Game show pays off winners’ college loans

There should be no shortage of contestants for a game show that debuted this week on cable network TruTV, given that the only requirement to compete is that you owe money for college.

As many as 44 million Americans carry student debt, with undergrads leaving for-profit colleges with an average burden of $40,858 and the overall amount owed in the U.S. nearing $1.5 trillion.

The 16-episode series “Paid Off” gives a few people saddled with loans a chance for relief, while arguably turning their financial plight into entertainment. The show follows a traditional game show format, with three contestants competing to answer trivia questions that often include an education-related theme.

And, unlike the fabulous vacations or living room sets offered to winners on shows like “The Price is Right” or “Wheel of Fortune,” “Paid Off” offers participants the chance at a more pragmatic prize: getting out of debt. Depending on how many correct answers are given by the winner in a speed round, up to 100 percent of their student loans, up to $50,000, are paid off by the show.

The brainchild of actor and comedian Michael Torpey, the show aims to be funny, while not letting the laughs distract from the serious topic of debt.

“Anthropology, that’s the study of humans,” he tells one contestant after she relays her major. “So why do humans charge so much for college?”

Torpey, best known for his role on “Orange Is the New Black,” reportedly came up with the idea for the show after he and his wife for years struggled with debt she incurred as an undergraduate and then in graduate school. They were able to get out from under the loans and start planning a family after Torpey landed an underwear ad. 

Still, not everyone loves the show’s premise. Online magazine Paste described it as a “cruel joke” that “treats student loan debt more as the theme of a party than a public crisis that exists for identifiable reasons.”

Torpey deflects such criticism with an observation. “I know what we are doing is a little ridiculous,” he told the Washington Post. “But in a way the show matched my family’s story. The only way we could pay off student loans was because I booked an underwear ad. That’s insane.”

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