Wink Martindale
Security Guard
Kurt Engstrom
Julie Claire
Debt 1996 1
Debt 1996 2
Lifetime (Daily): 6/3/1996 – 8/14/1998
Faded Denim Productions
Lifetime Television
Buena Vista Television

Debt was a two-year game show hosted by Wink Martindale. Barring a 2008 appearance on Good Morning America where he hosted a segment of Gambit, this was Wink's last game show until the short-lived Instant Recall in 2010.


Three contestants were introduced with the amount of debt they had (usually between $6,000 and $10,000) and the reasons why. After introductions, the debt of the three contestants was averaged to level the playing field. The scores were shown in negative amounts to reflect the debt of each contestant.

Main GameEdit

Round 1: General DebtEdit

Season 1Edit

The first round was a Jeopardy!-style round in which the contestants faced a 30 trilon board with five categories, each with five questions with negative dollar values ranging from -$50 to -$250 in increments of $50. The first selection went to the player who had the lowest debt (before averaging the scores). On a player's turn, he/she chose a category and value, after which a "Who am I?" type question was revealed. The first contestant to buzz in was allowed to answer. Contestants were required to start their answers with either "You are…" to receive credit (the contraction "You're" also was accepted). A correct answer deducted the chosen amount from the player's debt. A wrong answer or running out of time put the player that much further in debt. The contestant who answered correctly then chose the next question from the board. If no one did so, the contestant who gave the last correct answer kept control.

One of the questions in the round was labeled the "Debtonator". This was the round's most difficult question in the producers' opinion, and was worth $500, regardless of the face value of the question.

When time ended or all questions had been asked, the player with the highest debt was eliminated and received a $200 savings bond, along with a piggy bank.

Season 2Edit

This round underwent a few format changes between seasons:

  • The 30 trilons were replaced with a 9-screen video wall.
  • Before Round 1 (and after the averaging of the debts), the game started out with a toss-up question worth -$1 and the right to pick first from the board.
  • Contestants were no longer required to begin their responses with the phrase "You are…" throughout the game.
  • Rather than choosing individual questions, contestants chose an entire category from the five on the board, and the five questions from that category were asked in succession. Due to this change, the "Debtonator" now represented an entire category played for double value (-$100 to -$500).
  • The contestant who gave the last correct answer in a category chose the next one.

Round 2: Gambling DebtEdit

After revealing the category, each contestant announced how many out of five questions he/she could answer to win the money for that category. At the beginning of the round, the trailing player (the one with the higher amount of debt) placed the first bid; his/her opponent then had the opportunity to increase the bid. Bids were exchanged until the maximum bid of five was made or a contestant directed their opponent to "Prove it!", forcing them to fulfill the contract. Upon giving a correct answer, the question just played turned into a "happy face", but an incorrect answer or no answer whatsoever flipped the question back to its neutral position in Season 1, and turned into an "X" in Season 2. If the controlling player completed the contract, the money was subtracted from that player's debt. If the player was unable to fulfill the contract, their opponent's debt was reduced. The winner of each category earned the right to place the first bid for the next. Five categories were played in this round, with values of -$300, -$400, -$500, -$750, and -$1,500 respectively.

The player with the higher debt was eliminated at the end of the round and received a $500 savings bond in addition to the piggy bank, while the player with the lower score won the game and advanced to the bonus round. If at any point in the round it became mathematically impossible for a player to catch up, even if he/she were to win every remaining category, that player was "mathematically eliminated" and automatically received the consolation prize.

The most money a player could eliminate from their debt in the General and Gambling Debt rounds was $7,650 in Season 1 and $7,951 in Season 2.

Bonus RoundEdit

The show's bonus round was played in two stages. They were called "Get Out of Debt" and "Bet Your Debt".

Get Out of DebtEdit

The winning player was given an "expiration date" (time limit) of 60 seconds to answer 10 questions in a particular category. Doing so won cash in the amount of their original debt. Losing the bonus round meant the player won however much money was deducted from their intial averaged debt.

Bet Your DebtEdit

After the first part of the bonus round, the player was given the option to "Bet [their] debt". A category selected by the contestant (prior to the show) on their particular favorite subject in the world of pop culture was presented as a one-question double-or-nothing gamble.

If the player decided to go for it, he/she had 10 seconds to answer the question once Wink asked it. If the player answered the question correctly, their winnings were doubled. If the player failed to answer the question correctly, they lost the money they had won, and received a savings bond worth $1,500 if they won the first part of the bonus round or $1,000 if they didn't. If the player decided to walk away, Wink still asked the player the question and they were given a chance to respond, in order to find out what would have happened.

Celebrity WeekEdit

During the second season, one week of the show was devoted to celebrities who are all playing for up to $15,000 for their favorite charities.

This week employed the following alterations:

  • Rather than starting off with an average debt amount (since there were no debts to average with), all celebrity players started off with $7,500.
  • Eliminated celebrities left the game with $500 for their charities.
  • In the final round, answering all ten questions correctly in the Get Out of Debt portion won the winning celebrity $7,500; the Bet Your Debt question (which was about his/her career) was played for no risk and a correct answer doubled the winnings to $15,000.

Other PicturesEdit


When Debt debuted on June 3, 1996, the show's logo resembled a Visa card with three stripes in green, white and red from top to bottom with the word "DEBT" in teal across the white stripe. It was revised on July 8, 1996 with a white box surrounded by a green frame which included the underlined title in red letters inside the white box.

Press PhotosEdit

Chat with WinkEdit

Debt Piggy BankEdit

Trade AdsEdit


The Debt piggy bank awarded to eliminated players in the first season was actually Hamm from the Disney/Pixar movie Toy Story (voiced in the film by Cheers star John Ratzenberger). In the second season, a more generic piggy bank with the Debt logo was used.

In Season 2 whenever a contestant was eliminated in the first two rounds, the words "BYE-BYE", "GOODBYE", "SO LONG" and "SEE YA" were displayed in their eggcrate podium.

For the first season, the end game board was shown in the style of the Visa-style logo, with light up overlays above and below the word "DEBT". The "Get Outta Debt" category was shown on the top part above the word "DEBT", and the "Bet Your Debt" category was shown on the bottom part below it. In season 2, it was changed so that the Debt logo appeared as a video monitor which now showed both categories on it, plus additional graphics in which the word "Paid", in the style of a marking by a rubber stamp, would appear if the contestant was out of debt, and the total of money the contestant would take home at the end of the show.

In 1997, Merv Griffin Enterprises sued the creators of Debt due to similarities to the gameplay that was on Jeopardy!

Shortly after Lifetime cancelled the series (for the reason that more men were watching the series than women, the network's target audience), reruns were sold to only a handful of local stations, in preparation for a potential syndication run (plans for the show included paying off people's mortgages), but the show was never revived. The reruns all featured a different opening of still images of various moments from the show zooming in and out and panning.

Notable contestantsEdit

Two game show hosts appeared as contestants on Debt: Larry Toffler, who had hosted the syndicated version of Finders Keepers in the late '80s, and Frank Nicotero, who later went on to host Street Smarts. Toffler would later win $100,000 on the FOX game show Greed.

In one episode, a victorious contestant celebrated a $16,000+ win by ripping off his toupee, throwing it on the floor, then dancing around the hairpiece.


Alan Ett


Sarah Jane West


Hollywood Center Studios

Additional PagesEdit

Debt/Video Gallery

See AlsoEdit

Pay it Off - Show on BET airing in 2009 with a similar format.


Rules for Debt @
Rules for Debt @ The Game Show Temple

YouTube VideosEdit

Remembering Debt

Full EpisodesEdit

1st SeasonEdit

Early episode with a "Visa"-esque logo

Another early episode with a Bet Your Debt big gamble question loss
Contestant Ryan Hopak rips off his toupee.

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