Aug 3, 2018 at 12:00am ET By Joanna Hughes

With student debt in the US skyrocketing to nearly $1.5 trillion, many people are looking for new ways to free themselves from the crushing burden of their loans. Enter “Paid Off,” a new game show on TruTV which offers contestants the chance to wipe out their debt. But according to the show’s creator, “Paid Off” is about much more than handing out free money. Here’s a closer look, based on a recent NBC News report.

Relatable Problem…

“Paid Off” challenges three contestants, each with college debt, to compete against each other in a series of trivia questions. Answer enough questions, and the show will pay off some -- or even all -- of their debt.

With so many Americans crippled by student loan debt, actor Michael Torpey saw an opportunity to help people while simultaneously shining a light on the issue. His response? "Paid Off." 

 “I want to be very respectful of the folks who come on our show, who opened their hearts and shared their struggles with us. I hope this show destigmatizes debt. I mean, there are 45 million borrowers out there. It is a huge number of people!" Torpey explained.

...Or Cruel Joke?

Others, however, worry that the concept of the show is insensitive. Paste writer Seth Simons, for example, called “Paid Off”  “a cruel joke” despite its efforts to be a “good, compassionate show about the systemic injustice of student loans.” Simons argument? That the show “treats student loan debt more as the theme of a party than a public crisis that exists for identifiable reason.”

According to TruTV senior vice president of development and original programming Lesley Goldman, this is the point. “The best way to address [a ridiculous] issue is with a ridiculous game show,” he says.

Not only that, but the show can also be viewed as a platform for calling out the people responsible for the problem. “We try to highlight all the different groups we think are complicit,” revealed Torpey. “We yell at Congress, we yell at the predatory loan groups, we yell at the universities themselves.”

Looking for the latest information on student loan debt in the US? Check out the latest news here. Wondering which countries are winning when it comes to student debt, meanwhile? We've got the scoop on that, too. 


Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.

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