John Oliver Forgives $15 Million in Medical Debt Live on Air

He set a record for largest giveaway in TV history. Take that, Oprah!

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  • On Sunday night, John Oliver made the world a better place (and also staged the largest giveaway in television history). With the help of a Mississippi shell corporation called Central Asset Recovery Professionals, or CARP (named after the bottom-feeding fish, har har), Oliver and his team at Last Week Tonight spent $60,000 on unpaid medical debt at less than half a penny on the dollar — medical debt that totaled nearly $15 million in original value — and forgave it live on air.

    How does $60,000 = $15 million? Good question. When debts go unpaid for a long time, they get turned over to debt collectors. Collectors can buy and sell debt at values related to how likely the debts are to be repaid. When a company buys debt, what they're really doing is buying the chance that a debt gets repaid — it costs pennies (or less) on the dollar because the collectors expect only a small percentage of the debts to be paid back.

    It's all detailed in the video above, but go to around 17 minutes in for the big reveal. Oliver and co. found a company willing to sell them just under $15 million in unpaid medical debts from around 9,000 people in Texas. He then directed a nonprofit debt forgiveness company, RIP Medical Debt, to begin the debt forgiving process on his signal — a signal that happened to be him pressing a big red button and shouting "F*ck you, Oprah!"

    This is just the latest in a string of wild stunts from John Oliver and the Last Week Tonight crew. Last August, he set up a "church" called Our Lady of Perpetual Exemption to highlight the greedy practices of televangelists. His second piece on FIFA in June 2015 led directly to the resignation of Sepp Blatter. (For more, see TIME, which covered the impacts of his stunts in January.)

    What do you think? Is John Oliver the savior of late night and the poor everywhere, or were his actions irresponsible? Let us know in the comments below or at @WhatsTrending on Twitter!

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