Anyone with a social media account and a cellphone has heard of the 2019 college admission scandal dubbed “Operation Varsity Blues.” A group of elite families, including actresses Lori Loughlin from Full House and Felicity Huffman, were arrested for bribing America’s top universities to accept their children.
From Chris Smith, director of Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened, the documentary Operation Varsity Blues: The College Admissions Scandal takes a different perspective than the media and truly investigates what happened behind the scenes of the infamous affair.
Instead of spotlighting the many celebrities, business leaders and other wealthy families who were involved in the scandal, the documentary focused on the mastermind behind the operation: William “Rick” Singer. Working as a college counselor, Singer would charge wealthy families for his “side door” method of getting their children into elite schools. This would include bribing athletic officials, falsely claiming students as athletes, cheating on standardized tests and deliberately misidentifying white students as Black or Latino.
Singer was portrayed as a very serious and intense worker, who traveled all across the country to serve his wealthy and demanding clients. Described by his friend as “the energizer bunny,” as he often ran on three hours of sleep a night and even occasionally lived out of a van when traveling.
What makes this documentary especially unique is the use of dialogue from FBI wiretaps released by the U.S. government. Actors recreated these conversations between Singer, played by Matthew Modine, and his clients to show the complete process of his methods. These conversations appeared easygoing, unaware that these clients will eventually be caught and brought to justice.
In addition to the reenactments, we see real-life videos from students either being accepted or rejected into elite colleges. Many of them are also ranting about the time and energy spent on their work, only to have been denied. While many believed that their potential spot went to someone deserving as such, possibly the most hilarious transition belongs to Loughlin’s daughter, Oliva Jade, speaking on how she doesn’t even want to go to college.
Loopholes into college admissions existed way before Singer’s business, however, he knew that he was many parents’ safest and cheapest option in doing so. Many of the conversations did not feature anxiousness or guilt about this bribery, but very few expressed anxiety for the fear of getting caught.
The film also touches on the already problematic college admissions process, including the use of standardized testing. Only those who are privileged have access to the best tutors and counselors for the test and have the ability to retake them as many times as necessary. All of these wealthy children had the tools for success, and yet their parents still felt the need to buy their education.
The college admissions scandal solidified the idea that college is a symbol of status to wealthy Americans, and they will do anything necessary in order to keep it. Many of these students could have possibly gotten into these schools on their own, but Singer took advantage of these wealthy parents’ first-world vulnerability, convincing them that he was their only option. These loopholes are not quite closed, but we can hope that other families can do better than Singer and his associates.