Debt (game show)

Last updated
Debt Lifetime.png
Genre Game show
Directed byJames Marcione [1]
Presented by Wink Martindale
Narrated byJulie Claire
Theme music composerAlan Ett
Country of originUnited States
Original language(s)English
No. of seasons2
Running timeapprox. 22–26 minutes
Production company(s) Lifetime Productions
Faded Denim Productions
Distributor Buena Vista Television
Original network Lifetime
Original releaseJune 3, 1996 (1996-06-03) 
August 14, 1998 (1998-08-14)

Debt was an American game show hosted by Wink Martindale which aired on Lifetime from June 3, 1996 to August 14, 1998. The show featured contestants who were trying to earn money to get out of debt.



The game was conceived by Sarah Jane West. Its host was Wink Martindale, and Kurt Engstrom was featured as an assistant playing the role of a security guard. Julie Claire was the show's announcer. [1]


Three new contestants competed per episode, each having accumulated several thousand dollars' worth of debt (usually between $6,000 and $10,000) for various reasons (school loans, paying for a wedding, etc.). For scoring purposes, their debts were averaged before the game began. Scores were shown in negative amounts to indicate their remaining debts.

Round 1 (General Debt)

In the first round, contestants faced a gameboard with five categories, each with five questions in negative dollar values ranging from −$50 to −$250, in increments of $50. The first selection went to the contestant who had the lowest debt before averaging the scores. The contestant in control chose a category and value, and Martindale asked "Who am I?" toss-up question. (Example: "I'm the name of the fictitious, mustachioed 'ranking officer' who hawks the Quaker Oats cereal Peanut Butter Crunch.") Contestants buzzed-in to answer and were required to phrase their response as "You are..." to receive credit (although the contraction "You're" also was accepted). (The correct answer to the example is "You are Cap'n Crunch.") A correct answer deducted the question's value from the contestant's debt. A wrong answer or failing to respond within the time frame added the value, increasing the contestant's debt, and allowed the others to buzz-in. The contestant who answered correctly then chose the next question from the board. If no one did so, the contestant who gave the last correct answer kept control.

A "Debt-onator" was hidden behind one question, judged by the producers to be the most difficult one of the round. Regardless of the displayed value, it was played for −$500.

The players were warned when the round entered its final two minutes. Once time ran out or all 25 questions had been asked, the contestant with the highest debt was eliminated and received a consolation prize of a $200 savings bond, along with a piggy bank.

Season two changes

As originally conceived, the first-round gameplay for Debt was almost indistinguishable from that of the popular game show Jeopardy! , which prompted the show to make changes for Debt's second and final season.

After the debts were averaged, Martindale asked a toss-up question that awarded −$1 and initial control of the round. Rather than selecting an individual question, the contestant in control chose one of five categories from the board and Martindale asked five questions in succession, with values increasing from −$50 to −$250. The "Debt-onator" was hidden behind one category and doubled the value of its questions (−$100 to −$500). The contestant who gave the last correct answer in a category chose the next one. Finally, contestants were no longer required to start their answers with the "You are..." phrase at any point in the game.

Round 2 (Gambling Debt)

A category was revealed, and the contestants bid back and forth as to how many of its five questions they could answer correctly. Bidding continued until one contestant either reached the maximum of five or challenged the other to "Prove it!" If the high bidder was able to fulfill his/her claim, the value of the category was subtracted from his/her debt; otherwise, it was subtracted from the opponent's debt. Five categories were played, with values of −$300, −$400, −$500, −$750, and −$1,500. The contestant with the lower remaining debt after round one started the bidding on the first category, and the winner of each category placed the first bid on the next one.

At the end of the round, the contestant with the higher debt was eliminated and received a piggy bank and a $500 savings bond. However, the round could end early if one contestant fell so far behind that he/she could not catch up even by winning all of the remaining categories (referred to by Martindale as being "mathematically eliminated"). The winning contestant advanced to the bonus round.

Bonus Round

The bonus round was played in two parts. In the first part, "Get Out of Debt," the contestant had 60 seconds to answer 10 questions in a given category. If he/she passed or missed a question, Martindale asked another one in its place. If the contestant succeeded, his/her entire original debt (before averaging) was paid off; otherwise; he/she kept all money won during the first two rounds.

For the second part, "Bet Your Debt," the contestant was given the option to stop playing and keep his/her winnings, or risk them on one question from his/her favorite topic in the world of popular culture. If he/she chose to take the risk, Martindale asked the question and gave the contestant 10 seconds to respond. A correct answer doubled the contestant's winnings, while a miss forfeited everything. In the latter case, the contestant received a piggy bank and a savings bond worth either $1,500 (for winning the first part of the round) or $1,000 (for losing it). If the contestant chose not to take the risk, he/she was still asked the question and given a chance to respond, in order to find out what would have happened.

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  1. 1 2 Schwartz, David; Ryan, Steve; Wostbrock, Fred (1999). The Encyclopedia of TV Game Shows (3rd ed.). Facts on File, Inc. pp. 54–55. ISBN   0816038465. OCLC   39130663.