Second Place Is for Winners
A character enters a contest where the nominal first prize isn't actually their preferred one, so they'd be happier winning second place or maybe doing even worse.
This can take three forms:
- The character doesn't know beforehand what the prizes are. This generally leads to a Twist Ending where they try their best at the contest, are disappointed to learn they didn't win, and then overjoyed to learn that they got what they wanted anyway.
- The character does know, resulting in a sort of non-video game version of Do Well, But Not Perfect. For added hilarity, they might fall victim to Springtime for Hitler and win anyway.
- The character is a rookie having his first shot at the big-time and would have no realistic chance of winning yet anyway (despite what most sports movies would have you believe.) The fact the he manages to place at all is considered a moral victory.
In real life, some contests avert this by allowing winners to choose a prize out of all the prizes the people who placed below them could get, or just making every prize include all the lower-place prizes.
Compare The Runner Up Takes It All
, Second Prize
. Contrast Second Place Is for Losers
Anime and Manga
- The episode of Black Jack where they first meet the future Team Pet, Largo. A normally rather lazy dog, Largo displays surprising bursts of prescience, often causing trouble that unexpectedly draws people away from dangerous areas. When Pinoco realizes this, she decides to try and profit from it, having Largo pick a number for a Lottery for her, hoping to win the First Prize - a romantic holiday on a southern island, just perfect for her and her 'husband', Black Jack. Instead, they win a lesser prize — several pounds of Steak. Over a steak dinner, she complains to Black Jack that Largo apparently isn't psychic after all, but he corrects her: to Largo, a pallet of delicious meat is simply far more valuable than some vacation he probably wouldn't get to go on anyway.
- Dragon Ball uses this once or twice. When Krillin faces Piccolo Jr. in the final tournament, he manages to withstand the No-Holds-Barred Beatdown much longer than expected. When he finally declares "I give up", Piccolo's Unsportsmanlike Gloating turns to confusion and anger when the crowd starts cheering for Krillin.
- Of course also used with Goku himself during the first two tournaments, which he notably lost by the end, but still managed to do so well that everyone was proud of his efforts. Additionally after the first tournament, it's even Lampshaded how even though Goku lost the tournament he still ultimately got to use the prize money, as he was so exhausted from fighting that he ate everything at a restaurant during the group's celebratory dinner. The bill was so high that Roshi had to pay with all his winnings.
- Keroro Gunsou has the 1st beach comedy contest. Keroro enters to get a Gundam knockoff (because it's really rare due to poor sales). He doesn't find out that it's a consolation prize for everyone who doesn't win until near the end, and he can't stop himself. He wins the first prize instead: a refrigerator.
- At the end of Princess Nine the girls' baseball team loses to the boys' team from their same school, in the playoff game that was right before Koshien. They're not all that upset about it, considering they pulled together nine people in a matter of weeks and made it that far when most of the administration was saying that they were a disaster waiting to happen.
- Used by Nara Shikamaru in Naruto during the Chunin exam finals. Up against Temari, he starts off struggling to keep up with her brute force until he finally gets the upper hand. And then decides to throw in the towel, much to all of the exam participants' disappointment. However, the team leaders note this actually shows off Shikamaru's tactical skill in that he knows when to quit, rather than continue on in vain.
- Note that it had been made clear beforehand that passing the exam was not dependent on winning the tournament. That Shikamaru managed to fight well enough, yet had the levelheadedness to concede when he reached his limits, led to him being the only one who actually passed the exam anyway.
- In Hana Yori Dango, Tsukushi enters a fashion contest where (due to nepotism) the 1st place winner has been preordained. She wins second place, but since that was the highest spot that hadn't been "reserved," it effectively makes her the winner of the contest.
- Disney Ducks Comic Universe: There's a Scrooge McDuck story where the Billionaire's Club announces a variety of extravagant, chess-themed prizes for whoever makes the most money during the year... a gold-and-platinum chess-set for the first place, a gold-and-silver chess-set for the second place, and a silver-and-bronze chess-set for third place. And, as a consolation-prize for whoever makes the least money during the year, an Ebony pawn and a waived membership fee (said fee had just been raised by a couple of percents, causing Scrooge to faint). At this announcement, Scrooge declares his intention to win the Last Prize, no matter the cost, with most of his colleagues assuming that he'd just gone nuts due to the increased membership-fee. Of course, even when he tries to lose money, he can't manage it — and in the end, he had to put Donald Duck in charge of his business-empire for a month in order to drive down his stock-prices sufficiently to wind up dead last. Having finally succeeded, he reveals to Donald the real reason he was after the consolation-prize: The Ebony Pawn is actually an antique, originally part of a gem-encrusted chess-set owned by the Queen of Sheba. Said chess-set was in his possession, and with the last, missing pawn restored, the total value of the now-complete, historic chess-set redoubles sufficiently to more than make up for the losses he suffered during the contest.
- There's another where the main attraction of an auction is a gazillion-dollar bill. Scrooge and another billionaire are soon the only two left making increasingly larger bids. Strangely, Scrooge seems to lose interest at one point, so Donald steps in and announces a bigger price, to Scrooge's anger. Then the rival tops that, Scrooge fails to follow up, and the auction is closed. As the billionaire starts to gloat, Scrooge gently reminds him that he paid two gazillion dollars for a one-gazillion dollar bill.
- In Doctor Strange and Doctor Doom: Triumph and Torment, Strange and Doom are the first- and second-place finishers in a contest of mages. Strange wins/retains the title of Sorcerer Supreme — and an obligation to do a favor for the person who finished second. He's not pleased. Doom, on the other hand, is only too happy to have Strange in his debt.
- In a Kung Fu Panda comic story, Po is finally getting the best of his old rival, Heng, a pig who used to cruelly taunt him in any competition he put them in when they were kids. However, he remembers after one race he lost against Heng, his own father, Mr. Ping, warmly congratulated him for doing his best, while Heng was coldly berated by his own parents for being too slow despite having just won. At that, Po realized that Heng was emotionally abused and decides to deliberately lose the current race as he knows he has nothing to prove.
- In the Red Green movie Duct Tape Forever, in order to pay off a $10,000 fine, Harold suggests the lodge enter a duct tape sculpture contest to win the money. The lodge members are skeptical, but when Harold tells them the $10,000 is the third-place prize, they figure it's within their abilities.
- The first Rocky and Rocky Balboa. They bookend the saga with this trope. In the first movie, he's trying to make a name for himself and prove to the world that he belongs. In the last, he wants one last great fight so he can retire with honor. In each he goes the distance, but loses by decision against a heavily favored undefeated opponent.
- The Iranian movie Children of Heaven concerns a boy whose sister loses her shoes. The family is too poor to buy another pair, so the boy decides to enter a race where shoes are the third prize. Unfortunately, he places first. He eventually goes on to a racing career.
- Whip It: "We're Number Two! We're Number Two!"
- Bring It On: In the first film, the protagonist's cheer squad is guaranteed a trip to the national competition as they're the defending champions; however, after learning that their previous captain stole the winning routines from a rival squad, they decide to play fair and develop their own routine, even if it means losing. Lampshaded when the love interest asks the protagonist how she feels about coming in second place. "It feels like first."
- In Silver Linings Playbook, Pat and Tiffany enter a dance competition. Tiffany is a good dancer but not professional caliber, and Pat has never done anything like this before at all, he's just doing it because he owes Tiffany a favor. Them winning the competition is unimaginable, but Pat's father bets a large amount of money on their getting an average score of 5 or better out of 10. That's exactly what they get. When their family and friends go absolutely nuts, the judges and other contestants and fans are baffled at anyone being so thrilled by such a low score.
- In Real Steel, robots Atom and Zeus fight for the champion's tittle. Atom beats Zeus heavily by the end, but Zeus is saved by the bell and wins by points. But the very fact that a customly-built robot can beat a corporate killer machine so badly is a slap in the face of Zeus's masters.
- Grand prize is a new [insert name of The Alleged Car here]? What's second prize?
- This is essentially a Mad Libs joke. The location variation usually takes the form of Third place: a weeklong trip to [city], second place a weekend stay in [same city], first place: nothing! Sometimes shows up in national stereotype jokes featuring three different nationalities, with the "simplest" stereotype evading death by staying in second place.
- One Encyclopedia Brown story has a girl who deliberately wins second prize in a trivia contest, because she knows the watch that goes to the first-prize winner is broken.
- Another story has one of Encyclopedia's friends trying to finish last place in a race, figuring that the last-place finisher will get the most time with the media.
- The Daniel Pinkwater book Slaves of Spiegel is about a literal Cooking Duel run by an alien warlord. The main characters win second prize, which turns out to be six hundred pounds of Spiegelian blue garlic and deluxe transportation back to Earth; since they'd been coveting the blue garlic for the entire book and had been planning on asking for some as a reward if they won, they're naturally overjoyed. First prize would have been the "opportunity" of being forced to be the warlord's permanent chef (along with such knickknacks as a lifetime supply of peanut-butter flavored aftershave).
- The last book in The Great Brain series features a spelling bee. The winner gets a new bicycle. The title character and his love interest are the finalists. He could easily win, but chooses to maintain a tie by deliberately misspelling words as necessary. By postponing a resolution he forces the adults to call a draw and give both of them the bikes (they had to have a boy's bike and a girl's bike available). And since he didn't beat his girl, she doesn't hate him, either.
- Robin McKinley's The Outlaws of Sherwood uses the traditional Robin Hood story of an archery contest set up to lure Robin in by using a golden arrow as the prize, and comments in passing that the other contestants are likely to miss their shots to win the lesser prizes of livestock. (This being an unusually pragmatic version of Robin, he has no interest in the contest at all, demanding to know what on earth he'd do with a golden arrow.)
- In James Marshall's book The Cut-ups Carry On, protagonists Spud and Joe try to win a dance contest to win a "lunar walker" from one of their favorite TV shows. In the end, the boys are thrilled to win second place and tickets to a sports game while their rivals for the story win first prize, which turns out to be little more than a two-person cardboard car.
- In the Star Trek: The Original Series novel, The Vulcan Academy Murders, there is a flashback to a coming of age cross country race trial which Vulcan youths are expected to complete within a certain time limit. When Spock sees a rival trapped and in trouble, he abandons the race to help him, but can't get any of the other runners passing by to stop and help as well. Eventually, a rescue crew arrives to get Spock and his rival to safety, leaving them in dead last. However, the race's judges declare that of all the kids involved in this incident during the race, only Spock passed because he showed proper maturity to stop to help a competitor in distress while the others displayed a poor choice of priorities.
- In the Dragaera novel Yendi, the Dragonlords consider being the Dragaeran Emperor to be an extremely boring job that one of them occasionally has to accept out of duty. Being the Warlord, on the other hand, is considered an awesome job. The plot concerns a plan by a Dragonlord and her Yendi accomplice to get the top three heirs out of the way so that an uninvolved third party will become Emperor and make her Warlord. She is eventually disqualified entirely for dishonorable behavior.
- One The Baby-Sitters Club book had the sitters helping their charges prepare for a beauty pageant. First prize was a savings bond and the chance to compete in another pageant. Second prize was a shopping spree at a local toy store. Unsurprisingly, all the 6-to-10-year-old girls entered in the pageant massively prefer the second prize. As the eventual second place winner explains to all the adults who are indignant about the fact that she didn't win, "But then [if I had won] I wouldn't get any toys!"
- In one of the Jennings books, Jennings enters bowling competition at the village fete, for which the first prize is a live pig. He has no intention of winning — there's a local man named Clive who always scores at least fifty — he just wants to impress Darbishire. Unfortunately, Clive never shows up....
- In Eureka, Zoe wins second prize in the Tesla High science fair. She is far happier with the second prize — a car — than she would be with the first prize — an internship at Global Dynamics. (On the other hand, the prizes weren't announced until the winners were, so it's entirely possible that Zoe won a car because Stark knew she wouldn't want the internship...)
- In one episode of Monk, a man enters a children's contest in a town fest and deliberately wins second place. It turns out that he had murdered a woman that day and there was a high risk the crucial piece of evidence got accidentally put in a pie that was the prize.
- Something like this is part of the premise of Blue Mountain State. The main character is the team's second string quarterback, and he wouldn't have it any other way. He gets all the fame and benefits of being on a high-ranking team, but doesn't have to do any of the work.
- There's an episode of The Vicar of Dibley where the titular Vicar is trying to win second place in a contest put on by a chocolate manufacturer. First prize is a trip to Disneyland, second is a year's supply of chocolate. The entry she sent in wins first place anyway, much to her disappointment.
- In Magnum, P.I., Magnum is excited to win second prize in a "create a slogan for our product" contest: a trip to Disney World in Florida. When the grand-prize winner is disqualified for plagiarism, Magnum gets the grand prize instead: a trip to Hawaii. Since Magnum already lives in Hawaii, he's less than overjoyed.
- The Brady Bunch: In "The Winner," where Bobby desperately tries to win at something, anything, he tries his hand at selling magazines to his brothers and sisters. When Peter asks what first prize is, Bobby replies in a bored voice that it's a scholarship, but second prize is a dirt bike! (Perhaps the latter is a reflection of adult Bobby's passion of being a race car driver.) Later in that same episode, after Bobby falls short in an ice cream contest on the local kids program "Cartoon King," his siblings buy him a trophy "for being the best Bobby Brady we know." Bobby is touched and graciously accepts the trophy. (The Aesop being, of course, that one need not do anything to earn one's love, admiration or (to an extent) respect.)
- Sesame Street: A segment called "The Remembering Game" (a parody of the long-running game show Concentration) featured Cookie Monster and an Anything Muppet playing the game. Cookie wins the grand prize of an airplane, while the Anything Muppet gets the booby prize ... a cookie! When the Anything Muppet is offended and Cookie disappointed, the two trade prizes. Apparently, it was allowed.
- In the US version of The Office, the company is bought out by a rival and the CEO decides that Michael and Jim being co-managers is a stupid idea. She will leave one as manager and demote the other back to salesman. Jim finds out that the new company does not have a commission cap for its salesmen so if he gets demoted he can make way more money than the manager. Since he hates being a manager, he tries to make sure that Michael will get the job. However, Michael finds this out and decides that he wants the demotion as well. Hilarity Ensues until Michael realizes that he prefers the extra status over the money
- On Dan For Mayor, Dan enters the race for mayor of Wessex in order to show his ex-girlfriend that he is not a complete loser. By election day they got back together and are planning to move to Vancouver where she is was offered a great new job. The main candidate is way ahead of him in polls and Dan's main concern is to beat out Wheelo (a clown) for second place. The main candidate drops out in the last moment and Dan wins
- The game The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (basically "who can tell the best bullshit story in the style of the movie") is presented as something the Baron invented and is now explaining. Near the end, he mentions a session whose winners got the cushier bedrooms while spending the weekend at their host's manor, and deliberately shooting for something like fourth place so he could sneak out and chat up one of the daughters later.
- The hardest achievement of all in Diplomacy is not winning a total victory. It is gaining a two way tie. That has to be done by having each player have exactly half of all the supply centers on the board. One more by either side would make it a win.
- Perhaps this shows up in Warhammer Fantasy for the Skaven's Clan Eshin. Clan Eshin are very happy to be 2nd fiddle as a reward for saving the other Skavens from the Clan Pestilens onslaught. Being in 2nd place amongst the clans means a guarantee of perks such as police powers, steady source of warpstone, plenty of slaves and food. Had they tried to make a bid for the throne they'd have to contend with all the major Clans out there for dominance. By enforcing the Grey Seers and Clan Skryre's leadership, they always have their backing which forces everyone else to duke it out for 3rd place.
- In MySims Kingdom, Barney enters the Wandolier contest and aims for second prize, a toaster oven, by doing absolutely nothing other than showing up. (One wonders what he actually did to put him ahead of Princess Butter, who depended completely on her father being the king and ended up winning nothing. Possibly, Merlon just decided that if she wants a toaster oven, she can get one more easily than Barney.)
- In Paper Mario, during one of the sections in which you control Peach, you take part in a game-show-like quiz. First prize is a rather helpful item you can send Mario, but the consolation prize is the Sneaky Parasol, necessary to complete the game.
- In Legend Of Zelda Skyward Sword there is a challenge with 12 levels, which you can quit at any time. Quitting at the 8th level nets the player an indestrucable shield, unarguably the best prize in that minigame.
- From Homestar Runner: "The duckie-man is the winner! Loser gets the egg!"
- In episode 7 of Bowser's Kingdom, Hal and Jeff enter the Villains Olympics to win the money to buy a TV. However, they end up in 2nd place and get the cash prize. The winners ended up in Yoshi's Island where hungry Yoshis try to eat them and third place got a lifetime supply of milk, but Petey was lactose-intolerant.
- Camp Lazlo: Edward wins a race, but finds that Lazlo's Middle Place trophy is bigger and fancier than his First Place trophy. The Stinger shows that Chip and Skip's Last Place trophy is shiny, golden, and huge.
- There's an episode of the Dennis the Menace 1980s cartoon where Mr. Wilson enters a contest for a vacation. He wins first prize, but the vacation package is second prize. First prize is... a pet goose or duck.
- In the South Park episode "The Losing Edge", where the boys try to lose at baseball because they don't want to play. Everyone else has the same idea.
- In an episode of The Dreamstone, there is a contest among the villain army with free sandwiches to win... which turn out to be second prize. The first prize is being press-ganged into the new mission.
- On the Tex Avery cartoon "The Chump Champ", Spike and Droopy compete for King of Sports, with the winner getting a kiss from the Queen of Sports. Although Droopy bests him at every opportunity, Spike wins by cheating. Turns out Droopy dodged a bullet, as the Queen of Sports turns out to be really ugly, sending Spike heading for the hills.
- Invader Zim features an episode like this, where Zim and Dib compete for selling candy (as each believes that the secret grand prize will allow him to win over the other). Zim wins, but the grand prize is literally nothing. No one expected anyone to actually sell that many.
- 2 Stupid Dogs once had the main characters go on a game show called Let's Make a Right Price, where they continuously won first prize (money, a sports car, etc.) when what they really wanted was the consolation prize (a box of dog biscuits).
- Happens twice in King of the Hill, both times involving Hank and Bobby. When the two of them enter a father-son shooting contest together, they wind up taking second place. Hank is initially disappointed and expecting Bobby to feel the same way, but is happy to find out Bobby is pleased with coming in second on their first try. In another episode, Bobby enters a rose-growing competition and quickly has the project hijacked because of his dad's hyper-competitive nature. When their arguing costs them first place, Hank is still proud enough of Bobby's roses to plant them in front of the house.
- My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: With one exception, any time the ponies take part in a competition they'll never win. However, they will either learn a lesson or otherwise be happy with the result nonetheless.
- A variation of type 3 occurs when Twilight enters the Running of the Leaves marathon in "Fall Weather Friends", despite never having run a race before. She's rather happy at achieving fifth place, a very respectable placing for a first time racer. Meanwhile, favorites Applejack and Rainbow Dash get so caught up sabotaging each other that they end up tied for dead last, teaching them not to let their personal rivalry get in the way of what they're doing in the first place.
- "The Show Stoppers" features the Cutie Mark Crusaders putting on a serious musical number only to win the prize for Best Comedy Act. They're disappointed for all of a minute before declaring that their special talents must lie in comedy.
- Happens again in "Sisterhooves Social", where Rarity and Sweetie Belle compete together in a race, and end up getting second place. They don't win, but the fact that they worked together and did so well helps them reconnect at the end of a Feud Episode.
- In "May the Best Pet Win", Rainbow Dash holds a race to determine which of a group of critters will be her new pet. One of the contestants is a tortoise, whom Rainbow Dash allowed to compete only at Fluttershy's insistence. However, the tortoise manages to impress Rainbow Dash by being the only pet to stop and help her when a rock slide causes her wings to get pinned under a heavy boulder. So even though the tortoise ends up dead last, Rainbow declares him the winner on the grounds that she said earlier that the winner would be the one who crossed the finish line with her.
- In "The Super Speedy Cider Squeezy 6000", Applejack and her family take on a cider-making contest with two brothers and their cider making machine. Despite the Flim Flam brothers looking like they will win, the Apples refuse to compromise the quality of their product and end up losing. However, due to the brothers' rush for quantity, they sent their quality down the tubes and ruined their own plans after none of the ponies would buy their bad cider, proving the Apples' integrity the right way to go.
- Rainbow Dash's hopes of a world record as part of a special task given to Ponyville's Pegasi are finished before they begin in "Hurricane Fluttershy" due to several ponies she needed falling sick. However, Rainbow perseveres and they complete the task they set out to do, despite having to abort getting the record.
- An episode of The Weekenders has this, although it's not immediately obvious, and only Bluke realized it with his Simpleminded Wisdom. The game in question was a scavenger hunt played by teams of five. First place is a pool table, second place is a pizza. Bluke mentions that the pizza was the best prize when he and the main characters get in second place, then explains why — you can split a pizza five ways, but how do you split a pool table? Cue the winning team arguing bitterly about who gets the pool table and how they're going to divide up its use between them.
- Happens to Lightning McQueen at the end of Cars.
- Exaggerated for laughs in Futurama. There's a billboard saying "Welcome to Mexico. Silver Medal Winner of the American-Mexican War".
- In You're the Greatest, Charlie Brown, Charlie Brown is competing in a decathlon, and comes in last in the first event, The 100 meter dash. To Charlie Brown's confusion, Peppermint Patty tells he did great since in the decathlon, he is running against tables that evaluate performance on points. In this case, the winner, Freddie Fabulous, ran such a fast race that all the competitors got good points, which means even Charlie Brown got off to a good start in the competition.
- Similar to the Kung Fu Panda example above, there's an episode of Dragon Riders Of Berk where Hiccup deliberately comes in second, because his father is proud of his efforts while Snotlout's father blames him for even the possibility of coming second.
- Angela Anaconda wasn't interested at all in the school's relay race until one of her friends found a clue suggesting the first prize had the initials "MB" and they assumed it meant "Mapperson's Bakery" and the winning team would eat for free there. Nanette's team won and the first prize turned out to be watching slides from Mrs. Brinks' vacation trip. Being a Teacher's Pet, Nanette couldn't refuse. The consolation prize turned out to be what they thought the first prize would be.
- The Iditarod Dog Sled Race in Alaska takes racers from Anchorage to Nome. The first person to make it to the halfway checkpoint on the trail receives a cash prize, but becomes ineligible for the larger cash prize for reaching the finish line first. Some racers decide to let an opponent reach the checkpoint first, then try to win the First Place prize. It also has a prize for finishing dead last, a red lantern. Rick Reilly once wrote an essay about a completely hopeless, luckless entrant who actually intended to win the lantern to show to his kids and was disappointed when he learned he finished ahead of two other teams.
- Philosopher Soren Kierkegaard came from a very disciplined household. When he proved to consistently be the best student in his classes, his father feared the boy would become complacent and arrogant in his superiority, so he charged Soren with the considerably harder task of getting the second-highest scores in all of his classes. Which Soren did.
- Some rural parts of Germany have a tradition of holding a yearly Schützenfest, where the men of the village have a shooting competition. The winner has to throw a party for the whole village. Usually, who will win this year is agreed upon beforehand, and the rest are competing for second place.
- On American Idol, there seems to be an unspoken rule that it's better to come in the top ten but not the top two; such singers still have a chance to be picked up by a record label, but not sign their souls away to 19 Entertainment (the company behind American Idol), and thus have more creative control over their careers.
- Technically, 19 Entertainment has "right of first refusal" over all contestants who make the Top 10, meaning that no other label can sign a contestant for a set period of time. (This is to prevent losing contestants from cashing in on their micro-celebrity to sell units for a different record label.) However, making the Top 10 ensures a slot on the post-show concert tour (which pays well) and many contestants that are signed by 19 Entertainment do well without the "American Idol" label, as they have more time to put out a first singlenote , arguably more freedom over their artistic identity (particularly if the contestant is better at a genre other than pop), and faux-"authenticity." Chris Daughtry was immediately signed upon being eliminated and has outsold ... who won that season again?note
- As with American Idol, America's Next Top Model contestants often do better finishing anywhere outside of first. Fan theory holds that the contestant eliminated in third place is the most likely to be successful, as CoverGirl (the show's longest-running sponsor) cares less about "actual model potential" than protecting their image. As the show has declined and become increasingly campy, former contestants take the risk of being turned down due to "guilt by association," so being unmemorable is a good strategy.
- Anecdotal evidence suggests that making the second place prize worth more is a common tool used by adults to manage arrogant children. This may be a cultural (Eastern European / Russian) thing. The first place is taken by the talented kids, for whom the contest was not enough of a challenge. The second place is for the hard-working kids, i.e. socially approved winners. Therefore the first prize is a poster to put on a wall (among many others), the second prize is a field trip (likely to be one and only).
- Some American colleges aggressively recruit students whose standardized test scores place them in the 80th to 90th percentile. These applicants are more likely to be offered scholarships and "honors" programs than applicants who max out in all categories. Some of this is practicality — students with test scores far above the school's average are likely to be offered admission to a more competitive school, so it's unlikely they'll be swayed into attending — while some of it is a psychological gamble: schools assume that students who do well but not perfectly are diligent workers prepared to take on the hard work that is university scholastics. For schools looking to increase their competitiveness, the best move is to offer heavy rewards to all "second place" candidates, as their average and median scores and GPAs will create an entry class with a great statistical profile. Playing this strategy every year is how schools outside of the top tier raise their ranking.
- Of course, since the tacit assumption is that "second place" students only came in second place due to hard work and some kind of ability cap (such as simply not being as good at taking the SAT as someone with a perfect score), this can also backfire. For many smart students, percentile rankings and GPA are easy achievements, and it's possible to be highly ranked without applying effort or developing study habits — causing this trope to backfire spectacularly.note
- While technically second or even middle of the road academically, a lot of schools like students that do extracurricular activities and still maintain a decent but not perfect GPA. It means they're well rounded and can handle college, which often puts them into situations that they need to do more than school.
- The card game called "Asshole" in which the loser has to give his best cards to the winner in the next round, the last-but-one to the second place and so onne. Some consider it preferrable to take the middle place, where you get the leftover cards, than the place one better than that.
- There's an old riddle about an eccentric millionaire who offers his estate to his two sons, but the catch is that they must have a horse race and whoever's horse finished second would get the prize. They initially start out dawdling along as slowly as can be, but after several days of this, they come to a plan and race full speed to the finish. How? Whoever's horse finished second. They switched horses.
- Which is, itself a modernization of an Arabic story about two quarreling Bedouin, both of whom are claiming that their camel is the slowest in all of Arabia, and the wise man who helps them sort it out.