So you got your typical Underdog story. The protagonist tries to compete in a competition. Sadly, despite his best efforts, he ends up being juuust behind the winning competitors during the first round, and he seems to have lost. With his hopes crushed, he is about to go back home... but what's that? One of the winners is revealed to have been cheating! This results in their disqualification... Since this leaves an empty space among the winners, and the protagonist was the closest behind them, he manages to get in after all! That Lucky Bastard! Shortly saying, this trope refers to any situation where a character or a team loses in a competition, but still manages to either win or get to the next round because of the winner or one of the winners getting disqualified. A less frequent variant involves the original winner being unable to compete due to sudden injury or sickness, allowing the protagonist to step in. See also Underdogs Never Lose and Second Place Is for Winners. Related to We Win Because You Didn't.
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Anime & Manga
- A variation in Red Line, JP loses the qualification round for the titular Red Line race. However, when multiple qualifiers back out (due to the race being set on a Death World), JP qualifies due to popular vote.
- During the Cooking Fest arc in Toriko, Setsuno reveals that this is how she won the first ever festival. She was the runner up, but the victor, Joie, was disqualified after it was discovered he had broken several rules.
- In Astérix and the Olympic Games, Asterix finishes last in the Romans-only 24-stadia dash, but still ends up winning the prize because every one of his competitors illegally imbibed the magic potion. The proof is that they all have blue tongues because of the blue coloring Getafix added to the potion.
- Happened in one Archie Comic where Betty and Big Ethel compete against Veronica and Midge in beach volleyball game. Veronica has hired a scorekeeper, who unfairly calls several fouls on Betty's team, despite those girls playing well. The judge soon states he's ashamed to even give Veronica the trophy, soon Veronica belligerently starts yelling that she is the daughter of the head of Lodge Enterprises. Then the judge states that her father's company is sponsoring the game and is therefore disqualified. Betty and Big Ethel win the game.
- The second Confessions of a Teenage Vampire graphic novel features a costume party for Halloween. The newly-introduced Talbot, a werewolf, attends as a werewolf while the human Derek goes as a zombie. Talbot wins the costume contest, but sees how crushed Derek is and claims he bought his "costume" at a store. He's disqualified and Derek is crowned the rightful winner.
Films - Animated
- During the climactic tiebreaker race in Cars, Chick Hicks pushes The King off the racetrack, heavily damaging him. As a result, Lightning McQueen, who having understood a similar fate Doc Hudson went through when he was a racecar known as the Hudson Hornet, lets Chick cross the finish line first so he can help The King cross the finish line one last time. Chick is still given the Piston Cup, but because of both his dirty trick and Lightning's noble action, he is denied the Dinoco sponsorship, which is given to Lightning instead.
- Kronk's New Groove: Birdie's team wins the first event of a competition because Kronk's is disqualified for not waiting for their turn to perform.
- In Monsters University, Mike and Sully fail the scaring exam and are unable to continue their studies. Mike comes up with an idea to team up with the local loser team called Oozma Kappa and compete in Scare Games, so they can prove that they are good at scaring after all. They bet with the University's dean that if they win, they get to continue their studies, but if they lose, they get expelled completely. The first game is a race where you have to avoid poisonous sea urchins. Mike and Sully run ahead of the rest of the team, cross the finish line, and at first it seems that they won... but then they're informed that the entire team has to cross the finish line for it to count, and the rest of Oozma Kappa arrives last. Since each game ends with the worst team getting kicked out, it seems that all is lost... but then it's revealed that one of the teams used a gel that rendered them immune to the urchins, resulting in their disqualification. Hence, Oozma Kappa manages to win after all.
- In Disney's Planes, Dusty competes in a test race deciding which planes will get into the big "Wings Around the Globe" race. Dusty manages to get to the sixth place, just below the winner planes. He comes back home depressed, but a day or so later, a guy arrives to tell him that one of the winner planes was using an illegal fuel, and therefore Dusty got in after all.
Films - Live-Action
- During one tournament in A Knight's Tale, William starts losing on purpose because the Love Interest told him to to prove that he loved her. This would have been a problem, except that none of the other competitors did particularly well, either, so after the Love Interest relents William is able to win despite losing his first round of jousts.
- In Akeelah and the Bee, Akeelah would have been out in the very early stages of the qualifiers to get to the National Spelling Bee if her competitor's mother had not been caught mouthing him words.
- Played with in Bring It On: the Toros don't score very well in the semi-finals (using a routine that's the exact duplicate of another squad's routine, which is normally grounds for disqualification) but because they're defending champions they get to go to the finals anyway.
- The film Cannonball sees the driver in the Blazer cheat by flying across the country. He claims victory, but can't find the bottle of champagne he planned to use to celebrate. His female companion says they must have left it on the plane.
- In both the 1971 and 2005 adaptations of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, this trope gets a lucky twist. Charlie buys chocolate just to eat it after learning all five Golden Tickets have been found, but overhears people discussing the news that one of the winners actually forged his ticket...he promptly opens his chocolate wrap, discovering the real final Golden Ticket inside.
- In Die Another Day, Miranda Frost got an Olympic silver medal for fencing, but was upgraded to gold when her opponent failed a drug test. The Big Bad, knowing Miranda hated the idea of being second best, rigged the drug test in exchange for Miranda becoming his Mole.
- In Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story:
- The Average Joe's have to win at least one game to qualify for the championships. However they suffer a humiliating defeat at the hands of some evil girlscouts. Fortunately, one of the scouts tests positive for steroids and beaver tranquillisers, so the Joe's win by default.
- Nearer the end of the film, there's a downplayed example; when the main antagonist appears to have managed to hit Vince Vaughn's character and won... but luckily his foot was over the line, so it didn't count. The DVD comes with an alternative ending where this doesn't happen and there's a Downer Ending.
- A related phenomenon occurs in the first The Mighty Ducks movie. They lose at least half of the games in the season, but due to a series of extreme coincidences (chief among them an entire team coming down with a serious illness and forfeiting their season) they make it to the playoffs.
- My Way: Jun-shik wins a marathon against Tatsuo, but the Japanese authorities refuse to allow a Korean to beat their champion, and disqualify Jun-shik by accusing him of cheating. A disgusted Tatsuo refuses the award and walks away, while the Koreans start to riot, ending with Jun-shik and several others being forcibly enlisted in the Japanese army.
- In Nacho Libre, the winner of a battle royale wrestling match gets a title fight against champ Ramses. Nacho is the last man eliminated, with the victory going to Ramses' goon Silencio. When Silencio is injured the day before the match, Nacho gets to fight Ramses instead.
- In Pitch Perfect, the girls are able to progress to Nationals because the soloist of one of the qualifying groups is too young.
- In Shaolin Soccer, this was what Team Evil was going for in the title match against the Shaolin monks - rather than try to score goals, they would injure enough players to force them to forfeit by not fielding enough players.
- Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, Ricky Bobby and The Rival Jean Girard wreck their NASCAR, and run into the finish line. They are disqualified, and the win was given to the third place Cal Naughton, Jr, who up until that moment was always Bobby's underdog.
- Top Gun had the pilot Cougar lose his cool and turn in his wings. So Maverick and Goose get a slot at the Fighter Weapons school in his place. Their commander wanted to ground them both after their antics with Soviet Migs.
- In the children's book Clarence Goes to Town, Clarence, who is a non-anthropomorphic dog, is signed up for a two person quiz-and-stunt contest by a neighbor who thought that the woman he is teamed up with is an expert on dogs. (She's an expert on bogs.) One of the stunts is an obstacle course; one member of the team is supposed to lead the other around while the 2nd is blindfolded. Clarence starts off well leading his teammate but then goes off track, knocking down stuff which is grounds for disqualification. But he was leading her to a small fire which had broken out backstage. The organizers of the contest decide that Clarence and his teammate deserve a prize so they're awarded a duplicate first prize, a trip to Europe.
- In the book Hot Rod Rodeo, protagonist Larry wins the eponymous Rodeo note after the bad guy, who has a much better car than he does, is disqualified. We (and Larry) never find out what exactly he was disqualified for but he was seen by Larry either cheating or doing things the easy way instead of the responsible way several times, any of which, or some other incident we don't know of, a spotter could have seen too.
- In Lords and Ladies, Granny Weatherwax and Diamanda Tockley are engaging in a public contest of magic in which the object is to outstare the Sun, to determine which of them is the better witch. Granny, weakened by thinking that she is suffering from Sanity Slippage, is losing, when a toddler runs into the magic circle and is knocked down by the magic. Granny immediately goes to see if he is harmed while Diamanda takes no notice. To Diamanda's chagrin, the townsfolk declare Granny the winner because a true witch would not ignore a child in distress. Narration makes it clear this is an invoked trope...Nanny LURED the child into doing that.
- In the comedy/mystery Madness in Maggody, Ruby Bee organizes a baseball team of grade-school misfits, the Flamingos, to compete against Jim Bob's team of the town's best 5th and 6th grade athletes. Jim Bob's players are all disqualified by the regional league because they've flunked out so many times that they're actually too old to compete alongside grade-schoolers.
- In the Myth Adventures short story "Myth Congeniality", Bunny enters an all-dimensions beauty pageant to win a prize her uncle wants. She's picked last out of all the contestants, but still wins because she's the only entry who wasn't caught cheating.
- This is how Jeeves once again saves the day in the P. G. Wodehouse short story "The Purity of the Turf."
- Happens all the time on The Amazing Race, where teams who come in last are saved from elimination due to another team incurring a penalty due to breaking a race rule. The only time this has effected a finale was in the second season of the Vietnam edition, where the team who checked in first received three ten-minute penalties, giving the win to the ladies who checked in second.
- Glee: In the season 4 episode "Thanksgiving", Marley passes out during the performance at Sectionals because of her eating disorder. Because the rest of the glee club left the stage to check on her when she fainted, they are disqualified, allowing the Warblers to win (though, honestly, they probably would have lost anyway). However, in the season 4 episode "Sadie Hawkins", members of the New Directions discover that the Warblers (the team that had won at Sectionals) were using steroids, leading to their disqualification. This allows the New Directions to take their place at Regionals.
- The Odd Couple had an episode where Felix was trying to win a new oven in a cooking contest, but a physical condition prevented him from the ability to use his arms. Oscar attempted to help, and in spite of screwing it up and creating something different, Felix won. But he concedes to the runner-up (a sweet girl vying for the oven as well), claiming that the dish he set out to prepare did not turn out be the proper dish.
- In the tie-in book for Parks and Recreation, it was stated that Pawnee won a game against Eagleton due to the players on Eagleton side were on steroids.
- One challenge on Top Gear (US) had the guys buy cars from The '80s on a budget of five thousand dollars. Adam gets a Buick Grand National which normally commands fifteen thousand dollars. He wins the challenge, but is disqualified when Rutledge tells the judge that Adam cheated.
- Used in Tru Calling to save Tru's brother from the mob boss he owes a favor. The brother was working as a judge for a beauty pageant that the mobster's daughter was entered into and had to get the daughter to win, but his attempts were so obvious that he was fired, and she doesn't win until disqualification. He's only saved because the girl who won was the murderer of that episode.
- Unlike most examples this is commonly used to screw over the Faces, either by removing their victory or by giving them the victory but not the belt (belts don't transfer on a DQ in most leagues). In some circles it is known as the Dusty Finish.
- In 1983 Victor Jovica defeated Ric Flair for the NWA Title, but this was reversed three days later because Jovica had his legs on the ropes when he pinned Flair.
- Zig-Zagged in the 1991 WCW\New Japan Supershow where Tatsumi Fujinami defeated Ric Flair for the NWA Heavyweight Title. In Japan the WCW and NWA Titles were considered separate but WCW considered the NWA Championship as the same title. In the US rebroadcast WCW said that Fujinami won the bout but didn't win the title because he threw Flair over the top rope, a disqualification under WCW rules.
- In Chris Benoit's final WCW match he beat Sid Vicious for the vacant WCW title when Vicious tapped out to the Crossface; the next day Benoit quit WCW and less than a week later he showed up on WWE Raw. The official WCW position was that Benoit shouldn't have won because Vicious's leg was under the bottom rope when he tapped, so the hold should have been broken; ergo Benoit's win was vacated. A week later Vicious beat Kevin Nash for the title.
- This becomes a Running Gag in the Sesame Street episode, "Cast Iron Cook". Alan and Elmo get into a cooking competition on the titular Show Within a Show. While the opposing team is much more experienced at making the recipes than Alan and Elmo are, one of the members of the opposing team keeps accidentally dropping his items into whatever recipe they were making, thus disqualifying them each round and giving Alan and Elmo the points they need to win.
- Dungeons & Dragons module OA6 Ronin Challenge. The first part of the adventure is the Komite, a martial arts tournament in which one or more PCs will participate. One possible opponent for the PCs is the NPC Awang Sophir. If Sophir defeats a PC, the Komite officials will discover that he was wearing an illegal magical earring that gave him an unfair advantage. Sophir will be ejected from the Komite and the PC will win by disqualification, allowing him to advance to the Championship rounds.
- In The Legend of Dragoon, Dart is required by the story to make it to the final round of The Hero Competition. Should the player lose any of the matches, his opponent gets taken out of the competition for either cheating (i.e using poison) or something completely contrived (falling over or getting sick and being unable to fight).
- Invoked in Strong Bad's Cool Game for Attractive People Episode 1, where the goal during the first part of the game is to win a race. However, Pom Pom is much faster than you, so you must get him disqualified by putting some performance-enhancing powder in his locker, making it seem like he won only because of it.
- Played for laughs in 8-Bit Theater when Fighter comes last in a drownball tournament (due to not drowning) but is still given first prize (due to being the only surviving participant).
- Happened the other way in Kevin & Kell. The school won the finals, thanks to Rudy getting the elk's shed antlers to make everyone think he got the elk. But they were stripped of their title when it was found out that their teammate Vin Vulpin used steroids.
- In the Action League Now episode, "Danger Society", The Action League challenge the Danger Society to see who can save the most victims when a school bus teeters over a TV antenna. The winners will officially become the town's newest superheroes, and the losers will have to leave town for good. Naturally, The Action League cower out when they see the situation. When they are waiting at a bus stop afterwards, the Danger Society land their helicopter in front of them to taunt them. However, they have landed their helicopter right in the path of an oncoming bus. The bus flattens them, and by technicality, the League is back in business.
- The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius:
- In the episode, "Maximum Hugh", during a parent/child competition, Jimmy uses technology to augment his dad's athletic skills and ends up disqualified.... and his Rival-slash-not-girlfriend also gets disqualified because she used an Olympic-athlete aunt as a ringer for her mom... and then every other team admits to doing a disqualification-worthy fault at one point of the competition or another, leaving only Jimmy's Chew Toy friend Carl and his equally-unlucky dad (who were dead last) the winners by default.
- The episode, "Jimmy For President" has Jimmy, Sheen, Libby, and Bolbi each running for School President. Jimmy, Sheen, and Libby end up having a three-way tie, and Carl is the only student who hasn't voted yet. He ends up confessing to Ms. Fowl that Cindy paid him to vote for Libby, Sheen blackmailed him with an embarrassing photo of him at Ike's slumber party, and Jimmy was playing the "Best Friend" card and using scantily clad women. Ms. Fowl disqualifies Libby for bribery, Sheen for blackmail, and Jimmy for operating a zeppelin on school premises without a permit, thus resulting in Bolbi being the School President by default.
- Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog:
- In a "Sonic Sez" segment about wearing seatbelts, Sonic holds a race between Scratch and Edgar Eagle to determine who is the real Edgar Eagle. Scratch wins the race, but gets disqualified for not wearing his seat belt, leaving the real Edgar Eagle, who does, the winner by default.
- Another "Sonic Sez" segment about cheating involves Dr. Robotnik and Dr. Quark racing each other. Sonic disqualifies them both for cheating; the former for throwing a Banana Peel in the latter's path, and the latter for tying the former's shoelaces together.
- One episode of Gravedale High had Frankentyke befriend a race horse whose owner is desperate for a victory. However, they are unaware the owner's assistant is secretly working for the villains. During the deciding race, the horse starts to take victory with Frankentyke riding it. Then, the traitorous assistant reveals his duplicity by knocking another rider off of his horse and riding it to victory. As he's gloating over his victory, Sid informs him that he's been disqualified for changing riders during a race.
- Inspector Gadget once had to enter an auto race to stop Dr. Claw from cheating his way to victory. Gadget's about to win when Claw converts the Madmobile into a jet and passes him that way. The announcer initially names Dr. Claw the winner, only to announce seconds later that Claw has been disqualified for leaving the ground and Gadget has won. Then, it's revealed that Gadget was taking part as part of the investigation and could not claim the prize. The official winner is someone else.
- MAD: In "Malcolm in the Middle Earth", Malcolm wins a science fair because he's the only entrant using actual science instead of magic.
- In the Martha Speaks episode, "Wagstaff Races", the neighborhood kids enter a green go-kart race. T.D. and Alice's wind-powered go-kart places just behind Ronald and Reginald, whose go-kart appears to be powered by a swimming goldfish, and who have been sabotaging the other racers' go-karts. This isn't what disqualifies them, though. What does disqualify them is that their car is revealed to be a disguised gas-powered lawnmower when they crash into a lamp post after arguing over who gets to drive the victory lap. T.D. and Alice win the trophy as a result.
- In the Rugrats episode, "Beauty Contest", in order to win the Kingfisher 9000 sports boat, Stu and Grandpa Lou dress Tommy as a girl and enter him in a beauty contest, where Tommy's cousin, Angelica is also competing. Tommy wins, until Didi reveals to the judges that Tommy is actually a boy by removing his wig. The judges disqualify Tommy and Angelica wins. Grandpa Lou doesn't mind when he remembers that Angelica is his granddaughter.
- The Simpsons:
- One episode has NASA look for ordinary people to become astronauts, ending up with Homer and Barney. Barney by far outperforms Homer, but as soon as he drinks alcohol reverts to his previous state, leaving Homer the winner by default.
- We see the other side of the coin in an early episode of The Simpsons where Lisa is crowned Little Miss Springfield note . The pageant's sponsor (Laramie Cigarettes) doesn't like her speaking out against smoking so they find a loophole: on the entry form where it says "Do not write in this space" Homer wrote "O.K." Lisa is disqualified and the title goes back to the original winner.
- In the Spongebob Squarepants episode, "Slimy Dancing", Squidward fails the audition for the Bikini Bottom dance contest, and thus goes in disguise by going inside SpongeBob and having his arms and legs stick out of him. Squidward has a cramp during his dance, but actually does manage to win, until SpongeBob blows his cover and it is revealed that the contest states that all dancers are not allowed to be assisted by a partner. It is also revealed that every other dancer in the contest is assisted by a partner, except for Patrick, who also has a cramp during his dance, thus Patrick wins the contest by default.
- In the short, "Bleacher Bummer" from the Tiny Toon Adventures episode, "The Wacko World of Sports", Perfecto Prep's baseball team clobbers Acme Looniversity's in a game that Dizzy and Furrball are trying to sneak into. When Dizzy and Furrball get chased by Arnold, who is working as a security guard, they break the Perfectos' baseball bat, revealing they have been cheating using the "Magnet-in-the-bat" scam, resulting in them getting disqualified and Acme Looniversity's team winning the game by default.
- The one time that Dick Dastardly actually won in Wacky Races, he was disqualified because he'd extended the front of his car over the finish line artificially. Oddly enough, a different competitor did the same thing in a different episode, and they were not disqualified for it. So it seems it was only against the rules when Dick Dastardly did it.
- Wander over Yonder has Sylvia and Wander competing in the Galactic Conjunction 6000. Wander has to help Sylvia keep calm due to her competitive nature causing her to lose her temper, which earned her the nickname "Time Bomb". She gets second place, but is glad that she was able to finish the race thanks to Wander's help. Until it's revealed that the winner ends up getting disqualified for cheating, giving Sylvia and Wander first place.
- In some sports leagues, if a championship winner is found to have been using steroids or other kinds of drugs, then the second place competitor will get the award. This happened in the 2006 and 2010 Tour de France; the winners (Floyd Landis and Alberto Contador, respectively) were caught using PEDs, and the title ended up going to the second-place rider (Óscar Pereiro and Andy Schleck, respectively). Averted for the 1999-2005 Tours, where no riders were awarded the win in place of the disqualified Lance Armstrong.
- Denmark national football team qualified for the 1992 European Championship after Russia was disqualified due to political issues. Notably, Denmark eventually won the trophy.
- A UFC fight between Thiago Silva (who won) and Brandon Vera was later declared a no-contest when Silva tested positive for steroids. Prior to this, Vera was briefly fired from the company for losing three straight matches; with the third loss stricken from the record, he was able to keep fighting for UFC.
- Tennis tournaments sometimes get "lucky losers", where players who lost out on qualifying tournaments to the main event may get in anyway because someone already invited to the main tournament has to withdraw. It's usually for reasons of injury or illness rather than any wrongdoing by the one pulling out.
- In 1925, the Pottsville Maroons, one of the many small-city teams in the early National Football League, defeated the Chicago Cardinals 21 to 7 in the championship game. Six days later, they played an unauthorized exhibition game against the Notre Dame All-Stars in Philadelphia. The NFL stripped the Maroons of their championship title and revoked their league membership (the latter was soon reinstated, though the team folded a few years later), and in later years retroactively awarded the 1925 title to the Cardinals.
- For a year and a half, former Florida State coach Bobby Bowden held the record of winningest Division I FBS coach due to Penn State coach, Joe Paterno having 111 of his wins vacated in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal. Paterno returned to the top when the NCAA rescinded their sanctions in 2015.