RR Lyrae pulsating stars have been extensively used as tracers of old stellar populations for the purpose of determining the ages of galaxies, and as tools to measure distances to nearby galaxies. There was accordingly considerable interest when the RR Lyrae star OGLE-BLG-RRLYR-02792 (referred to here as RRLYR-02792) was found to be a member of an eclipsing binary system, because the mass of the pulsator (hitherto constrained only by models) could be unambiguously determined. Here we report that RRLYR-02792 has a mass of 0.26 solar masses () and therefore cannot be a classical RR Lyrae star. Using models, we find that its properties are best explained by the evolution of a close binary system that started with and stars orbiting each other with an initial period of 2.9 days. Mass exchange over 5.4 billion years produced the observed system, which is now in a very short-lived phase where the physical properties of the pulsator happen to place it in the same instability strip of the Hertzsprung-Russell diagram as that occupied by RR Lyrae stars. We estimate that only 0.2 per cent of RR Lyrae stars may be contaminated by systems similar to this one, which implies that distances measured with RR Lyrae stars should not be significantly affected by these binary interlopers.