Dear Student Debt Crisis Supporter,
My name is Michael Torpey. I’m the creator and host of truTV’s Paid Off, a comedic game show dedicated to helping people with their student loans. I’d like to briefly tell you my story, why I made this show, and what I believe it can accomplish.
If you subscribe to this newsletter, you know the numbers. Over 45 million Americans. Over 1.5 trillion dollars of student loan debt. Two figures reflecting a country that has lost its way.
I wouldn’t be where I am today if I had left college with debt. I was able to come out of school unburdened and take the risks needed to pursue work that I really wanted. I was incredibly privileged and very lucky.
When I met my wife she owed around $40k in student loans, and we were only able to pay them off after I booked a series of commercials for Hanes. We wrote the last checks to her loan companies and mailed them off, and suddenly my wife started crying. I immediately felt ashamed that I hadn’t really understood what she’d been dealing with. In that moment I realized two things: First, debt is not only a financial burden but an emotional one. Second, needing to book an underpants commercial to pay for an education is absurd.
It was that experience that inspired the show Paid Off. It took an odd set of circumstances for my family to become debt free. Paid Off is designed to highlight that reality. When a game show becomes someone’s best option, something is very wrong.
Every week we meet a new group of people, they tell us their stories, and they win some money to put towards their loans. Every week we’re making America take note of the burden that’s been placed on students, and how unfairly that burden is handed out. America must recognize that people of color have to borrow more money than their white counterparts, that women carry more student loan debt than men and it takes them longer to pay it off, and that senior citizens are being driven into poverty as their social security is garnished. I do not want to be part of a society that allows those truths to exist, and I have faith that when confronted with them head on the majority of Americans will agree.
Paid Off wouldn’t exist without the help of Natalia and Cody from Student Debt Crisis. In creating the show, I wanted the input of people who had dedicated themselves to working on behalf of borrowers and truly understood the stories I wanted to highlight. I counted on them to help me create a show that would be fun to play and funny to watch, while still being respectful of the people involved and the larger goals of the movement.
I hope viewers feel thrilled when someone wins. We gave away almost $500,000 this season. I’m proud of that number and I’m very happy for the people we’ve been able to help. I also hope viewers feel outraged that we have this show at all. Most importantly, I hope we can all agree that education is a human right and something that we should be prioritizing access to as a society. And until our government provides real relief for those struggling with student debt, until colleges are called out for their exponential price increases, until for-profit schools and loan servicers like Navient are held accountable for their lies, until free college becomes a reality, I will be hosting episodes of Paid Off, giving away as much money as possible, and forcing America to face that our current system is in dire need of change.