John Oliver Debunks the Miss America Pageant's '$45 Million in Scholarships' Claim

He also took shots at the pageant program itself, which asked contestants questions like 'How do you solve a problem like ISIS?'

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There's something funny about the Miss America Pageant to John Oliver and the Last Week Tonight team. It's something that they obsessed over for a week. No, it's not that the pageant itself even exists in the modern day, though that's plenty confusing. It's not the ridiculously complex questions either – though Oliver did take time to marvel at that.

For example, one contestant was asked what the U.S. government's response should be to the Islamic State's recent, brutal beheadings. "That's right: They asked one of the contestants to solve ISIS," Oliver said, horror in his eyes. "And she only had 20 seconds to do it!"

But Oliver couldn't hide his delight at her answer – that America must come together with other world powers to solve the problem versus trying to do it ourselves. "Holy shit, that is a much better answer than I could have done in that amount of time," he said while laughing in disbelief. "That is a borderline better answer than the president gave last week!"

However, this wasn't what kept Oliver and his team going crazy all week. It was actually the pageant's claim that they are the largest provider of scholarships for women, boasting "$45 million" in scholarships made available. After struggling to believe that and looking up tax forms for 33 state pageants and the greater Miss America Organization, the LWT team could only come up with $4 million.

"How the f*ck is that possible?" Oliver asked incredulously.

The trick comes in the word "provider," he noted. If one state-level pageant offers four scholarships – of which a winner could only possibly take one – the amount of each is added up into the final total. There's other manipulations of language as well – it's all very slick.

Yet unfortunately, Oliver said that even if you assume the lowest possible number, the Miss America Organization's claim is still correct. For the reason why – and for other delights like a special appearance from Kathy Griffin and a description of Donald Trump as "a clown made of mummified foreskin and cotton candy," watch the clip above.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.