There is no hiding the fact that US talk show host John Oliver loves New Zealand.
From regularly featuring Aotearoa on his show to getting behind our nation’s Bird of the Century election, it’s safe to say the television star is fond of our nation.
But Oliver has gone from our biggest supporter to public enemy after he admitted to offending New Zealand in an unfortunate blunder while live on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.
Appearing on Fallon’s show dressed as a giant bird, Oliver was campaigning for New Zealand Bird of the Century entry the pūteketeke to win the award.
But that’s when Oliver slipped up live on air and in his own words accidentally offended the entire nation.
“On our show on Sunday, we entered the Australian ... uh, sorry. Not Australia. New Zealand. I could not have made a more offensive mistake than that,” Oliver mistakenly told Fallon as millions around the US watched on.
The crowd then burst out laughing before Oliver attempted to brush the cheeky mistake under the rug.
“Although, potato, potato [potarto], am I right?”
Speaking to Fallon about the contest, Oliver described the New Zealand Bird of the Century competition as a “really charming contest” and couldn’t find a similar competition in the US.
Oliver explained he asked organisers whether he could campaign for the bird. After being given the green light, he admits his staunch fight for the pūteketeke on the global stage might lead to a landslide and doesn’t think organisers quite understood what they were getting themselves in for.
New Zealand Bird of the Century organisers announced today that the naming of the winner will be delayed by two days following a massive influx of hundreds of thousands of votes.
The winner will now be revealed on the morning of Wednesday, November 15, while voting will still close at 5pm NZDT on Sunday, November 12.
“Anyone can campaign for a bird,” Oliver told his viewers. “That seemed like a vulnerability in their system that somebody could exploit. And we could be that somebody, so we are now the official campaign managers of the pūteketeke.
“I mean even the name is just a dance in your mouth, isn’t it? Let your tongue explore your face. Pūteketeke!”
Oliver described the pūteketeke as a “magnificent bird”, before then poking fun at the very bird he was campaigning for.
“It looks like Paulie D f***ed a swan,” he joked.
There are only around a thousand pūteketeke in New Zealand.
While many Kiwis and viewers found Oliver’s pūteketeke campaign humorous, local conversation advocates are a little peeved.
RealNZ is crying fowl over foreign interference in the Bird of the Century campaign, claiming Oliver’s heavyweight support for the pūteketeke is tantamount to Russia’s meddling in the 2016 United States presidential election.
RealNZ chief revenue officer Scott McNab said it was not simply a case of being green with envy - unlike RealNZ’s preferred bird, the kākāriki karaka.
Forest & Bird has upgraded its usual Bird of the Year contest to Bird of the Century to mark the organisation’s 100th birthday.
The contest got a boost this week when Oliver dedicated 13 minutes of his show Last Week Tonight to Bird of the Century and his support for the pūteketeke.
It was not the first time the contest had been mired in controversy, with previous scandals including something akin to digital ballot stuffing and a mammal winning the prize for the first time in 2021, thanks to the efforts of the long-tailed bat (and its online supporters).
But Oliver’s efforts were an unprecedented effort to swing the results, with advertising supportive of the pūteketeke displayed in New Zealand, Tokyo, Paris, London, Mumbai, New York, Rio De Janeiro and Manitowoc, Wisconsin.
“There are so many fun facts about it, like the fact that they are known for carrying their babies on their backs ... which is adorable,” Oliver said, in support of the mulleted diving bird.
“Both parents will incubate the eggs and tend to the chicks - they give each other space to co-parent. They don’t stifle each other.
“And you want elegance? I’ll give you some elegance - they have a mating dance where they both grab a clump of wet grass and chest bump each other before standing around unsure of what to do next. I have never identified with anything more in my f***ing life.”
Oliver confessed he would like his chosen bird to be “the biggest landslide in the history of the competition”.
Kiwis weighed in on Oliver’s campaign, with many thanking the US television host for his commitment to niche New Zealand events.
“As a New Zealander, I have never felt more represented because of this bird,” one Kiwi wrote.
Another added: “I would vote for the pūteketeke based on his commitment alone.”