In March of 2019, news broke of a huge college scandal known as Operation Varsity Blues. Over 50 people were charged for paying Rick Singer for his so-called “side door” entrance into elite colleges. Among many others, the scandal involved the well-known actress Lori Laughlin (Aunt Becky in Full House), and her daughter Olivia Jade, a youtube influencer with around two million subscribers. Since the news broke, Olivia Jade has been saying she is legally “not allowed to speak on anything.” Now, this new documentary offers the explanation that so many have been awaiting.
Two years later, on March 17th, Netflix released a film called Operation Varsity Blues to document Rick Singer’s business. The movie uses real conversations recorded by the FBI. There is a mix of real footage and of reenactments of conversations that bring light to the blunt dependence on anything other than merit to attend the best universities. Along with the parents and Singer, there is information about specific universities, like Stanford, and their cooperation with the deals.
Rick Singer coined the term “side door” to describe his business. In the movie, he explains how the “back door” requires multi-million dollar donations, which will not necessarily guarantee admittance. The “front door,” is actually applying and hoping to get in based on merit. The “side door,” however, goes through fake athletics. Singer was able to orchestrate a system in which a student could be coined a recruited athlete by the coach, who was convinced by bribery. The side door was less expensive than the back, at a few hundred thousand dollars, and it guaranteed admittance.
Obviously, this business was limited to the most elite and competitive class of citizens. It offers insight into the concerns and thought process of parents who arguably are just being good parents and helping their child. Unfortunately for them, the rest of the world did not see it this way. The scandal is a prime example of the so-called “meritocracy” that rules America, that in actuality is fundamentally impossible. The students who used one of Singer’s fake applications come from families that have provided every possible advantage they could; yet, still, they had to cheat. They started the race from a closer starting line, and they had the benefit of the side door rather than the main door, which was crowded with thousands of students, just as accomplished as they are.
The documentary provides fascinating information and interviews with the many people who became wrapped up in the mess, sometimes without even realizing it. The story is uniquely unbelievable and relevant as some scenes take place just fifteen minutes away in Greenwich, Connecticut. I recommend this movie to anyone who has gone through the college process or is actively going through it now. It is an unsettling thought that this operation was happening possibly at your own university or in your SAT room. The intensely competitive environment around college admittance has only increased in recent years and this insane effort by Rick Singer and parents shows the lengths to which people will go to come out of it successfully.