On several occassions, contestants have mispronounced a puzzle that was completely filled in, and been ruled incorrect as a result. Known examples include SAINT THOMAS AQUINAS in 1989, PRISTINELY in 1994, and FRANCIS FORD AND SOFIA COPPOLA and OVERHEAD SQUARE AND SHEEPSHANK ARE TYPES both in 2004. Yet another from 2014 is mentioned below.
Subverted with DESE DEM AND DOSE GUYS in 1989. A contestant read off the first word as "desi" instead of a thickly accented "these". Host Pat Sajak asked for a ruling, and decided that "he's got all the letters up, I'm taking it."
The one that takes the cake was REGIS PHILBIN & KELLY RIPA (January 2010). All three contestants butchered the answer at various points, with one of them doing so twice… and of course, culminating in the fourth incorrect answer being given with the whole answer revealed. Watch the carnage here.
On several occasions, a contestant was so dominant that his/her opponent's chances at playing the game are severely limited – and more than once, those opponents fail on their few opportunities. One example: A 1996 episode where a contestant got only one turn (the third round, which she started)... and promptly landed on Lose a Turn. Even worse, she didn't even get to call a letter, because the Speed-Up round was solved before it got around to her.
One contestant in 1989 seemed to have their Bonus Round in the bag with M_LAN _TAL_ showing on a Place puzzle. However, she pronounced the first word of MILAN ITALY as "Mill-in", then "My-lun", and neither was accepted.
Another contestant from 1989 had T_E __R_P_LIS showing for a Landmark puzzle in the Bonus Round. The answer was THE ACROPOLIS. Guess which word the contestant ended up getting stumped on? (He said "Toe", "tie", and "tee", but never got around to "the".)
Some bonus puzzles have actually been missed with only one letter missing: CORK in 1992, NIFTY in 1994, AWARD and MENU in 1995, and GLOBE in 2011.
Unsolved Toss-Ups aren't unheard of either. Usually, these stem from someone giving a wrong answer with only a couple letters missing, thus allowing very little time for anyone else to ring in. Other times, it just happens to be a term that all three players are unfamiliar with, or just a collective brain fart — whatever the case, most players at least try to solve Toss-Ups for a little extra scratch, especially the second and third ones, since they respectively determine who starts Rounds 1 and 4. However, one episode in 2003 had a Toss-Up answer of WHAT A RELIEF where no one even rang in. (If this ever happened on another episode, it was likely thrown out and replaced with another Toss-Up, as this was known to have happened on a March 2014 episode.)
On countless occasions, players have accidentally called a letter that was already called (which, barring Free Playnote or Free Spin when it existed, means that the player loses their turn), even though the players have an offscreen "used letter board" to decrease the odds of this happening. Most of the time, however, it can just be chalked up to nerves or a slip of the tongue. However, one round in May 2002 had players call a letter that was already called three times.
A couple players have accidentally called the same letter twice in a row.
In the Bonus Round, the player is given R, S, T, L, N, and E automatically, then asked for three more consonants and a vowel — which means "among the 20 letters we haven't given you already". Again, some players have been known to accidentally call a letter that is already given to them, and again, it can usually be forgiven — host Pat Sajak will just remind them that they're already given that letter, and ask for another. However, one poor player in February 2004 took it Up to Eleven: given an Event where RSTLNE revealed ____RE__, she guessed T, N, and S, each time being told that it was already given. K and W were her next picks… followed by R! Eventually, she spit out D, and Pat said "Now call a vowel other than E" (which she did, with O). Unsurprisingly, she failed to solve DAYBREAK.
An especially epic one on April 11, 2014:
In Round 1, the yellow contestant (Julian) has $5,100, a trip to London, and the Million Dollar Wedge on the line. He has just filled in the last letter (C) on the puzzle "MYTHOLOGICAL HERO ACHILLES"… but pronounces the last word as "Ay-chill-us", so they can't take it. It gets passed to his opponent, who solves correctly.
Then in Round 2, Julian calls a wrong letter on THE WORLD'S FASTEST MAN, thus losing out on a car (he had both ½ Car tags), a Prize Puzzle trip, and a great deal of money. The second contestant doesn't spin for the last letters, and instead solves for the trip.
Then, Julian missolves "ON-THE-SPOT DECISION" in the Speed-Up (Round 4) with only the vowels missing. A third time, the answer gets passed on to the next player, who solves.
A 1987 episode famously referenced a clue about the St. Louis Globe-Democrat (in a category about defunct newspapers), which at the time of production had ceased publication. By the time the episode aired, the newspaper had resumed production, and the publisher angrily demanded that a retraction be aired on the show. (The newspaper in question also published a rambling editorial, misspelling Trebek's name in a large font, front-page headline and throughout the copy.) Indeed, a clue was written – and selected – in a show later during the 1987-1988 season. Alas, by the time the correction aired, the Globe-Democrat had once again ceased publication, this time for good.
Like several game shows using categories or topics for questions, an "Oops!" category appeared on occasion. These potpourri-type categories were composed of questions that stumped contestants on previous shows.
A question that frequently stumped contestants, especially during the early years, centered on the first date/year of a particular century. The best-known example was Final Jeopardy! on the second episode of the Alex Trebek version, in 1984: "Date on which the 20th century began" (asked on the second episode of the 1984 Trebek version), for which the answer was "Jan. 1, 1901" – the reasoning being that there was no year "0" (zero), that the first year A.D. was 1 (one) and that all subsequent centuries began with the last digit being a "1." All three contestants answered incorrectly – each of the responses was Jan. 1, 1900 – and all three wagered their entire scores.
Ties at $0 have happened at least five other times:
Another game in 1984.
A Seniors' Tournament quarterfinal in 1989.
A celebrity special on March 2, 1998, with Jane Curtin "pulling a Cliff Clavin" (i.e., wagering all-in from a "lock", a score more than double that of second place).note She had $8,500, and second place had $2,700, so Jane's ideal wager was anything from $0 to $3,099 — second place is likely to double-up, and should second place get it right but first place get it wrong, $3,099 would still ensure that first place would remain victorious by a margin of $1. If it were a regular game, then first could go for that extra $1 and create a tie in the same "second gets it right, first gets it wrong" situation. Since it was a celebrity game, she had the most before Final Jeopardy! and was therefore awarded the top prize for her charity.
A game on June 12, 1998; there was a two-player Final Jeopardy! due to the third player having a negative score; the two were tied at $7,600, both went all-in, and both got it wrong. This situation was basically a "prisoner's dilemma", in which the only logical wagers were everything or nothing; it just happened that neither trusted the other to wager $0, neither did, and both paid the price.
A Teen Tournament semifinal on February 7, 2013. Because of this, a wild card spot was available for the finals.
The February 23, 2005 game has to be a record for how not to play Jeopardy!: a whopping 24 clues (out of 60) stumped the players, 16 of which were in Double Jeopardy! — including an entire category on Oscar hosts where no one gave a correct response. Even worse, one player was in the red for almost the entire game, and late in Double Jeopardy!, the second player knocked himself down to a negative score… just before five clues in a row in which no one gave a correct response. The last clue on the board was a Daily Double, which went to the only player who still had money — he got it wrong, but didn't wager big, so he ended up playing Final Jeopardy! by himself. The scores of all three contestants (counting both negative scores) added up to only $8,200 before Final Jeopardy!.
What exacerbates the sloppy gameplay here is that this was during the Ultimate Tournament of Champions.
At least twice (once in 2006 and once in 2008), a contestant won the game with a total below $1,000, then finished third in their next game. Since third place receives a flat $1,000 regardless of score, and second-place a flat $2,000, this means they managed to play two games and win less than the second-placer they defeated.
On a few other occasions, an entire category has gone without anyone giving a correct response — but most of the time, as in the above game, the players will at least hazard a guess or two. Not so on January 2, 2013, which had a Broadway song lyrics category in which no one even saw fit to ring in on a single clue.
During the original Art Fleming NBC daytime series, there was at least one instance where all three contestants had negative scores at the end of the "Double Jeopardy!" round, meaning that no "Final Jeopardy!" question would be played that day. One author who wrote about the genre claimed this situation happened more than once; other recollections indicated that it happened only once (with the year often placed somewhere in the late 1960s). A three-way loss at the end of "Double Jeopardy!" has never happened on the Trebek version.
One of the questions during Fast Money was "Name an animal with three letters in its name." The two people answered "frog"... and "alligator." In the latter's "defense", he said that he misheard the question as "three of the same letter". This same family also provided "Snow" for "Something that comes with a summer storm", and "Regular" and "Ethyl" for "Name a brand of gasoline."
Any contestant who has scored 0 points in Fast Money. Particularly noteworthy examples include one early game under the hosting of Richard Dawson where the first player got 0 (and dawdled so long that they didn't get past the third question), and the dreadful round on the last episode hosted by Ray Combs in 1994 (where the first player already had three zero-pointers before his teammate goose-egged).
Contestants who blow a seemingly easy chance to get just a few points needed to win Fast Money can be especially gut-wrenching to watch. Such as the Sass family on an episode that aired in May 2014. With 182 points, a Fast Money win was all but a sure thing, but Anna (playing second) – whether a case of extreme nerves or unable to do well under pressure – was unable to score one point in the four answers she gave. A seemingly good answer for the first two question – "We asked 100 men: On a scale of 1 to 10, how likely are you to date a woman who's a 10?" to which she answered "4" ("5" was the No. 1 answer); and "Name a place where you keep looking at your watch," for which she said "restaurant" – each netted zero points, and from there it was all downhill. Her family – and host Steve Harvey, actually playing the whole thing straight as he seemed to know the likely outcome – consoled her as she did her best to hold back her tears.
The famous "You Fool!!" episode from 1999, wherein just one game was completed the entire episode. Comedian Gilbert Gottfried was the only remaining contestant in a "cat's game", meaning that the player has to give a correct response to capture him — instead of the usual rule of the square going to the opponent if the contestant agrees or disagres incorrectly to the trivia question. However, the contestants incorrectly agreed or disagreed with Gottfried's answers NINE TIMES IN A ROW!!!! After it became obvious the contestants were struggling, Gottfried yelled out "YOU FOOL!" ... and by the ninth time, the audience was breaking down in laughter as a disbelieving Tom Bergeron (and every one of the other celebrities) began joining in with Gottfried. There was at least one occasion of a similar incident happening on the original Peter Marshall version as well, said incident happening on a daytime show back in the 1970s.
The Price Is Right: Fans of this show often apply the term to either an episode they consider particularly bad or a particularly ill-fated playing of a game, especially when the wrong answer is obvious to everyone but the contestant. An example of the former: All six games are lost, followed by a double overbid in the showcase round. In the latter instance, an example might be Clock Game, where the contestant simply gives random guesses and simply does not get the concept of binary search (which, if used correctly, can win the game virtually every time).
One infamous Epic Fail example on TPiR came during the 1980s with the Phone Home Game, a game where a contestant and a pre-selected home viewer teamed together to match three prices with grocery products to win up to $15,000; Barker would explicitly explain that the home viewer must not give the name of a product, or the turn was lost. It's not clear why – the rules were misunderstood or she simply did not want to play the game or be bothered – but the home viewer gave the names of products on all three turns, thereby losing the game with no cash won and providing that game's most glaring Epic Fail.
One for the show's staff. On Drew's first aired week, one of the prizes in Contestant's Row was a Coca-Cola machine, and from it model Lanisha pulls out...a PEPSI.
One poor contestant in 1996 won all five chips in Plinko… but dropped all five in the $0 slots.
A worse situation happened in 2013, where a contestant didn't get the other four chips and got the one plinko chip in the $0 slot.
On the first season of Lingo, the Bonus Round was as follows: get a word right, get a ball to draw. The already-covered numbers on the Bingo-esque Lingo board form a pattern where only two draws are needed to get five in a row (a "Lingo") and win the bonus prize. However, one team got only one word right, and another got none. The team that got none also tried to make "approach" a five-letter word in the main game, and shot themselves in the foot in Bonus Lingo with stupid guesses such as "Kazaa". Likely for this reason, Bonus Lingo was re-tooled in later seasons so that a.) every Lingo in the main game awarded a "bonus letter", which could be added to any word at any time to make figuring it out easier, and b.) the pattern was changed so that only one draw was needed for a Lingo.
On Match Game, in one Super Match round, host Gene Rayburn had asked the contestant "Cuckoo (blank)", and the contestant answered "Cuckoo, friend and ollie"note she meant Kukla, Fran and Ollie. The entire studio went nuts over her mind-bogglingly stupid answer. Robert Walden, the celebrity that she had been paired with through the Star Wheel to play the Head-to-Head Match, hastily writes a joke answer of "Accordion" (referencing the fact that she had given said answer to a front–game question) before showing his actual answer, "Clock".
A number of quiz shows from the late 1960s and early 1970s – including the Who, What or Where Game and the original Sale Of The Century – had rules where falling below zero at any time immediately eliminated that player from further play. These games spotted the players a small bankroll ($20 for $otC, $125 for the betting-type 3 Ws and – like Jeopardy! money was deducted for incorrect answers, but enough incorrect answers meant falling to or below $0 and sealed the player's fate.
The "$0 means goodbye" rule was eliminated for the more familiar 1983 $otC.
A rare meta example of the trope: NBC's Million Second Quiz pretty much touted itself as changing the way game shows are played, introducing the concepts of an always-running event (even showing live feeds of the competition while the show itself isn't airing) and a truly interactive experience where viewers can actually become contestants by participating in a supplementary mobile app. Immediately after its first airing, both selling points crashed and burned as the mobile app became unusable due to server crashes and, not long after that, the live competition experienced a literal showstopper as it fell victim to numerous technical problems of its own, leaving the live feed to become, as one Facebook comment put it, "three guys sitting around doing nothing and a bunch of Subway ads". All of these Game Breaking Bugs happening in such rapid succession led much of the viewer base to suspect that NBC really Didn't Think This Through.
One episode of Where In The World Is Carmen Sandiego had a contestant in the first round get every single question wrong—including the final question where she'd risked all the fifty Acme Crimebucks she'd started with.
Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?: Several contestants under the original format's money ladder ($100/$200/$300/$500/$1,000, with the last value being the first "safe" zone) bombed on the $100 question. The first to do so got "What animal did Hannibal cross the Alps on?" wrong by guessing "llama" instead of "elephant" (to be fair, this is more of a $1,000 or $2,000-level question; $100 questions were usually ridiculously easy to help ease the contestant into the game, often made even easier by almost always having "D" be obviously wrongnote for example: "What part of a chicken is commonly called the drumstick? A: Breast, B: Wing C: Leg, D: Gizzard"). As a result, anyone who missed the $100 question, or otherwise bombed before reaching $1,000, has earned the Fan Nickname "llama".
One contestant during "Walk In and Win" week (near the end of the original format) burned all three of her Lifelines on the $200 and $300 questions, and walked away from the $500 question. She was the only contestant under the original rules to ever walk away before hitting the $1,000 "safe zone".
One contestant on the Bonus Round of Card Sharks encountered four jacks that all went against the odds. The first was followed by a king, the second by an ace (aces are high in this game), and the third was followed by the fourth. With the fourth being the last in the row, she asked to swap it out and got a 9… which was followed by another king, meaning that even staying with the jack would've resulted in the last card being against the odds too.
Under the original rules, uncovering the same value card meant that you lost money. One contestant got hit partiuclarly hard with this by fining all four treys in succession. (The 1980s revival gave this an Obvious Rule Patch by declaring that uncovering the same value card resulted in neither a gain nor loss of money.)
Game Shows — Foreign
The Japanese game show DERO! has a round where a team of contestants stand on metal beams over a pit and take turns solving puzzles, while the active players' beam gradually retracts into the wall every second they can't come up with the correct answer. They're also given sink plungers to stick on the wall behind them to stabilize themselves when the beams become short. Players who fall down are out and win nothing for the round, while if the team gets 9 correct answers between them, they win money for each player left standing. However, on one occasion, celebrity contestant Sashihara Rino freaked out and panicked as the floor started retracting to reveal the pit and didn't even manage to walk onto one of the beams before she fell down and got herself disqualified - and took one of the team's plungers with her, all before the announcer even got a chance to give the Rules Spiel. Even host Yamasato Ryouta (Manager) was astonished upon making his entrance on the video intercom.
Yamasato: Everyone, welcome to the Beam Room...huh? You're short one person...
Despite that, the 4 remaining celebrity contestants in the round still managed to clear it anyway.
Earlier before that, an episode ended with NOT EVEN A SINGLE CELEBRITY CONTESTANT SUCESSFULLY ESCAPING!
Yet another game show example: March 31, 2008 on Tokyo Friend Park II was a special two-hour episode with the Japanese band Arashi as contestants. Instead of the usual 5 games for a 2-player team, they play 7 games taking turns between their 5 members. They pull off a Flawless Victory through the main game, earning an astounding 9 gold medals (each one being about 100,000 yen worth of gold) and a trip to Disneyland Paris for all 5 of them (for comparison, most teams get usually only manage 2-3 medals and no trip across 5 games). Then came the endgame, and this trope took full effect. As usual, they were given the option to trade each medal for a dart to throw at a dartboard where each space corresponds to a prize. Most prizes are usually worth about 200K yen, plus one space being a grand prize (in this case, a tour of the world), but a couple spaces are labeled "tawashi", the show's trademark Zonk. They proceed to trade all 9 medals for darts...and land 7 of them (across 4 different team members, no less) on the exact same "tawashi" space.
While it may be both an in and out of universe example, there's a British comedy game show called Epic Win. Contestants perform various challenges based on their unusual skills, and are awarded either an Epic Win trophy or Epic Fail sticker depending on their success.
In The Chase, there are quite a few examples of contests doing extremely poorly in either the cash builder, chase or final chase. None screwed up as much as Keith here though. He got zero questions right in the cash builder, then zero questions right in the main chase. Anne Hegerty was absolutely embarassed that this guy was apparently an ex journalist.
It happend AGAIN, on the 30th of September edition! A town crier called David got zero in the cashbuilder, then took the zero offer on the board. Cue the somewhat hilarious 'for nothing, the chase is on!'
Schlag den Raab had occasions where Stefan won 11 games for a final score of 66-0 shutting out the contestant.
The last two Instances of the Banzai segement Mr. Shake Hands Man 2 (Adam Sander, and Rick Allen) had very rubbish times, that segment was retired after that.
During the final week of the classic Australian version of Wheel of Fortune, an extra Mystery wedge was added each day until the final episode, which had seven Mystery wedges. It wasn't landed on at all during Monday's show (3 wedges), and on each subsequent show (4 on Tuesday, 5 on Wednesday, 6 on Thursday, 7 on the Friday finale), the contestant that landed on it flipped over the lone BANKRUPT. However, it was eventually won during the finale in a later round.
A seller brings in a stamp they claim is worth a million dollars. Cindy calls in an expert and is floored when she hears the stamp is really worth it... if it were real. Naturally, the stamp is a cheaper reproduction and the seller pulls it.
A Seller wants to sell a cart which he runs a business out of. It breaks being unloaded from the trailer, and no one can find a replacement wheel. The most expensive item of the auction is in the front yard, broken.
A common situation comedy plot where Epic Fail is sure to arise involves one of the main characters announcing he is a chef and had distributed food he had prepared (often, it's a baked good, such as a pastry or filled roll) to a friend, and the friend – who invariably will be the owner of a bakery – is so impressed that he offers to buy the recipe. Things get hairy when there is a sudden huge order for the baked goods and a very short time frame in which to prepare them (e.g., 20,000 pop tarts in 24 hours) ... and only the main setting's home kitchen is available; of course, the main character will absent-mindedly accept. Naturally, this leads to many comic situations before the Epic Fail kicks in.
Truth in Television: This has happened a few times in the UK version of The Apprentice when teams have been given the task of creating and selling a product, and sold way beyond their production capacity.
Also, Daphne's attempt at throwing a dinner party in "Daphne Does Dinner". The Crane family, who are notorious for having all their parties end in disaster, proudly take the sheer massiveness of her failure as a rite of passage to her becoming "officially a Crane".
In the episode "The Apparent Trap", Niles tries playing one of Freddie's videogames and somehow manages to die during the training level - by tripping and falling in the game.
In fact, the show thrives on this very trope. Anything that any of the main cast try to do will descend into hilariously over-the-top, convoluted pandemonium two-thirds of the time (the other third of the time it will end in a Crowning Moment of Awesome).
In The Golden Girls Dorothy mentions to Blanche about the weight loss through sex diet she and Stan went through, where anytime you went hungry you replace food with a sexual activity:
When Mark Balelo found an original NES, he got a little excited. "NES-001, guys. I want you to look at this very carefully. This is the first Nintendo DS built. The last one that sold with five games in the internet for $13,000." That was the model number, not the serial number. It was worth maybe ten bucks. The reason the "last one" sold for $13,000 was because one of those five games was a fully boxed, mint-condition cartridge of a game whose distribution numbered in the hundreds.
In another episode, Dave Hester finds a beat-up violin in storage which he immediately convinces himself is an original Stradivari worth millions. He brings it to a violin expert who values it at possibly 300-400 dollars at most, if Dave invested 100-200 dollars to restore it to good condition. Up to that point, Dave had blabbed to the camera nonstop about how he'd found the holy grail of storage scavenging and would be retiring any day now.
Big Time Rush: A few times, but the biggest has to be when the boys cook up a scheme to get Carlos a girlfriend. In order to impress the girl, they plan for James, disguised as a robber, to rob Logan's handbag, who is disguised as an old lady, then Carlos jumps in, saves the day and gives the girl flowers put out by Kendall. Only when Carlos jumps in, he punches Logan, gives James the flowers, and the girl the handbag.
When Moss attempts to put out a burning soldering iron, the fire extinguisher catches fire.
One time Jen has to give a presentation on her work in the IT department. Roy and Moss set her up for a fail by giving her a black box with a little flashing light and pretending that it's the internet. Yes, the entire internet, responsible for all of modern communications and civilization, specially flown in by Stephen Hawking. The entire audience buys into it until her boss comes bursting through the wall in a fist fight with his transsexual girlfriend and smashes the little black box. A riot breaks out, people run for the doors, some start crying, some start fighting and some start to get busy in the middle of the lecture room floor.
The entire trip to the theatre. Their Goth co-worker Richmond warns them that nothing good can come of their trip, but but the time he's finished they've all left. All three main characters have their night completely ruined.
In one episode of Up Pompeii, one of the actors, whilst proceeding off stage, managed to walk into some equipment, leading to a loud crash and some swearing. This was turned into an epic win by the main character, a slave called Lurcio (played by Frankie Howerd), who immediately said, "Blimey, worked in this house thirty years, and I never knew that way down to the cellar."
It's Played for Drama in the episode iGot A HotRoom. The present Spencer built for Carly burned her room to a crisp. It's heartbreaking to see the looks on everyone's faces when they realise what caused it.
Top Gear: It's not for nothing the motto of the challenges is "Ambitious but rubbish". Thanks to Jeremy Clarkson's devotion to Tim Taylor Technology, when he fails to achieve Epic Win, he winds up with Epic Fail. Two shining examples: the Toyota amphibious truck, which crossed a two-mile stretch of water and then capsized next to the dock when he turned too quickly; and the Fiat "Giant" Panda stretch limo, which was too long to manoeuvre and passengers required a The Great Escape-style sliding-board contrivance just to get into the back seat. Yes, folks, Jezza built a two-door stretch limo. And then it broke in half...
You have to be impressed with a convertible people carrier that ended up causing a fire in a car wash.
Speaking of which, and regarding the amphibious vehicles, "None of us were seaworthy. Mine was still on fire."
In the literal drag race during the tractor challenge, he decided that the best weight to pull was...a 747 jet airliner. It led to his turbocharged tractor taking 20 seconds to go from 0 to 1.
After they turned a combine harvester into a snowplow, they decided to test it in Norway. They destroy a house, burn through a road sign, run over a car, and may or may not have set a person on fire...
In the aplline truck challenge, each of them was given a cargo (a giant cake for James, a car for Hammond, and a hay stack with a heater for Jeremy) for them to bring from one side of the hilly course to the other. The results: the cake was toppled over, the car was GONE, and Jeremy's trailer was engulfed in flames.
When they tried to make their own RVs, the whole thing was the definition of this trope.
One episode invokesthis for laughs. The crew were all comparing 3 mid-70's British sports cars and seeing how they stacked up against a respectably built German car of the same era and class in a series of performance test races. To nobody's surprise, the German car had worse performance than all three British cars. Next up, they had to test out the fuel economy of the cars, so they were set to drive to a destination about 30km away. They mention that just for comparability, the German car would go first as part of the test. The German car promptly explodes when the driver turned the ignition. Not surprised in the least, they decide to just go on without it.
Later, they test the cars in a car wash to see if there were any leaks. The three cars driven by the presenters have minor leaks at worst (Hammond's being the most noticeable). Then, a new comparison car driven by the Stig goes through...and emerges completely filled with water.
Played for laughs again when Jeremy demonstrates the ridiculous lengths one has to go to when trying to destroy a Porsche 911; during which he slams the car into a block wall (much harder than he intended to) and damages the wall more than the car. All told, the Porsche also survives shotgun blasts, an upright piano dropped from a crane, and being doused with acid.
The episode where they make their own electric car, Geoff/Hammerhead-Eagle i-Thrust, was a string of consecutive epic failure, from design to the testing stage, culminating in a track test that ended when a faulty diesel-electric system asphyxiated their green technology Stig. Amusingly, they technically accomplished their goal: to make a car that scored higher than a real electric car—in the Autocar review they cited on the show (yes, the magazine actually did review it), the Hammerhead-Eagle i-Thrust was given a score that was half a star better than the G-Wiz. (Yep, neither car scored more than 1 star.) Probably because the Top Gear car, unlike the G-Wiz, made no pretense that it was actually any good.
The show has had such a long and ridiculous string of these, that they made a two-part, two-hour long special dedicated solely to them: Top Gear: Top Fails.
Michael Schumacher's lap in the Suzuki Lianna. He stalled off the line, ground gears after getting started, crashed into a camera tripod going round Chicago, when incredibly slow through the follow through went the wrong way around the tires, and got lost before the second-to-last turn.
In The West Wing, Josh's hilariously craptastic attempt to brief the press when CJ has a root canal that renders her incomprehensible somehow ends with Josh telling the press to shut up and stop asking him questions, because the President has a Secret Plan to Fight Inflation. Bartlet, Toby, and especially CJ's reactions are priceless:
Bartlet: Are you telling me that not only did you invent a secret plan to fight inflation, but now you don't support it? Toby: Have you fallen on your head? Have you fallen down and hit your head on something hard? CJ: What the heww happened in thewe? You compwetewy impwoded! You wewe vague, you wewe howstiwe, you wewe bewwigewent!
Also, in the pilot, Sam tries to bluff his way through telling a group of fourth grade students about the history of the White House. It doesn't work:
Mallory: I'm sorry to be rude, but are you a moron?
Mallory: There’s like a six-foot painting on the wall of Teddy Roosevelt.
Sam: I should've put two and two together.
In the NUMB3RS episode featuring the hacker on the run from various criminal groups, the Israeli hacker/arms-dealer gets cornered by an FBI agent while said Israeli hacker's muscle is elsewhere. You see the hacker's eyes dart over to the glass window and you know he's gonna make a break for it— But you don't expect for the break to fail so spectacularly, as the hacker's body (appropriate for his specialty, and thus not made like a linebacker's) bounces off the window not once, not twice, but THREE TIMES. He's caught, obviously, no doubt wondering why the breakaway glass didn't breakaway, like in the movies.
Done in Corner Gas when Oscar made a salad...that then exploded.
Hank: How do you blow up a salad?
Oscar: Happens more than you'd think!
Lampshaded in "Mr. Monk Is Underwater", where Monk discovers that a couple of years ago, the submarine he's on hit an undersea mountain. He's gobsmacked and can't believe that a Navy commander could possibly be that incompetent.
In an episode of Malcolm in the Middle, Malcolm goes bowling. Despite numerous failures, his mother continues to enthusiastically cheer him on. This eventually frustrates him so much that he grabs a ball, walks right up to the pins, yells that he'll give her the strike she wants...and gets a gutter ball. From half a meter away.However, it turns out this is the happy scenario. We get to see an Alternate Universe in which his dad takes him bowling instead of his mum and he ends up bowling pretty well...except he gets stuck in the pin machines. Epic Fail either way.
Attack of the Show! ends most episodes with an "Epic Fail" segment, showing a video usually from YouTube or break.com, followed by hate hosts mocking the subject of the video.
They epic failed themselves when their attempt to skywrite the world's largest ascii penis turned up utterly meaningless smoke scrawl across the sky to their complete dismay.
In the Deadliest Warrior episode "Musketeer vs Ming Warrior", the leader of the Mings lets out a war cry, only to get shot by a Musketeer.
In the "Medellin Cartel vs Somali Pirate" episode, a cartel member leaves his hideout and locks the door. A Somali Pirate with a RPG-7 rocket launcher notices him and aims the rocket. The cartel guy tries to open the door to get inside the buidling, but...he just locked it! The Pirate's rocket hits him directly.
In the "Ninja vs Spartan" episode, the last ninja jumps out of a tree, in plain sight of the Spartan, in a last-ditch effort to... be impaled on the Spartan's spear, which the Spartan only had to extend. This may be more of an example of Too Dumb to Live than epic fail, though. Unless you're the Spartan, then the failure is pretty impressive for you.
Then there was the episode in which a buff fitness guru tries to get the slovenly Bundys to lead healthful lives. Not only do the Bundys remain lazy, but they turn the instructor himself into a fat couch potato!
Terry Rakolta led a boycott against the show. Some sponsors did cancel their commercials, but the fuss she raised also raised the show's ratings, simultaneously raising both the rates the show could charge for commercials, and bringing in new advertisers.
In one episode, Kelly has to do a book report for class about Robinson Crusoe. When she asks her brother for help, Bud cannot help himself sabotage her in the most spectacular way possible by describing Gilligan's Island instead. She buys the whole thing hook, line and sinker.
Kelly:*comes back home infuriated* Bud? Me and the principal just had a three hour talk. A three hour talk.
Comedian Bob Einstein combines this trope with Informed Ability in the character of Super Dave Osborne. Super Dave is continually lauded as one of the world's most brilliant stuntmen, whose death-defying feats are "astronomically sensational". Of course, when the audience actually sees Super Dave perform a stunt, it inevitably backfires in an Epic Fail manner. Sometimes Super Dave doesn't even need to be performing a stunt, as more than one Epic Fail resulted from him simply trying to show off some new attraction at the Super Dave Compound.
If Super Dave ever plays a piano, expect a car or truck to come crashing out of nowhere and take them out both.
Mike from Desperate Housewives had this to say about Susan's macaroni and cheese: "How did you...it tastes like it's burned and undercooked."
That is technically possible if you apply extreme heat for a very short time. The outside is burned, while the inside remains uncooked.
Survivor: Cook Islands: In the final episode, a tie at the penultimate Tribal Council led to the traditional tiebreaker: a fire-building challenge. Both Becky and Sundra were to build a small fire high enough to burn through a rope about three feet off the ground or so. Some contestants have trouble building fires (see Reality Show Genre Blindness), but in this instance, neither contestant could get their tinder to light using the flint-and-steel, despite throwing sparks nonstop for an hour. Jeff eventually stopped them and told them they were moving on to matches. Even with matches, they continued to fail at keeping a flame going long enough for their teepees to catch light for another half-hour. One of them ran out of matches. This was especially annoying because they made fire earlier in the season.
Strong Bad: Hello, my name is piece of wood and I don't want to catch fire. Hello, my name is little match, and I don't want to make a fire! Hello, my name is fire, and I'm not comin' to your stupid party!
Partway through the challenge, the sound guys realize where this is going and change from dramatic music to comedic.
Russell Hantz came on for the third time. However this time he doesn't have the advantage of being unknown to his fellow players this time since the production staff practically shoved him down our throats during the previous two times he was on. You would expect that he would have wisened up and realized that he's at a disadvantage due to being with people he doesn't know (like in Heroes vs. Villains) and that they know who he is and how he plays the game; so he wouldn't start playing the same game he was known for. Instead, he assembled his usual harem...started hunting for the idol without making sure people opposing him weren't watching first, then tried to get a tribe-mate to be a third wheel in the alliance on flimsy promises. Result? Third person voted out...second person eliminated in total in the series.
This Epic Fail is underscored by the fact that "Boston" Rob was placed in a similar situation in the other tribe and managed to play a masterful game where he ended up completely dominating the entire season and winning it all.
Not to mention the infamous Ulong Tribe of Palau, who managed to lose every single immunity challenge and was down to just one member by the time the merge came. The term "Ulonging" has since been used for particularity poor tribe performances.
And Ulong gets replaced by the appropriately named Matsing Tribe of Philippines(US version, not the Philippines version). They lost every single reward/immunity challenge and the two remaining members were absorbed to the other two tribes in the 5th episode.
Crystal Cox, the Olympic gold medalist from Gabon who utterly failed at anything even remotely athletic, culminating in her missing a slam dunk on a five-foot hoop when she's six-feet tall. This sums it up pretty nicely.
The worst team in The Amazing Race history is widely credited to be Dana & Adrian from Season 16 who were eliminated from the race without even completing a single task. While they were the third team to be eliminated without completing a leg, the other two were at legitimate elimination points, whereas Adrian was foiled by a wire walking challenge, something that's been completed by every other racer to ever attempt it on pretty much every other season, including an old, out of shape man with bad knees who could barely walk.
Season 22 has Jessica and John. Having won the first leg and an Express Pass they could use that would allow them to skip a task of their choosing, John refused to use it in Leg 4 (despite Jessica saying they should) when they were falling behind in both the Detour and Roadblock and are the first team to get eliminated with the Express Pass still in hand.
During a slingshot challenge, contestants must hit a target with watermelons. One of them hits herself squarely in the face at full power.
Frank Spencer from "Some Mothers Do 'Ave 'Em" pretty much embodied this trope. He tried to fix a toilet in a hightech house (which he'd broken when he found using it to be trickier than one might expect) and ended up stuffing it full of various household goods (including, if memory serves, a plant), flooding the house's electrics, causing every piece of equipment to go crazy and basically resulting in it nearly killing the occupants.
The broken drive plate that killed the crew was Ret Conned into being a trivially easy thing to fix. Rimmer's failure killed the crew, sent Lister 3 million years into the future, and created enough ambient radiation in the sealed hold to allow a race of cat people to evolve from the descendants of a single cat without severe inbreeding problems.
Rimmer's astrophysics exam results are the stuff of legend. Shown onscreen is his failed attempt to write answers on his arms, only to smear them uselessly when rolling up his sleeves and stamping a huge handprint as his final answer. Another example mentioned by Lister was Rimmer writing I am a fish four hundred times before fainting.
Even before smearing them he'd realized that he had no concept of what any of the notes meant. Dude couldn't understand a cheat sheet he wrote himself.
In Rimmer's backstory, he volunteered to work for the Samaritans, a helpline for the depressed and suicidal. Five people killed themselves after talking to him, including one who had the wrong number and only wanted the cricket scores.
When Lister attempts to outrank Rimmer by becoming a chef, he produces what appears to be a perfectly edible dessert. Shame he was going for roast beef.
Eddie and Richie from Bottom manage to get themselves trapped on top of Western Europe's tallest ferris wheel, in a conveniently deserted carnival (the wheel is scheduled for demolition the next morning), beat each other senseless, set fire to their carriage, break the cables holding it up, and when rescued by God, deny his existence, causing him to vanish in a Puff of Logic.
While many Mythbusters experiments end in failure because the myth tested is, well, a myth, some fail in such a spectacular fashion that only epic fail is strong enough to describe the result. One of the most memorable ones happened in the JATO rocket car supersize revisit, where every single test and planning step went perfectly well until the final run: when the car reached the ramp and the rocket was activated, it blew up sky high, shredding apart the car completely.
Jamie: Well, let's reset.
Adam: I think someone owes me 10,000 bucks.
The crew had their own epic fail when they tried to shoot some barrels of water with a cannon. They did this at a bomb range, so it's hard to believe they'd mess up too badly, but, well...not only did they completely miss the barrels, the cannonball bounced all the way out of the bomb range and into a residential area, where it smashed its way through a house, damaged the roof of a different house, and ended its rampage by smashing into a minivan. Seriously. They're just lucky the rogue ball was content with property damage, and didn't try for bodily damage.
In-universe example, but just fortuitous in Real Life: Michael Richards was once reminiscing about how, on the set of Seinfeld, he performed an impromptu pratfall while walking through Jerry's door as part of his "Kramer" character. As Richards's feet flew out from under him, one of them went completely over his head, curled around the doorknob, and closed the door all by itself. Richards regretted that he would never be able to do that again.
The second season of Wipeout had a contestant declare her love for one of the hosts, then run the qualifier. She slipped on the first corner, fell, and yelled "I'm done!" It could be said most of the appeal of the show is watching people fail the challenges in epic ways.
Taylor's attempt at a political seat on the first season of Benson.
Governor Gatling: So, how did Taylor do?
Marcie: He lost. He came in sixth.
Benson: How did he come in sixth? There were only five candidates.
Marcie: There was a large write-in for "none of the above".
In a similar vein in Night Court, Dan Fielding loses an election to a dead man.
In Home Improvement, Tim and Jill Taylor went to visit a marines base, and the soldiers offer to allow Jill to test drive one of the tanks due to her desire to be in one. Tim then cautions that trying to drive it is something else. Just then, Tim somehow manages to activate one of the Abrams' machine guns simply by touching it.
Pretty much describes everything Tim does on "Tool Time".
In Hell's Kitchen Season 10, for the first time in the history of the show, both teams failed to score a single point in a challenge.
Dana: "Hell's Kitchen, Season 10! We're making history! Because we suck!"
Pretty much anything Raj of blue team Season 8 ever did was an Epic Fail. His incompetence and stupidity was so great, that even though the red team lost the challenge and was up for elimination, Ramsay skipped the selection process and opted to eliminate Raj himself.
Melissa of Season 8 destroyed the red kitchen's entire stock of steak by cooking it too early. When she was moved to the blue team, she did the same thing to their entire stock of scallops. Needless to say, she was eliminated after that.
Another moment from Season 8, contestant Antonia put up her signature dish of "Mardi Gras Gumbo". Ramsay described it as looking like "liquid shit", and trying it caused him once again to chuck up. He then passed it around to the other chefs, who liked it no more than Ramsay did. Despite a tie, her dish was so offensively bad, it cost her team the challenge by default. Safe to say she didn't last long (albeit due to failing health, but still).
The High School Reunion challenge in Season 9. Elizabeth cost the red team the challenge single-handedly. The red team considered putting her up for elimination then and there.
Needless to say, expect Gordan Ramsay to get extremely angry and prematurely shut down both kitchens.
Many an Antiques Roadshow episode features a hopeful collector learning that her expensive early American furniture has halved in value because she (or a member of her family) had it refinished. But the all-time Epic Fail champion had to be the man who boasted about his fireplace andirons, which he claimed Liberace had once offered him $70,000 for. The man refused to sell, thinking they were worth far more. The Roadshow appraiser then had to inform the man that the andirons were fakes, and only worth a few hundred dollars.
At the beginning of the third season of Buffy, the title character has gone AWOL leaving the remaining Scoobies doing their best to take down any vampires they can in her absence. When a newly risen vampire takes out Xander and Willow before they can stake it, only Oz is left standing to try and stop the monster before it can escape. He grabs the stake and attempts to throw it through the now-fleeing vampire's heart... and he's able to throw it for about a foot before it falls to the ground.
In the Father Ted episode, "Think Fast, Father Ted", Ted is given a car, which is to be given away as a raffle prize. However, the car has a small dent in it, so Ted starts tapping out the dent with a small hammer. Cut to later, and the car is utterly totaled.
Ted: No, we can't give that away as a prize.
Ted's attempts to make a cup of tea on one of his housekeeper's rare nights off saw him set fire to the kitchen. In his defense, he was being "helped" by Dougal.
In one episode of Blackadder, the Prince Regent spends an entire week trying to put on a pair of trousers.
In the Edgar Bergin episode of The Muppet Show, Gonzo the Great wrestles a brick blindfolded...and loses.
In Star Trek: Voyager, during the episode "Deadlocked", Harry Kim invents a new type of forcefield, specifically designed to contain a growing hullbreach. He decides to be the one to impliment his ingenious solution. Naturally, it utterly fails to work, leaving him right above the breach when it ruptures, sucking him into the cold, hard-vaccuum of space where he dies. All in all, classic Harry Kim move. Luckily, at the end of the episode, he ends up getting replaced by a Quantum Duplicate from the alternate Voyager.
Neelix got his turn in an early episode, nearly dooming the ship with cheese.
In Wizards of Waverly Place some of Alex's screw-ups are actually pretty impressive, such as using the Wizard instant-mailing key to make the entire living room disappear.
Referenced by name in one episode of Fake Or Faked Paranormal Files when the crew attempts to test the official statement that a supposed UFO caught on video was in fact several airborne Chinese lanterns. After successfully lighting the lantern they released it... only to have it go sideways instead of up because of the wind, barely miss one of the camera crew, light itself on fire and then plummet to the ground, forcing them to put it out with a fire extinguisher. This caused them to declare that one getting up that high would only be possible with absolutely no wind, something next to impossible in the area where the video was filmed.
In the Doctor Who 50th anniversary special "The Day of the Doctor," the Tenth Doctor, the Eleventh Doctor, and the War Doctor are trapped in a cell. They come up with a brilliant plan to utilize The Slow Path, exploiting the fact that they're all one man at different points in time. The War Doctor scans the door with his screwdriver, then sets it calculating how to disintegrate it. Ten (who is a hundred years older) checks his screwdriver, and the calculation is still ongoing. Eleven (who is a few hundred years older still) checks his...and the calculation is complete! They're all congratulating themselves on their cleverness...until Clara opens the door from the other side. It wasn't even locked.
Clara: There's three of you, and none of you thought to check the door?
On The Big Bang Theory, when Howard tries to use a simulator to teach Sheldon how to drive, Sheldon somehow manages to wind up on the second floor of the mall and crash into a pet store.
Leonard's attempt to mix his own rocket fuel ended up destroying the elevator in events that happened prior to the first episode. How badly was it destroyed? Eight seasons in and it's still out of order.
There are many infomercials where someone will try to perform a simple task without the advertised product and screw it up in a completely contrived way. So many, in fact, there's a trope about it.
In an episode of Mr. Young, Adam attempts to knock over a bunch of bottles with a ball at a carnival. The first throw, he misses completely, but that's not the epic fail. The second time, he makes contact, but not enough to knock it over, but that's not the epic fail. The third time, he hits dead centre, and the ball just ounces off without a single pin getting knocked over, but that's not the epic fail. No, the epic fail comes later, when the ride he's on malfunctions and he's sent flying off, and he crashes into the bottles at high speed, and still fails to knock a single one over.
In the Angel episode "Parting Gifts", Wesley shows he strapped a dagger to his thigh and boasts about being well prepared. During the big fight scene at the end, he is unable to unstrap it.