"My purebred racing snail, which cost me seventeen hundred dollars, lost to a rock."A character is in a competition of some sort, and is clearly the best of the competition (in the eyes of the viewer and the other characters). The character ends up losing, however, to an obviously inferior character. Often used to effect the Status Quo Game Show trope, while still showing how good the character is at what s/he does. Related to Dark Horse Victory, Ironic Inversion, Dude, Where's My Reward?, Shaggy Dog Story. A common victim of One Judge to Rule Them All. Subtrope of Non-Protagonist Resolver.
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- In one of The Simpsons comic books, the school has an art competition. Everyone turns out something, and some of them are pretty good. The winner, however, is Bart who submitted a blank easel still in its packaging. He claimed that he was 'Drawing a blank', and the art critic who was judging the competition loved it.
- The Hurricane opens up with Rubin Carter finishing a fight against Joey Giardello and inexplicably losing even though Giardello hardly seems able to stand up. Interestingly, this isn't how the fight actually happened- Giardello sued the filmmakers for libel, angrily claiming that he won the fight fair and square.
- In Real Life Giardello pretty much controlled the fight from beginning to end.
- In Hot Dog The Movie, Harkin Banks is a newcomer to the world of competitive skiing, and delivers clearly the best skiing of anyone. But he is given far worse scores than his snobby rival, Rudi Garmisch, who admittedly delivers excellent skiing, but who is given top scores so he can continue to attract money and fame to the ski lodge.
Live Action TV
- In the Good Eats episode "Scrap Iron Chef", despite much cheating on both sides and Alton being the obvious winner (the judges praised his cooking and called the Scrap Iron Chef's food crap), the Scrap Iron Chef won anyway. This is certainly a jab at the Iron Chef series, where the Iron Chefs always seem to win.
- Played for laughs in Monty Python's Flying Circus. In the "Summarizing Proust" Competition, the host feels that none of the contestants delivered an award-worthy performance, so he gives it to "the girl with the biggest tits", who wasn't even in the competition.
- The season finale of Glee. We don't see Aural Intensity's performance, and Vocal Adrenaline does "Bohemian Rhapsody". New Directions did a Journey medley that had people dancing in the aisles, yet they got THIRD PLACE OUT OF THREE. Showing the judges' deliberations helps somewhat; actual talent seems to be not even on the criteria list. One judge even moves his vote off of New Directions just to spite Sue.
- And one member of New Directions remarks that Aural Intensity's performance is a mash-up of two songs sung by two of the judges. Is it against contest rules to suck up?
- Vocal Adrenaline's performance was (allowing for differences in taste) quite good, however, it WAS clear that the intent of the episode was that the New Directions should have at least taken second place.
- This kicks off the plot of a Kamen Rider Double story arc. Shotaro's Joshikousei informants Queen and Elizabeth enter an American Idol-style singing contest, and do well in their first two weeksnote . In the third week, they come up against a guy whose singing is so terrible it knocks birds out of the sky and causes earthquakes, but the judges absolutely adore him. Naturally the girls are suspicious, so they hire Shotaro to investigate. No points for guessing that a Dopant is involved, but not in the way it might seem.
- When developing a Fighting Game, beginners being able to beat experts is widely seen as the thing to avoid at all costs, sometimes regardless of how well-made the rest of the game is.
- In Atelier Annie, you need to win the gold prize in all six challenges to win the competition and get the two best endings. If you fail in this, Julian wins instead. Where this trope comes into play is that whenever you win a gold prize, you run into Julian in a cutscene whining about how he only got the silver this time. So if you win 5 out of 6, Julian wins the prize despite only getting one Gold to your five. Even if your non-gold trophy was a silver!
- Another ridiculous ending is even if you got first place all the time, if you have not maxed out everyones friendship levels, you still lose due to not being successful enough at making your businesses profitable, even if you are a multimillionaire a dozen times over.
- Princess Maker 2 has a dance competition where you can influcence the sole judge beforehand. If this affects the results, the second place finisher will ask why your girl won if it was based on merit.
- In Bob and George, the robot Ran Cossack's backstory is that Kalinka Cossack built him for a Science Fair. They lost to a giant model volcano, because Kalinka is a girl. And we obviously can't give the prize to a girl, right?note
- In Gastrophobia, Phobia and Klepto have a cooking match to prove who's the better cook. Phobia makes squirrel-bacon applesauce. Klepto invents apple pie. Phobia wins by default because Klepto is just a slave.
- The WWWF Grudge Match has had a few matches where the winner wasn't quite who you would expect:
- Flipper over Jaws. Not only did Flipper win the vote, but he was also one of the few contestants who both commentators agreed would be the winner. This was actually an experiment, where Steve and Brian wondered if people would vote for the obviously weaker side if they saw that both commentators agreed it was the stronger.
- In the Worst Actress competition, the winner is "All Mangled And Killed." This alone isn't particularly strange, except it wasn't a fight, it was an Academy Award. Then again, Godzilla was at the award show in the scenario, so this might not be so cracky.
- The Toy Story crew over Chucky Doll. In this case they make a convincing argument for it though.
- In the Tournament of Champions IV, the crew of the Satellite of Love crew managed to win against Godzilla, The Grim Reaper, Boba Fett, Spock, and 80, 000 English Soccer Hooligans.
- In the Tournament of Losers, Calvin wins against Jason Voorhees, Spiderman, Bruce Lee, Lara Croft, and The Incredible Hulk.
- A lot of people had this reaction when Emperor Palpatine beat Q, especially since the arguments for his side mainly consist of bizarrely expressed Jar-Jar hate.
- In the Strong Bad Email "senior prom", despite being "the only girl" in the Homestar Runner universe, Marzipan loses the title of prom queen to "Strong Bad with no pants on". Her reaction ("Every freakin' year...") implies this isn't the first time something like this has happened.
- The Simpsons:
Lisa: Thank you Mr. President!Bill Clinton: Thank you Lisa for teaching kids everywhere a valuable lesson. If things don't go your way just keep complaining until your dreams come true.Marge: That's a pretty lousy lesson.Bill Clinton: Hey, I'm a pretty lousy President.
- "Saddlesore Galactica": In the subplot, Lisa's school plays "Living in America" at a state fair band competition; your winner, however, is some school who plays The Stars And Stripes Forever, but has red, white, and blue glow sticks at the end (Lisa believes that those are illegal, and indeed they are). It takes President Clinton himself to overturn this decision, resulting in a Spoof Aesop.
- "Lisa's Rival": Lisa reluctantly enlists Bart's aid in attempting to defeat her new rival in a diorama competition. However, Ralph Wiggum's 'diorama', which is nothing but a bunch of Star Wars action figures in their original packaging, wins the competition, making this an example of both a Crack Defeat and a Dark Horse Victory.
- The episode where Lisa is being forced to throw a Spelling Bee... and then accidentally loses anyway was very nearly a Crack Defeat, and was set up to be one, then she lost, but was lauded roundly for coming second. So subverted there.
- And once again with another episode where Lisa decided to use Bart as a guinea pig for a science project (out of spite for him ruining her original one on a practical joke) dubbed "Is My Brother Dumber Than A Hamster?". When it comes time to show her results at the fair, she's shown up and actually beaten by Bart who simply dresses up a hamster with a tiny scarf and goggles, puts him a model plane and appeals simply for cute factor. (He does later apologize to Lisa though, you have to see the scene on DVD as syndication cuts out that part.)
- The Simpsons really seems to love this trope, featuring it in not only the above mentioned examples, but twice in "Deep Space Homer'', wherein Homer loses Employee of the Week award to an inanimate carbon rod, then, after damaging and accidentally repairing the door on the space shuttle using a rod - and being credited as such by Buzz Aldrin - the crowd again focuses only on the carbon rod.
- One episode (the infamous school election one where Bart runs) actually deconstructs this. Everyone is so sure that Bart will win the election that only two students (Bart's opponent Martin and a friend of his) voted, and Martin won.
- The Spongebob Squarepants episode 'The Great Snail Race' had Spongebob, Squidward, and Patrick's pet snails (Gary, Snellie, and Rocky respectively) pitting against each other. Snellie, who is a purebred snail, would've won, but she forfeited and comforted an overworked Gary. So the winner? Rocky! Yes, a literal rock.
- The Weekenders, "Talent Show": In an Ironic Inversion, Lor, The Ditz, is the only member of the gang competing in a local talent show instead of the gang's artistic genius Tish (Tish's snub goes unexplained). Lor's act: Playing guitar and singing "Home on the Range". After all is said and done, Tish is adjusting Lor's 2nd place ribbon backstage, as Lor doesn't understand how Bluke won with his act: throwing hams in the air.
- Just to be clear, Bluke's act wasn't juggling hams. His act was just throwing hams in the air and letting them fall back down.
- All Grown Up!:
- "Truth or Consequences": Tommy Pickles' entry in a student film competition is chock-full of footage of him and his friends when they were young. However, Kimi comments, after the contest, "You should have won, that 'Mad Cow from Planet Moo' was a snore fest..."
- "The Science Pair": After Tommy's forfeited his entry in the school science fair, the winner is a project that involves the culturing of mold... played mostly as comic relief.
- Tiny Toon Adventures: In a film competition (which, among other entries, had a 42-hour "tone poem"), Plucky Duck wins with a five-second film chosen because it was short. His entry was originally longer, but he had to keep cutting due to the 42 hour film.
- An episode of Doug had Doug, Skeeter, and Patti (with later help from Connie) trying to write a song for a town anthem competition. Theirs may or may not have been the best entry (and turned out to be more of a poem with accompaniment than a song, thanks to Patti being Hollywood Tone-Deaf), but by no account should Fentruck's overly-long and barely-intelligible song, "Bluffington, You Do Not Disgust Me", have won.
- Seems to be a Running Gag for Tobey on WordGirl, though occasionally justified by having cheated in the first place. Even then, however, the fact that Violet usually wins instead makes the defeat rather cracky.
- On Futurama, Leela lost a martial arts match after beating up the other competitors because she lacks the 'will of the warrior'. In other words, she's female.
- In the Phineas and Ferb episode 'Unfair Science Fair', Doof enters a grade school science fair because of a long history of entering them as a child, always with creations remarkable for someone his age (or anyone really), and losing every single time to a baking soda volcano. He later gave up science fairs and tried writing poetry, but, curiously, still lost to a baking soda volcano.
- In A Boy Named Charlie Brown, Charlie Brown manages a 'self-Crack Defeat. He has advanced to the final two in the National Spelling Bee, and gets the word "Beagle" - Snoopy's species! and misspells it!
- On Celebrity Deathmatch, David Spade manages to kill Steven Seagal in a David & Goliath matchup, near literally too as Seagal is actually taken out by Spade slingshotting a rock through his brain.
- This also happens in the fight of Genghis Khan vs Mahatma Gandhi... Gandhi actually wins without Khan even landing a single hit. Though it's later justified as it's revealed that the time machine that brought them to the arena switched their personalities.
- An episode of Jimmy Two-Shoes had Jimmy becoming a pro-wrestler, and in every fight he's in, he wins despite not knowing a single fight move.
Can be extended to a character fit for a certain job being spurned in favor of someone inferior:
- In the NES game Punch-Out!!, you'd better KO your opponent in the title bouts, or else the judges will always vote for the other guy. Mr. Sandman and Bald Bull fight 2 must also be KOed even though he isn't a circuit champion. You can win on points in other matches, though it takes a ludicrous amount. The 2nd Bald Bull is particularly egregious as it's possible to dodge every single one of his punches and hit him several times and still get a loss from the judges.
- King of the Hill: After having a heart attack, the boss of the propane company Hank Hill works at asks Hank to "take care of my dogs", and he thinks that boss is metaphorically telling him to take care of the company, so he accepts the job. Turns out boss literally does mean to take care of his dogs, while some other guy is taking charge of the company and putting "tattleboxes" in the propane delivery trucks, which royally pisses off the drivers and ruins productivity.
- All Grown Up!, "Interview with a Campfire": No-talent Angelica Pickles and talented singer Susie Carmichael are auditioning for the lead in a camp musical. After all is said and done, both Kimi and Lil think Susie had the better audition for the lead role in the play (although we have to take their word for it). However, come play time, she's only in a supporting role.
- Codename: Kids Next Door, "Operation ELECTIONS": Nigel walks out to a presidential podium to make a speech before he finds out that he lost his 4th Grade President election to the Delightful Children. After being told that he in fact did win the election (in a scene where we find out that the Delightfuls weren't even on the ballot), he spends the rest of the episode involved in a war between the elementary school and middle school. At the end though, he finds out that he was lied to, and the real election results gave the win to another student — minor background character, Eggbert Eggelstein.
- Who was once shown trying to eat a candy bar while forgetting that he was wearing a space helmet, so that should give some idea about how terrible Eggbert (and the student body who elected him including Nigel's squadron!) is.
- Teacher's Pet: Ian (the gross kid) somehow manages to squeak past both Scott and Leonard to win class president in an election Decided by One Vote.
- Straddling on the fence... Rugrats, "Moving Away": Angelica Pickles' mom Charlotte has packed her bags, and is ready to move (with Angelica and hubby Drew) cross-country to New York to be the new Vice President of her company. After Angelica recounts with the rest of the Rugrats on how they met in the first place, Charlotte's plans have hit one major snag: her assistant, Jonathan has taken the job ahead of his apparent superior. "There's no loyalty in this town!"
- While it might be straddling the fence, it's also the big motivating factor of The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie. Despite being employee of the month for months on end, being a damn good cook and always willing to sacrifice everything for Mr. Krabs, when said boss opens up a second Krusty Krab, it goes to... Squidward, on account that Spongebob's just "a kid".
Usually the dubious decision goes unexplained, but in these examples, there is an excuse for such dubious judging:
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- In one episode of Pokémon Best Wishes, Ash, Iris and Cilan enter the Wishing Bell Festival, a multi-structured competition which sees them doing various activities. One of such was dressing up as certain Gym Leader and imitating them and their Pokemon. Cilan draws Elesa and actually does a decent job of imitating her. But the judge, Miles, disqualifies him because he's a fanboy of hers and really picky about the imitation. Even Cilan lampshades how biased this is.
- In Stick It, one of the gymnasts performs a difficult vault with impeccable skill, but loses points because of a technicality: her bra strap was showing. As she herself points out, the judges were overtly biased against her coach and were exploiting this rule as a covert mean of revenge. This event causes the rebellion that makes up the remainder of the film, and is apparently a problem in real life; in actual gymnastic competitions the complex rules and unnecessary penalties confuse viewers and allow biased judges to deliberately alter the outcome.
- One of Dewey Finn's lies in School of Rock has him telling about how he auditioned for an orchestra and ended up getting spurned in favor of a relative of Yo Yo Ma's. Dewey: "A little nepotisssss!"
- Played straight when Velma sings about her former stint as Ms. Baltimore Crabs.
- "Those poor runners-up my stay hold some grudges. They padded their bras, but I screwed the judges."
- Inverted as well, at the film's end. Velma attempts to stuff the ballots for another contest, so that her own daughter will win. However she is caught. This prevents future Crack Defeat from happening, not only for her own family personally, but destroys the ability to for the network execs to meddle based on race from then on.
- Played straight when Velma sings about her former stint as Ms. Baltimore Crabs.
- Obligatory Discworld example: At the end of Maskerade, Agnes's annoying and tone-deaf roommate Christine is the one who looks forward to a brilliant future as a diva while Agnes, who actually did all the singing every time Christine appeared onstage, is shunted off to one side. The stage manager Walter Plinge tells her that yes, she was very good, better than Christine will ever be even after years of training — but Christine is naturally a star, which in the opera world is more important than being talented.
- Justified in Piers Anthony's Apprentice Adept novels, where main character Stile and master musician Clef compete in a harmonica-playing contest. Clef plays a flawless rendition of a technically demanding but uninteresting piece, but Stile puts on a more entertaining show and freely improvises while performing. Clef gets the Game Computer's point for technical merit, but Stile is voted the audience's favorite, so the two will have to play again to break the tie. This time, they will have to play a duet, and the winner will be judged by a panel of expert musicians. During the duet, Clef incorporates Stile's techniques into his own playing, and gives a truly great performance; the two of them end up winning a special award for having performed the best harmonica duet in the history of the competition. However, although both the Game Computer and the audience both recommended that Clef be named the winner, the judges instead award the victory to Stile: Clef showed more improvement when playing with Stile than Stile did when playing with Clef, which, to them, demonstrated that it was Stile's superior skill at being a supporting performer which was really responsible for the amazing duet they played together.
Live Action TV
- The Torkelsons: Dorothy Jane Torkelson is in the finals of a contest whose winner will get to be a foreign exchange student in Paris. Her family situation gets high marks, and the judges do seem to like her... but still loses anyway because the family in France wanted a boy. Thus making the finals completely meaningless since there was only one boy out of the three finalists.
- Mind you, when Dorothy first meets said finalist, she pretty much says, "There's no way I'll lose to you" before getting concerned at the other finalist.
- In one episode of That's So Raven, Raven and Chelsea apply for jobs at the department store. Chelsea is clearly completely useless at the job, but is chosen over the more competent Raven. It turns out the manager is racist.
- Small Wonder: Vicky and her neighbor vie for the title of "Little Miss Shopping Mall", and the other competitor doesn't seem to be of much trouble since she keeps dropping her baton. Vicky seems to have the advantage over her neighbor. But in the end, baton girl wins simply by being the daughter of the shopping mall owners.
- It has also cut the other way: there isn't much applause for the Bradys' act in a talent show in The Brady Bunch Movie, but they win it anyway because the judges are The Monkees (!).
- Similar to the above, the Father Ted episode 'A Song For Ireland' sees Ted's hopelessly lame song "My Lovely Horse" (whose melody consists of one note played over and over again) triumph over Father Dick Byrne's obviously superior effort to be nominated as Ireland's Eurovision Song Contest entry... because the Irish organisers are sick of always winning Eurovision because it was getting too expensive to host (Which was true, because at the time, Ireland had just had a three-year winning streak at the ESC.) Needless to say, they don't tell Ted this. Needless to say, Ted doesn't win Eurovision, a rare case of Springtime for Hitler actually working.
- An episode of Family Matters, the Winslows engage in a rivalry with another couple in a dance competition. Right before the final showdown, the couples reconcile and decide to split the top prize. Unfortunately, they are told that this is illegal ... so first place goes to "the commissioner's kids."
- Another episode has Laura and Myra competing for the job of a sales associate at a department store. Myra is very friendly with the customers and racks up a larger number of sales than Laura. Then it's realized that Laura's mother Harriet is very friendly with the manager and Myra suggests that if she loses, it's because of this. The manager assures that this will not happen, but he picks Laura anyway. Myra complains that she had twice as many sales as Laura and the manager responds that she also had three times as many returns. It turns out Myra didn't know when to stop complimenting the customers and ended up telling them they looked good in outfits when they actually didn't. (When all is said and done, Laura asks for confirmation that was the reason she got the job. It was.)
- Happens all the time on Reality Shows, with the exact justifications depending on the format:
- Eliminated From The Race (The Amazing Race): A normally-excellent team just has a really bad day and comes in last.
- Voted off the Island (Survivor, Big Brother US): Plot and scheme all you want, you still have to please the other competitors so they'll keep you around. Many players have been voted out for being too good and a threat to others' success.
- Single judge competitions (The Apprentice, Hell's Kitchen): Players have been awesome businessmen, chefs, or whatever; but as soon as they pissed off the judge they didn't have a prayer.
- In Breath of Fire II, Petape hits upon the idea of flushing out the impostor pretending to be her brother Tapeta by holding a cooking contest. For all his Cloud Cuckoolander tendencies, Tapeta is a superb chef, and Petape suspects rightly that he will easily beat the impostor, especially with the high-quality ingredients the party obtains from the powerful insect monsters lurking in the castle's basement. While the head chef gives high marks to the impostor's dishes, he's positively ecstatic about Tapeta's - but each time, he finds some nit-picky reason to deduct points. This comes to a head when the chef comes to a dessert made using only the most rare and exquisite fly in existence and Petape calls him out. Unsurprisingly, it turns out that the impostor has rigged the vote.
- In NCAA Football, players who utterly dominate the league to the tune of doubling or even tripling NCAA records will often lose the Heisman trophy. On a Meta-level, this is done to oppose AI abuse. But within the game they track a player's sportsmanship, and it is not possible to so thoroughly destroy existing records without ruthlessly running up the score every single week.
- The Sluggy Freelance arc "Torg Potter and the Sorcerer's Nuts" does this as a direct parody of the "last minute points" scene in the first Harry Potter film/book. House Wunnybun (the equivalent of Slytherin) has won the house cup with 534 points, while House Snackewyrm (the equivalent of Gryffindor) comes in last with minus a billion. At the awards ceremony, headmaster Gandledorf announces that's he's granting his Snackewyrm niece a trillion points for "being so gosh darn cute," making Snackewyrm the winner instead. He later confides to Torg that he just didn't want to mess up his paperwork by treating Wunnybun with respect.
- In the Strong Bad Email "pet show", the Cheat is the only actual pet entered — the competition consists of the cookie jar version of Pom Pom's dog Trivia Time, the King of Town's George Foreman grill, and Homestar Runner (entered by Marzipan). After sabotaging the contest by (A) tainting the least favorable judge's water with "Puke Drops", (B) breaking Trivia Time, and (C) gnawing on the grill's power cable, the Cheat winds up disqualified "for flagrant use of relish-foot" — a prank Homestar played on Strong Bad when he wasn't looking. As in, Homestar scooped relish onto Strong Bad's own foot and somehow this led to a disqualification. Homestar probably didn't even know it would affect the outcome; he'd just been trying to do that since the beginning of the cartoon.
- Kim Possible, "Hidden Talent": In yet another hybrid of Crack Defeat and Dark Horse Victory, Ron stalls for Kim (who is trying to escape an especially elaborate death trap) in the school talent show with an eclectic (and exhaustive) list of vaudeville acts (e.g., ventriloquism, breaking bricks with his head, and performing the National Anthem by running his fingers across the rims of wine goblets), and ends up winning first place over Kim and Bonnie's big, flashy acts (Bonnie dances ballet, while KP performs "Say the Word", a song by Christy Romano, her voice actress). Barkin proclaims, "Proving that quantity is indeed better than quality".
- Playing with this trope is Hey Arnold!, "Family Man", where restaurant cook Hyunh (see Celebrity Is Overrated) is concerned that his new boss will pick an inferior cook as his new head chef because he has a large family, and Hyunh only has a daughter (who doesn't even appear in the story). Though it's averted later when the boss says he was always going to promote Hyunh over the other guy 'because' he is a better cook.
- Rocket Power included a sand castle contest. The various entrants spent lots of time and effort on elaborate sand sculptures, but first place went to a little girl who made a tiny sand tower with a bucket. Reason? It was a sand castle contest, and hers was the only one that could be called a "castle".
- In an episode of Pepper Ann, the eponymous character completely wins over the judges of a beauty pageant with her heartfelt speech about being herself... but another girl wins because the entire pageant was rigged to give her the prize — she's the daughter of the president of the company that organized it.
- On an episode of Celebrity Deathmatch, Genghis Khan gets beaten to a bloody pulp and then killed by being crushed under the Deathmatch ring during his fight with Mahatma Gandhi. This is explained as being the result of a time-travel mishap causing Gandhi and Genghis to switch personalities. The announcers then hastily end the show, as Gandhi is now approaching the broadcast booth.
- In My Little Pony: Equestria Girls – Rainbow Rocks, the Rainbooms advance all the way through the Battle of the Bands to the final round, even though they keep getting sabotaged by other competitors or their own bickering with each other. This is all thanks to the Dazzlings, who pull the strings behind the scenes with their hatred-fueled Mind-Control Music. This not only turns the entire student body against the Rainbooms under the Dazzlings' Hate Plague (creating even more negativity to feed on), but it also gets semi-finalist Trixie to trap the Rainbooms beneath the stage to take their place so the Dazzlings can absorb their magic.
- Legend Of Korra: While both teams are quite skilled, the probending championship is won by the Wolfbats who blatantly cheat, having paid off the referees. However, this quickly pales in view of Amon's uprising happening just after their victory, using their cheating as proof that benders need to be eliminated.