Last Week Tonight: John Oliver Stages Biggest Giveaway in TV History

Remember Oprah Winfrey‘s car giveaway stunt? John Oliver just rolled right over it. 

On Sunday’s Last Week Tonight, the host concluded a lengthy exposé on the sketchy debt-buying industry by announcing the creation of his own such company. “Debt buying is a grimy business, and it badly needs more oversight,” he declared. “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 went on to reveal that back in April he “spent $50” to start a debt-acquisution company, called Central Asset Recover Professionals, short for, “C.A.R.P., after the bottom-feeding fish.”

Soon after, he was offered nearly $15 million in medical debt for less than $60K. But instead of setting out to collect the debt, he decided to forgive it, partly because “it was the right thing to do” and partly to claim bragging rights to “the largest onetime giveaway in television history.” The previous record holder, per Oliver? Winfrey, who back in 2004 gifted each member of her entire studio audience with a free car, to the tune of $8 million.

Oliver ended the show but playfully shouting, “F–k you, Oprah!”

Oliver foreshadowed the stunt on Twitter Sunday night, alerting fans that this week’s episode would run “five minutes longer,” adding, “and it’s worth watching to the end to see why… “

Comments are monitored, so don’t go off topic, don’t frakkin’ curse and don’t bore us with how much your coworker’s sister-in-law makes per hour. Talk smart about TV!

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  1. Bless John Oliver for existing.

  2. Maria says:


  3. He’s the new Queen of Daytime TV!!!

  4. Ally Oop says:

    Wow, it still astounds me that people have to pay money for healthcare. It makes me really appreciate living in Canada where we have universal healthcare.

    • c-mo says:

      Nothing is free…

      • Anne says:

        Well technically we pay for it through taxes….but those taxes are affordable and with everyone chipping in a small amount it makes for a large system to be sustainable.
        I can’t even fathom what it’s like to live in the US and not have health care be a basic human right.

        • Yeah, but in Canada health care is rationed so that they can maintain the costs. People are not able to get appointments or medical services right away like they are here in the US. The government allows for “x” amount of services per year in their budget (say Cat Scans) and once they reach their budgeted amount, people can not get this service for the rest of the year unless they have private insurance or pay out of pocket.

          • CDV says:

            That isn’t true at all, where on earth did you get that information?

          • vic symons says:

            Not true. Do your homework.
            Vic Symons

          • Tony Redunzo says:

            Care to cite the sources of you ‘facts’?

          • peterwdawson says:

            Yeah that isn’t Canada.

          • annapets says:

            I’d have to agree with the other’s who have replied. As someone who has required the services of many specialists i have never been denied or told i had to wait. I was recently told that the government only allows me to see 1 cardiologist in a calender year. However with a simple request for a second by my GP I was allowed to see a second for better treatment. If I lived in the states I’d either be bankrupt or on welfare because I’d be unable to work. Everyone no matter their status has the ability to see the best in each field. In terms of how many services your allowed you can always get an exception if there is a valid medical reason for it.

          • cuius says:

            Don’t believe everything the medical industry lobby says

          • Gee, limits on medical costs? Denial of services? Some non-medical professional making your health decisions? Good thing nothing like that happens under US private insurance!

            Oh, wait.

          • David4 says:

            Ummm… In the USA that you live in do unicorns poop ice cream?

            The USA spends 3 times more a year on health care than nay other country and has exactly NOTHING to show for it.

            In the USA people die because they can’t afford to get health care, they wait years and years and years and die because they can’t afford to see a doctor.

            I get ‘free’ healthcare through my state. I needed a new doctor and called mid January. Next time the doctor I wanted could see me? August.

            But year live in your dream land where Trump will make America great again!

          • dlraetz says:

            Not sure where in the USA you live, but in NY it can take weeks to get a doctor’s appointment. It can take longer to get something like an MRI and lord help you if you want something done that the insurance companies deem as elective. Then try sorting out the bills. I got a bill last week for $220 for what was literally a 5 minute appointment. The doctor took one look at my leg and sent me to the hospital. The doctor said she was waving the bill because the cut needed stitches she couldn’t do-but her office still billed me and the insurance company. The bills from the hospital have exceeded $1500 and I’m sure they’re still rising. With a health care system like this one maybe we can learn something from our Northern neighbors

            For the record I have United Healthcare, and have had it for the last 15 years. So spare me the ‘good insurance’ follow up. Mine is allegedly stellar

          • JScout says:

            mall24 – Stop getting your information from Fox News. It’s always wrong.

          • Laurie says:

            What the frack? That’s so far from true, reality can’t even see it any more. And, I’ll never have to worry about going bankrupt because I break a bone or get a little sick. I would gladly pay slightly higher taxes for this sense of security.

          • kath says:

            Whoever told you that health care is rationed in Canada is someone you shouldn’t believe ever again without checking their facts.
            It is true that hospitals receive a set amount given the size of area they service and whether they are a primary, secondary or tertiary care facility but it is up to the hospital itself to apportion the money. I’ve never heard of anyone being refused a medical test or having to pay out of pocket if the cost was covered by the government health plan.
            I’m continually horrified by the fact that my American friends don’t go for basic health care because they can’t afford it.

        • Shawn says:

          My best friend right now who rolled her ankle and needs reconstructive surgery is a Canadian citizen and was told she will have to wait possibly 8 months to get an appointment with an orthopedic surgeon in Calgary. She has already been waiting 4 weeks just to get a call to schedule the appointment. So 4 weeks plus 8 months and she still will not have had the surgery yet. Meanwhile she is in pain and on crutches but because it isn’t life threatening she’s stuck waiting. THAT is your Canadian Healthcare system. it’s fine if you’ve got life threatening or dibilitating sickness otherwise… you wait.

          • Elf says:

            Not being able to get an appointment likely has nothing to with rationing but simple availability. There is no guarantee that there are enough of every type of doctor for every type of problem, when there is a shortage people have to wait, plain and simple.

            Meanwhile, a friend of mine in the United States broke her foot in a supermarket when she was knocked down by another shopper who did not stick around. The insurance company approved the initial surgery but then refused to pay until they tried everything they could to get the supermarket to pay for it. Everything dragged out to the point where my friend was getting billed by the hospital and doctors and being pressured to pay because the insurance company would not. Now she needs further surgery but the hospital won’t take the insurance company’s approval and wants to have my friend pay cash in full before they’ll do it.

            So tell me, which system is better?

        • Angela says:

          It really is absurd. I live in the U,S., and the crap my family went through a few years ago, the debt we had, when my dad fell ill was insane. Allowing everyone access to quality health care should be such an obvious “Yeah, let’s support that!” issue…and yet… I just don’t get it.

    • MMD says:

      We have a lot of basic human rights that a lot of other countries don’t have or they have been fighting over for many decades and will continue to do so for many years. There are so many things that Canadians simply take for granted and don’t even think twice about.

      I’m not saying that Canada doesn’t have its problems because we have lots but they are different problems and handled in different ways.

  5. ladyrhees says:

    I adore John Oliver with every fiber of my being, that he uses his position to do what good he can in this world to shine a light in the darkness is proof to me that there is hope.

  6. Question: Can someone explain how this works and how John can just forgive the debt on behalf of these people? Did he pay the full $15 million in debt?


    John paid a total of only $60K to whatever hospital/collection agency and in exchange they gave him $15 million worth of debt to collect on -? That doesn’t make sense as, because even if they collected only 1% of the $15 million in debt, they would take in $150K ($90K in profit) Doesn’t the hospital/collection agency make any money off of what he (hypothetically) would collect from people?

    • johnb says:

      That was point. He owned the debt. Yes if he collected 1% he would make a large profit. That was what he was railing against. So instead he effectively tore up the IOUs meaning the peoples who’s debts he bought no longer have any debt. He’s not taking any of it.

    • Fido says:

      iiuc the Hospitals have written the debt off as being uncoverable but sold them to people who believe they can recover it. Instead of one of those bad credit recovery firms mentioned in the show buying up those debt notices, John stepped in, bought them and tore them up.

      • Thanks for explaining it as I don’t have HBO and couldn’t watch it.

        • Ryan says:

          A lot of his main segments, like this, end up in YouTube. I highly encourage you to check it out. He’s incredibly informative and has fact checkers and sources out the whazoo to validate everything except his witty repartee.

  7. Lori Prouty says:

    Is this really true, because I have some dept and live in Texas and want to know if I’m one of the people he forgave?

  8. Zoe says:

    LWT deserves an Emmy, a Peabody, and a Pulitzer. This is the kind of television I thought I’d never see again when Jon Stewart left. It’s sublime.

    • Elf says:

      They already have the first two. A Pulitzer might be tough based on the definition: “The Pulitzer Prize is an award for achievements in newspaper and online journalism, literature, and musical composition in the United States.” TV shows aren’t eligible.

  9. E says:

    Ok, nice gesture and all, but how is this a giveaway, if the debt was already out of statute? I.e. the debtors weren’t required to pay it, as John himself explains (18:30 in the YT video)? I mean, it’s still wonderful that he’s saving these people from potential harassment, but what’s the point of forgiving an out-of-statute debt? Am I misunderstanding something here?

    • Lee says:

      I’m not in Texas but in the state I’m in if the person acknowledges they owe the debt, it can restart the the statute of limitations all over. Further, the statute is a legal defense that unfortunately many debtors don’t realize they have. There are all sorts of questionable legal maneuvers these debt collectors use that end up with the debtor having a judgment that they shouldn’t be able to obtain.

      • E says:

        Thanks for clearing that up. Hopefully LWT team informs these thousands of people about the rights they have and the status of their debt. Still, I think skipping the information about the debts being out of statute in the article is quite misleading.

        • A fan of TV says:

          Put it this way: of the debt was not put off statue it probably wouldn’t be for sale. The truth is thought that most p people don’t know their rights when our comes to deny and therefore people who buy old debt can still try to collect it. With more than $15mil in debt for only $60k, the odds that you’ll find a way to collect on enough to clear your purchase price at least are pretty high.

          • A fan of TV says:

            Autocorrect is awful, I’m the worst at it, and meant to say this: if the debt was not out of statute it would not likely be for sale for so little, if at all. Most people don’t know their rights when it comes to debt and therefore the odds that a debt buyer will be able to recover enough to return their $60k investment and more when working with more than $15mil in debt are pretty high.

      • BrightLight says:

        In my state, the statute of limitations for anyone to collect on medical debt (or any debt that is part of written contract) is 6 years from the date the bill was originally due. Legally, the debt collectors can still contact you to try and collect the debt no matter how long ago it was. They can even try to collect on a dead person’s debt. (I know a certain debt collector, ERC, has been trying to collect my dead grandmother’s last hospital bill for over 4 years and I just ignore the calls now.) However, if you have proof that it was over 6 years ago, you don’t have to pay them anything. It’s also required in my state that if you ask for proof that you owe the bill in question that they have 5 days to send it to you in writing, or you can dispute the bill.

  10. ceecilex says:

    Praise be praise be! 🙇

  11. N says:


  12. MMD says:

    I wake up every day and thank my lucky stars I live in Canada for oh so many reasons!

  13. A fan of TV says:

    A king among late night men and woman.

    • MMD says:

      He truly is and because he’s British and has that great sense of humour, he can get away with saying so much more than an average American could. imho

      • A Fan of TV says:

        Not all Brits have it so easy, though. Helps that Oliver knows his audience innately as he goes about highlighting America’s problems, because such preparation might have been helpful for dear old Piers Morgan.

  14. Kevin K says:

    Watch out Oprah, John Oliver is the “new queen of daytime TV”.

  15. Angela says:

    This was a brilliant (and unnerving) expose, and the ending just made it all the better. Bless John Oliver and his team for being so thorough and highlighting important issues like this.

  16. Sue says:

    It’s John Oliver’s world and we’re just living in it. *bowing to John*

  17. Sue says:

    Also, I wish John could run for President, and of course he can’t, but, as with Jon Stewart, he can point out nations’ flaws, America’s and others, and maybe get some things changed or at the very least get the appropriate peoples attention.

  18. kath says:

    The American public is very lucky to have John Oliver, Samantha Bee, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert 9before he went to CBS). And the occasional Seth Meyer closer look.
    Because no one in the mainstream media cares enough to point out that the Emperor has no clothes.