When John Oliver decided to build a campaign for a bird for New Zealand’s Bird of the Century competition on his show last week, he had a feeling it would cause a bit of a stir and make an impact on the voting. And it turns out, he was absolutely correct.
On Sunday’s Last Week Tonight With John Oliver, the host updated viewers on a bit he indulged in during last week’s episode when he went all out in endorsing a bird — the pūteketeke — for the country of New Zealand’s annual competition. And not only did he drum up the kind of support he was looking for, which included people crashing the voting website, he also ran into some unexpected detractors during the week as well.
Here’s a look at how the story of John Oliver and the pūteketeke has unfolded thus far.
During last week’s show, Oliver laid out what inspired him to get involved with the competition and why he chose the bird he did. Then he detailed his campaign strategy, which included billboards, movie parody posters, moving-car advertisements and airplane banners in places like India, Japan, France, Brazil and Manitowoc, Wis., in addition to New Zealand.
“This is what democracy is all about: America interfering in foreign elections,” he said.
Oliver also donned a bird costume, allegedly a pūteketeke, during an appearance on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon later in the week to further advance his cause.
The positive response (so far)
Oliver reported last week that the winning bird in last year’s competition received less than 3,000 votes, a number he was confident they could surpass rather quickly and extensively.
And sure enough, the conservation organization that puts on the contest, Forest & Bird, posted on X (formerly Twitter) that “Oliver's campaign for the pūteketeke to win Bird of the Century has kicked off with more than 10,000 votes coming in overnight! Verifying emails is a massive ongoing job — as you can imagine!!”
Jon Oliver's campaign for the Pūteketeke to win Bird of the Century has kicked off with more than 10,000 votes coming in overnight! Verifying emails is a massive ongoing job - as you can imagine!!https://t.co/674rl8IyT8
— Forest & Bird (@Forest_and_Bird) November 6, 2023
A few days later, according to an email Oliver showed, Forest & Bird said that its “voting verification system was overloaded and temporarily crashed.” Something that plenty of voters have revealed on X as well.
But because of the system crash, Oliver said, Forest & Bird had to delay the results of the contest until Wednesday of this week.
The not-so-positive response
Oliver said that since the episode aired, not everyone has embraced his shenanigans with open arms in New Zealand. He included a montage of various media reports and other social media personalities who took issue with him, mostly because they like their own choice for bird better.
The pūteketeke campaign manager also pointed out — and gave some love to — the response from other bird campaigns who accepted Oliver’s presence “with grace.” Like supporters of the kakariki karaka, who put up multiple billboards with the message: “Dear John, don’t disrupt the pecking order.”
Oliver said that he respects their aggression with the amount of billboards, but was not impressed with their bird choice at all, calling it a “bright green cat toy.”
Multiple people also referenced the fact that Oliver voiced a bird named Zazu in 2019’s The Lion King, including one billboard that said “the only bird worse than the pūteketeke is Zazu,” with a Photoshopped picture that shows Oliver with a Zazu beak and feathers.
“I’ll admit, that’s pretty good,” Oliver said.
Oliver’s response to the response
One thing Oliver wanted to clear up was the accusation that he makes New Zealand the butt of jokes because he doesn’t like them. And while he did admit to making the country the butt of many jokes, he said “It’s not because I don’t like you, it’s because I f***ing love you.” He went on to list the many things he loves about New Zealand and wrapped up with a serious message to his fellow bird competitors. Sort of.
“And for the record, all of your birds are great. And it would be an honor to lose to any of them when results are announced on Wednesday,” Oliver said. “And the reason it’s so easy for me to say that is, we’re not gonna lose are we? We’re gonna win, and we’re gonna win by a lot. And when we do that, the pūteketeke will be your Bird of the Century, and there’s nothing any of you can do to stop that right now. Maybe good luck next century, New Zealand.”
Last Week Tonight With John Oliver airs Sundays at 11 p.m. on HBO.