Always Second Best

"He's willing to be second best, the perfect lodger, the perfect guest..."
Bob Seger, "Beautiful Loser"

Some people always win, some people always lose, and these people... end up second place.

They're usually competent, skilled, or (if it is romance we are talking about) relatively inoffensive at least. But they never quite succeed. There's usually some character (usually, but not always, the protagonist) who beats them. If it wasn't for That One Person they'd be number one, but they aren't.

So they're number two, making them prime material for Rival Turned Evil. If a Sibling Rivalry is involved being always second best often comes part and parcel with being the Unfavorite.

Compare Can't Catch Up. The Worf Barrage. Romantic Runner-Up is a version of this character specific to romance stories. Poor Man's Substitute is the version where a character acts as a poor replacement. When it's more perceived than actual, it's Always Someone Better. Often related to Second Place Is for Losers and The B Grade


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  • Yuuya from Super Gals, nicknamed "Second Place", always playing second fiddle to everyone else. He ends up with The Rival and the last episode shows them running around town winning contests...
  • To some degree Rock Lee from Naruto fits this trope: He is usually described as (and shown as) one of the strongest of the younger ninjas... but never actually wins (although he always gives a good account of himself).
    • He curb-stomps both Naruto and Sasuke. He even went as far as to one-shot the main character, Naruto. Lee beat his double in Shippuden. I know what you're thinking: "How hard is it to beat yourself?" Well, think about it. This is Rock Lee we're talking about, one of the best taijutsu specialists in Konoha; when you take that into consideration, taking out his double is quite a feat.
    • The reason why Sasuke betrayed Konoha in the first place. He was second best to Itachi and felt that he would become second best to Naruto.
    • Madara Uchiha was this to the 1st Hokage. Many, many of the current problems in the ninja world are ultimately the result of Madara's inability to accept this and his subsequent actions. Talk about petty...
  • Vegeta of Dragon Ball Z. He's practically the poster boy for this trope. His anger at this state is a large driving motivation for him throughout the series.
  • Mello from Death Note. He joins the mafia, kidnaps poor little Sayu, kills Souichiro, kidnaps Takada, and gets his best friend killed - all in the name of being better than Near at the "L's Successor" game.
    • Meanwhile, Near feels the same way with L, only in the "Greatest-Detective" game
  • In the earlier half of Eyeshield 21, the Deimon Devil Bats managed to beat weak teams like the Cupids or the Chameleons, but lost against strong teams like the White Knights, the Aliens, and at best tied with the Sphinx. (Technically winning because the Sphinx didn't want to fight the Aliens after such a hard battle anyway.) They got better as the series went on, but through out the entire series, you could never be so sure that they were going to win or not.
    • Parodied with Saburo Mitsui, kicker for the Hakushu Dinosaurs who always tries to be third best at everything.
  • Gaka Izumi from Flunk Punk Rumble. A formidable fighter/student on his own accord, but it's practically a running gag that he's only second to Hana and Chiba at strength and academics, respectively.
  • Yzak Joule from Gundam SEED. He manages to be great at everything, but always ends up losing to Athrun Zala at all that at the same time. Guess what place he ranked among the Red Suits upon graduation.
    • Outright parodied in the Chibi Character Theater shorts, where Yzak (and Dearka) actually manages to beat Athrun (and Kira) at beach volleyball...but the crowd STILL reacts like Kira and Athrun won, to Yzak's utter exasperation.
  • Kyo in Fruits Basket.
  • Some think that this is Ryouga's fate in Ranma 1/2; no matter how much he tries he will always be the runner up to Ranma. Others note that by simply matter-of-fact comparing their track records and stats he has beaten Ranma twice as many times.
  • This is the defining trope of Special A, with Hikari forever trying (and failing) to beat Kei at anything.
  • Pokémon's Ash Ketchum has participated in 4 major league tournaments, and the best he has accomplished is to reach the semifinals.
    • Except for the Orange Island Leagues (a filler arc), which he actually won. Though it doesn't seem to be anything special as it was never mentioned again, nor did the Orange Islands appear in any of the games. Gets really strange in the later seasons when his Pokemon should be the equivalent of level 100 by now.
      • That Orange Island bit didn't help his case much either. The first thing that happens after getting back to Pallet Town, Team Rocket manages to set them up in a trap that would have worked had Gary Oaks not come in as a Deus ex Machina to save everyone. He even points this out to his rival, that his victory didn't mean much if he still fell for Team Rocket's trap. Angry, Ash challenges him to a battle, and Gary's Eevee effortlessly beats Pikachu.
  • Koujirou Hyuuga from Captain Tsubasa is a very good player, but not good enough to beat Tsubasa. This is played for drama towards the final episodes of the original series, during the third Championship final match, which is all about Hyuuga doing everything possible to at last defeat Tsubasa. In the end, the match ends on a draw and both teams are declared champions
  • After knowing she was seconded to NAGO in school again, Yanagin in Daily Lives of High School Boys dared NAGO to beat her in karate and then ramen which Yanagin was decisively defeated in both. In a later skit she tried daring NAGO to beat her in tolerance in the sauna, and defeated again—not only to NAGO, but presumably her two other friends Habara and Ikushima.
  • Dio from Casshern Sins sees himself as this to Casshern. And it irritates him to no end
    Dio: We are perfectly identical, in both skills and specs! So explain to me why I'm inferior to Casshern!
  • In Omake chapters of Fullmetal Alchemist, Mustang constantly suffered this to Edward in regards to the popularity polls. Whenever there was poll, Ed would always win, by a large landslide and Mustang would get pissed.
    • The picture above was also the source a Brick Joke. Prior to the final popularity contest, Mustang was sure that he would come in first place because Ed and Al had been Out of Focus during that period of the manga.
  • In Mobile Suit Crossbone Gundam: The Steel 7, Tobia goes to recruit Giri, former Ace Pilot for the Jupiter Empire and his one-time rival, for a mission to stop the Jovians from blasting Earth with a colony laser. Giri refuses at first, but that changes the nanosecond he learns that the Empire's leader is Callisto; back in the Empire's Newtype Corps, Giri always came in second to Callisto, who would smugly rub it in. Thus Giri joins entirely for the chance to ruin Callisto's plans, and takes great pleasure in mocking him over how a supposedly inferior pilot is showing him up.
  • This is used as a key plot point in Variable Geo. When Damian first senses Satomi's latent energy, he runs a background check on her which reveals she used to be undefeated and a top competitor... until she met Yuka. Satomi continued to lose each time they competed against each other, with each loss chipping away at her confidence until she finally stopped competing altogether, out of fear that she'd never be able to defeat Yuka. Damian uses this to The Jahana Group's advantage by playing on her insecurity so she'd enter the VG tournament.
  • Starship Girl Yamamoto Yohko: Madoka always ends up being second to Yohko, bet it sports, studies, or starship pilot Yohko is way ahead of her. Its a bit jarring as Yohko spends most of her time being a slacker and still get better grades than her.
  • Kuroko no Basuke: As a collective group, the "Uncrowned Kings" are this in comparison to the "Generation of Miracles". Both groups are five extremely gifted basketball prodigies who have greater skills than any of their peers. The Generation, however, are as far beyond the Kings as the Kings are from everyone else. Their Meaningful Name comes from the fact that if they had been born in any generation before now, THEY would be the Generation of Miracles.
  • Seidou Takizawa from Tokyo Ghoul has an enormous inferiority complex as a direct result of this. When he isn't coming in second to his so-called rival, Akira, he's being shown up by the insanely talented rookie Juuzou.

  • Flintheart Glomgold's main grievance with Scrooge McDuck is that Scrooge is the Richest Duck in the World, Flintheart the Second Richest Duck— a designation that he feels to be humiliating. Much of the humor in his first two appearances is that the characters have similar skill-sets and about equal fortunes. Scrooge gains the victory in their first story by having some more string than Flintheart, and wins the rematch by a rather small sum of coins. The problem is that they are both too competitive to accept anyone as an equal.
  • Batgirl 2009 is Stephanie Brown, aka Spoiler, aka girl Robin, aka girl who screws up every major plan. Her predecessor, Cassandra Cain, was a much better fighter, with a far better track record and a cooler tragic backstory note . Key to this relationship, however, was that Stephanie showed no bitterness towards Cassandra for all of this — they were, in fact, good friends —and accepting it in good humour, attempting now and then to do the best with what she had rather than seethe about being in second place. This was also partly because there was one key area that Stephanie could trump Cassandra — social skills (Cassandra having such a maladjusted upbringing that she could barely read, write or speak coherently until her teenage years).
  • Jason Todd, the second Robin feels this way towards Dick Grayson, the first Robin and current Nightwing. It really doesn't help that Bruce expected him to be exactly like Dick, and that, as a family, Dick is by far Bruce's preferred son. Arguably second most preferred son after Damian's introduction, although it's debatable, and either way, Dick is the one who will inherit the title of Batman.
  • Doctor Doom's boiling hatred of Reed Richards stems from the fact that Reed is the smartest man in the world — just the tiniest bit smarter than Doom is. He also came up second to Doctor Strange in a contest between the world's mages; though Doom being Doom, he managed to suppress his pride long enough to work the situation to his advantage.

  • Salieri in Amadeus is presented as this trope.
  • Bjorn Turoque in real life documentary Air Guitar Nation against C-Diddy. Widely Considered the Second Best AIR GUITARIST in the World. During the movie, he gets eliminated several times but always comes back and earns the respect of fellow air guitarists for his performances.
  • The Cincinnati Kid with Lancey Howard's cracking line at the end; "You're good, kid, but as long as I'm around you're second best."
  • Loki in Marvel's Thor, as well as its source mythology. As the trickster figure he often takes a back seat to the bravo-ed brawn that it his brother.
  • Steven Prince in The World's End was always just a bit less cool than his friend Gary King, who also got it on with the girl Steven liked.
  • Galaxy Quest: After Alexander frees the suffocating Thermians.
    Alexander: (resigned sigh) It just isn't fair.

  • Demandred from Robert Jordan's The Wheel of Time is this trope. He is mentioned that "He would have been the greatest man of his age, had he not lived at the same time as Lews Therin Telamon." He was apparently born one day after Lews Therin, setting a trend of always being a step behind for their entire lives, the envy at this turning him from one of the most prominent good generals in the fight against evil into one of the most prominent evil generals. He was and likely still is second best at most (though he's one of the Shadow's most potent servants, he's still stuck playing second fiddle to Ishamael). Really, it's small wonder the man is more than a little insane by now.
    • "Born one day after Lews Therin, he had almost as much strength and almost as much skill. He spent years almost equaling Lews Therin's accomplishments and fame."
  • The book The Shadow Club by Neal Shusterman is about a group of kids like this who band together. It does not end well.
  • Illvin in the Chalion series to his brother Arhys. Unusually, he doesn't mind too much. ("If I ever run into the third best swordsman in Carabastos, he's going to be in very big trouble.")
  • In Under the Volcano, Hugh Firmin (in spite of his excellent qualities) finds that his older brother Geoffrey keeps getting in ahead of him doing the things that Hugh aspires to, and, even worse, throwing those accomplishments away: Geoffrey was a decorated (then disgraced) hero in World War I, while Hugh has not managed to see action in the Spanish Civil War; Geoffrey married (and lost) the woman Hugh loves; etc.
  • Ron Weasley from the Harry Potter series. To start off with, he's always in the shadows of his older brothers who areHead Boy, Captain of the Quidditch Team, another head boy, and popular pranksters. Add to the fact that his best friends are respectively the legendary Harry and brilliant Hermione, Ron suffers a massive inferiority complex for much of the series. This gets a huge lampshade when he sees himself in the Mirror of Erised and when when he is taunted by the Horcrux in the locket before he destroys it.
  • Denethor and Faramir in The Lord of the Rings. Denethor was second best in his youth to Thorongil in both his father's heart and his people's, which left him very bitter. He grew so afraid of this trope (being second best to Gandalf in his son's and knights' respect and affection, being second best to Aragorn in honor and glory in his people's opinion) that it is one of the reasons he succumbed to despair in the end and committed suicide. As for Faramir, he was deemed second to his brother by his people all his life, being less flamboyant and more gentle and scholarly in nature than Boromir in those times of war, but he never grew jealous about it. He also accepted to be second to Aragorn with grace after the war.
  • Elleston Trevor's Bury Him Among Kings is a World War I novel about the Sibling Rivalry between two brothers, the younger of whom feels Always Second Best.
  • Exaggerated in the Star Wars Expanded Universe novel Wraith Squadron. One of the pilots, Falynn Sandskimmer, feels this way about herself. She's second-best in several areas (TIE pilot, security expert, scout), but doesn't see herself as number one at anything. She fails to see how her versatility makes her valuable (she's number two to several different people). At the end of the novel, she makes a desperate attempt to be "first" at something; she succeeds, but dies in the process.
    • Fellow squadron member Tyria Sarkin also has this problem, considering herself the worst pilot in the group. It doesn't help that she is a Force sensitive that was considered too weak to be a Jedi. She gets better about it, eventually becoming a full Jedi. Rather ironically, she is one of those that Falynn considers herself weaker than, serving as the pointman during raids.
  • In the Halo novels, Fred is this to John (Master Chief), in every area. John is convinced he does this on purpose so he doesn't have to be in charge.
  • Zhou Yu towards Zhuge Liang in Romance of the Three Kingdoms. As a matter of fact, Zhou supposedly died out of despair out of this trope. This dynamic even caused this trope to be called the "Yu-Liang Complex" in China—although it was not historically true.
    Zhou Yu: If [Heaven] have gave birth to Yu, why did [he] give birth to Liang?!
  • Our Dumb World, brought to you by The Onion, says this about South Korea.
  • In The Book of Joe, this is how Joe feels in comparison to his older brother Brad especially in their father's eyes- mostly thanks to Brad's sporting prowess. Touchingly subverted when Joe finds out how proud his father was of his literary career.
  • The mysterious villain of the Anthony Horowitz book I Know What You Did Last Wednesday, Captain Randle/Johnny Nadler, came second in every subject and never really stood out of the group he was part of in school (which consisted of everybody who came first). He doesn't respond too well; he lures everybody who bested him to a secluded island and kills them with cruel and ironic death traps which somehow relate to the subject they beat him in.
  • Warrior Cats:
    • Tigerstar suffered from this. He claims that he was a great warrior, but as soon as Bluestar discovered Firestar, he was reduced to "a great warrior, just not as good as Firestar".
    • Ashfur in the second arc, The New Prophecy. He would be the best choice for deputy...if not for Brambleclaw. He could have been StarClan's chosen one...if not for Brambleclaw. He could have had Squirrelflight's affections...if not for Brambleclaw. See the pattern?
    • Gray Wing from Dawn of the Clans to his brother Clear Sky. He's the Tribe's second best hunter after Clear Sky, second place in their little brother Jagged Peak's Big Brother Worship, and second place romantically to Clear Sky's mate Bright Stream and second mate Storm. It stems from Gray Wing being a deconstruction of series protagonist Firestar.
  • A major source of tension in the romance between Locke and Sabetha of the Gentleman Bastard series. The two of them are equally skilled grifters. However, Locke very easily wins the recognition that Sabetha craves, often stumbling into it by accident. It's unclear how much of this is due to sexism and how much is due to Locke's penchant for insane, flamboyant, improvised schemes (as opposed to Sabetha's meticulous preplanning).

    Live Action TV 
  • In Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Dr. Julian Bashir graduated second in his class from Star Fleet Medical. For a while he seemed to have a bit of a complex about this, until it was decided that he did it on purpose so as not to draw too much attention to himself.
  • Amanda Kimmel and Russell Hantz both made it to the final Tribal Council on Survivor twice in a row. And both lost twice. In a row.
  • The Brady Bunch:
    • Bobby's dilemma in "The Winner," from Season 2.
    • Jan's famous cry, "Marcia Marcia Marcia!!!" in "Her Sister's Shadow."
  • The writers of Merlin have set up an interesting dynamic between Arthur and Lancelot that seems to be based on this trope in which both of them are always second best to the other. Where Arthur is arrogant, Lancelot is humble, yet he has been the only male character thus far that has ever been able to best Arthur in combat. However, he declines membership into Arthur's knights as he considers himself unworthy. Later, on noticing that Arthur clearly has feelings for Guinevere, Lancelot bows out of the Love Triangle without a fight so as not to get in the way of Arthur's intentions - even though he obviously had the more advantageous suit. Lancelot is only second best to Arthur because he chooses to be - and Arthur knows it.
    • Conversely, Lancelot adores Merlin and Guinevere to the point of worship. He has stepped into the void for their sakes. However, their lives revolve completely around Arthur, and he's all they ever seem to talk about in Lancelot's presence.
  • Part of the Sibling Rivalry between Niles and Frasier Crane stems from the fact that they both consider themselves this trope. Whether it be the success of their personal lives (for much of the show's run, Frasier was twice-divorced and once left at the altar, while Niles was mired in a miserable, abusive marriage), the prestige of their professions (Frasier had fame from his radio show, while Niles's private practice was more dignified and lucrative), their parents' love (they both took after their dead mother, and barely resemble their father at all), or anything else under the sun, a staple of their dynamic was to declare they were better than the other, rub the other's face in it, and then privately worry that the other was better than them.
  • Friends: Played with between Chandler and Richard. Chandler feels like he's second best to Richard, who is the mature, sophisticated man he always wanted to be and the love of Monica's life. In fact Richard is second best to Chandler, as when faced with a choice between the two, Monica picks Chandler (with all his immaturity and quirks) over the seemingly perfect Richard and repeatedly reassures him he is the love of her life.
    • Prior to this Chandler was also second best to Joey whenever they tried to pick up girls. Though again subverted when Joey's serious girlfriend falls for Chandler instead. (Though he still worries he's second best in bed, so much of his belief he's second best comes from his own rampant insecurities).
  • There was a commercial in which the main character was a man who had a history of being second-best at everything he'd ever done, and had developed something of a complex about that fact. However, the fact that he has managed to get second place at everything should mean he's still ridiculously talented in a wide range of skills.
  • Allison Harvard reached the final Runway of America's Next Top Model in Cycle 12 and 17. She finished 2nd both times.
  • Saturday Night Live once did a commercial parody for "The People's Second Choice Awards". Hosted by Ed McMahon, celebrity presenters included Oates, Tom Wopat (referred to as "the dark haired guy from The Dukes of Hazzard"), etc.
  • The Vampire Diaries: Damon Salvatore fits this trope.
    • After the events of 4x20, Katherine Pierce may qualify in regards to Elijah. She finally admits she loves him and wants to be with him, and he chooses his brother over her. For the third or fourth time. This has also happened to her various times throughout her life.

  • "Beautiful Loser" by Bob Seger (see the page quote) sums up someone who fits this trope nicely.
  • Small Faces were considered this to The Who, who were themselves considered this to The Beatles.
  • Any musical act that has had several songs go to #2 but has never had a #1. In the United States, Creedence Clearwater Revival are the kings of this trope, reaching #2 five times without ever hitting the top spot.
    • By 1981 Foreigner scored five Top 10 hits in Billboard, with "Double Vision" hitting #2. Then "Waiting For a Girl Like You" spent an agonizing ten weeks at #2, kept out of the top spot mainly by Olivia Newton-John's "Physical". They finally got to #1 with "I Want To Know What Love Is" in 1984.
  • Dave Mustaine's band Megadeth have always been behind his former band Metallica in terms of popularity. He has long been frustrated about this situation (as heard in the documentary Some Kind Of Monster), despite being extremely successful himself, just out of sheer rivalry.
  • In their documentary, Fearless Vampire Killer's Laurence Beveridge admits to feeling this about Kier Kemp. Both sing and play rhythm guitar for the band and were best friends since they were 9. Laurence feels that Kier is a better singer than himself and that people notice Kier more than himself.
    • Conversely, Kier Kemp also feels this to a lesser extent about Laurence. He says that he feels inferior to Laurence based on his ability to perform and get a crowd going.
  • Boy bands One Direction and The Wanted were considered equals...until the former soared to international superstardom while the latter got completely flattened by their rivals.
  • Paul Simon has complained from time to time about people viewing him as this in comparison to Bob Dylan.
  • "Baker Street" by Gerry Rafferty spent six weeks at #2 in 1978, trailing "Shadow Dancing" by Andy Gibb all of those weeks. Reliable sources (scroll down) report that some backroom shenanigans at Billboard prevented Rafferty from hitting #1.

    Video Games 
  • In Tales of Legendia, Shirley is always getting overlooked by her big sister Stella, as well as both sisters' mutual love interest, Senel. Senel continues to choose Stella over Shirley even after Stella dies partway through the game.
  • Juan Corrida to Matt Engarde in Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney: Justice for All. Even in Jerkassery.
  • Yellow, the professional StarCraft gamer, was titled king of second place for always getting oh so close to the gold, but never EVER winning a major title. Another gamer, Stork, had inherited his title until finally getting a gold in a relatively recent finals.
    • Further, in Starcraft 2, Marine King Prime has been in more GSL finals than anyone else (3 out of 5 so far) and has come in 2nd every time.
  • Dex from Mega Man Battle Network, he even has to lie to his little brother Chisao to hide this fact.
    • In the classic series, this trope is intergal to Dr. Wily's backstory. Despite winning many awards in robotics, Wily was consistently second place to Dr. Light despite his best efforts. This eventually drives him completely insane, and he becomes obsessed with taking over the world primarily just to prove that he's better than Light.
  • The Rivals from the Pokémon games, especially Blue and Silver. They're all highly skilled trainers who manage to beat all eight Gym Leaders (and, in Blue's case, the Elite Four) yet always manage to lose to the player. The first two generations tied this into An Aesop about The Power of Love, but in the third and fourth generations, you're just better than them.
  • Aperture Science to Black Mesa. In Portal 2, you come across several second-place trophies in the 1950s Aperture Science area; it is implied they lost every time to Black Mesa. This is after they've been shown to go out of their way to engage in everything they do in the most ridiculous, inefficient, dangerous, and/or pointless manner possible, so what they succeed at must be rather phenomenal. On the other hand, there is a branch in which Aperture managed to trump Black Mesa: Potato Sciences.
  • Luigi in the Super Mario series, every version, has had to feel this his entire life. Every time he wants to do something, Mario beats him to it or outperforms him when the brothers are both present. This has since become a defining character trait for Luigi from Luigi's Mansion and onward, with him nearly snapping in Mario & Luigi: Partners in Time.
  • Subverted in Touhou: Marisa's pretty proud of being second only to Reimu, since it means she's still skilled enough to take on everybody else, even without any special powers of her own.
  • Riki from Little Busters! sees himself as this - not as strong as Masato, as strong-willed as Kengo, or as generally perfect as Kyousuke, or anything really all that special in general. It actually doesn't bother him, though, and he's content to just follow after his friends for his whole life.
    • Also, Haruka is this for her twin sister, Kanata. Their parents enforced a heavy competition between them as to which would be the heir and which the unnecessary child, and in almost everything Kanata would win. She takes it much worse than Riki, though.
  • In Class Trip Crush, twins Taketo and Yasuto Kanzaki manage to be mutually Always Second Best to one another. Taketo is good at everything he puts his hand to, where Yasuto is rather clumsy outside of baseball and quite conscious of that fact; Taketo, however, describes Yasuto as a "genius" and observes that no one can possibly match him at the one thing he's devoted all of his effort to. The feeling that he couldn't measure up to his brother led Taketo to switch from the baseball team to soccer team to avoid competing with Yasuto, and his route shows that he has something of a complex about it.
  • In Batman: Arkham Series, The Riddler is this to Batman. His attempts to prove himself the intellectual superior through his riddles and deathtraps only serve to disprove this notion when Batman constantly defeats him. In fact during one of his Death Trap scenarios when Edward attempts to cheat, in order to "outwit" the Dark Knight, it fails because Batman is also better at cheating.

     Web Original 
  • 2nd HOTTEST GIRL (A Love Song), a song by Tobuscus is about the 2nd hottest girl on a show who will always be second hottest.
  • In Noob, this is explictly the situation of Amaras in regards to Fantöm until it turns out that Fantöm had been unknowingly getting an illegal boost from the game creators and the creators delete Fantöm's avatar in an attempt to cover their tracks and make Fantöm's player the scapegoat. These events automatically made Amaras number one.

    Western Animation 
  • Disney's Aladdin:
    Aladdin: (to snake Jafar) The genie has more power than you'll ever have!
    Jafar: What?!
    Aladdin: He gave you your power, he can take it away! Face it Jafar, you're still just second best!
    • In The Return Of Jafar, the tables were turned. Jafar was delighted enough to make a whole song taunting Genie, "You're Only Second Rate".
    • Even before he got the genie, Jafar was Always Second Best in another way; by being beneath the Sultan, who he saw as immature and unfit to rule (and... he was kinda right). The reason he fell for Aladdin's goading so much toward the end might have been because he couldn't stand the thought of still being second-best after all he'd gained.
  • The Simpsons had an episode where a new student was slightly better than Lisa at everything, mostly slightly more knowledgeable and better on the sax. She even has a dream where she performs in "Garfunkel, Messina, Oates, and Lisa", the second-most popular band in America, which is sponsored by Avis Rent-a-Car and has a #2 single called "Born To Runner-Up". She awakes wondering why people would come to the concert just to boo them.
    • Lisa's voice actress Yeardley Smith even remarked about how often Lisa would enter a contest and end up in second place; two notable examples are Mr. Lisa Goes to Washington and Lisa the Beauty Queen. Also when she entered a cruciverbalism (crosswords) contest, she went to the finals and lost to Gil.
    • Whenever there's a bake sale the food Marge bakes will always be 2nd place.
  • Cars: Apparently, Chick Hicks has been "chasing that tail fin" his entire career, always trying to beat The King. He wins the big race, but the fans were so upset at what he did to win the "victory" wasn't worth it.
  • In South Park this is apparently why Bono is quite an overachiever: To his father, he will always be a "Number Two." Bono IS literally a number two, thus revealing why he also holds the record for the biggest shit ever taken.
  • In ThunderCats (2011)
    • This is present with young Prince Lion-O and his adoptive older brother Tygra, a beneficiary of Parental Favoritism who actively upstages Lion-O every chance he gets. Tygra makes an explicit point of successfully taunting Lion-O during some Gladiator Games, ensuring Lion-O loses his temper, and with it, the match.
      Tygra: When it comes to everything except the crown, you're always going to be second place.
    • In fact, Tygra tries to be Always Someone Better because of a deep Inferiority Superiority Complex, and an abiding suspicion that as a mere Spare to the Throne, he will forever lose to Lion-O, a motivation underscored when Tygra bitterly rants about how Lion-O's taken away both his chance to wear the crown, and, he suspects, his chance to romance Cheetara, the Love Interest of their Sibling Triangle.

    Real Life 
  • Michael Jordan had his own personal Second Best in the form of Clyde Drexler, who was known in his prime as "the best player in the NBA not named 'Jordan.'"
  • The Dallas Cowboys in the late 1960s fit this trope. They couldn't quite win the NFL championship, resulting in several infamous defeats. There was a book written at the time, sarcastically titled Next Year's Champions. They finally broke the jinx with a 24-3 victory over Don Shula's Miami Dolphins in Super Bowl VI.
  • The ancient Greek philosopher Eratosthenes was nicknamed "Beta" by one of his contemporaries, because he was supposedly "the second-best in the world at everything". This means this trope is one of the oldest ones in the book. Carl Sagan said in Cosmos, however, that Eratosthenes was clearly Alpha at many things, since among other achievements he was the first to scientifically and correctly measure the circumference of the Earth. Using nothing but sticks, shadows, and a bit of mathematics.
  • A dreaded moniker in golf circles is "best player never to win a major." Phil Mickelson was stuck with this moniker until he won the Masters in 2004.
  • Raymond Poulidor, a French cyclist known for always ranking second (or close to second) in the races he participated in, to the point that his name became a French expression: "X is the Poulidor of this game," meaning X always comes second.
  • In South Korea, professional StarCraft player Hong Jin-Ho earned the nickname "King of Silver" after he managed to come in 2nd place in 6 different major tournaments but never won one.