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.

 

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.

 

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.

James
 

James retired in 2005 after serving 21 years in the United States Army. During the latter part of his career, James' interest in personal finance was piqued based on his own experiences and observations of the way most Americans plan – or more accurately, fail to plan – for retirement and the difficulty many face in starting the process. His most valued education has been lessons learned from personal experience and through conversations with smart, savvy friends.

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