College is a pivotal time in some people's lives but to the parents of those who were a part of the “Operation Varsity Blues” scandal, it’s a large part of their life for a big reason. The recent college admissions scandals of 2019 should not be news to anyone but learning the mastermind behind it is.
As a college student myself, I went into this Netflix documentary expecting nothing new. I knew that some rich families needed to impress their equally rich friends by bragging about how their kids got into some elite college. It’s nothing new. America is a business, and a college campus is not exempt.
“Operations Varsity Blues” continues this narrative and gives the hot details behind the infamous 2019 scandal. It dives into the real phone calls between families and Rick Singer. Singer ran a college counseling company and traveled across the country to give promising presentations at country clubs. He was the mastermind behind the whole scandal and did so for many years. He created a whole system that consisted of “side doors” in midst of the traditional “front” doors and elaborate “back” doors.
Essentially, the “front” door involves families getting in on their own, a.k.a. 'the traditional way'. The “back” door involved a family making a seven or eight-figure donation to a university. The “side” door involved elaborate bribing and deceptive tactics for sports recruiters and admissions offices, yet Singer always promised a guarantee with it.
The documentary interjects commentary from former clients of Rick Singer, former investigators, journalists and education consultants in between the phone calls. There are also videos of students getting rejected at one point, which makes this whole scheme hit reality. Seeing hardworking high school students get rejected while these families bribe their way and take a spot for a student enraged me.
What baffled me the most about the documentary is how ludicrous this all is. These rich people are paying money for their kids to go to college when they have the resources to do anything else. Most first-generation or low to middle-class students work hard to get into colleges that can further their careers and allow them to have a better life. Meanwhile, it seems like college to the 1% is just a playground and a bragging right.
A part of me can’t take most of this seriously. It doesn’t help that the documentary has a Lifetime movie vibe in between the interviews and commentary. The dramatic phone call scenes between Signer and his clients revealed how detached they were. Some clients sounded panicky and questioned Singer, yet there was this overarching nonchalant tone.
The scenes do become repetitive and boring after an hour in. Yet when the whole investigation fumbles and clients get arrested, the documentary picks back up. The documentary’s final scenes display the charges and meager sentences that the families received—some even walking away not guilty.
“In America, we love the wealthy and we hate the wealthy," Naomi Fry, a staff writer from The New Yorker, said. "They disgust us and they fascinate us.”
This quote summarizes why this documentary was slightly interesting. People in America are fascinated with wealth and gaining it. This subtle attempt at injustice was refreshing to watch. Yet most of the families barely received any jail time, and those before this scandal got away.
The “Operation Varsity Blues” documentary almost blends the lines of harsh reality and a reality show.