"First is the worst; second the best. Third is the one with the hairiest chest."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 several forms:
— Schoolyard chant
- 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 that he or she manages to place at all is considered a moral victory.
- A variation of this is when the runner up is remembered more than the actual winner. This often happens in sports and reality shows (see The Runner-Up Takes It All).
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Anime & 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. Turns out Piccolo was impressed by Krillin, so much that he used his full power for a few seconds. After noticing that Krillin isn't the strongest by any means, Piccolo thinks conquering Earth might not be as easy as planned.
- 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, Goku lost but 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 he won in disguise.
- 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.
- Team Sugo Asurada from Future GPX Cyber Formula does not expect much of a success. After all, their racing crew is consists of only handful of True Companions which barely fills the pitlane and a 14 year-old driver who had no experience in racing. That Hayato finishes third or fourth number of times makes them more happy than people who get a win, much to Randoll's confusion.
- Pokémon: In XY
- Ash enters with his three Flying-Type Pokémon Fletchinder, Hawlucha and Noibat the Pokémon Sky Ralley contest, a contest where a team of three flying (or levitating or gliding) Pokémon are doing a race. They become the runner-up, since the newborn Noibat just learned how to fly in that contest... which is the point why they enter the tournament in the first place: to motivate Noibat to learn flying. Ash, Hawlucha and Fletchinder are more than happy that Noibat finally learned it and they forget the fact that they lost the ralley.
- Though Ash ultimately lost at the finals during the Lumoise Conference, he fares better than the actual victor, Alain. During the League ceremony, Team Flare launch their attack upon Lumoise City. Alain, being involved with Team Flare, suffers the worst kind of loss when he realizes that his entire goal was a lie and his boss Lysandre only cares about power, ignoring Mega Evolution in favor for a potentially more powerful Bond Phenomenon that Ash possess. In the aftermath the Flare crisis, Ash is constantly recognized and praised by young trainers as the Conference League finalist while Alain quietly rebuilds his life with Prof. Sycamore and privately admits Ash to be the superior trainer. Since the League ceremony wasn't finished when Team Flare attacked, it is heavily modified and officially makes everyone who stood against Lysandre champions of the Kalos League, rendering the League results a moot.
- Common Twist Ending for the 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.
- Lots of different stories where Donald goes against his impossibly lucky cousin Gladstone use one of three variants (see also under Born Lucky):
- Donald seems to beat Gladstone's luck, but in the end, it turns out the "first prize" (which can mean a lot of things from an actual contest to, say, a date with Daisy or the lead role in a play) isn't actually desirable after all, so Gladstone wins anyway, if nothing else because he gets to gloat.
- The reverse: Gladstone's luck seems to be ensuring his victory, but in the end, it turns out the first prize isn't desirable after all, so he actually loses, and Donald wins at least by getting to see him lose.
- Donald gets the main prize and is happy with it, but Gladstone's luck gets him something else, such as money, that he's at least as happy with.
- In the graphic novel Doctor Strange and Doctor Doom: Triumph and Torment, Strange and Doom are the first- and second-place finishers in a contest of mages to determine the title of Sorcerer Supreme. Strange wins/retains the title, 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. Fortunately for Strange, Doom simply wants his help to free his mother's soul from Mephisto. It's implied that Doom entered the contest knowing he wouldn't win, just to get the favor.
Strange: Why didn't you just ask?Doom: Doom does not beg.
- 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.
- Much like in the Running of the Leaves mentioned below, Twilight Sparkle figures she won't win the eponymous Moonstone Cup, given that no-one had ever won from her age division in centuries. Trixie berates her for such a defeatist attitude. Despite that it was her strategy too, as one of the entrants was an undefeated wolf god who considered himself a peer to Celestia and Luna. Whom Twilight narrowly defeats in the final.
- In the How to Train Your Dragon fanfic Learning To Fly, Astrid and Hiccup both compete in the All-Viking Tournament at an annual meeting of the various Viking tribes. Despite being considered underdogs due to their smaller size (and Hiccup's peg leg) they both make their way into the finals, a four-person melee. Hiccup and Astrid each manage to defeat their respective opponents, and find themselves facing each other as the finalists. When he realizes that Astrid had broken her arm during her bout, but was still holding her axe in her good hand, Hiccup dropped his sword, ceding the match to Astrid. Stoick congratulated Hiccup on taking the honorable route rather than attack an injured opponent. Considering that he didn't expect to make it past the first round, Hiccup was quite pleased with his performance.
- In Pokémon Reset Bloodlines, Ash is perfectly happy with coming in second place in the Battle Dome Tournament for several reasons. 1) He only barely lost. 2) One of his opponents had six gym badges to his three because one of his technically counts as eight. 3) It's hardly the first time he's failed to win a tournament, even if it's the first time in this timeline.
- While sparring with Sebastian in Mana Based System, Louise does her best but ultimately yields. However since Sebastian is not only a Triangle class mage, but also a retired mercenary, she never had a chance of winning; Louise's goal was to impress him by not losing too badly. She succeeds and Sebastian is willing to vouch for her when she tries her hand at being an adventurer.
Films — Animation
- Happens to Lightning McQueen at the end of Cars. In this case, however, Lightning sabotages his own win. He was well ahead and could easily have dropped the chequered flag and then gone back to push The King across the line, but seems to have chosen not to win a race in which the reigning champ had been unfairly taken out. So it ends with Chick in first, The King in second, and Lightning in third. The King has his dignity restored, Lightning is praised for his sportsmanship, and Chick's victory is rendered meaningless because of his Jerkass behavior.
- At the end of The Incredibles, Dash competes in the school race and comes in second, to the overwhelming cheer of his family. Given that he has super speed, coming in first would have been too easy, but being able to control himself enough to nail second spot is an accomplishment—as well as giving up the chance for attention and fame at school for being the winner.
Films — Live-Action
- 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 loses by decision against a heavily — and rightfully — favored undefeated opponent, but the moral victory was in having gone the distance.
- The Iranian movie Children of Heaven concerns a boy who loses his sister's 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, and his father (who was unaware of her missing shoes and his son's plan) buys her a new pair due to getting a raise on his new job.
- 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. When the rival squad manages to raise funds to compete in the national competition themselves, the protagonists knew they'd be runners-up at best. 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. Furthermore, nobody was betting over the outcome of the fight; the biggest bet of the game was over whether Atom would survive one round against the monster.
- Happens twice in Rush (2013), once for Niki Lauda and once for James Hunt. In Lauda's case, finishing fourth just six weeks after his near-fatal crash. In Hunt's case finishing 3rd in the Japanese Grand Prix earns him enough points to win the World Championship over Lauda (with a margin of one point).
- In Possums, the titular High School football team loses their match, but considering that they hadn't played a game all year, had only two weeks to practice, held their own against the state champions, and scored their first touchdown in over a decade, it's definitely this.
- Happens in Cool Runnings. In the end, the Jamaican Olympic bobsled team ultimately loses the competition because of a faulty sled, but their determination allowed them to win the respect of both the crowd and the other Olympic teams.
- 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 whomever'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? Whomever'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. There is also a German board game Das Letzte Kamel (The Last Camel) inspired by this story.
- Grand prize is a new [insert name of The Alleged Car here]? What's second prize? Two of them!
- 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.
- An Obfuscating Stupidity joke recounts the tale of a kindly shopkeeper and a little kid named Billy. The shopkeeper often witnessed older boys teasing Billy by offering him a choice between a nickel and a dime, then laughing at him choosing the nickel, supposedly because the nickel was larger and Billy was too slow to realize that the dime was worth more. Eventually, the shopkeeper took pity on Billy, and took him aside for a quiet word on the matter...only for Billy to reveal that he knows very well how much the two coins are worth, but if he ever picks the dime, the kids will stop giving him free nickels.
- Encyclopedia Brown:
- One 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. Another girl had the same idea, so Encyclopedia has to prove she cheated by shooting a hole in her story about stopping near a theater to hear the music being played within—apparently, to know the actual name of the song they were playing (rather than a more common song with the same tune), she'd have had to have gone inside, and therefore off the race course.Side note He was right—she'd left the race course after two miles and only returned to the course for the last mile.
- 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 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....
- Subverted in ``Casey at the Bat'': Two lousy, despised players with no expectations surprisingly both come through right at the critical moment to hit — a single and a double, respectively. This gives Mudville's big hitter Casey his chance to shine and win the game for Mudville. Unfortunately...
- 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. The friend who gives him the idea waves off first prize as "some kind of scholarship", but is excited about second prize-a dirt bike.
- 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 Office (US), 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
- In The Twilight Zone episode A Game of Pool Jesse Cardiff, a bitter pool player tired of being overshadowed by the memory of late legendary pool player Fats Brown is offered the chance to become a legend himself when Fats himself returns from the afterlife to answer his challenge. Jesse defeats Fats and becomes the new pool legend. What great reward does Jesse get in the end? Spending eternity defending his pool title until he loses.
- 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.
- In Munchkin, it is somewhat common for games to play out like this. When the player in the lead is close to winning, the other players will gang up on the leader to prevent him/her from winning. Once everyone has used all their cards and abilities to prevent the strongest player from winning, the second strongest player usually has an easier shot at victory. This can also sometimes have elements of a Kingmaker Scenario or Do Well, but Not Perfect.
- 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.
- There's an interesting variation in Settlers of Catan: When initially setting up the board, each player places two settlements. The order in which the settlements are placed usually means that the first player gets the best and worst locations, the second player gets the second-best and second-worst, and so on. Some players prefer to go last in the order, as there can be some tactical advantage in having two "average" locations and being able to place both settlements at once.
- 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 on. Some consider it preferrable to take the middle place, where you get the leftover cards, than the place one better than that.
- Some bases in Smash Up award more points for second-highest power than for highest power when the base breaks.
- In MySims Kingdom, Barney enters the Wandolier contest and aims for second prize, a toaster oven. If one pays attention to him and the only other competitor, Princess Butter, Barney does seem to be giving a Do Well, but Not Perfect performance: he will 'search' for the Mana chests in the first mission, and occasionally take his wand out and wave it in the later ones. Contrast Butter, who does nothing and expects her father to give her the win, and the player, for whom this is a Tutorial Level.
- In Paper Mario 64, during one of the sections in which you control Peach, you take part in a Jeopardy!-like quiz. First prize is a Jammin' Jelly (it restores 50 FP, which is the cap without FP Plus badges) that you can send to Mario, but the participation prize is the Sneaky Parasol, necessary to complete the game. Speedruns of the game invoke this trope and go for second place, to avoid the extra dialogue involved with winning the first prize item.
- This happens in Mario Party 9 during the "Reverse Mini-Game" in a Bowser Event. You play a standard mini-game, but the objective is to lose as quickly as possible instead of trying to play the normal way. The first person to lose the game will win. Don't let this hurt your head too much.
- In The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword there is a Boss Rush challenge pitting you against the 12 main bosses you fought before in the main storyline, which you can quit after defeating any of them. Quitting after the 8 bosses nets the player an indestructible shield, which is unarguably the best prize in that minigame and much more valuable than the Piece of Heart you get for the top prize (though you can just go through the challenge again with your new shield and get that, too).
- Code Master's Formula One games have a special reaction for a player driver who finishes better than expected. For example, Tier-3 teams like Williams and Toro Rosso are happy enough if you grab a podium finish. The lowest-tier drivers from Caterham and Marussia will celebrate even if they finish barely at 16th, since compared to their performances in real life, such a position is almost impossible.
- Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games features missions that require the player to place in a specific position. The easy ones are placing first or last. You could be asked to finish in second or third, which requires watching the competitors closely and screwing up inputs to keep in pace with them.
- In Billy vs. SNAKEMAN, this is the fundamental basis of the party game First Loser. Every participant bets a random amount of money, and the ones getting into first place (the number changes from game to game) get the highly coveted... kunai. Meanwhile, the one ending up just below the "winners" get the consolation prize, either a rare permanent item or a large stack of otherwise coveted items (unidentified runes, sugary candy, treasure, etc). The ones getting in after that get their money refunded (minus a 5% cost).
- In Fallen London, you can compete in a "Shroom-hopping" contest. If you win, you gain a fair amount of money-type items (that are available in many other places too). If you don't win, you gain "Second Chances", powerful items that let you retry failed challenges. If you come in second place, you gain some money items (not as much as first place) and also the Second Chances. This means coming second place will often be much more desirable than first.
- During Mayucchi's route in Maji De Watashi Ni Koishinasai she enters a race following instructions from Yamato so that they can win some autographs from a reclusive manga artist. The mayor announces beforehand that first place will win a very special prize. Racing against her are the likes of Azumi sponsored by Hideo Kuki, and right before Mayucchi crosses the finish line Azumi barely manages to get ahead of her and steal first place. Hideo starts gloating, but Yamato laughs instead: Hideo normally doesn't participate in town events, so he doesn't know that the mayor is a narcissist who gives out statues of himself as top prizes. Yamato had no intention of taking first place at all and goes home with the autographs.
- From Homestar Runner: "The duckie-man is the winner! Loser gets the egg!"
- The Videlectrix game Kid Speedy has you playing as an obese boy and only concerned with placing at least third in a four-man race. In this case, there's no penalty at all for getting second or first (though you won't be getting first unless you play as Homestar Runner); it's just that third is all you need to continue (and often all Kid Speedy can manage.)
- 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.
- Inferno Cop enters the America Grand Prix hoping for the prize money obtained by placing 1st. He places second, only to learn that the runner-up gets the same amount of money as the winner.
- 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 big enough to bathe in. He even Lampshades that it makes no sense that the losers get better trophies than the winner.
- 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", the entire South Park Little League baseball team hates playing baseball, finding it excruciatingly boring, and only play it because their parents make them. When they make it into the playoffs, they start actively trying to lose all their games so that they won't have to waste their whole summer playing. Unfortunately, every other team also hates baseball just as much as they do, and are better at purposely losing.
- 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 framing him for 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).
- Bob of Bob's Burgers once entered a a burger-off against a well respected professional chef. (And Jimmy Pesto, but he doesn't know anything about burgers.) Bob lost by a narrow margin, but he earned the respect of the professional chef and the judges' praise of his burger resulted in many members of the crowd coming to his restaurant.
- The "Boyz 4 Now" subplot has Gene entering a table-setting competition and ending up coming in 4th place thanks to a rather...tactless theme cobbled together out of desperation. Gene, Bob, and Linda are still happy about his placement, since it's apparently the highest any of the Belcher kids have ever placed in anything.
- King of the Hill:
- When Hank and Bobby 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.
- 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.
- Hank and Bobby end up competing against each other in a dog dancing contest. Bobby and Connie's dog, Doggy, take home second place, while Hank and Ladybird don't win anything. Bobby is ecstatic upon placing second regardless of whether or not he beat Hank.
- 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 needs falling sick. However, Rainbow perseveres and they complete the task they set out to do, despite having to abort getting the record.
- In "Equestria Games", though Rainbow Dash, Fluttershy and Bulk Biceps ultimately place silver in the relay race, they're still happy with the result. It helps that Ponyville still had the highest medal count at the end, and Rainbow Dash had accepted from the start that beating the Wonderbolts was a long shot.
- In Steven Universe professional engineer Peridot and self-taught Pearl get into an argument over who should lead a drill construction project. To settle things they have a contest between two robots they built, which eventually devolves into a straight up fight. Even though Pearl ultimately loses she demonstrates her engineering talents to the other Crystal Gems, who already believed in her, and to Peridot, who eventually acknowledges Pearl's abilities and agrees to work side by side with her.
- 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.
- 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 Dragons: 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 allowing anyone else to score as much as one point.
- Angela Anaconda: Angela 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.
- Le lanterne rouge is also a sought-after position in the Tour de France, although there is no actual prize, other than the noteriety.
- Philosopher Søren 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 single,note 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).
- During the 2012 Olympics, there was a match between two tennis players: world #1 Novak Djokovic and world #2 Andy Murray. In their previous meetings Djokovic had comprehensively beaten Murray almost every time, but at the Olympics he seemed strangely off his game. He lost the match and left the Olympics, while Murray went on to win a gold medal. Some viewers couldn't help but suspect that Djokovic threw the match (or just didn't try) in order to get himself eliminated as soon as possible and return to professional competition, which pays much better.
- Both a subversion and deliberate invocation of this trope at the London Olympics happened with four Asian badminton teams. They played to intentionally lose a match in order to have a better shot of winning in the next round. They were all summarily disqualified.
- 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.
- Also, most of the high achievers are Asian, and most schools have an unwritten hard cap in place of just how many Asian students they will accept.
- After disastrous performances in virtually every single competition he ever entered, figure skater Paul Wylie skated the best performance of his life (and many would say, of the night) and won an Olympic silver medal. Considering that he wasn't expected to win anything at all, it was pretty remarkable.
- The Lincoln-Douglas Debates of 1858. Abraham Lincoln competed in a series of debates with Stephen Douglas, mainly over the topic of slavery, and these debates would decide which of them would be made Illinois' United States Senator (back then, US Senators were not elected by the general public, but by the state legislatures). Technically, Lincoln was considered the loser of the debates; he lost the resulting election but ended up gaining a national reputation. This momentum allowed Lincoln to win the US presidency in 1860, defeating other opponents - including the aforementioned Douglas!
- The Dutch football team that lost The World Cup in 1974 is still fondly remembered as one of the best teams ever. The innovative Total Football earned them a spot in the final with 5 wins and a draw, 14 goal for and only one against. On the decisive game against hosts West Germany, they got a penalty kick one minute in without the Germans touching the ball. Then good old Germanic Efficiency trumped the "Clockwork Orange", who lost 2-1.
- The NFL Draft has "Mr. Irrelevant." The final pick in the draft is treated to a one-week trip to Newport Beach, California, complete with golfing, regatta, a roast in his honor, and the "Lowsman Trophy". This became such a prestigious honor that one year two teams passed the next-to-last pick to try and get Mr. Irrelevant, forcing a rule change so that the draft would end already.
- In 2015, Magic: The Gathering player Pascal Maynard made the top 8 finals of the largest Grand Prix tournament in the game's history. In the top 8 draft (where each player takes a card from a booster pack and passes the rest on), he was building a solid red/white build, he opened his second pack to reveal a foil Tarmogoyf, which was worth $500 on the secondary market, but would not have fit his deck over the Burst Lightning that was also in the pack. He took the 'Goyf anyway. He would lose in the semifinals, but the publicity (both positive and negative) he got for picking the card enabled him to sell it on eBay for nearly $15,000... nearly four times what the winner of the tournament won in prize money. He gave half the proceeds to charity.