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.