Monday, May 2, 2011

Repo Man's Humor, Heart Drive New Reality TV Show

Here's the story from

Tom DeTone has lost count of the cars he's absconded with over the years. Hundreds. And the list grows every day.
In most cases, the Phoenix repo man's biggest advantage has been the element of surprise. The best repo is quick and quiet, where, if the owner appears at all, it's in the tow truck's rearview mirror.
So forgive DeTone for being suspicious last summer when he received a call suggesting that he forgo such stealthy repos and, instead, knock on the front door and ask the car's owner to come outside and watch.
That did not seem like a good idea to a guy who's had many things thrown at him - punches, rolls of quarters, a 44-ounce soda - while repossessing cars.
"The drink really stung," DeTone, 41, recalled. "The cup clipped my head, soda was stinging my eyes. You'd be surprised how much a soft drink can hurt."
But as a result of that phone call, DeTone may be the happiest repo man in the country. As host of "Repo Games," a reality series debuting tonight on Spike, DeTone is a muscular, blue-collar Alex Trebek, giving owners a chance to win back the cars on which they've defaulted. Answer a few trivia questions correctly, and owners get their cars back, paid in full.
When contestants win, which DeTone said they do about half the time, he is seen as a combination of Santa Claus and Mother Teresa. And should owners lose - well, DeTone still is seen in a kinder light because they at least had the opportunity to get their cars back.
"For years, I've been seen as the bad guy, even though I was just doing a job," DeTone said. "Now it's completely different.
"I've gotten really good hugs from girlfriends, but when I get a hug from a woman who just got their car back, it's off the charts."
DeTone started a repo business in 2009 for a Phoenix towing company and built the business through a strong Internet presence. "Repo Games" producers discovered him on the Web and contacted the repo man last year to see if he might like to do a TV show.
Thinking the call a prank, DeTone's instincts kicked in and he ran a background check - while still on the phone. Not only were the producers legit, but they were the same folks behind MTV's popular "Jersey Shore."
After a face-to-face meeting a month later, DeTone was on board, joined by Josh Lewis, 30, an LA-based repo man who had responded to a casting call.
The game is simple: Once DeTone and Lewis spot the car that's to be repossessed - which may be on another block or in a neighbor's driveway as financially troubled owners try to hide their rides - it is loaded onto their tow truck. Once it is secured, DeTone knocks on the front door if the owner has yet to notice the 35-person, camera-laden crew around the vehicle.
DeTone escorts the owner outside and asks five trivia questions. Some are easy, taking advantage of the pressure of the situation.
"I can ask, 'What color is the sky?' and they will have no idea," he said. "All these cameras focused on them, people everywhere. They get tunnel vision."
If the "contestant" answers three questions correctly, the car is his or hers free and clear (the show pays off the balance). If not, DeTone and Lewis ride off into the repo sunset, returning the car to whoever holds the note.
Episodes thus far have been shot in Phoenix, Dallas and Las Vegas. Among cars repossessed: BMWs, Mercedes and a Lexus or two. Even the seemingly well-off can fall behind on car payments.
"I'm waiting for that day when we roll up to a famous person's house," DeTone said. "It can happen. And I will root for them, too, just like I root for everyone. I have a lot more fun when I can give a car back."

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