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John Oliver Runs the Numbers on Miss America's Sleazy, Misleading Scholarship Claims

By Sarah Carlson | Videos | September 22, 2014 |

By Sarah Carlson | Videos | September 22, 2014 |

Last night’s featured segment on Last Week Tonight with John Oliver tackled Miss America pageants, which seemed strange for a major news issue program that devotes 15 minutes a week to one topic. Miss America pageants? I mean, sure they are frivolous and sexist, in ways that pundits have been bemoaning for years, or even decades (not that it’s done much good, because women in swimsuits are still trotted out and judged like cattle), but why does it make it John Oliver-worthy?

You’d be surprised.

Oliver does go back over some of the sexist terrain, as well the absurdity of the current events questions that are asked of the pageant contestants. (Solve ISIS. You have 20 seconds. GO!) But besides describing Donald Trump as a “clown made of mummified foreskin and cotton candy,” the best bit from the segment was on the Miss America scholarships.

Yes, yes, the Miss America beauty pageant is all about philanthropy — the organization is “the world’s largest provider of scholarships for women.” Of course. And it’s important we see scholarship contestants in bathing suits before we award them money. Obviously. These things are known.

But what of the claims that through the organization, $45 million is made available annually for scholarships? That was made at last week’s pageant, at which Miss New York Kira Kazantsev became Miss America 2015. Mind you, it’s made available to its participants, who have to be young, single, without children, and look good in a bikini. But $45 million? That was enough to send John Oliver and his Last Week Tonight team down a rabbit hole of sequins and butt glue to track down tax forms and follow the money. The key is that the organization claims the money is “made available.” That’s not the same as giving it away.

Shockingly, the numbers don’t add up. Oliver and team couldn’t even get a total close to $4 million going to scholarships for contestants, let alone $45 million.

Can we drop the pretense already, Miss America? Can we drop you?

Sarah Carlson is Television Editor for Pajiba. She lives in San Antonio. You can find her on Twitter.