paid Off, gives contestants the chance to pay off their hulking student loan debts, according to NBC News. About 45 million Americans are estimated to have student debt, including about 60 percent of all college graduates, who owe an average of $37,172. The show is hosted by Michael Torpey, who recently played a sadistic prison guard on Orange Is the New Black.
The basic premise of play is as follows: There are three contestants, all of whom must have college debt (so, unlike a typical game show, all participants must have been to college). The contestants are asked a series of trivia questions, some of which relate to their education. For their troubles, the show will cover up to 100 percent of their loans if they get enough correct answers. According to Salon, one of the segments is the “Super Depressing Fact of the Week” a sort of bonus round where competitors read information about predatory loan practices and other financial corruption.
What I find most distasteful about this show is its insistence on pitching itself as absolutely anything other than what it actually is. First, it claims to be funny. Torpey told NBC News of the show, “We’re playing in a weird space of dark comedy. As a comedian, I think a common approach to a serious topic is to try to laugh at it first.” No doubt this is fascinating to any of our readers who are just this evening learning about comedy and the student debt crisis. TruTV’s senior vice president of development, Lesley Goldman, told NBC News that “the best way to address the issue is with a ridiculous game show.” An absurd position.
Another claim the show makes is that it actually raises social consciousness, and therefore kind of contributes to the public good. Torpey, for instance, offers tips and urges viewers to call their representatives, according to NBC News. “We try to highlight all the different groups we think are complicit,” Torpey said. Salon wrote of Paid Off, which premiered on Tuesday, that its “benevolent deception…is in the way Torpey gently but indubitably delivers a canny indictment on economic inequality without assigning blame to any specific political party.”
Absolutely everyone’s gonna want to get on this show, my god.