Set Design- 7
Show Flow- 8
Potential Viewer Ratings- 7
Play-Along Factor- 10
Overall Rating- 8.0
Premise: Three contestants compete against each other in three trivia rounds for a chance to have their entire student loan debt paid off. In the first round, contestants face three categories containing three questions each worth $100. Behind one question in one category is an “I Knew That” bonus. If a contestant answers the question with the attached bonus correctly, (s)he receives $100 and an “I Knew That” card. The bonus can be redeemed at anytime during the first two rounds and automatically rewards the contestant the value of a question.
In the second round, contestants face three survey questions the contestant who guesses the highest of the top five answers earns $200. Each survey question is accompanied by a toss-up, follow-up question worth $200. The contestant with the lowest score at the end of the second round is eliminated and leaves with a $1,000 consolation prize.
In the third round, contestants face two speed rounds: a 20-second individual, “this-or-that” round and a 30-second head-to-head round three multiple choice answers. During the individual speed rounds, an unpleasant, random sound will play for each contestant while answering questions. Each question is worth $200 and the contestant with the highest score advances to the bonus round. The runner-up keeps their total and is gifted an extra $200.
In the bonus round, the winner selects whether (s)he wants to answer questions related to their college major (“Know Your Major”) or general knowledge trivia (“Don’t Know Your Major”). The contestant has one minute to answer eight questions correctly. Here is the progression for answering seven questions correctly: 5%-10%-15%-20%-30%-40%-50%. If the contestant can answer eight questions correctly, their student loan debt will be paid in full. Otherwise, a percentage of the debt will be paid off based on how many questions (s)he answered correctly in addition to their front game winnings.
Review: One of the many reasons why I enjoy game shows as much as I do because it gives ordinary people a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to win cash and prizes to fulfill some of their wildest dreams, including buying a new car, going on exotic and extravagant vacations or paying off copious amounts of debt. The concept of creating a game show focused on eradicating hefty, outstanding credit balances is not new. For two seasons starting in 1996, Lifetime aired one of the most underrated cable game shows of all time called Debt, hosted by legendary emcee Wink Martindale. In 2009, BET aired a short-lived, bill-busting game show called Pay It Off, hosted by actress and comedienne Kim Coles. This is the first time, to my knowledge, a game show has been specifically created to address a larger political and socioeconomic issue of tens of millions of civilians in this country racking up an alarming amount of student loan debt to achieve higher education.
If I could describe Paid Off in a facial emotion, it would be laughing while silently sobbing on the inside. Paid Off’s premise is seeking to be a part of a solution rather than part of the ongoing problem in a tasteful, humorous, entertaining, self-deprecating manner almost to the point of parodying itself. Michael Torpey, the host who inspired the idea to create the series, even acknowledges that it’s ridiculous that a game show had to be created to shine a light on this national debt crisis. This show is serious about helping college graduates and students tackle as much of their five-figure debts as possible by asking contestants relatively easy questions to maximize their chances of winning more money and rewarding losing contestants with generous consolation cash prizes starting at $1,000. Paid Off also features educational – albeit depressing – facts about student loan debt and a special audience game that gives a lucky studio audience member a chance to win up to $1,000 to pay off their debt.
Aside from Debt, Paid Off also borrows elements from Jeopardy! with the category selections and the bonus attached to one of the questions in a category, Remote Control with rambunctious characters making one-time appearances to ask questions in a special category, Family Feud with the survey-themed second round and Distraction with the noise-induced third round. This game show has great variety with something different to offer each round to keep the contestants on their toes throughout the game by testing their speed, knowledge and intuition. The show also does a good job of subtly building suspense in the speed round by concealing the scores with the question/multiple answer graphic.
Overall, Paid Off is a good game show that does a respectable job of approaching a serious issue, which could have a substantially negative impact on the American economy for years to come, by giving debt-laden contestants a chance to take the next big step in their life sans the burden of student loans weighing them down. For the past week, I’ve read articles from several media sources that has called Paid Off exploitative and dystopian. I personally don’t have a problem with this show’s premise and if this is what it takes to help solve the larger issue at hand, I’m all for it. In a game show era where most formats have done away with the concept of consolation prizes, it’s nice to see a game show like this where everyone walks away a winner to a certain extent. Speaking as an individual who is still paying off his staggering student loans, any and every chance I get to make a payment and lower the outstanding balance is a win. My only criticism is, even though losing contestants have the chance to contact the government about the student debt crisis by dialing and (more than likely) leaving a message using the show’s “Direct-to-Congress” landline phone, the show could display some information on how viewers could do the same at the end of each episode. This is a tough call, but I believe Paid Off will be just good enough to be renewed for a second season by truTV.