ATLANTA — RJ Korah stands in a dimly lit room, looking intently at a man who holds the keys to his freedom.
Korah owes over $90,000 in student loans. And the man standing across from him can wipe that slate clean for him — provided can correctly answer a question about “Super Mario Bros.”
Korah isn’t alone. Americans owe a combined $1.4 trillion in loans, and young people are getting increasingly desperate as they look for a way out of their debt.
But Korah isn’t in some shady loan shark’s office. He’s in a sound studio in Atlanta, on a game show that specializes in paying off your student loans.
The mechanics for ” Paid Off” are pretty generic: three guests, a pile of money, and corny jokes from the host in between rounds. But the stakes are a little different.
If you make it to the final round, you have the chance to get your entire student loan debt paid off.
The whole thing is led by Michael Torpey, a comedian who you’ve probably seen in a Hanes commercial. For him, this show is part comedy and part political statement — he even closes each show with a reminder for viewers to call their local representatives and demand a solution to the debt crisis.
“I think debt forgiveness isn’t a handout,” says Torpey. “It’s the responsible thing.”
VICE News took a visit to the set of Paid Off to see if RJ would be able to pay off at least a little bit of his loans, and to find out why Torpey wouldn’t mind if his show gets canceled — as long as someone listens.
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