Before the MIQ lottery was wound down last week, it was described by returning Kiwis as the lottery of human misery.
But Newshub has obtained documents that show when it was conceived it was described by its creators as a lolly scramble.
A returnee has slammed the analogy as disgusting and the COVID-19 Response Minister says it was inappropriate.
Rachel Bradley was so traumatised when she finally got back to New Zealand that managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) staff gave her 30 pills for anxiety and 10 to sleep.
"The lottery was 100 percent not the right system to use," she told Newshub.
Before landing on the lottery as their chosen system, internal briefings obtained by Newshub show officials tried to develop a waitlist or automated booking system but found it would cost several million dollars and take several months and "the most difficult part" was "creating clear rules... to determine who is eligible".
COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said on Tuesday there was no easy route.
"Whichever system we went with there was still more demand than there were rooms available so there was always going to be people who missed out."
But if Hipkins had his time again, "I think we'd probably have more of an emphasis on the emergency allocations, the compassionate allocations."
Ultimately though, they went with a lottery system, or as Newshub can reveal, a lolly scramble. Documents from a workshop show the system's architects using the analogy of "lollies at a party" to describe the scenario of thousands of New Zealanders trying to get home.
"We used to have enough lollies for everyone... Now there's sugar supply issues... Suddenly we get a lolly, so we drop it on the floor and everyone dives at it" which means "attendees think our party is terrible".
Rachel Bradley described it as "disgusting".
Hipkins also wasn't impressed.
"It didn't come to me, and had it come to me, I would have objected at the time," Hipkins said. "Ultimately, I think it was inappropriate."
MIQ refused an interview but told Newshub in a statement: "An external supplier assessed a range of options... and used a lolly analogy to simply explain the complexities.
"This analogy does not represent MIQ views... We acknowledge there were better ways to describe the situation."
The details in the documents show just how complicated MIQ was to manage. The system had to juggle cohorting, random flight schedules, and desperate competing reasons to return, which makes attempts to boil it down to a simple lolly scramble all the more farcical and offensive to those who suffered the system.