“Operation Varsity Blues: The College Admissions Scandal” details the infamous 2019 college scandal that involved actresses Lori Loughlin and Felicity Huffman, as well as many other wealthy families. Using real recorded phone conversations, this documentary gives an inside look into the minds of the parents who sought out spots for their kids at top universities and the life of Rick Singer, the mastermind behind the operation.
In the film, Singer candidly explains to parents the “side door” to get into college. The “front door” means getting into college the traditional way, based on merit, while the “back door” consists of donating large amounts, sometimes tens of millions of dollars, to the school to give your child a better chance. The third approach, the “side door,” was Singer’s way of bribing the right people and falsifying test scores in order to get unqualified students into their top school and charging the parents significantly less than the “back door” would cost.
This documentary depicts the casual nature of the conversations between Singer and parents as he assures them that he has done this for decades and there is nothing to worry about. By casting actors to reenact these real conversations, the documentary feels eerily real. Singer is portrayed as an intense, hard-working person that sacrifices everything in order to meet all of his clients’ needs: he barely sleeps and when he does, he does so in a van.
Singer flies all over the country functioning as the middleman between parents and collegiate coaches who are willing to accept bribes and “recruit” these parents’ kids. Singer often took advantage of underfunded programs that needed these “donations” from parents.
The film shows the incredible amount of money that parents are willing to spend on their children’s acceptance to prestigious schools. The word prestigious is essential — the parents are less concerned with their children getting a quality education, but more with the bragging rights associated with the school name. Ultimately at the end of the film, an FBI sting exposes Singer’s operation. The minute he is exposed, he realizes that there is no way out of his situation and turns on all of his clients. Singer’s selfish nature and uncalibrated moral compass are made obvious by his speed in baiting and exposing his clients.
The documentary expertly portrays the corrupt college admissions system and how easily Singer took advantage of it. It also makes clear that even after Singer’s operation is stopped, the back door to get into college still exists. Furthermore, even without Singer’s exploitation of the system or the back door, the documentary explains how wealth will always play a large role in children’s success in college admissions, through access to tutors, enrollment in elite private schools and psychological testing to secure extra time for assessments.