Netflix’s Operation Varsity Blues Documentary Will Appall You All Over Again


Voyeurism reaches its peak about an hour in, when Olivia Jade Giannulli, beauty influencer and daughter of Lori Loughlin and Mossimo Giannulli, makes her first appearance, setting her fake lashes with an eyelash curler in a YouTube tutorial. (Felicity Huffman, the other of the most famous defendants, does not really feature.) A fleeting, damning moment follows, when a photo flashes of Giannulli posing on a rowing machine in flowery athleisure leggings: a photo that would be used for Singer’s Photoshopping purposes. Loughlin and Giannulli paid $500,000 to edge Olivia and her sister Bella into USC, with Singer passing them off as coxswains on the crew team.

More footage, in selfie mode, shows Giannulli slogging through her first day of senior year, lamenting, “I’ve gone to one class and I already want to die.” She was open about wanting to quit high school, but said that Loughlin wouldn’t let her and her dad “made me go to college.” Questions were inevitably raised among classmates, and her school’s guidance counselor, how both she and her sister gained entry to an increasingly competitive school. In emails between Singer and the Giannullis weighing whether Olivia Jade should list USC as her top-choice school, Mossimo writes, “yes…but it might be a flag for the weasel to meddle,” a reference to the counselor. “Fuck him,” he wrote, calling the staffer a “nosy bastard.” In a conversation with a USC admissions official, the counselor flagged that he “had no knowledge of Olivia’s involvement in crew and highly doubted she was involved in the sport.” When Mossimo learned of that conversation, according to the doc, he showed up at the counselor’s office in a rage, accusing the counselor of trying to “ruin” his daughters’ opportunities.

“I’m not worried about the moral issue here,” Giannulli—as played by an actor—says in another confrontation. “I’m worried about, she gets caught doing this, she’s finished.” That statement was, of course, prescient. The scandal touched a nerve when it broke because it was a maddening glimpse at the way the wealthy attempted to game a system that already benefits them, allowing them access to the test prep and tutors that the 1% can readily afford. 

“Why did the parents choose to cheat, when their children had so much already?” one college prep expert asked. But the story, and the documentary, also taps into the sense of schadenfreude that came with the FBI bust, the sentences of the white, wealthy and privileged flashing across the screen near the end. Many of the parents or couples spent a mere few months in jail, in glaring contrast with the other justice system that exists for people of color in the U.S. Still, it was a tiny shred of justice. “In America, we love the wealthy and we hate the wealthy,” New Yorker staff writer Naomi Fry says in the documentary. “They disgust us, and they fascinate us.”

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