Oprah’s got nothing on John Oliver.
The late-night TV host staged the “largest one-time giveaway in television history” on Sunday when he forgave nearly $15 million in debt belonging to 9,000 Americans.
Oliver spent time on his show dissecting the debt-buying business, detailing the shady ways some companies buy and sell the debt belonging to Americans and then attempt to collect it — even if the statute of limitations has run out on the debt. Oliver highlighted how the problem has been well-documented in the news, nicknamed “zombie debt,” and how the debt-buying industry is battling scores of complaints by the Federal Trade Commission.
The late-night host honed in on how easy it is to buy debt.
“As it stands, any idiot can get into it, and I can prove that to you, because I’m an idiot and we started a debt-buying company, and it was disturbingly easy.”
Oliver said he started a debt-buying company in April, and shortly after he launched a website and paid $50 to have the debt-acquisition firm registered, he was offered $14,922,261.76 in zombie debt for the low price of $60,000. The production company behind "Last Week Tonight with John Oliver" covered the $60,000 cost. Oliver revealed once he paid, he received the social security numbers, names and addresses of 9,000 people in Texas.
“We thought instead of collecting on the money, why not forgive it? Because on one hand, it’s obviously the right thing to do, but much more importantly we’d be staging the largest one-time giveaway in television show history.”
Oliver stated he believed the previous biggest TV-giveaway was when Oprah Winfrey famously gifted cars to her entire studio audience of 276 people. Oliver estimated Winfrey gave away about $8 million with her giveaway.
The HBO star said his team had the medical debt sent to a non-profit organization, called RIP Medical Debt, which specializes in forgiving debt without tax consequences.
He then pushed a symbolic red button and declared the debt had been officially given to the non-profit.
Following the giveaway, Oliver took to Twitter to send a message to Winfrey.