John Oliver is trying to rig New Zealand’s Bird of the Century competition

I was a mere two days into my vacation last week when I got an emphatic text from my mother saying “You HAVE to vote!!” I was like, what do you take me for? I’m an informed citizen who requested and turned in an absentee ballot well ahead of traveling out of state. Silly me, Mother Kismet wasn’t talking about the general election. She meant New Zealand’s Bird of the Century competition.

On the November 5 episode of Last Week Tonight With John Oliver, titular host Oliver gave a call to arms for viewers to vote for his candidate, the pūteketeke. After laying out his reasons for selecting the pūteketeke — chief among them being excellent plumage, an elegant mating dance wherein partners present clumps of grass to each other, shared parental duties, plus it’s just fun to say — Oliver confirmed the competition was not limited to New Zealanders. Then he unveiled the global campaign his team had rolled out on behalf of the noble pūteketeke, a move New Zealand called “alarmingly aggressive.” He concluded his pitch saying “This is what democracy is all about: America interfering in foreign elections.” Oliver shared the results on last Sunday’s show. And the winner is… to be announced on Wednesday, because Oliver’s fans crashed the voting site.

The pūteketeke got 10,000+ votes in one night after the show aired: 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!!” A few days later, according to an email Oliver showed, Forest & Bird said that its “voting verification system was overloaded and temporarily crashed.”

Oliver revels in the backlash: 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.”

The Zazu connection: 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.

He teases because he cares: 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.”

A gracious, early victory speech: “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.”

[From Yahoo! Entertainment]

Man, I missed John Oliver during the writers strike. I need these weekly doses of whimsy, and greatly appreciate the extensive lengths and exorbitant funds he takes to provide them. And this competition isn’t all silliness! It’s run by Forest & Bird, New Zealand’s leading independent conservation group. The eligible birds are endemic to the country (meaning they’re not found anywhere else in the world) and most of them are decreasing in numbers. May the finest feathered specimen win and flourish.

As for Oliver’s campaign, perfect. No notes. His efforts included building a giant pūteketeke puppet to pose behind him on set, promoting the cause on Jimmy Fallon in a pūteketeke costume himself, and creating an info site complete with a pūteketeke dressed as Oliver and the new show title Best Beak Tonight with Pūteketeke. The heart of the campaign, however, was the collection of billboards, posters, and plane-flown banners put up in India, Japan, France, Brazil, and Manitowoc, Wisconsin (because of course). The best of these posters, hands down, were the ones deployed in England and New Zealand. England’s signs read “Help Us Crown A Real King,” (oh, snap!) while New Zealand enjoyed Lord of the Wings film-style posters that decorated bus stops. Like I said, no notes.

Photos are screenshots from YouTube and via Instagram

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31 Responses to “John Oliver is trying to rig New Zealand’s Bird of the Century competition”

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  1. Anna says:

    He is such a chaos gremlin, I love him so much.

    • MoxyLady007 says:

      He lives and thrives on chaos and it’s so damn delightful.

      Also I highly recommend watching a collection of his unbridled Adam Driver lust.

      It’s. The. Best.

    • Barbiem says:

      My husband voted, after watching that episode. Lol….. I cant believe celebi covered this. Now im gonna show the hubby, this is hilarious

    • Agreatreckoning says:

      @Anna, I love your term of ‘chaos gremlin’. I read this a few days ago on jsonline (Milwaukee), and thought it was such an adorable story and just laughed very loud. An interview was done with the mayor of Manitowoc. They love it and are happy John Oliver pronounced it correctly-along with extra visitors to Manitowoc. People are going there to see the sign and have their photos taken. (I’m in WI-not near there)

      Some theories out there are that Oliver picked Manitowoc because Colbert brought up Sheboygan last month. Both cities are located on the shores of Lake Michigan. This is a cute video.

  2. Ib says:

    I hope he will donate to theIr conservation if this is disruptive let overwhelming the nonprofit

    • Beenie says:

      This stunt is bringing more attention to the organisation than it has probably ever had since its founding, which undoubtedly will come with a bump in donations.

      But on top of that, I have zero doubt that Oliver will cut an impressive check to the charity once his beloved bird is crowned victorious.

      • MoxyLady007 says:

        Now imagine if the royals did anything close toss fun as this.

        If Harry had come out for another bird- I would have died 💀💀😆

        John Oliver and his antics and his humor give me back a belief in humanity that I don’t think he intended.

  3. Becks1 says:

    HBO must give him the biggest budget, I swear, lol. The things that show does! I love it.

    • liz says:

      HBO gives him a stupidly enormous budget. And it’s entirely because there are a substantial number of people like me, who subscribe to the service primarily to watch his show. We cancelled when the writer’s strike started and picked it up again when he returned.

      And his budget isn’t excessive in other places. His studio space is relatively small – if it seats 500 people, that’s a lot and it’s a small, simple stage set in the CBS Broadcast Center on West 57th St. His day-of-shooting studio crew is shared with Colbert. My husband and I went to a Colbert taping and a John Oliver taping a few nights apart – it was the same crew for both shows – stage manager, camera operators, ushers . . . they were all the same faces (Colbert tapes Mon-Thurs, Oliver tapes on Saturday).

  4. FancyPants says:

    I went to the website a couple of times on Monday after I watched. I couldn’t figure out how to actually vote so I gave up on it, so it’s good to know why and I’ll have to try again now. I think all this attention is good attention and I hope it’s generating more funds for the conservation groups.

  5. Bumblebee says:

    Billboards, banners, and airplane flybys in multiple countries? Wow. That’s an impressive comedic stunt.

  6. SAS says:

    I’m cackling at this, but as someone who got weirdly invested in the Australian Bird of the Year voting rounds (gang-gang cockatoo gang 4 lyfe!), I would definitely be pissed if I was behind another bird LOL!

    There was “fraudulent voting detected” in our comp too ( ) but it seems a giant campaign/ celebrity endorsement may not fall outside the rules.

    I absolutely love this for a low stakes story, thanks John Oliver.

  7. SarahCS says:

    I have mixed feelings about this.

    I heard about it a week or so back and went online, read a bunch of bird write-ups and picked my top 5. I thought they did a great job of summarising each bird and linking to any other campaigns, social media, etc. that some had.

    On the one hand, anything that gets people to engage with conservation and learning about nature is good, but in this instance are they? If people are just following a celebrity’s instructions then what about everyone who engaged in the process in good faith? This is bound to skew the outcome.

  8. AnneL says:

    I love how seriously he takes his duties as the hype man/campaign manager for this awesome bird, lol.

    I insist on being gifted nothing short of a clump of grass next Valentines Day.

  9. Izzy says:

    This is one of the best headlines I’ve read all year. I sat here laughing at the whole story.

    The conservation group running the project has a statement on their website saying they are happy with the overwhelming support for New Zealand’s birds. In the statement, they refer to John Oliver as the puteketeke’s “campaign manager.” I’m howling.

    • Danbury says:

      “We don’t need the Electoral Commission sticking their beaks into our ballots. We can ensure the integrity of the Bird of the Century election results in just two extra days.”

      Perfection. I of course voted and donated.

      • Danbury says:

        “The email vote verification system was implemented after several voting scandals rocked the world’s most important bird poll. An independent data scrutineer will analyse this year’s votes for any irregularities that may point to fowl play.”

      • Emily Duguid says:

        Kiwi here, living in Wānaka, where we have special nesting boxes on the lake for the pūteketeke: I love this whole thing, love John Oliver, and love that our local bird won! As you say, no notes!

  10. Cathy says:

    Thanks for the shout out Kismet! We love our native birds here and we all have our favourites so having an American join in the fun has made lots of New Zealanders laugh. This competition is run each year with a sense of humour… a couple of years ago the bird of the year voted in was actually a tiny bat!
    Here’s my favourite… a kea in kea vs car

  11. BeanieBean says:

    Oh my goodness, this is wild! All those posters in all those countries! I love it! May the best bird win!

  12. Dara says:

    I am a John Oliver fangirl, but how could he not pick the Kakapo? One of the top 5 birds in the world if you ask me.

  13. BlueNailsBetty says:

    An international voting war to determine which is the goodest birb in New Zealand? YES, PLEASE!

  14. Lexilla says:

    John Oliver is a goddamn treasure. And not just funny — I use his clips in my classes because he always shows his source for every claim.

  15. SenseOfTheAbsurd says:

    For years I’ve been trying to leverage my very limited influence to get the Black Robin over the line, and now he does this. Maybe next year.

    Whole lot of extra international attention and hopefully a few donations for Forest and Bird is fine by me.