A Review of the New Documentary Operation Varsity Blues: The College Admissions Scandal

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On the twelfth of March, 2019, Operation Varsity Blues, an investigation on crimes related to college admissions was made public. It exposed the corruption of the admissions process that many wealthy parents had paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in bribes to get their children accepted into prestigious universities. 

The documentary Operation Varsity Blues: The College Admissions Scandal came out this year. It was directed by Chris Smith and consists of reenactments of real life conversations. Matthew Modine plays Rick Singer, the man who organised the scandal. Singer was a central figure and much of the documentary was focused on him and his deception. The film mentions three ways of getting a college acceptance. One is the front door, gaining honest admission through the application process. Another is the “back door” involving the donation of millions of dollars to an institution to increase the chances of receiving an acceptance. Rick Singer used connections to athletic recruiters to get students into colleges the third way, through something he termed the “side door”. Wealthy, influential parents would pay Singer who would then bribe the athletic recruiters to accept the students in as recruited athletes. 

I think the documentary is done in an interesting way. While there are some clips and interviews from the real people involved in the scandals, a majority of the scenes are based on real life events reenacted by actors. The dialogue is all real and taken from transcripts released by the US government. In my opinion, this doesn’t detract from the portrayal of those events. The acting is realistic and well done, and if I hadn’t known they were actors, it would’ve been hard to tell. The backgrounds also seemed very realistic given the people. There were shots from airplanes, large mansions, and vacation places and they matched with the scenarios in the conversations. 

I like the way the documentary is edited as well. It is neat and organised. There were news clips and descriptions of the famous people involved before they entered the screen. The person’s name was always typed out in a Google search, with pictures and/or news clips edited together. Apart from these acted scenes, there are other clips from people on YouTube including uploaded college decision reactions, as well as clips from Olivia Jade, a girl involved in Operation Varsity Blues. The clips from genuine acceptances and rejections create sympathy for those who only had access to the “front door” and further the feelings of injustice. I think the background music was good too. It created a sense of suspense at times, but wasn’t overly distracting.

This format provides an engaging way of showing the story and events, allowing the audience to see things from the perspective of Rick Singer, participating parents, and coaches. The reenactments also allow the viewer to better understand the events, motivations, and desperation of those involved. When viewed along with the interviews, these show perspectives that may not have been considered before. One example of this could be a former Stanford sailing coach who accepted bribes, not to enrich himself, but to spend on the underfunded team. Examples like these show the extent of Singer’s manipulation. He targeted vulnerable, underfunded sports in order to get his way and to enrich himself.

I would recommend this documentary. It gives interesting information regarding the college admissions scandals and the man behind it. It also shows the great lengths that people were willing to go for an acceptance to a prestigious university. I had some idea of Operation Varsity Blues prior to watching the documentary, however, I wasn’t aware of how widespread and organised it was. The documentary features the points of view and stories of many people involved and had interesting explanations and analysis of things that went down. The documentary also helps bring perspective to the large picture of the situation, showing how hundreds of people became criminals in order to acquire prestige. It touched on this overemphasis on prestige, showing things like how colleges go to great lengths to be seen as more prestigious, and how prestige is often an illusion. Put together, all of this helps to paint a more honest and realistic view of college, as well as the obsession over prestige. I definitely feel like this documentary has impacted my view on the college admissions process.

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