In a shitty economy, the last thing working men and women need is to have their car repossessed. Out of desperation, people who've fallen behind on payments will do anything to keep the repo man from confiscating their wheels.
Enter Repo Games, Jersey Shore producer SallyAnn Salsano's new Spike TV game show, which gives debtors one last chance to win their car back (no fellatio involved). All they need to do is answer three out of five trivia questions correctly. If they can, their car is paid off and they get the title; if they can't, the whip they'd already lost is towed away.
Sound a bit exploitative to you? Maybe it is, but it's also pretty brilliant, hilarious, and heartwarming. For the premiere of Repo Games (Tuesday, April 26 at 8 p.m.), Complex spoke to the show's hosts, real-life repo men Tom DeTone and Josh Lewis. See what they had to say about the highs and lows of repossession and whether or not the show is preying on poor people.
INTERVIEW WITH REPO GAMES HOST TOM DETONE
Complex: How did you get into the repo business?
Tom DeTone: I got into the business probably when I was 19 years old. I stopped what I thought was a theft of a motorcycle, and it was actually a valid repossession. I kind of got into a scuffle with them. After it was all settled, the repo men came around and said, "Hey, you're kind of on your toes, you’re kind of a young kid, why don’t you do some spotting for us?" And that’s how it kind of all began.
You’re a big guy. Were you always, or did you bulk up for the job?
Tom DeTone: The thing is, people aren’t afraid of your size. They’re kind of like Chihuahuas—dogs don’t know their size. And it’s usually the women who are the ones that will fight you before the men.
Prior to the game show, what were your wildest experiences trying to repossess a car?
Tom DeTone: Honestly, as many experiences as I’ve had, it’s difficult to say. I’ve had sexual bribes; I’ve had bribes as far as money, jewelry. I’ve been threatened a million times. People say, “Oh, you’re going to take my car? We’ll find out who you are, we’ll come to your house, we’ll do things to you.”
I’ve been assaulted. Anything that people are trying to take out of their car, they will throw at you—a roll of quarters, pencils, combs, frying pans, clothing.
They think that we’re evil people. We have a job to do; they don’t take into consideration that they are the ones who have defaulted or breached a contract. We’re always the bad guy.
What is the key to a successful repo?
Tom DeTone: I try to control the situation. If you let a person take control, they have the upper hand.
I’ve had people break windows and slash tires, thinking that’s going to stop me from taking the car. But it doesn’t. I’ll drag it out of there. I’ll put it on a spot bed, whatever needs to be done.
Did you have any trepidation about doing this show?
Tom DeTone: From the beginning, I liked the concept. Repossession is not an easy thing to do. You’re talking about going to a woman’s house, she has children, she’s going through a divorce, she’s foreclosing on her home. Usually I just take [people’s cars] away.
The television show has such a positive aspect, giving people a second chance to win their vehicle, to keep it and get it paid off. You’re changing their life. That’s what I love about doing it.
Has anyone expressed concern that, not only were you guys taking their car, but the trivia also made them look like morons?
Tom DeTone: I don’t think it’s a feeling of them feeling stupid. The questions aren’t difficult, but these people are under so much pressure—it’s a game show in their front yard. It’s a last shot. It’s do or die. It’s for their car completely paid off. They know that they have already defaulted. If they lose during the game show, it’s a little heart wrenching, but that’s the decision they made [to participate].
How emotional does it get when people win?
Tom DeTone: It’s kind of like when your girlfriend hugs you and you know you’re loved. These contestants, when they win their car and they hug me, I’ve never had a hug that was that overwhelming, that you could basically feel that person’s energy.
It’s hard to shed a tear because I don’t know if I want to show that side who I am on TV, but then again it’s hard to hold back when you saved a person’s life. I mean, you take their car, they have no way to get to work, they have no way to support their children, to get to the doctor's [office], to buy groceries.
So, the hugs these people give...even the guys—a guy kissed me the other day! I mean, how weird was that? A guy I never met before plays the game, wins, jumps up and down, and kisses me. It was the weirdest thing I ever felt in my life, but it felt good.
INTERVIEW WITH REPO GAMES HOST JOSH LEWIS
Complex: How did you get into repossession?
Josh Lewis: You know, it's funny. I’ve always thought I would be Mr. Corporate America. I have a masters in business administration. It started as me just kind of kicking it with my buddy; he was doing [repossession] in Michigan. I was a full-time college student with a full-time job. I wasn’t doing nothing that weekend, so he said, "Hey, you want to come along, man? There’s some crazy stuff out here."
It was really cool, man. I started to work with him a lot more, on the weekends, I would take a couple of days off work, or during spring break at school, whatever. I'd work with him full time during the summer.
What is the craziest experience you've had on a repo?
Josh Lewis: My worst and best story took place in Detroit. Cat had a Cadillac parked in the driveway. Scooped it up. It looked like no one was home. It ended up being like 12 to 15 dudes in that house, and they all came running up on us.
It was just me and my partner, Will. We went at it, but we got the car. We stayed alive. We called the cops eventually, but not until we were long gone.
I’ve been threatened a lot; I’ve had guns pulled out on me, had a knife pulled out on me, I’ve been hit with purses.
What’s the most difficult part of the job for you?
Josh Lewis: The worst part is when you see people you repo’d, you see them out and about. You see them in like Red Lobster, you see them at the shopping mall when you're with your kid. That kind of freaks me out a little bit. I don’t like that part much. But, eh, it is what it is, man. It’s the job I’ve chose.
Obviously you have a job to do, but do you ever find yourself feeling bad for these people?
Josh Lewis: Oh, all time, man. You hate to see a grown man cry—it’s disgusting. When you see a grown man, and he’s just behind [on payments], that’s all it is.
I’m a big believer that the majority of people are goodhearted people, but everyone falls on hard times. There’s been so many times that I looked at my partner Will like, “C’mon, man. Can we give this dude a week? You know, come back in a week, see if the bank still wants us to come?”
Definitely a lot of times I felt bad. I got something in my heart for single mothers, working-class families, especially with the economy. I’m coming from Michigan—the economy has been in a slump for years. That’s nothing new.
Josh Lewis: No. And it’s funny, man. Because when you get out there and you’re taking someone’s vehicle and they run out on you, they’re asking for any opportunity to keep their vehicle.
The whole time we’ve done Repo Games, I’ve only had one person say no—they didn’t want to be on TV. The guy just kept saying, over and over, “I’m just a shy person, I’m a quiet person, I don’t want to share anything with the camera.”
The minute people hear about [the opportunity to win their car by playing the game show], they jump on it. In the field, that’s what you’re getting, man. “What can I do to keep it? I gotta keep my car, I can’t be without my car.” Well, answer three out of five trivia questions. And all of a sudden these people go, “That’s it? Are you serious? Is this a joke?” Pretty funny.
How challenging do you find the questions?
Josh Lewis: I’m smart, dude. I’m like brilliant. When I see these questions I’m like “OK, whatever.” I might miss a couple of pop culture ones but a lot of the questions are very...you pick up a USA Today or you want to be aware of the world you live in, you’re going to ace Repo Games.
OK, so what is the largest amount of debt that someone has had on this show?
Josh Lewis: I’m not going to tell you specifics, but I will tell you that it’s more than ten thousand.
What has been the most memorable reaction when someone won their car back?
Josh Lewis: This dude the other day jumped on his car and started humping his windshield. You see that stuff all the time. This one dude took his girlfriend in the back and.... I hate to put out any spoilers for you.
These are real people. You’re going to laugh, you’re going to cry, you’re going to be upset, you’re going to feel a whole range of human emotions, man.