Millions of Americans have to deal with the horrendous, unfortunate reality of student debt. CNBC states that the average student loan borrower accumulates $37,172 debt while in school, an absurdly high number for something that sometimes doesn’t exactly pay off as well as you had originally hoped. Actor, comedian, and now TV host Michael Torpey has taken it into his own hands to help in a pretty unconventional way: by commandeering a game show on TruTV that alleviates its winners of their entire student debt.
Paid Off With Michael Torpey is a trivia-style game where three contestants compete to get their student debt, well, paid off. After three rounds, the final contestant has the option to answer general trivia again or to answer questions specific to their field of study, truly testing the strength of their earned (and expensive!) degree. Sure, it’s unconventional, but the show brings attention to a severe problem in America. Torpey, who you’ve likely seen in Netflix’s Orange Is The New Black, sees his hosting as a way to prod those responsible for the debt crisis into action.
“The show stands as this kind of exercise of lunacy… I’m going to stand here and be as dumb as possible until you make me stop,” he said. “So, [they can] get together and say, ‘Torpey’s over there making us look like a bunch of idiots… We gotta figure this out so he’ll go away.’”
While Torpey himself didn’t have to deal with student debt (his parents took out a second line of equity on their home to fund his theatre degree), his wife owed more than the national average.
“...When we met, she owed a little over $40,000 and she was making it work,” he explained. “She was making her payments and fighting along. She was working towards licensing as a mental health counselor, doing these 3000 training hours, babysitting on the weekends, and hustling around trying to keep all these different balls in the air. And you know, it was just the way it was.”
That is, until one day, Torpey’s financial situation changed. He booked an ad campaign with Hanes (and Michael Jordan, natch), and he was able to pay the rest of his then-fiancée’s debt.
“We wrote this check and when sent it off, my wife started crying and I really started to understand what it was like for her to carry this debt around everyday… this invisible burden that 45 million Americans are carrying around with them.”
His wife’s personal struggle inspired him to start the game show. Yes, is entertaining on its own, with gimmicks like a forgetful Shakespearian bard and a cash grab machine, but Torpey wants to make it clear that its primary goal is to make those responsible for the debt crisis (ahem, congress, colleges, loan companies) aware that it needs fixing, pronto.
And if they do something about it? Torpey says he’ll stop the show.
“If [they] want to fix this, I will pull the plug on [the show] immediately. I will happily step aside if they step up and take control of the situation.”
Paid Off With Michael Torpey premieres tomorrow at 10 pm EST on TruTV. You can watch the trailer below.
Annie Black is Paste’s social media manager. Sometimes, she writes, too! Follow her on Twitter, @helloannieblack.