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Can a game show help solve the student debt crisis?

Erika Soderstrom Oct 11, 2019
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ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images

Can a game show help solve the student debt crisis?

Erika Soderstrom Oct 11, 2019
ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images
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Around 45 million Americans carry student loan debt. Most will have to pay it off through hard work and saving.

A lucky few … with prize money. A TV trivia show called “Paid Off With Michael Torpey,” wrapped its second season earlier this summer. Three contests compete, not for a new car or bedroom set, but for money to pay down their student debt.

Will it make a dent in the $1.6 trillion of student loan debt outstanding? No. But will it raise awareness of the issue? That’s what the host and creator is hoping.

“Paid Off” is a comedic game show that highlights the student debt crisis. It calls out the parties that we think are responsible — that being our government, the student loan servicers, and the school’s themselves, and it gives away money to people who really need it. I think contestants apply to the show because there aren’t many other options. If you talk to people about how they picture paying off their student loans, they frequently list insane circumstances, like winning the lottery, the death of a rich family member that they did not know about, getting hit by a city bus. And now we have a comedic game show to add to that list of ridiculous circumstances.

A lot of people are ashamed to talk about their debt. For some people, when they come on our show, it’s the first time they’ve ever said their debt amount out loud.

There was a contestant who spoke about how she just needed to get her loans under control because her kids were starting to go to school. I think that really speaks to how this burden is going to be passed down across generations now. You know, there’s a group of people who are still struggling with their loans as they’re trying to get their own kids ready for school. We’re putting entire families underwater now, all because the cost of higher education has gotten out of control.

I feel conflicted even in hosting the show. Because, you know, the show is not designed to be a solution. It’s supposed to be provocative. It’s supposed to lift the veil off of how people are currently trying to pay off their student loans. It’s a hidden burden that we’re trying to shine a light on every week. So my hope is that through raising awareness and telling these stories, we can all agree that this is an unfair burden that’s been placed on students and something that it makes a lot of sense for the government to step up and rectify.

Michael Torpey

We also spoke to some of the contestants about their experience with “Paid Off” and what led them to apply. You can hear that conversation here.

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