"At your feet is a little ball called the Buall'dib. You get a hold of this, and everything everyone else has done is null and void. You snag this...and we win." *picks it up* "This?" "WE WIN!!!"
— Sluggy Freelance, "Ch. 31: Torg Potter and the Sorcerer's Nuts - Life at Hoggelryth"
A competition involving a series of events or activities, in which the final round counts for a disproportionately large percent of the team's total score — and in fiction, will tend to be worth more than all previous events combined. Thus, whoever wins the final round earns enough points to win the entire match, regardless of just about everything else that happened before it.
In works of fiction, the Golden Snitch is widely used to do one of three things:
Create a sense of tension for the heroes, who had been on a winning streak up to this point, but now have to worry about being defeated in the finals (usually because their star player has been taken out of play due to an injury, or the heavenly angels decided to stop helping the team).
On the flip side, allow for the losing heroes to have a come-from-behind win.
Allow one person (typically The Hero) to be solely or at least largely responsibly for winning a team game.
This is a common trope in game shows. Very common. One standard approach of a game show is the "1-1-2" rule, where the first two events are worth one point and the third — the show's equivalent of the Golden Snitch — is worth two points; whoever wins round 3 is guaranteed at least a tie in their overall scoring. The reason for this is simple: it maintains tension, by making sure that if someone wins both of the earlier tiers, the viewer will keep watching because that person is not guaranteed to win after round 2.
It is worth noting that in an actual game show, it is rare for the Golden Snitch to entirely invalidate the previous rounds. The final round may be heavily weighted, but a player who swept the first two rounds may easily be able to force a tie (sometimes leading to a round of Sudden Death) instead of taking an outright loss. In fictional games, the skew will generally be insurmountable: 1-1-3 (or, in extreme cases, 1-1-1000) rather than 1-1-2. Most game shows have a fixed number of rounds, and it would be anti-climactic for the outcome to become a foregone conclusion before the final round is even played. On the other hand, giving too much weight to the last round makes the earlier rounds less interesting.
Whatever the case, if poorly played, it can leave audience members perplexed as to the point of everything they had just sat through for the last 20 minutes. At the same time, it prevents situations where someone can get a truly insurmountable lead (thus causing people to change the channel because they can tell who "won").
When handled well, the Golden Snitch still awards a significant advantage based on previous points. This is commonly done by either increasing the value of points earned in the last round, making it possible to win despite being completely behind, but very difficult. Alternatively, the team in the lead gets an actual advantage (usually extra time) in the finale.
Compare One Judge to Rule Them All, where points are awarded by actual judges (one of whom is the "snitch") rather than the players' own progress during the game. A choice at the end of a game that determines your ending, regardless of past events, is a Last Second Ending Choice.
See also Instant-Win Condition (and all of its varieties) for situations where points and scoring are not involved in determining who wins.
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Anime & Manga
The first part of the chunin exams in Naruto is a 10-question quiz, the last of which is not revealed until just before the end. Those taking the test are told they may forfeit the question (and fail), or take the question... but never be allowed to retake the test if they miss it. Turns out the 10th question is a Secret Test of Character: Just accepting it is an instant pass, and the nine other questions are meaningless as far as score is concerned (they're actually there as a Secret Test of Character of a different sort). Namely, whether or not you can cheat without getting caught. Naruto wins by not even trying to answer any of the other questions, let alone trying to cheat.
Ibiki: The question iiiiiiiiissss..... Do you want to pass? Naruto: Um... yes? Ibiki: Congratulations, you all pass! Naruto: Wait, what?
Justified Trope, because this was, after all, just the first part. I.e. the weeding-out process to see who didn't have the guts for part 2, a VERY harrowing field assignment.
Also justified in that "passing" the test just gave you more chances to show off your skills, whereas your score actually affected whether or not you became a Chunin - so both were relevant. The majority of the entrants pass the first test, to Anko's displeasure, but less than a third of the remaining teams make it to the third round.
From Part 2, we have a much more serious example. The Big Bad has captured seven of the tailed beasts, and needs only two more to become a Physical God. A war is being fought over the last two beasts, one of whom is inside Naruto. As Tobi puts it, the hosts are the only real target. If he implements his Eye of the Moon Plan, he wins, forever. It's as simple as that.
In Seto no Hanayome, after seeing that his beloved daughter's team is losing the school athletic competition, San's father [the P.E. coach] announces that the final race will be worth 333 points. This is a pun as "san" also is a Japanese word for "three". So it's worth sanbyaku (three hundred) sanju (thirty) san (three) points.
Katekyo Hitman Reborn!'sRing Conflict Arc involved Tsuna and his Guardians battling the assassination group Varia for the Half Vongola Rings. Whoever's side can claim the most completed rings (out of seven) wins. After Xanxus succeeds in his Evil Plan, he and Tsuna have a final battle with all of the rings at stake. Thus rendering the other fights entirely pointless.
It doesn't end there. Xanxus wins and gets all the rings. Then it turns out that he's Ninth's adopted son, and can't inherit the rings at all. Meaning everything was completely pointless.
It gets even more stupid; The only ring that really mattered was the sky one - when he had that he was within his rights to end the conflict and have the heroes killed as the successor. It was only because he sadistically wanted to see Tsuna's guardians beaten up that he didn't go through with that, and got to the stage where the ring rejected him during their fight. Yep, all the other 6 life and death fights were pointless, and they found this out after fight 2.
An episode of Gintama revolved around a pet competition between Sadaharu and Elizabeth. After Elizabeth gains 1000 points over Sadaharu in the talent portion of the show, the host reveals that the final round — a race to the finish — would earn 20,000 points and the win. Katsura gets annoyed by this and demands the rules be changed to be more fair, but the race continues as planned. Neither of them win, anyway.
When questioned, the host admitted that the first part of the competition was a ratings booster.
One of the funnier bits exclusive to the anime version of Eyeshield 21 takes place during the school festival episode. The white team (containing all the Devil Bats except Hiruma and oddly OOC Mamori and Yukimitsu) are hopelessly behind before the last game... Until they find out the last game is worth more than all the other events put together. They react appropriately. Of course, in the context of the episode, this makes sense, since the whole thing was set up by Hiruma to force the other Devil Bats to practice/come up with a needed technique.
Amusing in that the winner gets it wrong, but the hero pushes herself to make it a right answer.
In the MMORPG-style Greed Island arc of Hunter × Hunter, there comes a point when the heroes form a 14 man team to participate in a sports competition, the prize being something that effectively causes Loot Drama. The opposing team's leader is one of the game's admins. 8 wins out of 14 matches will win the competition, but once the heroes start winning, the admin steps in for the next round and announces that his particular round is worth 8 points overall. Meaning that the heroes must beat the ridiculously overpowered admin at his own game, or otherwise start all over from the beginning.
A quiz show in Cromartie High School has four questions. The fourth of which is worth "three million points". The first three were apparently worth none.
The racer who places 1st in IGPX Immortal Grand Prix receives 15 points, the amount 2nd through 4th would get combined. As racers compete in teams of three, this means whoever nabs 1st place is guaranteed at least a tie for his or her team (and is only possible if the same competing team gets the next three positions down and both of the lead racer's teammates get a DNF).
The apparent purpose of the Sports Duel Tournament in "Yu Gi Oh Zexal" was to make Kotori and Cathy friends again by forcing them to cooperate. However, it was actually a trap set by Girag. The scoring system was structured so that the two girls would end up dueling Yuma in the final round no matter what (to allow the Barians to steal Yuma's Number cards through the girls), so the preliminary rounds really had no purpose at all except to make the tournament less suspicious (and not to mention throw in some beach volleyball "Fanservice").
The game of Black Maria or Hearts employs this trope twice. Each heart obtained in a trick is worth one point (points are bad), but the queen of spades is worth 13, meaning the player that ends up with it is almost guaranteed to end up with the most points for that hand. However, the second actually subverts the first. If a player "shoots the moon" and gets every heart plus the queen of spades, they get no points added and everyone else gets 26.
If you play with the optional "shoot the sun" rule (take every trick to get a doubled version of "shooting the moon"), you have the most potent version of this; while it's possible to recover from watching another player "shoot the moon" early, it's almost impossible to come back should an opponent "shoot the sun" (unless you're playing to a score other than the traditional 100).
Some variations of baccarat double the pot every round, so that a player can reverse a loss of all the previous rounds just by winning the current one.
Magic: The Gathering has a few. Some cards, such as Coalition Victory or Battle of Wits, cause you to win the game instantly, no matter how far behind you were. Notably, this game also has Critical Existence Failure, meaning that you can be knocked down to a single life or otherwise be arbitrarily close to a losing condition, but as long as you don't actually reach that position, you can stage a comeback. Many aggro vs combo games have the aggressive player knocking the combo player down to a precariously low life total, then the combo player assembling their winning combination of cards and reducing their completely untouched foe from full life to 0 in a single turn.
Due to poor wording, a playtest version of the card Time Walk was interpreted this way. What they intended was for the player to get an Extra Turn; what the card said was "Opponent loses next turn". This was fixed for release ("Target player takes an extra turn after this one").
Yu-Gi-Oh! games have cards that lets you win for completing some of their requirements. Like the Exodia cards when all five cards are collected in the players hand they instantly win the game. Then there's the FINAL cards which are a magic/trap variant of Exodia, when all the cards of FINAL are put into play the player wins. Of course fulfilling these conditions can be difficult and the opponent can prevent the player from acquiring those cards, and finish of the player the old fashion way.
There's a fine example of this trope in one of Carl Barks's classic Donald Duck comics: The Tenderfoot Trap (1957). Donald, Scrooge and Gladstone are all entrants in the Pizen Valley Contest for desert prospectors. The contest consists of five different events. The first four are worth 10 points each, and Gladstone wins them all. Then comes the final event, Wild Burro Catching, worth 50 points! In other words, the previous events were a complete waste of time... or not, as Gladstone's luck subverts the trope. Trying to find a burro, he quickly gets lost. This leaves Donald and Scrooge to fight for the prize. However, they end up tied, meaning they split the points. Final score: Gladstone 40, Donald 25, Scrooge 25. Gladstone wins!
A similar example involved Donald engaged in a sporting contest with some millionaires. He's won every year because his opponents suck, but in the tournament appearing in the book a new, physically-fit competitor appears and seems ready to sweep the competition. What makes it fit the trope is that the character is so confident of his victory that he volunteers to concede the trophy if Donald can win even one event.
Another competition (oddly enough, also a prospecting contest; possibly a remake?) between Donald, Scrooge and Gladstone where the prize was a valuable gold mine. Gladstone wins the first two (boil a kettle and find a valuable). The third is to catch a burro, and Donald and Scrooge pulls shenanigans that end up gathering every burro in the area. Meanwhile, Gladstone gets lost in the mountains, and finds the mine that's used for a prize... which somehow allows him to claim ownership of it.
Quidditch is torn apart mercilessly in Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality by rational!Harry, who never fails to point out how pointless the rest of the game is. Everyone he mentions this to is horrified at the thought of changing the rules. He eventually uses up his "Christmas Wish" to remove the Snitch from the game.
Parodied in History of the World Part I. When in a tight spot during a life-size game of chess played in a castle courtyard with people wearing costumes, the King executes "Royal Privilege" and declares that he gets three moves. After getting himself out of trouble, he loses interest in the game, declares his next move to be "Gang-bang the Queen!", and rushes onto the field. It's good to be the King!
In The Mighty Ducks, the Ducks lose their first 11 games, forfeit another one because the team revolts, then have a few Training Montages in time to sneak into the playoffs with a 1-12-1 record.note They did have help in the sense that all but two teams made the playoffs, and one of them forfeited their whole season due to measles. Of course, they sweep through and win the Minnesota State Title. (Truth in Television, of course, in that state sport championships are decided by the playoffs, not the season record.)
Perhaps it was a case of Gordon's motivational speech holding too much weight:
Gordon: "District 5 has had some losses...but The Ducks are undefeated!"
Double Subverted in the climax of Dodge Ball. After winning the Dodgeball championship, Peter reveals that he had sold Average Joe's to Globo Gym before the game started for a Briefcase Full of Money - making the game results (which would have given him enough prize money to keep Average Joe's open) pointless. However, Peter then reveals that he took the $100,000 in the briefcase and bet it all on his team to win. Since the Vegas odds were 50-1 against his team, he won five million dollars. Peter then notes that since Globo Gym is a publicly traded company, he has enough money to buy all of Globo's shares, which means he now owns both gyms.
In Death Race a "Race" actually consists of 3 separate races. Whoever wins first in the final race is designated the winner and that race is added to their countdown to freedom. The first two are just a means of eliminating the competition.
Which means there is no reason to actually try to win as opposed to hanging back and taking out the other drivers or simply hiding until the coast is clear. Of course, this is pretty much Combat Racing Game: The Movie so no one ever figures it out.
In Summer School, one student who insisted he'd been placed in the remedial course by mistake skips the entire summer term, then returns long enough to take the Final at the end. His is the highest score in the class, proving not only that he was telling the truth about his circumstances, but also that no other tests or homework given during the summer session had counted for anything.
The Trope Namer comes from the Golden Snitch, a recurring plot device within the Harry Potter series. While each goal scored in a game of Quidditch is worth 10 points, catching the Snitch scores 150 points and ends the game immediately. It's not a guaranteed win, though; if your team is more than 150 points behind, you'll still lose, and in at least one game this was done deliberately by the losing team to limit the damage. (Also, considering how hard it is to be up by 15 goals, you're really losing if you have to resort to this.)
This also happens in the Triwizard Tournament in the 4th book; winning the first events doesn't actually give you anything except a head start in the last event, and the first person to make it to the finish in the last event wins the entire tournament. So the first rounds aren't pointless, but proportionate to the time and effort spent on them they come off as quite unnecessary.
Though the match with Slytherin in the third book did require some strategy for when to catch—since the houses that go to the House Cup are the ones with the most cumulative match points, Gryffindor would win the game but not the Cup unless Harry waiting until they were fifty points ahead. For the first part of the game he had to focus on preventing the opposing Seeker from catching the Snitch, rather than hunting for it himself.
The origins of the Golden Snitch and why it gives such a massive point advantage are detailed in Quidditch Through the Ages. Long story short, the tradition comes from a match where the players were challenged to catch a Golden Snidget bird, with a reward of 150 Galleons. The Snidget thus became a customary part of each game, granting 150 points in honor of the original bet. But as a result, the Snidgets nearly went extinct, resulting in the wizards building the artificial "Snitch" replacement.
The Collegium Chronicles, in Mercedes Lackey's Valdemar universe, has a Quidditch-like game called Kirball. There are three ways to score: get the ball into the opponent's goal tower (1 point), occupy the opponent's goal tower (10 points), and capture the opponent's flag (50 points). Matches typically end with either less than 5 total points scored, or with a flag capture leading to a ridiculous disparity in score. The 10-point score is repeatedly highlighted as having never been achieved.
In Lord Brocktree, Lord Brocktree needs to win the allegiance of King Bucko and his court. King Bucko always allows anybody to challenge him for his crown. There are three parts to a challenge: the bragging, the feasting, and the fighting. The announcement then adds that "In the event of the first two challenges being won, lost or declared a tie, the third challenge will decide the winner". Brocktree and his entourage realize that Bucko's doing this entirely for his pride, and train Dotti to target that specifically in the challenges. She comes out ahead.
In Unseen Academicals, the old foot-the-ball game apparently scores by counting injuries inflicted, but actually scoring a goal is an automatic win (and very rare - Trev's late father Dave Likely is a hero because he scored four times in his entire career). This is very loosely based on assorted street football games played in medieval Britain.
Parodied in Earth (The Book). The end of each chapter has a scavenger hunt with 5 items in Easy, Medium, and Hard, which are worth 10, 20 and 30 points each, respectively. Below that are the six Super Hard items worth 1,000 points each. The catch, of course, is that it's impossible to obtain any of them; they're either intangible ("the innocence of youth"), no longer existing ("the Colossus at Rhodes"), or fictitious ("Soylent Green Eggs and Ham").
In the short story "Fields" by Desmond Warzel, the last twenty people remaining After the End divide themselves into two baseball teams as a means of keeping themselves occupied. In a league with only two teams, it is of course a foregone conclusion that those are the two teams which will meet in the World Series; thus, to keep things interesting (and having nothing better to do), they play an entire 162-game season solely to determine which team will have home-field advantage in the Series.
The $100,000 Name That Tune used the 1-1-2 rule, as shown above. This was extended to a 1-1-2-4 setup in most tournament episodes during Jim Lange's version. (Note that if the players split the first two rounds, the third round became absolutely meaningless.) At least one $100,000 finals episode had one contestant sweep the first three rounds, only to lose the final round and the tiebreaker question, giving the whole shebang to his opponent.
In the show's second season, the final for the tournament held for the first season's contestants who qualified for the "$100,000 Mystery Tune" but were unsuccessful had a 1-1-1-3 setup, so again, if the first two rounds were split, the third was meaningless.
Legends of the Hidden Temple used the 1-1-2 rule; however, winning all three rounds had a significant advantage: If you won via tiebreaker, a bad setup of the bonus round could make it Unwinnable (the points/talisman fragments are the contestants' "extra lives").
The final survey on Family Feud is worth triple points, far more than enough to win with even if you lost on all of the others. (On the other hand, usually if the game gets this far, it means both teams are getting pathetically low scores on the other rounds. Normally, the double-point round is enough to determine a winner, but team with a run of good answers can win even before that.)
Some versions (the Louie Anderson one, among others) have three rounds of regular scoring, where a team can theoretically get up to 100 points — but probably not since unique answers in the survey are omitted. The fourth round is the triple-point round and that usually has only three or four answers and thus almost always scores all 300 points, enough for a guaranteed win. This ends up a 1-1-1-3+ situation, the final round nearly making the first three entirely moot, even if one side won all three normal rounds.
"Winning" the round, and getting all the available points, are two different things. A family could, in theory, win every preceding round, but only because the other side couldn't get enough answers correct, whereas any answer given after the switch, regardless of popularity, wins those points. If things ever do get to triple-point scoring, it's mainly to just wrap up the game.
After the game reverted to 1-1-2-3, the rules changed again. If neither team had reached 300, then there would be a triple-value Sudden Death round, usually with a simple question whose #1 answer would have an extremely high point value.
In The Price Is Right, a contestant that loses their pricing game still has as good a chance of making it to the Showcase as one who wins. However, turn order in the Showcase Showdown determined by previous winnings, and going last is a significant advantage, since you know exactly what you have to get to win, and you win by default if your opponents both go over before your turn.
Inversion: A malignant example is the Whammy in Press Your Luck. Getting just one will wipe out your accrued wealth, regardless of lead or total. As such, this is fatal to a player in the endgame regardless of score or skill. You automatically lose if you get one on the last spin of the game. (Unless there happens to be a tie at $0, which actually has happened on the show.) Because of this, passing your earned spins onto 1st place (2nd if you're in 1st) is a viable strategy, as they'll be forced to use those spins.
The "$3000/$4000/$5000 + one spin" spaces in the final round can usually help a contestant lagging behind to overtake the leader and win the game and even more so if they land on the space multiple times.
The revival, Whammy: The All New Press Your Luck, also had this but later versions of the show introduced the Big Bank, where all money a player loses to a Whammy goes into the Big Bank. A player that lands on the Big Bank space and then answers a question correctly would snag all the money stored. Since whammies were commonly landed on, the Big Bank usually gotten tons of money stored and this could guarantee that player a surefire win of the whole game if they don't hit a Whammy afterwards.
The revival also had 2 rounds of spinning on the big board like the original had done, but it was very common to see people mainly win in the 2nd round of spinning since round 2 typically had prizes with higher values than the prizes in the 1st round.
Go, a Bob Stewart show where the round values were 250-500-750-1,250, and the winning score is 1,500. If a team wins the first three rounds, to fill the half-hour, they get to play the bonus round twice. However, like the Name That Tune example, if the first two rounds are split, the third round becomes meaningless.
Wild 'n Out has variable scores for the different sections in each minigame, but the Freestyle Slam at the end can allow any team to score more points than the other games combined (this is usually edited out in the broadcast, though).
Nickelodeon Guts and its successor, Global Guts, had the Crag (and all variations thereof), whose completion gives a player 725 points for 1st, 550 for second, and 375 for third, meaning that unless you lose at every event before then, you can easily turn the game around in your favor by getting first or second. Plus, there's an added bonus that rewards players who would otherwise be tied, but did better in the front game.
However, if the three players went in with scores of 1200, 800, and 400, it would not matter what places they finished as the points differential between them was too high to change the standings. Basically the Crag in this scenario only decided whether the 1st place finisher would finish with a perfect score or not.
The new version, My Family's got GUTS, changes this to an American Gladiators-style setup: For every 10 points a team gets, that team gets to start up the Crag 1 second before the other team (for a maximum of 7 seconds). However, like AG's Eliminator, whoever finishes first wins, and some teams have come from a 7 second wait and still won.
American Gladiators was decided by the Eliminator from Season 3 on (in the first two seasons, it was total point score that mattered and the Eliminator simply added to the points accrued); first across the finish line won. The points scored in previous rounds were merely used to determine how big a head start the leading player got (one half-second per point).
In the 2008 edition, the Travellator, an inclined treadmill which the contenders must climb with the aid of a rope, becomes a golden snitch within a golden snitch - it's the very last obstacle that must be surmounted before crossing the finish line, and it's an order of magnitude more difficult than anything else in the event, especially as the contenders are now completely exhausted. If the first contender to reach it fails to make it up on his/her first attempt, his/her opponent will almost invariably catch up and the match essentially turns into a contest of luck.
Similarly, Supermarket Sweep's numerous question rounds simply determined how much time each team got to run through the store in the "Big Sweep" round at the end of the game. The winner of the "Big Sweep" then got to play for the big $5,000 prize.
On The Joker's Wild, either contestant could immediately win the game by spinning three Jokers and correctly answering a question in the category of their choice. The champ would only get a last spin if the challenger reached the $500 mark first, as it evened up the number of turns each player got.
In the "Face the Devil" bonus round, a "natural triple" here (three of the same dollar amount) instantly awarded the player a prize package, plus either $1,000 or the amount in the pot plus the value of the triple, whichever was higher.
Merv Griffin's Crosswords had a musical chairs system with three "spoiler" contestants who can steal on clues missed by the front two contestants. If a spoiler makes a successful spoil, they get to switch places with one of the contestants, and their cash and prizes stay at the podium. Sure this sounds harmless, but several games were decided by a last-second steal, and wouldn't you be aggravated as a contestant if you worked so hard (for such low payouts) to rack up that cash, only to see you get usurped by a contestant who did nothing the entire game just because you made one wrong move?
FunHouse had the Grand Prix, a Gimmick Level race around the studio collecting tokens worth 10 and 25 points, as well as earning 25 points for crossing the finish line first. Either team could easily clean house in this round, especially when they added in a "token bank" in the latter seasons, giving both teams more chances of racking up the points.
Finders Keepers. Winning the hidden pictures round only earned the team the right to do the room search. If they failed to find the object, the money for that attempt went to the opposing team. So even if one team completely dominated the hidden pictures round, if they failed too many searches, the opposing team would win without doing anything!
The "dare" system in Nickelodeon's Double Dare is similar to the Finders Keepers example; Each time a question is passed to the other team (known as "daring" the opponent to answer; the controlling team can "dare" the other team to answer, and be "double dared" to answer it in return, after which thy must answer it or take a physical challenge), the dollar value for it is doubled (twice the amount on a "dare", four times the amount on a "double dare"), and if the question is answered wrong while a "dare" or "double dare" was in play (or the physical challenge was not successfully completed), the last team to pass the question gets the money. Savvy players, therefore, could pingpong a question with their opponents to rack up the cash, then get the answer right or win the physical challenge to net them a huge lead (or give the game to the opponent on a silver platter, if they suck).
In theory, anyway. In practice, most of the players didn't want to take the chance that their opponent would know the answer after all. So if they Dared, it was because they didn't know the answer to begin with, and if the opponent Double Dared back, it went straight to the physical challenge.
Remember, too, that this show had a 1-2 format, making it even worse than the usual game show Golden Snitch; it was possible to hold the opponent completely scoreless for over half of the game and still lose big.
And finally, the bonus round: eight purely physical tasks, each with a more valuable prize. In all, a dumb but athletic team not only stood a much better chance of reaching the final than one that was smart but weak, but also would win much more once they got there. So physical talents could be considered a Golden Snitch.
The Video Challenges in Nickelodeon Arcade could be horrendously guilty of this; essentially, one teammate has to meet or beat the challenge set forth by the "video wizard" on a certain video game within a time limit, and depending on how much their partner wagers out of their score (which can be anything up to their total, or up to 25 points if they have less than that), they could effectively double or bust their score, depending on if the challenge is beaten, making or breaking the game for them.
Or it would have been had the player placing the wager bet more than the 5 or 10 points that most teams bet.
Nickelodeon had another show around the same time called Make The Grade, where the object was to answer at least one question for every subject and every grade level, thus lighting up your whole board. However, they also had physical challenges called "Fire Drills", where the contestants got to choose which player podium to return to based on how they placed in the Fire Drill. Very often, a contestant who spent the whole game answering questions and building up their board found themselves losing because one of the other contestants placed first in the Fire Drill and stole their board (the worst ones come when the kid in first place is one subject/grade level away from winning, and the thief answers the last one needed).
Masters of the Maze had the maze which took up most of the actual show. The previous (question) round determined which teams would go into the maze and which teams would go to the maze first, and the team who made it through the maze the fastest would win the game.
Body Language was a rare case where the first two rounds were in fact completely meaningless, or at least they would be if points weren't also consolation prize cash. To wit: The first two rounds were worth $100 each, and the second two were $250. You had to get $500 to win, which is only possible by winning both later rounds, whether or not you won the any of the first two rounds. If neither team got to $500, there was a tiebreaker for the game that completely ignored the previous scores.
Super Password used a 1-2-3-4 pattern where the first to 5 was the winner. If the same team took the second and third rounds, it won; if they were split, the fourth round decided the winner. In neither case did the outcome of the first round have any significance.
On Wheel of Fortune, the last round involves one final spin of the wheel, after which all consonants in the puzzle are worth the value spun plus $1,000. If it comes up on a high enough value (particularly the $5,000 space), the final puzzle could allow someone who previously hadn't won at all to overtake the leader and win. To be fair, all contestants keep all winnings, so it's hard to complain about a second-place score in the $20,000 range. For a long time, Pat Sajak hitting the $5,000 wedge was very rare, but over his tenure, he's become so effective at spinning the wheel that he can do it at a pretty consistent clip.
Really, the game is full of Golden Snitches, as getting such things as the $10,000 Mystery Round spot gives the player that gets them a marked advantage over the competition. But by far the worst offender is the Prize Puzzle, which nets you a trip worth at least $5,000 for simply solving the puzzle. Certain Genre Savvy players will immediately solve a Prize Puzzle, even if they haven't even spun the wheel yet, because they know that the prize itself is worth far more than anything they could hope to win that round and don't want to risk hitting a Lose a Turn or Bankrupt and giving the puzzle (and, by extension, the prize) to another player. In a normal game, where nobody gets a special space like the aforementioned two and they don't get an obscenely large Final Spin, the winner is more often than not the person who won the Prize Puzzle.
At least once, this has been subverted: one contestant went from a distant third to $35,000 thanks to a $6,000-per-letter Speed-Up, but still lost.
Another game breaker is the "½ Car" tags. There are two on the Wheel in the first three rounds, and they are replaced if one is picked up. It's not too difficult to pick up both, solve the puzzle, and win a car in the $15,000 range.
The Wild Card can shift the game as well, since it allows a player to call a second letter at the same value they just spun. $3500/$5000 space + Wild Card + a letter multiple = potential blowout.
During the show's 25th season, one round had a "Big Money" space that could award up to $25,000 if a player hit it at the right time and found a letter in the puzzle.
Starting in Season 30, the Express wedge. If a contestant calls a right letter on it, he or she can decide to stop spinning and start picking off consonants at $1,000 a pop. The option of buying vowels is still open, too, so most contestants have no difficulty figuring out the answer fairly early and continuing to call consonants until the puzzle is filled in entirely for a pretty sizeable bank.
When it existed, the Jackpot. It started at $5,000, increased with the value of every spin, and could be won if you hit the wedge, called a right letter, and solved. The Jackpot frequently went into five figures, and usually guaranteed its winner a trip to the Bonus Round.
The British show Keynotes has a particularly bad case of this: £30 for the first round, £60 for the second and £120 for the third. Not that all games were decided by the third round; at least one had a £30-0 victory.
Beat the Clock, particularly the version hosted by Monty Hall from 1979-80, is a prime example. Even if you were behind by the maximum possible amount of $2,000, the game came down to who could get shuffleboard pucks the furthest. Whoever was in the lead would go both first and last (admittedly a big enough advantage that an upset was uncommon), but as long the farthest puck that hadn't fallen off was yours, you won, even if you were behind the entire game! And then there was the Gary Kroeger version, which had two: the first had points accumulated translated to positions in an untimed stunt, last to finish is out; the second was a variation on Bid-a-Note from Name That Tune played between the last two teams (here's a stunt, whoever says they can complete it faster plays; if they fail, they hand the game to their opponent, and the first bid is determined by a trivia question).
In fact, on the Monty Hall version, the winner of the shufflepuck table round was that day's champion (and got to come back on the next show, unless reaching the $25,000 limit), even if they failed in the "bonus stunt" and ended up behind the other couple (by as much as $2000 to $300).
The first 50 minutes of The Crystal Maze concern the players completing challenges to win crystals. These crystals do nothing but increase the amount of time that the team is allowed in the Crystal Dome at the end (five seconds per crystal). This is made even worse by the fact that it didn't matter how much time you had: if you collected more negatively scoring silver tokens than positively scoring gold tokens, you failed anyway. (You had to get 100 points to win.) A perfect example of this can be found in a team that won 11 crystals (the average was four) and ended up with 198 gold... and 167 silver.
The Crystal Maze wasn't a true example, but the ineptitude of many contestants made it seem that way. The amount of time in the dome should matter, if the team has enough common sense to use the earned time to sort and discard some of the silver tokens, rather than collecting everything indiscriminately.
In the first format of Play The Percentages, a couple could immediately win the game and a cash jackpot by guessing exactly how many of 100 people correctly answered a knowledge question.
On the Canadian comedy-quiz show You Bet Your Ass (where the absolute top prize was $2500, Canadian), the setup was 1-1-2-n. First round had questions worth 100 points; second round did the same but mixed up how they were offered; third round had questions worth 200 points; the final round was effectively a series of three Final Jeopardies in a row to each player, with the minimum bet being 500. You have to build up an effective base to have a chance in the final round, true, but at that point almost anyone can catch you if they're bold and smart enough.
Also each contestant got a different set of questions, so they'd just have to hope they get easier ones.
Parodied by one Japanese variety show, in a game where the celebrity guests were asked questions worth 1 point each. However, the final question was worth 1,000,000,000,000 points. The score at the end humorously showed the winner's score as 1,000,000,000,003 (give or take a point or two) squeezed into very narrow digits.
Parodied in the 1978-79 game show sendup The Cheap Show, which used a 1-1-20 system.
It happened in the first season. It was a head-to-head, Kelly Monaco against John O'Hurley, which Kelly won. Criticisms over who really deserved it and how much of a role Kelly's fanbase played, promped ABC to do a rematch of the final several months after the season ended. It would be for the title, effectively DISCARDING THE ENTIRE SEASON, and for some inexplicable reason Kelly agreed to it. John won, and he won. No word on whether Kelly was forced to relinquish the trophy.
The 11th season final featured Evan Lysacek and Nicole Scherzinger (with Erin Andrews as the also-ran). Every round had half of the score determined by the judges and half by the audience...except the final. It was played out over two days. The first had two dances, with the combination of the two receiving a single score in the usual fashion. The second had two more dances, each receiving a score from the judges only, which effectively made the split 3/1. The judges, who were pretty vocal about wanting Nicole to win, scored her 2 points higher than Evan (30-28) both times, turning what had been up to that point a tight contest into an easy victory for Nicole.
And of course, every so often we get a very literal Golden Snitch, where the contest simply awards gigantic piles of points to one or more contestants at completely random points in the season. Any time you see some scoring wonk or something with a cute name like "dance-off" or "dance marathon", you can be sure you're going to see this. Of course, since scores don't carry over, all this does is ensure that someone the producers like survives the week (which is most likely the whole point).
The Newlywed Game, Carnie Wilson's version. First round, where the women are asked about the men, each question is worth 5 points. Second round, where the men are asked about the women, each question is worth 10 points. Except for the last question, which has two parts, each worth 15 points.
The most famous version with Bob Eubanks was basically the same, except the final was a single question worth 25 points.
MTV's Trashed, to an extent: Questions in the first two rounds earned 50 points and 100 points each, respectively. The show's final round featured rapid-fire questions at 150 points each for 39 seconds, making come-from-behind victories quite easy. However, winning the earlier rounds had a significant advantage: the more possessions you saved, the longer your time limit in the Bonus Round.
The german game show Schlag den Raab (internationally syndicated as Beat the Star) consists of 15 games (which can be comprised of sports (often unknown ones), games, trivia quizzes, any ability test of strength or dexterity, or tests of luck). The points are scored 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10-11-12-13-14-15 for a total of 120 - first to 61 or more wins. Not exactly this, as the first games hardly matter.
Entirely averted in British show Only Connect, where the question editor proudly announced that due to adjustments to the difficulty of the Connecting Wall (making it harder) and the Missing Vowels round (making it easier), Season 2 saw the rounds give, on average, equal points as each other to within a point... Despite the quick fire nature of the missing vowels round making it feel like it should be swingy compared to the other rounds.
British show Fluke saw rounds of quick fire questions interspersed with entirely arbitrary elimination rounds, with the points only giving the privilege to pick first in chance based games where whatever position you played in gave the exact same chance of being eliminated (Such as getting the choice of two ovens, one with a cooked goose and one with an uncooked goose, where if you opened the oven with the cooked goose it meant your goose is cooked which means you're out, to pick the final bye-bye game in the final episode as an example). Lampshaded via a catchphrase - "What are points?" 'Pointless!' - Not that the questions were any more than fifty/fifty toss ups for the entire show, including in the bonus round. Still, money would be given per correct answer.
Family Game Night on Hub awards one "Crazy Cash Card" to each family at the start of the show, then an additional card to the family who wins each game. Most cards are worth no more than $1500 or so (and generally only a couple hundred bucks), but one card is worth anywhere from $10,000 to $20,000. Thus, a family could lose all five games and still win the grand prize if the card they chose happens to be the jackpot one.
Played with in Beat The Geeks with the "Geequalizer". Each contestant is given rapid-fire questions worth 10 points each, but one wrong answer ends the round for them. There are just enough questions that if one contestant got every single point possible and the other contestant had zero, that contestant could come back from behind, but only if they finished the entire Geequalizer (pretty much unheard of), and the other contestant missed the very first question.
The short-lived Scavengers had an odd variant- points were awarded for collecting salvage during each game, rather than for winning the round. However, the final round essentially reset everyone's score, requiring them to carry the salvage they've already earned across a deep gorge over several trips. The more they've got so far, the more points they can earn, but if they mess up the leading team can finish with fewer points than they started with, allowing the trailing team to overtake them.
The Nickelodeon game show Wild And Crazy Kids was terribly guilty of this as their shows had a 3 event structure, with double points being awarded to the winners of the second event and triple points (or higher) to the winners of the third. This allowed the host to utter the line "So anybody can still win" before each event. This appeared to insult the intelligence of children about their understanding of competition.
The finale of WCG Ultimate Gamer has two contestants competing against each other in three different video games, worth 1, 2 and 3 points respectively, meaning all three games had to be played in order to guarantee a winner, and a player who won the first two games may still lose if they don't win the final game. Taken Up to Eleven in Season 2, where the final game was Halo: Reach, where one of the two finalists was one of the top Halo players in the world. Yep, isn't that fair?
This essentially is the same as 1-1-2.
Inverted in the Horrible Histories game show, Gory Games. Winning a round gets you a Year Sphere, containing a hidden year. At the end of the game, the spheres are opened and the years are added to determine the winner...but BC dates are subtracted, and they go back a long way. If you grab, say, a 1.5 million BC sphere, it'll knock you into flat last regardless of how many rounds you've won, because the positive scores are things like 1066 and 1492. And winning more rounds makes you more likely to grab the dud. It's quite possible, although unlikely - most year spheres are positive - to win no games, gain no spheres, score zero, and be declared champion because the other two competitors got negative scores.
Inverted in the earlier days of the Japanese show DERO! - the maximum possible prize in the Beam Room round usually accounted for around half the total money up for grabs in each episode, and it was also usually played first. Although it was also Nintendo Hard, so a win of more than half the maximum was rare. Played straight after it switched to a winner-take-all points battle format, and the Beam Room was moved to the last round before the Bonus Round. Under the new format, a Curb-Stomp Battle in the Beam Room (as highly improbable as it would be) would guarantee a win regardless of previous score.
The first season of Food Network's The Great Food Truck Race had a pretty bad example of this. The final leg of the race completely ignored everything that happened in the previous five weeks in favor of a straight-up race around New York City. This meant that the truck that had won all five previous legs of the race lost out to a truck that stayed in the middle of the pack throughout the race (and was in fact almost eliminated on the first episode).
In the Bill Engvall version of Lingo, the setup is now 1-2-5. Mitigated by only having 3 words in round three, but still true if the in-behind team gets all 3 words and a lingo, $2000 usually being enough to overtake anything of a lead the competition might have had.
"Talkin' 'bout Your Generation" does this every episode so that the final challenge is always a three-way tie. Since no prizes are won, and the game is just for laughs, it is somewhat justified.
Cha$e claimed that contestants accumulated money for every second they could avoid the Hunters and lost all their winnings if they were eliminated (by being tagged by a Hunter or otherwise), but there was no way to take that money and leave (although the show did have offers to quit the game for a fixed amount). Thus all that mattered was not being eliminated until the last few minutes, then being the first to reach the exit point. A player could easily reach the end with every utility and be eliminated simply because they couldn't reach the exit point first.
Couch Potatoes had the "Couch-Up Round", in which players took turns answering buzz-in questions. Buzzing in also stopped a computer that shuffled random point amounts as well as the phrase "Couch-Up"; answering a question with "Couch-Up" lit immediately tied the score if your team was behind, effectively making the first part of the show meaningless.
Spanish TV contest Gafapastas is a real-life shining example of this. It has five rounds, the first four are woth 600€ if you manage to do everything perfectly and the last one is 1200€ for the same. Not only that, but while the first four are individual rounds (Meaning both players can get the 600€), the last one is head-to-head answer-this-first squareoff, so a losing player can quickly Curb-Stomp Battle their opponent and win by with a huge margin. The current champion has won many games simply because he's really good at the last round. The worst part? For a while, it was 800€ for the first 4 rounds and 800€ for the last. That's right, they changed it to make the rounds MORE unbalanced!
Let's Ask America has a question worth as much as all questions up to that point at the end of each of its three rounds, with money totals being cumulative throughout the game. The player with the lowest total gets eliminated at the end of each round. The format is 1-2-3 for the first round, 4-5-15 for the second, and 20-50 for the third round. Answering the last question of any round correctly will allow the contestant to at the very least tie, but more likely pull ahead of anyone who did not answer the question correctly.
Jeopardy! has all the trappings of this trope, but never plays it completely straight. Earlier questions (although they tend to be easier ones) are worth less money than the later ones, and the Daily Doubles and the Final Jeopardy round can all double your money if you get them right. However, you also can LOSE just as much money for any question if you answer wrong, and the game is virtually an automatic win if one player has at least double the score of any other player going into the last round, as long as they don't pull a Cliff Clavin by betting too much on Final Jeopardy. (Ties for first at the end of Final Jeopardy are considered a "win" for all players involved, as long as the score is more than zero.)
Jay Wolpert's Wait Til You Have Kids uses a "1-2-3-4x2" format, though more than one couple can score per-round. In the final round, both members of each couple answer and score score individually, allowing up to 8 points to be won!
On the original Concentration, if a game ends in a draw, a new game is started with each contestant allowed to retain up to three prizes from the draw game. This also applies if time is running out on a show and a puzzle is 3/4ths exposed. The puzzle is revealed, the game is ruled a draw, and a new game is started on the next show with the players allowed to retain up to three prizes from that default draw game.
On Classic Concentration, a player can match no prizes, win both games and lose the car round both times, going home with nothing but the consolation prizes they give to the losers. On the original show, a player won $100 winning a game with no matched good prizes (and/or the $500—later a car—bonus for selecting two Wild Cards on the same turn).
The Krypton Factor, in pre-1995 series, had the General Knowledge round at the end of the game. Whilst in most rounds the contestants scored 10, 6, 4 or 2 points according to their ranking in that round, in the General Knowledge round, you simply scored 2 points for a correct answer and lost 2 for an incorrect one. It didn't matter how good your Mental Agility, plane-landing skills or completing a gruelling assault course faster than anyone else was, the General Knowledge round (often comparatively easier, though YMMV) could essentially undo all that. The 1995 series had the final Super Round, with all previous rounds merely buying "advantages" that could be used at the end.
On Cheers, They had the Best Boston Barmaid competition in which Carla won every round, including customer service, only to be informed at the end that she lost to the terrible, blonde barmaid because the winner is always the barmaid with the biggest breasts.
On The Colbert Report, Stephen Colbert's Metaphor-Off (Or "Meta-Free-Phor-All") with Sean Penn involved four questions. The first three were worth one point each. The last question was worth ten million points. It could decide the winner.
Likewise, in one episode of Out of This World, Evie's team sweeps the entire game, netting 900 points. The final question is worth 1000. Surprisingly, they win anyway.
The creators of Whose Line Is It Anyway?? gleefully tweaked their noses at this trope by having The Points Mean Nothing—what's more, not only do the point values have no meaning, the awarding thereof is completely arbitrary and the "prize" is just the questionable privilege of a bonus game.
The reason this was adopted in the original British version was originally for quality control — they filmed more games than there was time to include in one episode. Thus, the least funny/successful games could be left out. If the points were meaningless, they wouldn't have to account for the missing points at the end of the show.
Not always questionable, sometimes winning meant you got to sit out the bonus game instead of participating.
In the British version, at least, the "prize" was to read the show's closing credits in the style of the host's choosing.
In the US version the prize was frequently to switch places with the host and sit out the last game.
In one episode of the US version they were doing a game show and the final round was "worth one million points, making all previous rounds pointless".
An episode of Welcome Freshmen had an academic bowl being won a team that answered all of three questions, by luck to boot, which all happened to be worth 10 times that of previous questions.
An episode of The New Addams Family show had Gomez competing against Death for his life in this fashion. The last round is worth all of the points, and when asked "Then what was the point of the matches before?" The reply is just "better ratings".
The Championship Gaming Seriestruly screwed the pooch on this one- the contest's five diciplines were hugely idiosyncratically scored- aceing both Dead or Alive rounds five-nil, (for a total of ten points) taking the top two spots in Forza Motorsport (taking six points and conceding one), and winning FIFA by three clear goals (Net profit of three points) will result in a tie if the opponent team wins all the Counter-Strike rounds (18 points). Of course, which discipline counts as the golden snitch is up in the air, as the rounds were never played (or at least, broadcast) in any specific order.
The very last round of Talkin' 'bout Your Generation is always worth one point more than the difference between the losing time and the winning team, "which means that anyone can win!". Of course, The Points Mean Nothing anyway; the only real stakes are bragging rights.
Although subverted, though definitely not averted, in Episode 26 wherein it was worth one million points. Which was still well and truly enough that anyone could win, but there was no "exactly" about it.
On at least one occasion, Shaun just admitted he didn't remember what the score was and set the final round at an arbitrarily high number of points.
The Beauty Pageant in the iWas A Pageant Girl episode of iCarly seemed to follow this pattern. Sam is an uncouth loudmouth going on about fried chicken during the introduction and answers her special question stupidly. Both of these on their own would be enough to stop someone coming first. But somehow Sam comes back to win, as she performs a tap dance routine in the talent section.
Kelso: (as the host) The girls have 50 points, and the boys have... zero. But the boys still have a chance, as this last round is conveniently worth fifty...one.
Competitions between the three presenters on the British motoring show Top Gear often include a Golden Snitch for the final event making the other events sometimes completely unnecessary. For example in the original Cheap Car Challenge the final event was to add a point for every pound under the limit the presenter spent. This allowed Clarkson to come from behind and win because he spent a grand total of 1 pound for his vehicle.
The general flaw is that instead of awarding points for rank in any one event, they are awarded based on actual performance which is often unbounded and never weighted. The problem can work in reverse when points are subtracted for poor performance and a breakdown or other misfortune can result in thousands of points being lost.
Usually by James May.
Lampshaded in the Police Car Challenge, where Hammond scores 1 point for 'flamboyance' while the others score nothing, and subsequently kick up a huge fuss about it despite it being totally irrelevant to the final scores.
Dave Gorman's Important Astrology Experiment judged the value of astrology by measuring elements of Dave's happiness on three scales - Love (on a scale of -100 to +100), Health (on a scale of -100 to +100) and Wealth (in pounds) - and then adding them up to see if the total was positive or negative. So he could be dying alone, but as long as he had more than £200... (And that's exactly what happened; with all three scores circling the drain, he put up a longshot bet just before the arbitary cut-off point, and scored £500. So astrology works.)
Even though teams on The Amazing Race have their time disparities preserved across legs (if you checked in N minutes after the first team on the previous leg, you have to wait N minutes after the first team departs on the current leg before you can depart), the show will usually set up an equalizer near the start of every leg where all the contestants end up arriving at an airport several hours before the first flight, or (more uncommonly) at a task location hours before it opens. The vast majority of the time, this wipes out most if not all advantages and disadvantages between teams had from the previous legnote Exceptions do happen, albeit very rarely, such as Nick & Vicki in Season 18 - at over 6 hours behind the second-to-last team, they couldn't make it onto the same flight as the other teams, and ended up 9 hours behind by the time they arrived in South Korea. However, demonstrating that Tropes Are Not Bad, the first season's lack of these equalizers led to two teams being over 12 hours ahead of the rest by the end of leg 9, making the game essentially Unwinnable for the rest and making most of the remainder a Foregone Conclusion.
They also have none-announced "non-elimination" rounds, which, since the idea is to be the last team standing, makes the entire leg pointless. The first team may, or may not, win a prize but all teams continue to the next leg and (as the first poster said) the order in which they arrived really does nothing to alter the odds. They also have "Fast Forwards" which if completed first allow one team to skip over all other tasks.
National selections for the Eurovision Song Contest have been known to feature this, notably the Ukrainian entry in 2005. Having played out the preselection over the course of 15 knockout rounds, the broadcaster bizarrely added Razom nas bahato, an anthem of the previous year's Orange Revolution, as a "wildcard" entry in the final. It won the vote (and promptly had to be rewritten to remove the political content, in accordance with Eurovision rules).
In The Finder Walter needs to take a sanity test from Dr. Sweets, if he passes he can officially take part in any investigation as a consultant, if he fails Walter would be considered insane. Walter fails, but Sweets can get him to pass if Walter tells him what compelled him to find things.
Kamen Rider Fourze pulls off something similar to Naruto. During an astronaut qualification exam, there is a "bonus" question about describing the test papers (answer when the three test papers are held up to the light, an outline of a star appears in the field for the bonus question). Idiot Hero Gentaro and Cloud Cuckoo Lander Yuki pass the exam answering only the bonus question, meaning that regardless of score, answering that bonus question is enough of a qualification. The exam proctor mentions that the school board chairman (also the series Big Bad) only put it in for "a little joke".
In Rappy McRapperson's Basketball, the singer's team was losing by a hundred points, only for a teammate to pass the ball to him so he could pull off an awesome dunk worth a million points.
Bugs Bunny's Birthday Ball, from the same designer, also features a 50 million point shot. However, unlike in the former, it is achieved by random target hits.
Johnny Mnemonic has Spinner Millions, which is worth 10 million points a spin for the rest of the ball it's activated (on default operator settings, you can only get this once per game). With only about 5-6 trips through the spinner, this can reach a billion points or more. The fact that it's part of your bonus that can be multiplied up to 4X will turn that into 4 billion. There is also a Good Bad Bug with Hold Bonus which will essentially award it twice on the next ball, meaning having Hold Bonus would award you another 8 billion on the next ball, and again as long as you keep getting Hold Bonus. By comparison, the Wizard Mode of this game usually awards about 5 billion points.
The Wizard Mode in Capcom's Breakshot, "Cutthroat Countdown", can easily become this — a decent round of Cutthroat Countdown can easily break ten million and roll the score, while the Score Multiplier and consecutive Countdowns could theoretically be worth over 200 million.
Comet has the One Million shot, which can make for some pretty lopsided scores. Somewhat mitigated in that it's only available on the last ball, and collecting it requires the player to light 1-9-8-6 and then make the Cycle Jump to the farthest target.
Completing 9-Ball in Cue Ball Wizard gives an overwhelming 500 million points, or 1 Billion if DOUBLE is enabled. Offset somewhat in that 9-Ball is a Timed Mission that is not easily achieved.
This is the biggest criticism players have against the Gilligan's Island pinball. Successfully delivering the Lava Seltzer to Kona the Volcano God rewards a lopsided 50 million points... with another 50 million rewarded for each subsequent shot the player makes before time runs out.
White Water's "5x Playfield" bonus, which, well, makes everything worth 5 times as many points as normal for the next 25 seconds. If White Water appears at a competition, expect to see all of the top players build up their awards as high as possible, activate "5x Playfield," then collect them within those 25 seconds, which can likely make "5x Playfield" worth more than everything else collected up to that point.
Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me features this in spades, as every question in all but the final round is worth one point to each panelist, but the lightning round questions are worth two points each and are more numerous than all the other questions combined. That said, since it's a comedy show masquerading as a game show, the score isn't really all that important.
In an average game, around 9 points are awarded before the lightning round. Each panelist gets 2 questions worth 1 point each, and 3 more are up for grabs for games like Bluff the Listener. The lightning round consists of 7 questions per panelist (or as many as can fit into 60 seconds, whichever is less), each worth 2 points. Thus, the only impact of the first 50 minutes of the show on the final result is that one contestant might have a one-question lead going into the endgame.
Hamish And Andy Invented a game called random John, in which a random phone number is dialed. There are strict rules about how often a call can be made and what qualifies as random. If the person who answers the phone is called “John” the caller gets 1 john point. If the person who answers the phone is called “John Johnson” the caller gets 50 john points, making it something of a golden snitch. However since they have been playing this game for over three months and still have not gotten a single john point, even getting a “John” could qualify as at least a silver snitch.
Vampire: Prince Of The City (a board game based on Vampire: The Requiem) has a rule stating that it is impossible to win the game while one's character is in torpor. This basically means that if you play well and rack up a nice, big points lead, the rest of the players will gang up on you and send you into torpor in the last round, effectively handing victory to whoever is in second place at the time.
Munchkin gamers will usually gang up on whoever is highest, especially when that player is trying to score their tenth level (thus winning the game). For this reason, it's preferred to face off against a really weak enemy, so you can win even after everyone else has thrown everything they have to stop you. However, if that player is stopped, the next player trying to score the tenth level will usually win due to everyone else having run out of curses and monster-boosting cards.
In the remake of 1313 Deadend Drive, each person on the will starts with a certain amount of money tokens, descending as you go down. If someone on the will is bumped off, their tokens go to the person below them. Each player "owns" certain characters and can move anyone on the board, and the goal is to bump off the opponent's characters and get yours out of the house before the detective arrives. The cat starts with twelve tokens (the most of anyone - she's at the top of the will), and it takes several turns before anyone has the ability to trigger a Death Trap - so if you control the cat and can get her out of the house immediately, you have an insurmountable lead from the very start.
Japanese Mahjong has special hands called yakuman which are quite difficult to obtain, but they are worth 32,000 points (48,000 if you are the dealer). In a game where everyone typically starts with only 25,000 points, scoring one of these off another player will likely bankrupt them. Usually, if someone goes bankrupt the game is over and the rankings are determined then and there, and guess who probably just stormed into the lead with a cool 32-48,000 points?
Mario Kart can also be the same way. Some players purposely play horrible and then suddenly blow into the lead in the final lap. How? The game grants losing players better items. This may cause some people to think skill means nothing while others say the strategy is perfectly fair. In fact, people would purposely slow down when approaching item boxes while near another player so that they could get a chance at getting a Star or the like, especially if players are clustered close together, as your luck with items depends solely on what place you're in, with no regard to distance. The technique was called sandbagging and was fairly common online in the DS and Wii version.
In Mario Kart Wii, the last stretch of the final lap is often the deciding factor, and especially on the last track of the grand prix. Specifically, if you're in the lead, the deciding factor is how many items you get hit by in a row. It's awfully suspicious how often the Blue Shell hits either right before the finish line or on the final jump of the course, if there is one. This is even worse since even if you play perfectly on the first three courses, a Blue Shell at the last second of the final track can rob you of a star rank, thus making the star-rank requirements for certain unlocks an aneurysm waiting to happen.
This trope is pretty much Luigi Circuit, Figure Eight Circuit and Toad Circuit in a nutshell. Forget the first two and a half laps, it's the last small section/turn with the item boxes that decides whether you're gonna win handily (aka you don't get the sound/sight of a Blue Shell ominously approaching from behind) or end up in last (if the Blue Shell, Triple Red Shells or various other overpowered items are fired just at this last hurdle)
For that matter, Sandbagging works in every competitive weaponised racer. Stick around in second place waiting for a good homing weapon (you have three laps to bide your time), then blow up the number one with two seconds to spare and win the game. Somewhat averted in games with powerful backwards firing weapons.
Racing games in general when Rubber Band A.I. is involved. Struggling to get to or stay in 1st place? You generally still have a shot of winning. Are you in 1st place for the entire race? One bad event (attacked, crashed, etc.) will cost you the entire race as the AI will be right behind you to pass you by the minute you screw up.
Multistage Payload Race maps in Team Fortress 2 (including Pipeline and Nightfall) work this way; if a team wins both of the first two rounds, they can still lose the third round and the game. While they are given a significant edge (their bomb stops up further in the last round), whether this is worth the effort to win those first two rounds is debatable.
Parodied somewhat in Mother 3, when the player has to compete in three games in order to continue. As the third game begins, the host alerts you that the third game is worth enough to win everything, but the point of the whole thing is to just barely lose all the games to stroke the ego of the villain, so this fact is irrelevant.
In the video game version of Scene It?, the final round is completely broken. Some versions have the final round set to where getting a wrong answer takes away points from your score, and later versions have the point multiplier, which doubles the amount of points you get each time for repeatedly answering correctly (2x, 4x, 8x, etc.)
In Elite Beat Agents, a player receives 50, 100 or 300 points for successfully tapping "hit markers" in time with the beat of a song, with more points for a more timely hit. However, you then get a multiplier to that score that depends on the number of markers you've hit in a row, which can get up to hundreds of times the original score. So markers early in a song are mainly only good for raising your combo numbers, and the actual score only makes a difference later on. Except for one thing - on higher difficulty levels, 50s and 100s give you next to no life, so you need 300s. This has the side effect of missing a note in mid-song much, much more detrimental to your score than missing in the beginning or the end.
Left 4 Dead in VS mode is sort of like this. Both teams when playing as survivors gain points based on distance traveled, survivors left, health remaining, and then the map bonus multiplier. If the whole team dies, they only get distance and map bonus and the points gained for distance is very small since it only maxes out at 100 points. The map bonus multiplier starts of as x1 but can reach as high as x2 or x4 near the end. A team who has been losing for a bit can suddenly sweep victory under the other team's nose if they do exceptionally well in the end. This is assuming that the losing team is only down by a few points and not lagging badly like 3000 points behind.
The scoring system in VS mode heavily relied on number of survivors that made it to the safe room, how much health everyone had when they made it, and the map multiplier. This could often cause one team of very skilled players to dominate by 1000 points or more while the team that can't reach the safe room several times would never have a chance to get ahead. The sequel cuts down on this and the trope by changing the scoring where only the distance counts as the major factor of scoring and anyone that did happen to make it to the safe room would just get 25 more points per person that is alive. Tied scores in a round are dealt with by awarding the team that did the most damage as the infected in that round extra points.
The quiz game Buzz ends with an eliminator round: Every time you answer a question correctly, your opponents' scores tick down, and anyone whose score gets reduced to zero loses. Therefore, it's possible to catch up and win even if you were lousy in all of the other rounds.
Bubble Bobble is also like this: no matter how good you are, if there is only one player alive when you defeat the Big Bad on level 100, you're told "never forget your friend" and thrown back into the game. Fortunately, it's fairly easy to defeat this: just get the Big Bad bubbled, then just before you kill him press the Player 2 Start. Bingo! Instead of being thrown back, you'll get the False Ending or the True Ending, depending on whether you're playing the Normal Game or Super Game respectively.
Good thing this gameplay mechanic has been removed from its sequels.
A game called TV Show King Quiz Party or something along those lines, has you(r Miis) playing for money. On the final round, the 2 best players will compete against each other to in that final round. The prize money is always enough to beat the opposing team, even if they have a $700,000 lead.
A variety of RTS games that feature a special character/king/commander (ie: Total Annihilation, Age of Empires, Dawn of War) have game modes where an alternate instant win mechanism is to assassinate the enemy leader. Regardless of resources, scores or armies, if the leader is taken out by an unlucky series of events then it's an immediate game end.
The Orzammar chapter in Dragon Age: Origins involves the player selecting one of two candidates vying for the throne. You'll do a couple of tasks meant to improve their bid for kingship, but ultimately, the last quest, which involves securing the decision of a Paragon in the Deep Roads is the only one that will definitively secure the position without question. So important is it, that you can easily switch candidates at the last minute.
In the sequel, in the Mage-Templar conflict, you can side with either side for much of Act III, but you have one last chance to make a decision after Anders blows up the Chantry. None of your previous decisions in that act affect the outcome after you make that decision.
Final Fantasy IX has the Festival of the Hunt in Lindblum, itself a Take That of the "running of the bulls" in Spain. Instead of bulls, monsters commonly fought in Random Encounters pepper the city, but the (appropriately golden-brown) Zaghnol is worth five times the points of any of them.
Somewhat justified in that the Zaghnol was an fairly powerful and extremely vicious monster that the organizers didn't expect anyone to beat. Not to mention that the player can only find it after going to every area at least once, so you'll be pretty low on time and hard-pressed to beat it before time expires.
The House of the Dead 4 Special, a special edition of the original game with only 2 levels, and a chair which rotated between two screens, had this for the final boss. You have about 5 seconds to throw a grenade at him after you've weakened him. If you fail to do it, you get a bad end.
City of Heroes has the Praetorian origin, in which the player spends the first 20 levels defining their character through a series of moral choices. Whether the character becomes a hero or villain upon leaving Praetoria, however, is decided only by their actions in the final mission.
In Spellcasting 301, it doesn't really matter how well the Pharts do in the challenges. Whether they stomped the Yus, got stomped or ran a close competition, at the end of the final scheduled challenge, the Judge will declare that since the scores are so close (Which they might not be), there will be one last challenge, which will earn the frat to complete it enough points to guarantee a win. This is because the Judge is secretly the series Big Bad, and the whole point of the competition from his perspective is to manipulate somebody into completing this final task, which will provide him the MacGuffin he needs to enact his evil scheme.
In Wallace & Gromit's Grand Adventures: The Bogey Man, Wallace is competing against Duncan McBiscuit for chairmanship of the Prickly Thicket Country Club, and is rather absurdly behind (167 to 83, according to the scoreboard). After the 16th hole, in order to humor his totally outmatched opponent, Duncan offers to ignore the stroke count and declare Wallace if the winner if he can complete the course before Duncan does, meaning that despite Wallace having completed the course in twice as many strokes as his opponent, he still wins the game (mainly because Duncan couldn't find the 18th hole).
The tactical nuke in Modern Warfare 2, earned by getting a streak of 25 kills. It is, literally, an "I win" button for your team — even if your team was three thousand points behind your opponents, and they were just a couple of kills away from winning, your use of the tactical nuke is an automatic, no-questions-asked victory.
In an act of brazenness, there's a special XP award for calling in a tactical nuke when your team is losing - which is almost impossible to get unless the team that got the 25 kill streak decides to throw the match until the other team catches up.
In Star Wars Battlefront: Elite Squadron, there is a skirmish mode. It consists of three rounds. The first and the second have no effect on the final victory. They just provide offensive and defensive bonuses in round 3, which decides whether or not the game is won.
Banjo-Kazooie's "Grunty's Furnace Fun". It is a Mario Party-like game board where you work your way from the start to the finish, answering questions as you go. Get one wrong, and you lose one HP. But... there is a type of space which becomes MUCH more common the farther you go... where a wrong answer means instant death. One of these is, in fact, at the very end, so missing the final question will force you to start over, even if you performed flawlessly up to that point.
Played with in beatmania IIDX: On one hand, every note is worth the same maximum of 2 points to your EX Score. On the other hand, most songs tend to have a Difficulty Spike at the very end where the note density suddenly skyrockets. The clear/fail judgment is a straight example, since your Life Meter must be at 80% or higher at the end of the song or else you fail, making the endings much more important.
Earlier installments of Dance Dance Revolution would multiply the value of each step by the number of steps so far (so for example, if a Perfect on the first step is worth X, then a Perfect on the second step is worth 2X, third step 3X, and so on), making the last step worth well over a hundred times more than the first. In addition, it would calculate X to make the maximum possible score come out to a round number (which depends on the version and difficulty) but then round down X to a multiple of 10, essentially salami-slicing your score. To keep the maximum possible score at that round number, the salami-sliced points are added onto your score if you get a Perfect on the final step. For example, in MaxX Unlimited on Heavy difficulty, the first step is worth 530 points, the final jump is worth 323,300 points (530 base x 610th step), and holding that jump until the Freeze Arrow finishes is worth another 1,231,850 points (530 base x 611th step + 908,020 points salami-sliced previously). This system was finally changed in DDR SuperNOVA so that every step is worth the same and no salami-slicing occurs.
The Nintendo World Championships 1990 was a gauntlet of three NES games: Super Mario Bros., Rad Racer, and Tetris. Players were given six minutes and 21 seconds to complete three objectives: get 50 coins in SMB, finish a specially-made course in Rad Racer, then use the remaining time to score as many points as possible in Tetris. The scores were added up when time expires, but the Rad Racer score is multiplied by 10, and the Tetris score was multiplied by 25. The contest therefore was determined largely by whoever got the most time saved for Tetris as well as optimal strategy for that.
Similarly, the 1992 Campus Challenge is a gauntlet of three SNES games: Super Mario World, F-Zero, and Pilotwings. The player must get 50 coins in SMW, finish two laps of Mute City I in F-Zero, and then use the remaining time to score as many points as possible in Pilotwings. In this case, the F-Zero score is multiplied by 100, making it worth a maximum of 340,000 points. The Pilotwings score is multiplied by 10,000. As with NWC, the Pilotwings segment makes up a vast majority of the score; each stage in Pilotwings is worth up to 100 points, which translates to up to 1,000,000 points in contest score.
The Vs. Mode Minigames of New Super Mario Bros. will give 100 stars to whoever player that wins the last round of Shuffle Mode, which mostly guarantees a win to anyone who isn't in first place (unless they are far behind).
The Reversi mode in WarioWare: Mega Party Game$ has one of these in the form of a giant robot. The player who owns the most tiles at the end of the game must "battle" this robot by playing one final microgame, and if they lose he crushes their spaceship with his hands and all of the other players win a joint victory.
Some stages in the Puzzle Bobble clone Puzzle de Pon have hidden spots where you can shoot a bubble for an instant 1,000,000 points, in a game where a well-played stage scores about 100,000 points.
Puzzle Bobble awards huge scores for dropping a large number of bubbles at once, so levels where this is possible (especially a few "one-shot" levels where this is the only gameplay) are worth disproportionately more.
Zig-zagged in Spin-Off in Wii Party. When several x2 or x3 spaces are landed on without playing a mini-game, the bank will have an absurd amount of coins the player who wins the next game will usually get an incredible lead. That lead can easily be taken away in a duel mini-game though, where the challenger (who gets to choose their opponent) gets half the opponent's coins if they win. A win here will usually give the challenger a slight lead over their opponent and overall.
The Jack Attack segments in the You Don't Know Jack games are well-known for having lots of questions with huge payouts. Anyone who dominates in this segment is all but guaranteed to win unless the cash difference between the players is astronomical.
It can also work in the other direction. Because you can pick the wrong answers as many times as you want, and are penalized for each wrong answer, it's very possible to get yourself into extreme negatives, as Jon Tron demonstrates in this episode of Game Grumps. (He was Button Mashing on purpose, but carelessness can really cost you in this round.)
Ace Attorney does this in reverse. While the official games go with the normal 1-2 for penalties, some fan games can take this Up to Eleven with 1-2-2.5-5. Since the health bar is usually 80 or 120 (depending on the engine), single penalties are either 16 or 24. You really don't want to mess up on the 2.5 or 5 section of the game.
Mario Party. In almost all games, the last five turns tend to come with an event that activates to change things around, usually to the point the entire flow of the game is altered in about five seconds. Some of these events include:
Coins given or taken away by landing on Blue/Red spaces are doubled.
All Red Spaces become Bowser Spaces (aka a 30% or so chance of something bad happening to a random person every turn)
Bowser Revolution, where everyone's coins/stars are taken and shared equally between all players
There's also the postgame Star giving awards, in which players get free Stars for various 'achievements'. These can also take someone right from last to first (or vice versa), and right after the game's technically 'finished' to boot!
Ultra Fast Pony: In "The Pet Games", eligibility for the final round of the Games is decided completely at random, rendering all the prior rounds utterly pointless. It's possible this isn't how the Games are supposed to be organized, but just the result of head judge Rainbow Dash being an idiot.
DM of the Rings, like its source material, essentially ends with the entire fate of the campaign resting on one single die roll for whether or not Frodo manages to cast the ring into Mt. Doom.
It should be noted that, at that point, Frodo isn't even a player character. He's an NPC.
Gimli: You mean that after all we've been through, this campaign comes down to the roll of a single d20? DM: Well... With special modifiers... Gimli:***Eye Take*** Legolas: Actually, that sounds intense. Roll it, man. Let's see what we get.
In thisSluggy Freelance non-canon parody of Harry Potter, the final event of a competition is worth four billion points. The leader after the previous events had all of fifteen points. This is lampshaded as "Standard wizard procedure of completely unbalancing all games".
In an earlier parody, the Golden Snitch in their take on Quidditch is basically the Instant-Win Condition. Torg innocently picks it up to look at it during the rules explanation and wins the game for his team.
The Captain Planet episode "You Bet Your Planet" had aliens put on a game show between the Planeteers and Ecovillains to decide the fate of the planet. The Ecovillains won the first three rounds, but in the last, a Family Feud-style round, let the heroes get points for every correct answer they got, allowing them to quickly equal the bad guys.
In one episode of A Pup Named Scooby-Doo, Scooby and Shaggy are contestants on a game show that spoofs The $1,000,000 Chance of a Lifetime. After the opposing team passes on the final puzzle, Shaggy gives the correct solution and earns 30,000 points for himself and Scooby, enough to win the game.
Played for humor in an episode of Dave the Barbarian. After failing the first three parts of his Rite of Pillage, Dave is able to pass the rite overall because the final test (counting for 75% of his score) is handwriting. The explanation is that the Rite is sponsored by a pen company.
The very final race of Ōban Star-Racers is worth twice as many points as any of the prior races, giving even last placers a shot at the win.
An episode of The Simpsons had a contest between bar owners. After two contests, they get to the Drunk Toss, which is worth 98% of the total score, "... making the previous rounds a complete waste. Oh yeah!" Sure enough, Moe wins the contest despite having lost the other rounds.
The PJs had this in the episode with the gumbo contest. At least the important event was actually cooking gumbo and the tasting.
In Futurama Blernsball, a tethered descendent of baseball, has a target at the very far boundary of the stadium with the words "Hit ball here to win the game". The only possible way to hit the target is to break the tether, thus scoring a traditional "home run".
Played straight in some episodes of Laff-A-Lympics. Usually by making the last event a "special" 50-pointer.
Manipulative Bastard and Jerk AssSociopath game show host Chris from Total Drama Islandloves to pull these over on the contestants, as it always guarantees the show will be interesting. He usually gets called out for it, but the episode Up The Creek was one of the few that no one pointed out.
In one episode of Jimmy Neutron Boy Genius, Jimmy cheats in a parent-child contest so that he and his father win the earlier rounds. Cindy discovers his ploy, neutralizes it, and then mockingly reminds Jimmy that the one remaining contest is worth the majority of the score.
In another episode, the children in Ms. Fowl's class take their final exam, which, according to Ms. Fowl, is worth 95% of their total grade.
An episode of Reboot had Enzo playing in a sports Game where only the last race counts whether or not you win. However, the point lead one accumulates determines how much of a lead you have for the last run.
The Legend of Korra has pro-bending, which can be won instantly if the entire enemy team is knocked out of bounds in any single round. The protagonists win their first match from behind like this. However, other than that the sport is actually specifically designed by the writers not to have anything like this, since Korra is so strong that in a real fight she's pretty much invincible. The rules downplay strength and outlaw specialty moves like freezing or lightning, emphasizing finesse... exactly the sort of thing Korra has trouble with.
The Tom Terrific story "The Big Dog Show-Off" has Mighty Manfred at first winning the contest after the other dog in the contest is unmasked to by the show's villain, Crabby Appleton. But Manfred has his prize revoked as the judge ruled that there is no category for talking dogs.
Audiences often interpret games in this way, e.g. if a soccer player misses an open goal in the first half, it'll be forgotten, but if he misses an open goal in the last second, he'll be blamed for losing the game. Both misses were equally bad, but only the latter is seen as significant.
It is very easy for the audience to forget (or simply not care) that in order for the one team to lose the game on the 'last play', the other team had to be good enough to get the game to a state where this matters. ie all that happened in the game up to that point actually matters a lot more than the 'last play'
Two of tennis' four 'grand slam' tournaments, Wimbledon (until 1921) and the US Open (until 1911) both originally had a 'challenge' system in which the winner of the previous year's tournament automatically went straight through to the final of the current year's tournament to face a 'challenger' who had won a knockout of all the other players (and who had often worn themselves out in the process).
In the Aztec/Mayan Ball Game, most games were won on points, but if someone knocked a ball through a ring, they won immediately.
The ring was impossibly high and small, though. But then again, the losing team is sacrificed to the Sun god, so that is probably good motivation to try. Or maybe the winning team is, Historians are unsure what the fuck actually happened during these games except that it was pretty lethal and somebody is Sacrificed to the Sun god later.
In a "board" (actually mat) game played by the Aztecs, you could score an instant win if all your beans landed on their ends and stayed that way. Which probably happened as often as someone sending the ball through the ring in tlachtli.
Note that this ancient version of basketball (apparently) forbade use of the hands and feet: players had to hit the ball with their knees and elbows.
A lot of GAA tournaments are like this: seven or eight teams all play each other, but the top four go to the semi-finals anyway, rendering the opening games kinda worthless.
Indeed, historically, the team with the most goals won, regardless of the number of points - one imagines points are only valuable as tie-breakers...
A real-life example is the Major League Soccer playoff format. The first round consists of an aggregate-score two-game home and home series, meaning that teams that have worked hard all year and finished top of their division have no benefit over a lazy team that barely scraped into the playoffs, especially where 8 of the 13 teams make the playoffs to begin with. This makes most of the season pointless.
Something like this happened twice in World Cups. The famous last game of the 1950 World Cup in Brazil was won by Uruguay, practically negating the hosts' two previous dominating victories over their rivals and winning the Cup for Uruguay. And in 1982, Italy advanced to the second round as the worst team of the top 12 after drawing their three first games, then went on to win their next three games, including the final match, to become World Champions.
If one really wants to stretch it, any sports playoffs are inherently Golden Snitch-worthy. Possibly the only "playoffs" that couldn't be considered such was the original baseball World Series, before the LCS and interleague play was instituted.
The greater the fraction of teams involved in the playoffs, the less relevant the regular season is, even though the regular season represents many more games. The NHL and the NBA are particular examples, where teams with losing records regularly qualify. Of course, if the regular-season divisional titles are themselves of value, then there are two separate competitions and it's not a Golden Snitch. European soccer, where the national titles both qualify you for the Champions' League and make you national champion is like this.
From 1979 to 1991, the NHL had 21 teams, 16 of whom made the playoffs. That means only the bottom quarter of the league lost their chance at a championship. In the 1987-88 season, the Toronto Maple Leafs made the playoffs with a record of 21 wins, 49 losses, and 10 ties. This was the worst playoff-worthy record of the period, but not by much. Thankfully, such teams were too blowful to make it very far into the playoffs.
Even today (2010 season), the Canadian Football League playoffs allow six of the league's eight teams a shot at the championship.
There is a slight advantage to having the second leg of a home-and-away game at home; extra time will be at home, so you could play 90 minutes away and 120 minutes at home, which helps.
The post-season selection process in American college sports. In football, poll voters give more weight to late-season results than early season-ones. In other sports, which have impartial committees to select teams for the national championship tournament, the committees freely acknowledge that they prefer teams who are playing well at the end of the regular season. Ergo, late-season games are more important than early-season ones. What makes this so bewildering is that, in the sports thatmatter, the latter-half of the Regular Season is almost completely devotedto Conference Play!note More so in Basketball than Football by sheer numbers. Meaning that if you're not in an Auto-Qualifier in Football or one of the Powers in Basketball, you're practically screwedunless you carry a (near- in basketball) Perfect Non-Conference record and then have to get through your Conference schedule trying to avoid a Bankrupt.
Worse than that, teams that have undefeated seasons can not even place in bowl games, on the single matter that their schools aren't big enough to rate television coverage against the big names schools (Notre Dame, any Pac 10) and therefore somehow don't count. Coaches themselves have been on record as saying they don't (or, subvertedly, do) go against unnamed schools, on the fact that games with them don't count.
The NCAA "March Madness" Basketball tournament can act like this, because of automatic bids. A team that wins its conference tournament automatically gets entered into the big dance. Every team in a conference gets to play in its tournament. In theory, a team can lose every single regular season game and still win the National Championship. Conversely, the Power Conferences (about 1/4th of the Conferences) usually take several At-Large bids per Conference, so the Conference Tournament is either an afterthought for the best teams, or a chance for one of the lesser schools to steal a bid from the lesser conferences. Inversely, the other 3/4ths are lucky to even get multiple At-Large bids between all of them, making the Conference Tournament a must win even if you're (otherwise) perfect in-conference!
The cleanest example of this occurred in the 2011 NCAA football season. For virtually the entire season, Louisiana State was ranked #1 and Alabama was ranked #2. When they met head to head (in Tuscaloosa), LSU won and continued on to win the SEC Championship. Meanwhile, Alabama closed out the season with only the one loss, and was chosen to rematch LSU in New Orleans in the championship game, which they won in a hellacious Curb-Stomp Battle. So the final standings had Alabama as the Undisputed #1 with a 12-1 record, LSU at #2 with a 13-1 record, and the season series tied.
In boxing, matches are often won on points (sometimes with some controversy). But one way to unambiguously win (and make all the points in the previous rounds meaningless) is to win by knock-out.
Likewise, the UFC is scored after three rounds (Five if a championship is on the line), but if you score a TKO, a KO or get a submission you win right there. Everyone in the UFC tells the fighters to not leave the decision on who wins to the judges.
Though to be fair, this is a case of Truth in Television. Because if you're in a fight and knock your opponent out (or in the case of MMA, are able to just beat on your opponent without them even being able to offer a decent defense), you win.
Also justified, if looked at in reverse...the GOAL is to get a knockout. But, since not everyone gets a knockout, points are only used in case of a 'draw'.
In the 1916 VFL season, due to World War One, there were only four teams competing. Consequently, every team made the Final Four, including Fitzroy, who had won only two games in the regular season. Fitzroy then managed to win all of its games in the finals and take the premiership.
Kim Jong Il's scoring system for basketball gives 8(!) points for scoring in the last 3 seconds. Still, that does double as both making those last few minutes really exciting, as well as giving you good reason to watch all the way to the end.
The NHL All Stars skills competition has events that are worth 3-5 points each, until the Elimination Shootout- during which 12 players per side each try to score against an opponent's goalie in a penalty shot for one point, and those who score get to shoot again in the once all other players have shot. Of course, this doesn't render the previous rounds completely worthless, as even though no lead is insurmountable, you still need to score the goals in order to make up that ground, so the larger the lead, the more difficult to overcome it.
The Mario Kart example in the Video Games section above is not as unrealistic as it looks. In many forms of racing, slipstreaming is a huge factor, to the extent that, in the most extreme circumstances, only the final section of the race can matter
The most glaring example would be professional cycling. On a flat stage of the Tour de France, the race will almost inevitably follow a certain pattern. A small group of nobodies attacks at the start of the stage, the peloton lets them go and conserves energy, managing the gap. As the stage draws to an end, the peloton draws closer, and eventually catches the exhausted breakaway (the breakaway is often unable to even stay with the peloton once they get overtaken.) Then the sprinters, who have done almost no work all day, attack in the last few hundred metres and win the stage. Of course, in less flat stages the breakaway can succeed, and on the toughest mountain stages, the peloton doesn't exist by the end.
Slipstreaming can be a huge factor in motor racing too. NASCAR has its two "restrictor plate" tracks (Daytona and Talladega), tracks so long and fast that they have to slow the cars down to race safely; the effect of this is that the cars race around in a pack of 40 cars within 5 seconds of each other, trying to get somewhere near the front for the final few laps of the race. Unsurprisingly when something goes wrong, carnage tends to ensue.
For a couple of years, they reduced the effect of the restrictor plates; due to bump-drafting, the races essentially became races between not single cars, but pairs of bump-drafting cars. It was very odd, and because the pair at the front was always slower than the pairs in their slipstream, it was far more entertaining than just watching a vague pack roaring around.
Similar pack racing to this can occur at some of the fastest Indy Car ovals; but generally it is considered too dangerous for open-cockpit, open-wheeled cars to race under these conditions. These fears were realised when Dan Wheldon was killed in a 15-car pileup after being launched into the air, over the wall and tragically cockpit-first into the catch fence.
Similar to NASCAR's restrictor plate, Champ Car used to use the "Hanford Device" in order to slow cars down on its fastest tracks. The result was some incredible slingshot-style slipstreaming duels such as this one.
There used to be a small number of Formula One races that could descend into slipstreaming duels. The most famous were the races at Monza before they slowed the circuit down with chicanes; particularly in 1971 where, after 300km of slipstreaming and overtaking, Peter Gethin went from 4th at the start of the final lap to win by a full 0.01 seconds.
Modern F1 has actually has effectively an anti-slipstream: driving close behind an opponent through corners slows you down, because of turbulent (dirty) air affecting aerodynamics. This has made races often very processional; however from 2011 the DRS rule essentially created an artificial slipstream if you get within a second of an opponent, cancelling out the dirty air effect and allowing some stupidly easy overtaking.
Believe it or not, Formula One is actually now doing this with the entire championship: for 2014 the final race in Abu Dhabi will be worth 50 points, in an effort to take the championship battle all the way to the end of the season (read: stopSebastianVettelrunning away with it).
Almost all forms of car racing, and many forms of motorcyle racing too, now use safety cars, where the race is neutralised because of (say) a crash, bunching the field up. What was originally a rare event has become steadily commonplace; endurance races such as the Daytona 24 hour and the Bathurst 1000 that used to be won by margins of laps can now be won by a carlength due to repeated safety cars.
Slipstreaming has a major effect in motorcycle racing, and even when it's not a major factor, riders can often form groups on the track because of a vaguely game-theoretic sort of thing where if one guy tries to go faster, the others do too, and everyone is more likely to crash, so they might as well not bother till the end of the race when there's less to lose and you don't have to hold on for so long.
Moto GP rider Valentino Rossi was famed for his tactics in one-on-one duels. He would sit comfortably behind his rival, conserving his tyres, and then launch a killer attack on the last few laps. In his prime, he hardly ever lost when he got into a race like this. Sadly, Rossi isn't quite the force he was, and there are fewer races in Moto GP like this any more, for reasons including electronic aids and Rossi's bikes not being very good any more.
In golf tournaments the actual number of strokes is apparently irrelevant. It's what the score card says. If the golfer signs a score card with more strokes than he actually took, that's his score and if it causes him to lose - tough! If the caddy puts down less strokes and the golfer signs for it, the golfer is disqualified. A golfer's honesty is Serious Business.
Another example in golf has come around with the PGA Tour's FedEx Cup structure, a way of breaking the season down into an eight-month "regular season" (year-round save for a winter break starting with the 2013-14 wraparound season) and four-event "playoff" schedule. Thanks to the way the points are awarded in the playoffs events (quintuple their normal value) and (since 2009) reset after the third playoff event, every winner of the FedEx Cup since its inception in 2007 has either A) won the final playoffs event, or B) held the points lead entering the final event. (Tiger Woods covered both bases in 2007.)
Who hasn't played a sports game recreationally where after a long period of forgetting to keep score, someone suggests "next point wins"?
Modern penthatlon has rounds of fencing, swimming and horse riding (with an animal you don't know)... which only serve to give your placement on the last event, cross-country racing with interruptions for shooting (it's that kind of sport), where the first to cross the line is the winner.
Greco-roman and freestyle wrestling have something like this. Holding an opponent's shoulders to the mat is a win by fall, and regardless of the score (yes, Greco-Roman wrestling actually has two point systems, one for individual matches and another for dual meets), the win is awarded to the player who pinned the opponent. Furthermore, in dual meets, winning in this way is worth six points for the winning wrestler's team.
Truth in Television: this is essentially the way British university degrees used to work, and occasionally still do. Better really revise for those final exams, because they're the only thing that counts!
Occasionally true for Canadian universities, too. One of the worst scenarios involved an 80% final and 20% for assignments (no midterm).
Universities in general tend to do this; it isn't uncommon for 50% (or more) of the entire grade to rest on a single project or exam, meaning if you screw it up, you fail.
The reasoning is to check if the student really understands the material, which is especially important for technical subjects like math and science. Homework, especially in upper division courses, tend to carry <20% of the grade, because it's more useful as a self-check.
Also, for Bachelor's degrees (well, at some unis, at least), your first two years don't matter at all so long as you do well anough to get into Honours, which is the only thing that counts towards the final degree.
Up until 2007, this was the standard in Germany. Then some dumbass had the brilliant idea to change it and suddenly the amount of people failing in university shot through the roof.
This is still true for many schools and universities in Pakistan. It doesn't matter if you never show up for class, fail all the smaller tests, and never do your homework—so long as you did well on the exams, you passed, as said exams counted for 100% of your final grade.
Even in cases where the stated percentage isn't as imbalanced, many professors will adjust grades positively if the student shows improvement over time, effectively giving more weight to the later stuff.
For a doctorate, there are usually about two choke points that actually matter: the written cumulative/qualifying exam(s) and the oral qualifying exam, though whether failing means "try again next time", "terminal masters", or "you're outta here" depends on the school. Nobody really cares about coursework grades unless you're actually failing (which, in graduate school, means Cs or lower... anyone trying for a postgraduate degree is supposed to be better than average). Theoretically the dissertation defense is a third, but it's hard to imagine anyone who's managed to make it that far failing unless their committee really has it out for them ... at most, you might be told to make some revisions (and really only even that if something the committee wasn't expecting came to light; revisions are generally suggested on a one-on-one basis before they'll even agree to convene for the defense).
GCSEs and A-levels have come in "finals" variants, often resulting in the uncomfortable scenario of getting high marks for a given topic but these not counting for anything, and then not being able to remember it in sufficient detail two years on. There was a period where GCSEs and A-levels were modular, with grades being based on assessments throughout the course, but this was followed by reforms in 2012 and 2013 which moved the emphasis back to final exams.
In Scotland, it varies depending on the subjects and level of exams, but it's not uncommon for either all or the majority of your final grade to come from the final exams. Appeals based on earlier 'prelims' (sat under exam conditions but don't affect the final grade) are possible, and because you sit exams three times, getting progressively harder, you'll quite often have something from earlier years even if you fail the later ones, but an awful lot does depend on your performance in the final exam.
There are also NABs for some exams - tests which are easier than the actual exam (about C-level questions for most), but which you must pass if you want to sit the final exam. For most subjects, you get a maximum of two resits (officially; you can sit papers under exam conditions which, if you fail, were 'just practice', but were the real thing if you pass - if the teacher's nice), but three fails and you've failed the course. What makes this worse is that for some subjects (maths is the one used here for examples of numbers, but it's not the only one), the NABs are based on a number of outcomes which must be passed individually, and with as few as 8 or 10 marks in some outcomes and a required percentage for each outcome to pass the NAB, you can lose 4 or 5 marks in the whole paper and still fail.
The Irish points system is one of the worst scholarly scoring systems there is. All the work done in five or six years of secondary school mean squat; it all comes down to how well you do in eight to ten 3-hour exams crammed into two weeks at the end of the final year. Just the final year.
You will note, however, that it's a single exam of the course which determines your final grade, not multiple aspects of the course, one of which is disproportionately graded. A straight example would be some of the courses which examine the student differently, but still disproportionately in favour of the exam: language exams require oral and aural examinations, while some courses require projects to be handed in in advance.
The pool game of Nine Ball fits this trope perfectly. Unlike Straight Pool, where the winner needs to pocket 150 balls, or Eight Ball, where the 8 can only be pocketed after several other balls have been pocketed (sinking the 8 before that point results in a loss instead of a win), in Nine Ball, only the 9 ball itself truly matters. It's entirely possible for one player to sink most or all of the other balls, yet lose the game when s/he misses a shot and the other player subsequently pockets the 9 (directly if it's the only non-cue ball left on the table, or with a combination shot if it isn't).
ComedySportz games are like this, especially at the high school league, in which the referee will award an arbitrary number of points to whoever wins the last game. Of course, since the entire point of CSz is the improv skills of the actletes and not who actually wins, it doesn't really matter. They lampshade this for all they are worth, acting as though who wins what decides the fate of the world, and even play the theme to Chariots of Fire at the end. The trophy is, of course, known as the Meaningless Trophy.
Which takes its lead from both versions of Whose Line Is It Anyway?. The American version even says "Everything's made up and the points don't matter." It's not uncommon for players to get "a billion points" (Quoth Drew Carey: "Eat my dust, Regis!") or be awarded with things other than points.
In backgammon, the doubling cube can be used to increase the value of a game. It's basically a "double or nothing" offer: A player offered a double can turn it down, at the cost of losing the current game.
Worth noting that matches normally run towards 7 points or more and the person receiving the double is the only one allowed to "redouble" his opponent in the same game. A double is usually used to force a game for 1 point, or potentially win 2 points. It takes incredible luck or a very, very poorly handled double for somebody to win in a single game if they're behind 6-0.
In politics, this too can be the case. 20 years of hard work will still lose to good advertisement more often than not and charisma is a far better tool than achievements. Plus achievements just before the election period seems to count more than achievements done in the start of the term. Let's avoid any particular examples, 'kay? This can be somewhat averted by early voting.
You can also have the game changers. The ongoing depression is a big one. How well a politician handles it affects people a lot- if the person seems to be saying anything that makes sense, strikes the right tone, people will trust them a lot more, because it's better to show than tell. Your point score before matters a bit, but you might move 10 points up in the votes if you win this final character test.
The "October Surprise" is a traditional version of this in American politics, especially presidential races. Elections are at the start of November; incidents and/or new information in the final month often render the entire race before that point moot.
The 24 hour news cycle means that literally anything that happens in this period will be treated as a possible game changer, whether or not it actually affects anyone's opinions or is even surprising.
Statistical analysis of U.S. elections have shown that the change in the unemployment rate over a President's entire four-year term is less predictive of re-election success than the change during the final year alone.
In many beauty pageants, one round (in reputable pageants it's generally the interview round, but it can also be the talent round - one imagines that in less reputable pageants it may be the swimsuit round) is worth a disproportionate percentage of contestants' final scores. It isn't quite as bad as the usual Golden Snitch because one contestant acing the important round doesn't prevent the other contestants from acing it too, making the competition hinge on the other rounds; but if one contestant does much better than the others she can win despite doing worse in all the other rounds, and if a contestant bombs in the important round, it doesn't matter if she aced all the others.
In U.S. medical schools, grades in the preclinical years (if the school even uses a grading scheme at all) are worth significantly less than clinical year grades and USMLE national exam scores when applying for residency slots after graduation.
It's sometimes said regarding job interviews, that an interviewer will typically have already made their mind up about a candidate from first impressions.