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‘Repo’ reality show plays let’s make a deal

If you’re behind on your car payment, you might want to consider dusting off those P90X workout DVDs. Maybe get your teeth whitened. At the very least, put on some pants.

The next knock on your door could make you a star.

Currently filming in the valley, “Repo Games” (8 p.m. Tuesday, Spike), the latest in an increasingly long line of I-can’t-believe-this-is-a-reality-show reality shows, gives people who’ve defaulted on their auto loans a chance to win back their cars.

“Normally when you repo a car, you go in the middle of the night, and the people don’t even have a chance,” says executive producer Sally Ann Salsano. “They come out to go to work and their car’s gone. In this case, we hook the car up to the tow truck, and then we knock on the door and say, ‘Here’s the deal.’ ”

“The deal” boils down to this: The show’s hosts, repo men Josh Lewis and Tom DeTone, ask “contestants” five questions along the lines of “How many days are in a leap year?” If they get three right, they keep the car and the show pays off the outstanding debt. If they get three wrong, they lose the car, which would have happened anyway.

“I think at the end of the day, what this show does is just take everyday people who maybe are just hitting some hard times and giving them a chance,” Salsano says. “When we show up at their houses, they’ve essentially already lost. This just gives them an opportunity to win. So the thing is, no one’s any more worse off when we leave than when we got there.”

Salsano describes “Repo Games” as “Cops” meets “Jeopardy!” meets Jay Leno’s “Jaywalking.” (As a former “Howard Stern Show” intern, though, she’ll probably catch some grief for not referring to it as “Cops” meets “Jeopardy!” meets Stern’s “Homeless Game,” the source material for the Leno bit.)

It’s also reminiscent of a similar ambush-style game show and personal made-in-Vegas favorite: Playboy TV’s “Show Us Your Wits,” which surprised customers at the Palomino Club to see if they could answer trivia questions without being distracted by a fully nude lap dance.

But “Repo Games” isn’t nearly that over-the-top silly.

The show’s crew teams with a local towing company and local lender — the names of the businesses are kept private during filming so as to not tip off contestants — and goes after whatever cars were targeted for repossession that day. And unlike truTV’s “Operation Repo,” which relies on re-enactments, “Repo Games” doesn’t offer much in the way of pre-production.

“This is a show that truly has no casting. What happens and who’s on the show depends on who comes out of the front door,” says Salsano, who’s most famous for having created “Jersey Shore.”

This, of course, begs the question: Which is harder to deal with, an angry car owner or a drunken Snooki?

“I would say an angry car owner. You know what? It’s just a different kind of dealing, you know what I mean? I have no issues with the ‘Jersey Shore’ kids, believe it or not. I would say I’m like their Mrs. Garrett.”

And, no, Salsano says, she has never felt like Robert Oppenheimer, who, after his initial pride in having led the Manhattan Project wore off, was left to ponder the horrors he’d unleashed on the world.

“I think I’ve done the world a favor” by creating “Jersey Shore,” she says, adding that her youth was spent in largely the same places, and largely the same ways, as The Situation and the gang. “I know everyone else says the show’s crazy. I don’t know. To me it feels normal.”

But back to “Repo Games.”

While promos for the series play up some of the more boneheaded responses to the rather obvious questions — Which weighs more, a pound of feathers or a pound of lead? How many eyes does a cyclops have? — Salsano insists the show doesn’t have a mean streak.

“We’ve done about a hundred of these so far,” she says of the segments that began filming in Texas and Arizona. “I’ve yet to leave someone’s house where they were not in a good mood, did not say thank you and did not have fun.”

And she reports — shockingly, considering the relative ease of the questions — that only about half of those hundred people have won back their cars.

But, then, “Repo Games” is all about the unexpected.

“I know for us as producers,” Salsano says, “when you don’t know what’s gonna happen in a reality show, that’s when you know you have good TV.

“It’s not predictable. You’re not gonna see the same thing all the time. I want the viewers at home to feel like we feel. Like, we don’t know what’s coming out of the house next.”

Christopher Lawrence’s Life on the Couch column appears on Sundays. Contact him at clawrence@ reviewjournal.com.

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