Netflix’s “Operation Varsity Blues” Provides Clarity on the College Admissions Scandal


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Netflix’s “Operation Varsity Blues” has brought clarity to the ever so complicated college admissions scandal.

Heather Suraci, Editor-in-chief

The college admissions scandal took the world by storm back in 2019.  The Department of Justice prosecutors have called the admissions scandal the biggest scam in U.S. history; the wealthiest parents in the US bribed college coaches and paid for forged standardized tests in a conspiracy to get their children into elite American colleges. The newest Netflix crime documentary, “Operation Varsity Blues,” has taken a unique approach in telling this non-fiction story. Rather than following a traditional structure by talking heads, some news footage, maybe some stats, and two dozen or so drone shots, director Chirs Smith,  takes a vastly different approach by taking the wiretapped phone calls of one of the major players in this story and casting and filming them like he was making a feature based on a true story.

The film features Matthew Modine as the mastermind of the operation, Rick Singer. Singer is shown almost entirely on the phone as he recreates the conversations with parents and academic faculty members that the government used to build a case against him. The audience is also shown what led Singer from becoming an honest college preparation tutor to the conniving and sly scam leader.

Singer promised wealthy parents what he called a “side door” to the most prestigious universities in the world. In the film, he explains the “front door” is the traditional application method that works for fewer and fewer young people every year. The “back door” is the commonly acknowledged giant donation route—give a 7-figure amount of money for a school to build a new wing and expect your child’s application to go to the front of the line. However, the “side door” that Singer promised was more reasonable as it was often under $1 million as it relied heavily on outright fraud, giving applicants backgrounds they did not have and even having an expert take their SAT and ACTs for them to up their scores.

In addition to Singer being the head of the scheme, there was the master test taker, Mark Riddell, who became an ACT and SAT proctor for teens with learning differences who needed accommodations for said learning difference. Singer would advise parents to have their children tested for learning differences and tell them to act slower and not as confident as they normally would. From then, the kids would receive both solidarities in a room with a proctor as well as extra time on their exams. The kids would then take the tests with Riddell as their proctor and write their answers on a separate sheet of paper from the exam. After, Riddell would go and fill in the tests himself and achieve much higher scores than the children were actually capable of.

Much of the scheme the parents and Singer orchestrated went on without the teens knowing of what was actually happening. In the film, the parents would be extremely candid on their phone calls with Singer and go as far as to say their kids were stupid and very slow.

The film succeeds by capturing how this is not a case about an individual or the many parents who worked with Singer to cheat the system, but how the system itself is deeply broken. It is revealed there is an entire broken system of education in this country. The truth is that income is still one of the best indicators of future education and little is being done to fix that. Essentially, Singer just exploited a system that is failing the young people of this country already. While he awaits sentencing, after turning on as many of his clients as he possibly could to lighten his eventual fate, perhaps he is wondering about his role in illuminating the privilege that is continuing to shape the future of this country.