Varsity blues: The COllege Admissions scandal

“true crime obsessed” episode #178

Operation varsity blues: the college admissions scandal

Do you remember those certain people in high school that you would overhear the conversations of at lunch, and you would just think “Man, you guys are really annoying?”. That’s exactly how it feels to listen to Patrick and Gillian from the podcast True Crime Obsessed. Episode 178 discusses the documentary Operation Varsity Blues: The College Admissions Scandal, which addresses the scandal involving Lori Laughlin and fifty-two other individuals who falsified ACT and SAT test scores to get their children accepted into various elite colleges. However, instead of adding any crucial or important commentary to the discussion, Patrick and Gillian just make fun of the documentary and their portrayal of Lori Laughlin, Felicity Huffman, and the mastermind behind it all, William Rick Singer. 

At about the eight-minute-mark, Gillian and Patrick begin to rip into the portrayal of Laughlin. They bring attention to the scene where Lori Laughlin walks the red carpet and is way too energetic while also somehow absent-mindedly unaware of the situation she has gotten her family in. This also leads to the discussion of Olivia Jade, Lori’s “influencer” daughter. Gillian and Patrick discuss the jarring juxtaposition from the chaos that takes place and is shown to the audience just seconds before the audience sees Olivia doing her makeup in a mirror, filming a video, and just as unaware of her current situation. Isn’t the saying “Like mother, like daughter?”. 

Gillian and Patrick’s discussion over the portrayals of the real-life celebrities evokes feelings of pathos, in the sense that even though the discussion is far from serious, they still touch on valid points. All individuals involved in the documentary are portrayed as airheaded, glamorous, and exaggerated versions of themselves. However, this makes sense seeing as how Operation Varsity Blues: The College Admissions Scandal is a highly dramatized depiction of the events that took place in 2019, which blurs the line as to whether the real-life individuals truly reacted or presented themselves in the way they are shown through the screen. 

One large difference between this podcast and other true crime podcasts and documentaries is that this one is very laid back and conversational. It is clearly humor based, especially when it comes to the specific people within the case. For example, although the Netflix documentary that they are covering does poke fun at some of the celebrities involved in the scandal, they take it a bit farther in their discussion about some of these said celebrities. The biggest names that they tended to hark on were Felicity Huffman, Lori Loughlin, and Loughlin’s daughter, Olivia Jade. 

​​With that said, although this case is presented by Netflix through a sophisticated storytelling style and a serious tone in the dramatization, Operation Varsity Blues: The Admissions Scandal, the coverage by Patrick and Gillian of True Crime Obsessed offers listeners a much more comical approach to the case.

For example, one person’s portrayal on the Netflix dramatization that is discussed in True Crime Obsessed is Michelle Janavs – daughter of Paul Merage (cofounder of Chef America Inc and creator of Hot Pockets)-specifically, Janavs’ conversation with Ricky Singer where she mentions to him, “My younger daughter is more of the issue here…she’s smart… she’s really different from my older daughter.” To provide more context on this, Janavs is pretty much worried that her younger daughter, unlike her older daughter, will grow suspicious of why her mother is taking her to Los Angeles to take her ACT/SAT exams because “she is smart”. From this conversation, Patrick and Gillian discuss how the show portrays Janavs as thinking her younger daughter is smart and her older daughter is not. Notably, Patrick and Gillian laugh as they mention that Janavs, as portrayed by the documentary, could have said that her younger daughter is “smarter”, which would then imply her older daughter is simply “smart”. But, in the dramatization Janavs says her younger daughter is unlike her older because “she is smart”, it is implied that the older daughter is unintelligent. HA.

Patrick and Gillian also focus on Olivia Jade, an 18-year-old influencer at the time of the college admissions scandal. In Netflix’s documentary, the audience is shown video vlogs derived from Olivia’s social media accounts and with these videos, the creators of the documentary enlighten us with how the information on Olivia’s college application did not correlate to Olivia’s everyday life, which was represented in these videos, whatsoever. For example, the documentary shows a video of Olivia, a senior in high school, saying she hates being in school. Another video shows Olivia unboxing a makeup palette from Sephora, prior to the college admissions scandal, and sharing the news with her followers.

True Crime Obsessed comments on these videos shown in the documentary and, again, provide a comedic discussion on it. In particular, Patrick and Gillian mention how Olivia Jade, being an 18-year-old businesswoman because of her partnership with Sephora, might not have needed to go to college because she is already rich, unlike most people who are seeking an education. There are many times that she says on camera on her Youtube channel that she hated attending classes, and had no desire to go to college in the first place. She wanted to drop out, but instead was coerced by her parents to take part in this admissions scandal. 

Patrick and Gillian also laugh about the fact that Olivia got admitted, illegally, into the University of Southern California (USC), one of the hardest institutions in the US to be admitted into, even though there are videos like the aforementioned circulating the internet.

Olivia Jade was a major focus due to her large precensens on youtube and her participation in the actual college admission scandal. She actively took part in this scam in order to get into USC despite her obvious disdain for school.The hosts really make fun of her, her mother, and her sister and how unnecessary the situation that they put themselves in was, and the way that they speak about them definitely is not subtle. They make a point to not hold back on insults which is something they tend to do throughout a lot of their coverage of cases and podcast episodes. This is very different from most true crime podcasts out there where what they talk about is a lot more structured and organized, seemingly more thought through and tasteful. 

One issue about this podcast that we have is the fact that there doesn’t seem to be any new information presented on the case or any of the players in the story. Instead it’s just like two friends sitting around and talking about a documentary that they saw on TV. In one way, this is refreshing. We get very raw and real opinions that don’t seem to be scripted. However, it also makes the podcast feel disingenuous in its purpose and coverage of these cases. They do not seem to want to inform or shed light as much as poke fun and provide entertainment at the expense of other people’s stories. 

This type of coverage by the True Crime Obsessed podcast, therefore, allows us to dive into the “bigger picture” about media coverage in the world of the True Crime genre. In other words, using a comical approach to cover True Crime stories raises questions such as, “Is this a way to cover such stories? What about stories involving murders?”. In our opinion, this kind of approach works for True Crime Obsessed when covering Operation Varsity Blues: The College Admissions Scandal because the motivations for the crime surrounding this case does not compare to the one in extreme cases where the topics involve murder, rape, abductions, etc. That is to say, because rich people tampered with college applications through the use of falsified test scores by paying massive amounts of money to someone rather than investing in private tutors, which would be way cheaper, it is undeniably a case that is comical; however, the “comical” aspect could not be applied to cases involving murder, rape, and other serious offenses because, obviously, one does not cover these conversations in such a way.

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