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Debt (game show)

Genre Game show
Directed by James Marcione[1]
Presented by Wink Martindale
Narrated by Julie Claire
Theme music composer Alan Ett
Country of origin United States
Original language(s) English
No. of seasons 2
Running time approx. 22-26 minutes
Production company(s) Lifetime Productions
Faded Denim Productions
Buena Vista Television
Original channel Lifetime
Original release June 3, 1996 – August 14, 1998

Debt is 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 contestants are introduced with the amount of debt they have (usually between $6,000 and $10,000) and the reasons why. After introductions, the debt of the three contestants was averaged to level the playing field. The scores were shown in negative amounts to reflect the debt of each contestant.

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. On a contestant's turn, he or she chose a category and value, after which a "Who am I?"-type question was revealed (e.g., "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.

One of the questions in the round was labeled "Debtonator", the round's most difficult question in the producers' opinion, and was worth −$500 regardless of the face value of the question.

When time ended or after all questions had been asked, the contestant with the highest debt was eliminated and received the consolation prize of a $200 savings bond, along with a piggy bank (Hamm from the Pixar movie Toy Story).

Season two changes

Before the start of round one (and after the averaging of the debts), the game started with a toss-up question worth −$1 and the right to pick the first category from the board. Also, contestants were no longer required to begin their responses with the phrase "You are..." at any point in the game. Additionally, rather than choosing individual questions, contestants chose an entire category from the five on the board and five questions from that category were asked in succession. Due to this change, the "Debtonator" represented an entire category, with each question played for twice normal value (−$100 to −$500).

Round 2 (Gambling Debt)

After revealing the category, each contestant announced how many out of five questions he/she could answer to win the money for that category. At the beginning of the round, the contestant with the lesser amount of debt placed the first bid; his or her opponent then had the opportunity to increase the bid. Bids were exchanged until the maximum bid of five was made or a contestant directed their opponent to "Prove it!", forcing them to fulfill the contract. If the controlling contestant completed the contract, the money was subtracted from that contestant's debt. If the contestant was unable to fulfill the contract, their opponent's debt was reduced. The winner of each category earned the right to place the first bid for the next. Five categories were played in this round, with values of −$300, −$400, −$500, −$750, and −$1,500.

The contestant with the higher debt was eliminated at the end of the round and received a piggy bank and a $500 savings bond, while the contestant with the lower score won and advanced to the bonus round. If at any point in the round it became impossible for a contestant to catch up, even if he/she were to win every remaining category, that contestant was "mathematically eliminated" and automatically received the consolation prize of a $500 savings bond, along with a piggy bank.

Bonus Round

The show's bonus round was played in two stages called "Get Out of Debt" and "Bet Your Debt". First, the winning contestant was given an "expiration date" (time limit) of 60 seconds to answer ten questions in a given category. Winning the bonus round meant their entire original debt (before the averaging of debts) was paid off. Losing the bonus round meant the contestant kept whatever money they earned in the first two rounds.

After the first part of the bonus round, the contestant was given the option to "Bet [their] debt". A category selected by the contestant prior to the show on their particular favorite subject in the world of pop culture was presented as a one-question double-or-nothing gamble. The contestant could select to keep what they had won up to that point, or risk all of their winnings to add an amount in cash equal to their original debt or their main game winnings, based on how well they fared in the first part of the bonus round. If the contestant chose to play, the question was read and the contestant had ten seconds to respond. If the contestant responded correctly, all of the money won up to that point was doubled, and the contestant received the equal amount of cash if they won the first part of the bonus round. But, if the contestant responded incorrectly or ran out of time, all of the money won up to that point was lost, and the contestant received the consolation prize of a savings bond worth $1,500 if they won the first part of the bonus round, or $1,000 if they failed to win the first part of the bonus round.

Broadcast history

Debt replaced Shop 'til You Drop, which moved from Lifetime to The Family Channel in 1996. Oddly enough, both "Debt" and "Shop 'til You Drop" were produced by veteran game show David Greenfield. Debt aired at 6:30 pm Eastern for its entire run, paired with reruns of Supermarket Sweep. Debt was replaced by reruns of Ellen in 1998.


  1. ^ a b Schwartz, David; Ryan, Steve; Wostbrock, Fred (1999). The Encyclopedia of TV Game Shows (3 ed.). Facts on File, Inc. pp. 54–55. ISBN 0-8160-3846-5. 

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