After an exciting two weeks of campaigning that was filled with all kinds of highs and lows, the winged creature that Last Week Tonight with John Oliver was endorsing for New Zealand’s Bird of the Century, is flying victorious.
The whirlwind and worldwide campaign for the pūteketeke included billboards and advertisements on multiple continents, voting sites crashing, frustrated New Zealanders and John Oliver wearing a bird costume on The Tonight Show, among other things.
So here’s a look at how the flight path for the pūteketeke went from a virtual unknown water bird to a buzzy part of international popular culture.
How it started
Oliver was first drawn to the competition thanks to the combination of a viral video featuring the kakapo — known as the world’s fattest parrot — and also the show digging deeper into the competition’s history and discovering more than its fair share of scandal.
He learned about birds having their own campaign managers for the competition and decided the show would throw its weight – and budget – behind the pūteketeke. Doing so meant 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.
The host also wore a pūteketeke costume during a guest appearance on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon to really bring awareness to his campaign.
How it went
While Oliver’s attempts to make the pūteketeke the Bird of the Century were all in good fun, the amount of attention also brought a few downsides. Like various media reports and other social media personalities who took issue with him, or the fact that the organization that was putting on the contest, Forest & Bird, said that its “voting verification system was overloaded and temporarily crashed.”
Other bird campaigns did have fun with the presence of Oliver, however, with one putting up multiple billboards with the message: “Dear John, don’t disrupt the pecking order.” Many 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.”
How it ended
As Oliver predicted, the pūteketeke won the Bird of the Century and won big. He played a clip of the announcement in which a pair of hosts weren’t overly enthusiastic about it, with one adding that “John Oliver will be thrilled.” And they were right.
“I am thrilled about it, even if you guys clearly aren’t,” Oliver said,
He went on to point out that he’s also feeling a bit of relief, given that past contests the show’s been involved with haven’t always gone their way. Like a duck stamp competition that resulted in multiple entries either being disqualified or receiving zero votes, and a frozen Alaskan river thaw prediction where they were “way off.”
And this wasn’t just a win for Oliver and the pūteketeke, it was a really big win. To put it into perspective the second-place bird, the North Island Brown Kiwi, picked up 13,000 votes, while the pūteketeke earned 290,374, which was more votes than the rest of the top ten combined.
“When you talk about historic, all-time levels of dominance, the conversation now begins and ends with Michael Jordan, Lionel Messi, Serena Williams and the pūteketeke,” Oliver said. “Those are now the GOATs, the best to ever do it, no else even comes close.”
The historic win included verified votes from 195 countries, which Oliver pointed out is two more than the current membership of the United Nations.
Meanwhile, many of the other birds competing also delivered fun and funny concessions to the big winner, like birds pecking away at a picture of Oliver dressed as the pūteketeke, and a mascot delivering an emotional concession speech via a public relations person.
And perhaps the biggest prize for winning is that Forest & Bird has metal sculptures made of its winners each year, and the one for Oliver and the pūteketeke includes a mold of the host that can “be removed if you so choose” he said. Those can be ordered here, with proceeds going to the conservation efforts of Forest & Bird.
To cap things off, Oliver delivered a victory speech while once again decked out in his pūteketeke costume that ended with, “Let me say this loud and proud once more. Pūteketeke today, pūteketeke tomorrow, pūteketeke for the next 100 years. We did it, we did it!”
Last Week Tonight With John Oliver airs Sundays at 11 p.m. on HBO.
Laura Davis is an entertainment aficionado who delves into the glitz and glamour of the entertainment industry. From Hollywood to Broadway, she offers readers an insider’s perspective on the world of movies, music, and pop culture.