Life or Debt: A Review

If you are familiar with Kitchen Nightmares or Bar Rescue, where Gordon Ramsay and Jon Taffer respectively, guide failing people/businesses to success, you’re already familiar with the basic idea behind Life or Debt, a new show on Spike.

Life or Debt

Victor Antonio, filling the role of Ramsay or Taffer, serves as the show’s host and financial guide. His mission? To teach financially struggling families how to run their family like a business. Antonio’s bio notes that he overcame a poor upbringing in Chicago to earn a B.S. Electrical Engineering, an MBA, establish a 20-year year career as a top sales executive and become CEO of a multimillion dollar high-tech company.

The wife and I sat down this afternoon, just prior to joining some friends for dinner, to watch the encore presentation of the premier episode. Just as the idea is similar to the shows referenced earlier, so is the format. The episode started with an introduction of the family and following individual conversations with the married couple and a basic observation of their life, Antonio identified the overarching problem.

The assessment, naturally enough, was followed by the takeover. During the takeover Antonio reviewed the couple’s income and expenses, ordered a financial fast (only necessities can be purchased) if expenses exceed income – which I imagine will be the case in each episode – put the couple under a stress test to see how they perform and concluded with suggested changes, a restructuring.

The show doesn’t get too far down in the weeds on financial practices or philosophies. Antonio skims over them pretty lightly and the show uses a few pop ups throughout the show to communicate very basic information. Building an emergency fund and budgeting were touched on in the first show.

While the show itself doesn’t make an attempt to be overly dramatic, the narration and music for the promo commercials were. Both were way over the top!

Would I watch it again? Sure. While it isn’t as well done as my favorite finance themed reality show, The Profit on CNBC, it isn’t a terrible show simply looking to serve as a platform for embarrassing people. It does touch on practices and philosophies that are necessary for achieving financial fitness and does so in a fairly engaging way.

An Update: I recently downloaded the Spike TV app, via Apple TV, and binge-watched the remainder of the first season. I’m pleased to announce the show improved throughout the season. While the format is unchanged, host Victor Antonio’s approach, encouraging those suffering under the weight of debt to run their family finances like a business, has been refined, was often spot on, and makes for fairly compelling television for those interested in watching a family work at resolving their debt issues.

Life or Debt_Spike TV

At the time of the original review, Life or Debt could be seen on Spike at 10/9C Sunday nights. The first season has concluded and it appears Spike TV has yet to decide if there will be a second season.

Blogger-in-Chief here at RetirementSavvy and author of Sin City Greed, Cream City Hustle and RENDEZVOUS WITH RETIREMENT: A Guide to Getting Fiscally Fit.


  1. Thanks for the update James! I haven’t seen this or The Profit. We are always looking for some new shows to watch (we don’t watch a ton of TV – but as the weather gets worse we will watch more!) We’ll check these out!

  2. I loved the original Kitchen Nightmares, filmed in England. He didn’t yell as much, the drama only naturally happened once every couple shows and usually not as big. The American version they clearly faked and kicked the drama way up, on every episode. Oddly enough I always assumed a lot of those business owners were already bad with money, but it’s rarely more than a passing point. People that struggle to manage money that want to start a business I always tell them that’s a horrible idea, learn to manage money first, then manage and organize your life, then maybe – but only if you’re really driven and passionate about that business.
    Sounds like some interesting finance shows, but will telling people to be frugal bring the ratings. People may turn it off because it just makes them feel guilty about their brand new mammoth sized SUV sitting in their driveway.

    • Thanks for sharing your thoughts, my friend. Great point about the need for financial knowledge and discipline before a business venture is embarked upon.

      It isn’t a terrible show, however, it isn’t the outlet people should turn to for meaningful personal finance information. It’s simply personal finance packaged as what now passes for dramatic reality. I have my doubts about whether the show’s participants will find long-term financial success or that viewers will get anything more than a rudimentary exposure to basic personal finance practices and philosophies.

  3. Interesting – sounds similar to a Canadian show I watched a few times… I can’t remember the name, but I think the host’s name was Gail?

    Do you think it will make a lasting impact on the people being profiled/fixed?

    • I believe you’re thinking of Gail Vaz-Oxlade and Til Debt Do Us Part. That was actually one of my first SavvyRecommendations.

      I have my doubts that the ‘interventions’ will have a lasting impact on the show’s participants. I have seen reports that suggest a lot of these shows (e.g. nightmare Kitchens, Bar Rescue, etc.) have a low success rate. When they are revisited one year later, they have often reverted to their old (bad) ways or have gone out of business.

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