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Springtime for Hitler

"I was so careful. I picked the wrong play, the wrong director, the wrong cast. Where did I go right?"
Max Bialystock, The Producers

A character's attempt to deliberately fail at some task (usually to fuel some other, hidden goal) backfires when the intended failure proves impossible; in other words, they failed to fail. (Something like that.)

This is usually caused by Finagle's Law at work, where the attempt to fail is so spectacular that it Crosses the Line Twice. Crossing it twice is always "better" than crossing it only once. In these cases, the meta-fail was a result of trying too hard.

In a variation, the person will fail at the initial task as planned, but somehow manage not to accomplish the hidden goal that the failure was supposed to yield. The person is now doubly cursed, as they now have to deal with the fallout from their planned failure without being able to enjoy the rewards of the goal they were actually striving for.

This is a Sub-Trope of Failure Gambit. Compare Fake Real Turn, with "fake" and "real" replaced with "failure" and "success" respectively. Common for people with Dismotivation. May be caused by a Plague of Good Fortune. If the initial failure would be getting in trouble with the authorities, see Can't Get In Trouble For Nuthin'. Compare with Nice Job Fixing It, Villain.

In contrast is the Xanatos Gambit, where the planner is perfectly content with the success of the first part of the scheme or the second part.

See also Reverse Psychology.

Not to be confused with Gone Horribly Right, where a person aims to succeed rather than fail, and does succeed, but the success turns out to be a bad thing instead of a good thing after all. Also not to be confused with Epic Fail, which is when an unintended failure happens in such sheer magnitude that the failure becomes impressive in itself.


In-story examples

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    Anime & Manga 
  • In Tytania a weak planet sends a starfleet against the almighty Tytania empire just not to surrender without a fight and do it on more or less profitable terms. They assign the worst officer they have as the admiral, but he somehow manages to win the battle. Hilarity Ensues. Well, it doesn't turn out to be fun eventually.
  • A variation of this can be found in Full Metal Panic!, where Sōsuke purposefully is very curt and detached from people so they won't be friends. It always fails, and he constantly ends up with a bunch of unwanted True Companions that all really like him.
  • Irresponsible Captain Tylor usually manages to complete missions that were planned to fail by their admiral. Which sometimes causes disasters for authority.
  • In one episode of Power Stone, a number of characters have been sent to work as slave labour in the mines to pay off their gambling debts. Falcon and Gunrock come up with a plan to rescue them by losing everything and being sent as well. Cut to them holding massive piles of cash.
  • JoJo's Bizarre Adventure
    • The Sugar Mountain arc of Steel Ball Run is like this, with deadlier consequences than usual. Due to the effects of an enemy Stand, Gyro and Johnny must rid themselves of everything they obtained in a recent Honest Axe trade. The problem is that their attempts to rid themselves of everything often wind up with them getting more.
    • And that wasn't even the worst of it. After finally disposing of all their wealth, they then have to trade away a pair of mummified ears...the one item they were after in the first place.
  • In a K-On! episode, Tsumugi decides she wants to get hit on the head, but Ritsu doesn't want to do it without a reason, resulting in various attempts that fail miserably.
  • A grimly hilarious example occurs in the 4th Ninja World War arc of Naruto, when Kabuto resurrects a number of famous and extremely powerful ninja. He then controls their bodies and forces them to fight their former allies. Some prove to be so tough that even when they outright explain what they're about to be forced to do, it doesn't help. The trope is indisputably played best with the 2nd Mizukage whose desperate attempts at getting defeated are all thwarted. He was not amused. The readers, however, were. Then again, some of what he was yelling only made sense to readers after others in the manga figured it out, so at least the flaws weren't glaringly obvious and the army wasn't handed an Idiot Ball. Though the bits about his giant summoned clam and its mirages were the most hilarious thing ever, as was his breakdown over how no-one seemed to get what he was saying.
    2nd Mizukage: I keep trying to tell you, attacking me now is useless! I'm nothing but a mirage! Attack the clam first! I told you, the clam's creating the mirage! Oh, COME ON! I've told you! I've told you already! That clam is a mirage too, you idiots! Aim for the real one, GODDAMMIT!!!
  • Played for (what else?) laughs in Ranma ˝. Ryōga receives a magical drawing on his belly which gives him superhuman fighting abilities. But the drawing is so ridiculous that he wants to get rid of it, and the only way to do that is to lose a fight. Ranma, of course, agrees to help. Unfortunately, Ryōga's fighting abilities have become so superhuman that even when he's blindfolded, restrained, and weighed down, and later in his little black pig form, Ranma can't lay a finger on him.
  • In Trigun, Vash at one point gets entered into a sharpshooting contest. Not wanting everyone to know that Vash the Stampede is participating, he decides he'll Do Well, But Not Perfect and gets wasted the night before, but since he has to put effort into not hitting targets, Vash wound up so hungover he couldn't fail and won anyway.
    Vash the Stampede: Oops. Oh no. I hit them all.
  • In the Ace Attorney Investigations manga, Randolph Miller's three hires to watch over the painting — Monet Kreskin (his niece, who knows nothing about art), Dick Gumshoe(The series's Clueless Detective), and Thomas Bester (a private detective possibly even worse than Gumshoe, but more conceited) — seem to be poor choices, because none of them know much about art, but then it turns out that Randolph sold the painting and wants to both stage its theft and kill Max Arden, the only other one who knows the truth. Then again, the failure of the plan is largely because Gumshoe's involvement brings in the much more competent Edgeworth, rather than any of the three being more competent than Randolph expected.
  • In an episode of Hyouka, Oreki attempts to convince Chitanda that he'd just gotten lucky with his theory-making (stating that theories can stick to anything) by playing a game with her. He follows an intercom announcement calling a student to the staff room for something happened at a shop the day prior to an explanation that's logical but likely too complicated to be correct. His theory was that the student had purchased merchandise at the shop with a counterfeit 10,000 yen bill that had been given to him as payment (this had been a problem that was talked about on the news recently), and then felt guilty and wrote an apology letter (which is why the announcement was read using the date instead of "yesterday"), leading police to turn up at the school (thus the announcement only being read once, as the school officials were nervous, and him being called to the staffroom instead of the chairman's office.
  • Date A Live's 13th episode dedicates its first half to Shido attempting to botch his date with Origami in the worst way possibles as a means to get her off his back. It fails epicly because Origami is THAT much of a devoted love interest with a disregard for public opinion and a blunt attitude, dumbfounding everyone in the process.
  • An early episode of Pokémon had a trainer that needed a Paras to win battles in order to evolve into a Parasect in order to make an experimental medicine. Since it was for a good cause, Ash tries to deliberately let the Paras win. Unfortunately, his opponent is so pathetic it loses even as Pikachu and Squirtle hold back, and his third choice, Charmeleon, makes his disobedience known.

    Board Game 
  • Checkers has a rule that you must capture an opponent's piece if you're able to. As such, it can be played with a variant rule where the goal is to lose all your pieces as soon as possible. Since both players will be trying to do so, one of them will invoke this trope.
  • In 1979, Parker Brothers produced "The MAD Game", a reverse-Monopoly game where each player starts with $10,000, and you win by losing all of your money. If by some bizarre coincidence your full name is "Alfred E. Neuman" (MAD's mascot), you may end up acquiring a unique bill worth a very specific amount of money...which you can never get rid of, so you inevitably lose. Except there's numerous opportunities to force another player to trade places with you. It's too bad you'll never actually use the bill unless you bend the rules.
  • In 1965 Avalon Hill created a game called $quander (Squander), in which each player started with a million Squanderbucks. The first player to lose all of his money won the game. After some changes, it came to the US as well as other countries under the title Go for Broke!

    Comic Books 
  • Disney Comics:
    • A Donald Duck story pretty much retold The Producers: A group of shady film makers plan to make their Big Damn Movie fail spectacularly and run off with the investors' money, and employ Donald (who they believe is a huge idiot) to do just whatever needs to get done, then he gets more duties (like acting coach) and in the end, cameraman. When they film the final battle sequence (they are trying to shoot Laura of Arabia), he's supposed to film it from the perspective from above (from on top of a pyramid). He sleeps during the shooting and the scene can't be re-shot. Then he's supposed to cut the scene, but realizes it doesn't work without the perspective from above. Then one of the producers just arbitrarily re-cuts the scene while Donald is asleep. The scene then ends up getting praised by critics, making the movie a huge success.
    • A Mickey Mouse story had the main investor of a stage director who had produced nothing but flops thus far go this route by having the play insured. Unfortunately, the director's latest ridiculous project (an adaptation of Hamlet set in the world of soccer) seemed to be actually working, leading the investor to dress up as the ghost of Shakespeare to try to sabotage the production.
    • In the short Carl Barks comic "The Colossalest Surprise Quiz Show", Uncle Scrooge takes part in the title quiz show. The show gives big sums of prize money to the contestants and the questions are ridiculously easy. However, Scrooge learns that he's reached the upper limit of his income tax bracket. This means that he would actually suffer a huge loss if he landed any money from the show. He doesn't want to chicken out, so he goes to the studio, but answers every question: "I don't know." The result? He receives a special bonus prize of $120,000 for being the dumbest person in the history of television.
    • A William Van Horn story had Donald taking a high tech aptitude test after being fired for the Nth time and being told that he's best suited for doing the lowest possible jobs. Whenenver he gets one of these jobs, a disaster occurs which he then solves, prompting his superiors to promote him... and is forced to resign, to stay as low as possible. The story ends with his nephews congratulating him on being promoted several times despite the test stating that he would always remain in the bottom of the ladder... with Donald (looking like he's about to burst into tears) saying "Yes... but I couldn't even succeed in THAT!"
  • The first arc of Ex Machina concerns an extremely offensive piece of art. It turns out the artist was so sick of the art world that she sought to make something that no one could possibly praise. She fails, it appears in the Brooklyn Museum of Art, and she vandalizes it in disguise so it can be taken down without her publicly giving in to pressure to remove it.
  • An issue of the Silver Age "World's Finest" has Batman suddenly receiving a bag filled with a million dollars, and desperately trying to spend it all on worthless investments to help someone stuck in a ripoff of Brewster's Millions. Unfortunately, Robin and Superman (who aren't privy to the deal) think Bruce is in financial trouble, and sabotage every scheme. (For example, when Batman buys an empty gold mine, Superman throws down a meteor filled with silver, leaving Batman with even more money.)
  • A hilarious example occurs in Batman: Gotham Adventures, Harley and Ivy arc. Gal pals Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy hear about an upcoming stupid action movie themed around... well, them. Naturally pissed off, they head to Hollywood to stop it, but Ivy sees how much money the flick is budgeted for and decides to take over. The two don't plan to release it — Poison Ivy's just in it for the money and Harley likes seeing the Batman actor blow up "over and over and over again" — but after they're sent back to Arkham, the film's backers release it anyway. It quickly becomes a smash hit. Of course, the only reason the movie was released was because the company had no choice due to all the money Harley and Ivy sunk into it, and the reason it was a hit was because people thought it was supposed to be a parody of overblown action movies and considered it epic.
  • This has happened in Archie Comics a few times:
    • One Josie And The Pussy Cats story had their sponsor Mr. Cabot lamenting the Pussycats' success, having sponsored them because he thought they'd lose money and he'd get a big tax loss. He tries to sabotage both the Pussycats themselves and the seniors' club he owns by having the Pussycats play there, expecting them both to lose money and give him a big tax loss. Unfortunately, the Pussycats are a hit, and Mr. Cabot's club gets a six-month waiting list for people to join, earning Mr. Cabot another huge fortune.
    • In another story, Jughead tried to prove that people would believe anything. To prove it, he makes up a pamphlet with bogus stock tips and puts it with Mr. Lodge's morning mail, expecting Mr. Lodge to follow the tips, lose a fortune and prove his point. The first tips earn Mr. Lodge $60,000 and get him out of another company right before it crashes, which Jughead dismisses as a fluke. Following through on the rest of the tips earns Mr. Lodge a grand total of over $2 million.
    • In yet another story, Reggie lost a game of tennis to Archie and started complaining, and Veronica called him out as a sore loser. So, he decides to purposely lose a game against Archie, and act graciously. But he just can't seem to lose a game afterwards, no matter how badly he plays. Eventually, he breaks out in a fit over winning at another game of tennis.
  • In the Mortadelo y Filemón book ''El Tirano", the titular pair of agents are given the mission to eliminate a fascist dictator (a parody of Augusto Pinochet), but their constant failures actually stop murder attempts from other people (not to mention screwing with each other's attempts). When they are told they have to protect the man so that he is taken to Spain and judged for his crimes, they try, but their attempts at protecting him subsequently send him to the intensive care wing at the closest hospital.

    Comic Strips 
  • A Beetle Bailey comic had General Halftrack getting angry about a new television comedy show about an idiot general that looks a lot like him. He happens to run into the screenwriter getting drunk at a bar who explains that he used to do cultural shows and was ordered to make a comedy. He then created what he saw as a terrible show in an attempt to get fired but the show took off and he's now stuck writing it. He and Halftrack then hatch a plan to get the show off the air by writing an episode consisting solely of soldiers marching. The audience hates it... but the critics praise it as an avant-garde masterpiece.
  • Dilbert
    • This is Wally's problem — he wants to quit the company, but by getting fired, because that way he can get a generous severance package; thus he acts as incompetently as possible. The problem is that the company is manned by the original Pointy-Haired Boss, so everything Wally does either gets his approval or is ignored completely. Oddly, this is based on someone Dilbert creator Scott Adams worked with, and he said, "This wouldn't have been much fun to watch, but he was one of the most brilliant people I've met, and completely committed to his goal." In a later Dilbert treasury What Would Wally Do?, Adams briefly mentions in his intro that yes, said co-worker did ultimately succeed.
    • Also, the following exchange:
    Dilbert: The company pays me ten dollars for every bug I fix in my code, Ratbert. I want you to do your little rat dance on my keyboard so I'll have lots of bugs to fix.
    Ratbert: (dancing around) How am I doing?
    Dilbert: Not so good. You just authored a web browser.
  • One Blondie comic strip featured a wealthy person coming to the company playing a game of golf with Dagwood and Mr. Dithers. Mr. Dithers tells Dagwood to do poorly in the game so the new person will look good. Dagwood accidentally plays a great game.
  • An arc of Tank McNamara had sports fanatic Sweatsox coaching a Little League team, and learning that to advance to the playoffs, his team had to lose the current game. So, tied in the bottom of the ninth, he sent the most out-of-shape boy to bat. Sweatsox, with a smirk, thought, "I've forfeited." The boy, however, managed to get his first hit of the year, winning the game, and was carried off on the shoulders of his cheering team; Sweatsox was furious — and his wife said sarcastically, "That's the trouble with kids these days. They got no sense of values." (Sweatsox did at least have the grace to look ashamed of himself when she said that.)
  • The Bumpkin Billionaires was a long-running UK comic strip clearly inspired by The Beverly Hillbillies, and entirely based around this trope. The title family won a huge sum of money, and quickly discovered that they hated being rich... and so each strip would detail a new scheme of theirs designed to lose as much money as possible, much to the despair of their bank manager. Of course, their schemes were destined to fail, often resulting in the family ending up even richer.

    Fan Works 
  • In the second Love Hina arc of Sleeping with the Girls, the main character walks several of the local girls through how in worlds that run on the Rule of Funny, such as theirs (a romantic comedy universe), plans will almost always fail because it's funnier that way, even if you are planning to fail. If you are planning to fail, you will almost inevitably succeed.
  • In XSGCOM, while negotiating with the goa'uld System Lords, Weir wants to avoid going to war with Ba'al, so she tries to make a request that they will refuse by demanding that the goa'uld cede them every star system within two and hundred and fifty light-years of Earth. They go for it, and Earth inadvertently becomes an interstellar empire.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Trope Namer: Mel Brooks's The Producers, in which two theatrical producers sell 25,000% of the production to investors and plan to create a play that will close on opening night, receiving almost no income, and therefore net them a substantial profit from the unused investment, since the IRS doesn't investigate flops. Basically, they're trying to pull the theatrical version of a Ponzi scheme. Their efforts to create a flop result in a blatantly pro-Nazi musical called Springtime for Hitler, a production starring a spaced-out hippie as Hitler. Unfortunately for the producers, audiences mistake the musical for a satire and love it. Because the play does not flop, the producers will be completely unable to pay back their investors, resulting in their exposure in investment fraud.
  • The 1964 movie starring Maurice Chevalier, Akim Tamiroff, and Mike Connors (later of "Mannix"), filmed in Italy as Operation Fiasco but released in the USA as Panic Button. This film is a comedy about a crooked producer who deliberately makes an inept movie so that he can get a tax write-off when the movie flops; he is stymied when the movie is an unexpected hit.
  • Another Mel Brooks movie, Blazing Saddles, finds Hedley Lamarr, a corrupt government official, trying to drive the settlers of an Old West town off their land so he can steal it. Forced to appoint a sheriff, he selects a random black man, expecting the racist townspeople to be so demoralized that they give up. He certainly didn't expect the sheriff to stop the crime and win over the town...
  • A long-forgotten B mystery movie, The Falcon in Hollywood. A murder occurs on a movie set and in the end the killer turns out to be the film's producer who had oversold investment shares and underreported the cost, and was deliberately trying to make it a flop by doing things like hiring a director who had never directed the film's genre before, casting a motley assortment of has-beens and unknowns, etc. The producer turned to sabotage and murder when the film being made was turning out to be surprisingly good.
  • The Mouse That Roared, an adaptation of the book starring Peter Sellers, features a tiny European nation defeat the United States by accident, having planned to surrender and receive post-war aid.
  • Brewsters Millions. It was first adapted into film in 1914, then remade in 1921, 1935, 1945, and then one last time in 1985. The films are adaptations of a novel written in 1902 by George Barr McCutcheon. Brewster is set to inherit a vast fortune, but in order to receive the full amount, he must spend a large portion within a time limit and have absolutely nothing to show for it by the end. In each version, many of Brewster's feverish attempts to waste money wind up unexpectedly making a profit. For example, in the 1985 Richard Pryor version, Brewster places a series of absurd longshots. Not only does every one hit, leaving him several hundred thousand in the black, but the word has been put out on him leaving him unable to place another big bet in Chicago. He then decides to run for Mayor of New York, hoping to lose money though campaign expenses. To his horror, the populace sees him as a breath of fresh air compared to the unlikable career politicians, and he finds himself on the verge of winning and has to pull out. (Winning the office itself would be considered an asset, since it comes with salary and benefits).
  • In the first Major League film, the new Indians owner wants desperately to move the team to Miami, but due to the terms of the lease the team has with the city of Cleveland, she will only be allowed to move them if attendance drops below a certain figure. To this end, she assembles the sorriest bunch of losers she can find, but her plans are thwarted when the team starts winning. (Primarily because they find out about her plan, and really don't like the idea of being used.)
  • In 1984, the Democratic party felt they can't win so they nominated a woman as vice president to gain female voters for next time. Inspired by it, the film Head of State has the hopeless party's leader select a minor black politician (Chris Rock) as their candidate, to win points with minorities and set himself up for a win in four years. Chris Rock nominates his older brother as vice president and obviously they win, subverting the Mighty Whiteys' best attempt to sabotage their campaign. And of course, Hilarious in Hindsight today.
  • In Man of the Year, Robin Williams plays a Jon Stewart spoof who protests the corruption in politics by running for president himself as a joke. He wins due to a bug in the voting machines' programs that awards the most votes based on some obscure formula involving double letters.
  • This is the basic plot of the Spike Lee film Bamboozled, which stars Damon Wayans as a writer for a television network seeking to get out of his contract. He wants to create an intelligent television program about African-Americans, but the network won't go for his ideas. So to get himself fired he creates a show using the most offensive African-American stereotypes possible... and it becomes a runaway hit.
  • In the boffo 80s flick Ruthless People, Danny DeVito's wife is kidnapped the day he was planning to kill her. He refuses to pay her ransom, hoping that the kidnappers will kill her and do his dirty work for him. It's based on The Ransom of Red Chief by O. Henry.
  • The Hudsucker Proxy wherein the board of Hudsucker Industries, hoping to temporarily depress the company's stock price so that they may purchase a controlling interest before the deceased president's shares are available to be purchased by the public, intentionally chooses the apparently incompetent Norville Baines as the new president. However Norville's new invention proves so popular that the stock price reaches record heights.
  • Another Coen Brothers movie, The Big Lebowski, features a plot thread wherein the young trophy wife (in the parlance of our times) was kidnapped and a ransom demanded of the title character, the other Lebowski, the millionaire. Instead of having the ransom money dropped off, the Big Lebowski instead is strongly implied to have sent a briefcase containing old phone books, hoping that the kidnappers would kill his wife. He also sends a bum, a deadbeat, to make the drop-off, knowing full well he'd screw it up. While the drop-off is, indeed, screwed up, nobody gets killed by the kidnappers because they never had Lebowski's wife to begin with.
  • The Jidai Geki film Harakiri is probably the cruelest, most gruesome example of this trope. Motome, a desperate young ronin who needs money to provide for his family, approaches the local daimyo and ask his permission to commit Seppuku there so that he may have the honor of being buried on his land. He expects that the daimyo will refuse his request and instead give him a few coins to go away. Unfortunately, the daimyo calls his bluff and forces him to go through with the act. To make matters even worse, Motome is so destitute that he has already sold the metal blades of his swords, so he has to disembowel himself with a blade made of bamboo.
  • Al Pacino's character in S1m0ne tries to do this when the eponymous Simone (a movie actress who is, unknown to any but him, completely computer-generated) becomes too popular. His attempts include having her "direct" a movie that features her eating pig slop and going on a TV interview and saying she likes to eat dolphin meat. She remains popular despite this, so he erases the software and drops it in the ocean, only to be arrested for her presumed murder.
  • This is the basic plot of Rambo: First Blood Part II. Rambo's superiors send him to Vietnam in order to search for US prisoners of war, in the expectation that he will find nothing, and in doing so free the United States from having to pay reparations to the Vietnamese government. As it turns out, Rambo finds the prisoners after all, and despite attempts by his superiors to abandon him in Vietnam, he successfully brings them back home.
  • Cold Turkey: Norman Lear's satirical film involves a tobacco company that, as a PR stunt, offers $25 million to any town in America whose entire population can give up their product for thirty days, reasoning that no town will be able to take them up on the offer... except, of course, one does.
  • Lobster Man from Mars. A Hollywood film producer screens a science fiction B-Movie in order to get out of paying millions in back taxes, only to go to prison when it's a great success.
  • The protagonist of What A Way To Go! hates money and wants to live a simple life with a man she loves. So she marries a poor man she loves very much. Through incredible luck, he suddenly becomes rich, then due to incredible bad luck, he dies, leaving her a rich widow. Then, with another man, it happens again. Then again. And again. She finally lands one who keeps failing, and they live happily ever after.
  • In the 1972 film The Candidate, Peter Boyle is a campaign consultant hired by the Democrats to find a challenger for a senate seat occupied by a very popular Republican incumbent. They figure they'll never win, but it would look too bad to let the incumbent run unchallenged. Boyle approaches Bill McKay (Robert Redford), an idealistic liberal activist and lawyer (and the estranged son of a popular former governor), for the role — he's going to lose anyway, Boyle says, so he can use the spotlight to gain attention for his causes. McKay agrees — and they both get so caught up in the election game that they end up winning. The film ends with a horrified Redford turning to Boyle on election night, just as the cheering crowds surround them, and asking, "...what do we do NOW?"
  • In the film Stuck on You, Cher's character wants to get out of a detective show she's starring in. Hoping to get the show canceled quickly, she insists on hiring a co-star (Greg Kinnear) who has been unable to find work as an actor in Hollywood due to being attached to his conjoined twin (Matt Damon). Her plan blows up when the show becomes even more popular, and her co-star ends up becoming the show's Breakout Character.
  • The entire plot of How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days revolves around this idea: a girl is writing an article that requires her to act like a horrible date/girlfriend and get dumped, but is unlucky enough to choose as her "victim" a guy who just made a bet that he could make any woman fall in love with him. Thus he refuses to end their relationship no matter what she throws at him.
    • It was less a matter of luck than office politics. Matthew McConaughey's character is trying to get a lucrative advertising account instead of his two female coworkers. Their boss offers to give him the account if he can make a woman of the coworkers' choice fall in love with him. Since the girl's boss has just told the two women about her article, they specifically pick her out of the crowd for him to woo.
  • In the 1942 Edward G. Robinson film Larceny Inc., three criminals open up a luggage shop next door to a bank so they can drill a hole through a wall in the basement into the bank's vault. But, the luggage shop actually starts turning a big profit and becomes successful, and later, the bank offers them thousands of dollars for the use of their basement so they can expand the vault, making the criminals wonder if it'd be better to just go straight.
    • Woody Allen's Small Time Crooks has the main characters buy a property next to a bank with the same MO. In order to make their front more convincing, the wife bakes cookies which prove so popular that, almost overnight, they become an immense multi-national corporation with seemingly no chance of failure. Then comes the second act where they have to figure out how to adjust to the wealthy lifestyle.
  • In Ted, the eponymous character tries to bomb his job interview at the grocery score deliberately. It doesn't go as planned:
    Manager: You think you've what it takes?
    Ted: What I've got is the scent of your wife's pussy on my breath.
    Manager: Nobody's ever spoken to me like that before.
    Ted: That's because everybody's mouths are full of your wife's box.
    (beat)
    Manager: You're hired.
    Ted: Shit.
    • Later in the movie, Ted is caught doing lewd sexual acts with an employee on the clock, while he admits to selling a piece of produce used in the act to a family. The act gets him promoted for "having guts." Ted is not impressed.
    Ted: (to his manager after his promotion) You've got a lot of problems, don't you?
    • The epilogue reveals he was promoted to store manager after being caught eating potato salad off of someone's butt.
  • A more dramatic version of this trope appears in the 1937 film Stage Door. Katharine Hepburn plays an aspiring actress who hopes to make it on Broadway, which is against her father's wishes. So her father invests in a play on the condition she star in it, and since she's not only green but also questions everybody, it's thought the play will flop and she'll come back to her father. However, Hepburn finds out right before the curtain is to go up that The Woobie wanted the part she's playing and killed herself because she didn't get it. Completely heartbroken, Hepburn's character gives the performance of her life, critics love it, and the play becomes a smash hit, meaning she'll never go back to her father.
  • All the Queen's Men ends up featuring this trope. An English Colonel sends his bumbling secretary, a disgraced U.S. soldier, a socially inept language expert, and a transvestite on a mission to steal an Enigma machine in 1944. The plan is to have them dress up as women and infiltrate the factory where the machines are made and steal one - unfortunately, the mission ends up going south from the beginning when the city they're supposed to airdrop near is just a facade. Attempting to radio command for help doesn't give them any help and nearly gives away their position. But in the end they infiltrate the factory and steal enough parts to make an Enigma machine thanks to the secretary's skill with repairing typewriters. But when the secretary comments that Germany won't even notice that a machine is missing since they only stole the parts, they realize what's really going on - the Allies already have an Enigma machine and have cracked its codes, so stealing one wasn't their mission. Their real mission was to attempt to steal one in such an obvious and ridiculous way that they'd be caught immediately - so that when the Germans interrogate them, they'll say that their mission was to get an Enigma. Thus the Axis would still think that the Allies didn't have one, so that the Axis powers would continue using the already-cracked codes. The secretary tries to give himself up out of a sense of duty to the Allies so that they can complete the real mission, but the others rescue him. While doing so, they make sure to try, and fail, to keep the Enigma machine.
  • In the Danny Kaye movie The Court Jester, Kaye's character Hawkins (who is pretending to be a jester named Giacomo ... it's that kind of movie) is challenged to a duel by Sir Griswold, aptly described as "a side of beef". The only problem is that Giacomo is not a knight and forbidden from taking part in a knightly duel. So the King, who favors Griswold, enlists "Giacomo" in a set of tests to determine whether he's worthy of knighthood or not. Giacomo/Hawkins attempts to fail the tests, but thanks to the king's guards cheating for him outrageously (challenged to "shoot a hawk in full flight", he doesn't even get his bow drawn before the carcass falls to the ground), "Candidate passes!" is the result of every one.
  • In the film Children of Heaven, the protagonist Ali loses new shoes meant for his sister, and is afraid to tell his family because they're poor. After trying unsuccessfully to share his shoes, Ali finds out about a school race that offers a pair of sneakers as the prize for third place. He trains as hard as he can, and does well in the race... too well, because in the tussle between racers during the last few meters he accidentally ends up placing first instead, the sneakers being awarded to someone else. A following scene reveals that, unbeknownst to Ali, their father has been doing well enough in his new job that he's buying new shoes for his children.
  • Nancy Drew: Inga and Trish take Nancy to a clothing store in hopes that she'll be ridiculed for her old-fashioned style. The fashion expert there instead thinks Inga and Trish's clothes look tacky and mismatched and loves Nancy's matching look, even photographing it for their magazine.
  • Invoked intentionally in Angry Video Game Nerd The Movie: at the beginning of the film, Mandi of Cockburn Incorporated discussed how the titular Nerd has made gamers foster Bile Fascination, buying and playing video games that are terrible and reviled. As such, she has developed a follow-up to the infamous Eee Tee, designed to suck even more than the original, thus causing copies to fly off the shelves thanks to the Nerd's influence.

    Literature 
  • One of the earliest examples of this trope occurs in the Leonard Wibberley novel (later adapted into a Peter Sellers movie) The Mouse That Roared. Set in the years immediately following World War II, it's about a minuscule European nation, the Duchy of Grand Fenwick, that declares war on the US, planning to surrender and accept a bounty of post-war aid. Instead, the dozen-man invasion force accidentally wins the war by capturing a newly-made superweapon and its creator while strolling through a Manhattan evacuated for a nuclear drill.
  • In one of the sequels, The Mouse on Wall Street, Fenwick has become wealthy due to part of the settlement of the aforementioned war. However, the Duchess feels that this newfound wealth is corrupting Fenwick's idyllic lifestyle, so she sets out to lose it all on the stock market by picking stocks at random (by throwing darts at the financial section of the paper). However, when other Wall Street traders notice Fenwick is investing heavily in a particular stock, the traders conclude the Duchess must have inside information and immediately invest themselves, driving the price of that stock higher and earning Fenwick even more money. In the end, she sells off all the stocks for cash, has the cash shipped back to Fenwick, and secretly burns it.
  • The Mouse fill-in-the-scenario book/film series ran on this trope. In The Mouse on the Moon. the prime Minister of Grand Fenwick, desperate for indoor plumbing, tries to milk aid out of the US after their main export of wine has turned explosive by asking for cash for a space program. The US, seeing a cheap way to look like they are helping to make space international without doing something as stupid as actually helping another nation get an advantage over them in the space race by funding someone competent gives them a million dollars. Keen to top this, the Soviets send them an old rocket, which the PM plans to turn into a boiler for the new hot water system. The scientist from The Mouse That Roared discovers how to make an anti-gravity mix out of the explosive wine and without telling the PM that he is what he's doing, takes off successfully with the PM's son as co-pilot and beats the US and Soviets to the moon!
  • In The Fountainhead, a client hires Howard Roark to design a really far-out type of resort, something really wild and different. The client had actually oversold shares in the resort, and because Roark had a reputation for having plans so unconventional that the public would never accept them, hired him with the intent of having the motel fail and thus be able to keep the money. However, Roark's design for setting up the motel as a camp with individual cottages becomes a tremendous success, ruining the unscrupulous promoters.
  • Lampshaded in an an exchange from the New Jedi Order: Enemy Lines duology, when Wedge's forces were trying to make the Vong get a few victories they didn't deserve so that they could then be taken advantage of. A snafu results in the Vong commander's death and the Sorting Algorithm of Evil spits out a much more competent leader to replace him. During the snafu:
    Wedge: Tycho, we're about to achieve a tremendous victory we don't want.
    Tycho: We'll put that in your biography. General Antilles was so good he couldn't fail when he tried to.
  • The O. Henry story The Cop and the Anthem focuses on a hobo who intentionally tries to get arrested so as to go to jail during the winter by committing various petty crimes, all of which he fails to get arrested for. Somewhat subverted in that in the end he decides to clean up his life, then immediately gets arrested for loitering outside a church.
  • In Mrs. 'Arris Goes to Parliament, by Paul Gallico, the heroine of Mrs. 'Arris Goes To Paris decides to run for Parliament on the platform of "Live and let live". The (fictional) Center Party nominates her as part of a back-room deal, on the assumption that her candidacy is a joke and couldn't possibly succeed. Of course, she wins.
  • The first book of the Jesse Stone series by Robert B. Parker has the alderman of Paradise, MA, attempting the same gambit by hiring the self-destructively alcoholic Jesse Stone to be the new police chief, believing he will be easy to control. Unfortunately for them, he sees the new job as his last chance before his life gets completely ruined (as well as being self-aware enough to be suspicious that they hired him after he was drunk for the interview), and takes the opportunity to bring down their entire right-wing militia and swing the rest of the police force to his side.
  • The first Jack Reacher novel, Killing Floor, features this trope. The chief of detectives in Margrave, GA, Capt. Finlay, was going through a messy divorce when he interviewed for the job, and looked utterly incompetent. Since the Mayor and Police Chief are involved in the plot that's the centerpiece of the book, he's hired. Unfortunately for them, he's quite competent.
  • In the Gordon Korman book Radio Fifth Grade, the school bully begins reading stories on the school's student-run radio show as part of an English project — horrific stories about pet kittens violently fighting each other. The student running the show is too intimidated to say they're terrible. When he finally gets the courage to say so, the bully admits he was intentionally writing bad stories and wanted someone to say so, so he could stop writing them.
  • The P. G. Wodehouse story Peril at the Tee involves two crappy golfers playing a round with each other. As the consequences of winning would be to neither's liking, both of them attempt to throw the game. However, the methods they employ actually improve their technique. As an example, one of them is wearing a tight-fitting jacket, figuring it will restrict his swing into total ineffectiveness. Instead, it ends up correcting his chronic overswing.
  • In another P.G. Wodehouse story an honourable young man comes to believe there is insanity in his family. He must therefore end his engagement (since he cannot condemn the woman he loves to marriage with someone who may go mad), but cannot say why in order to protect his family. He decides to behave outrageously so that his fiancee will break off the engagement herself or her family forbid it. Everything he does to this end causes him to be admired all the more for manly frankness. It being Wodehouse, the fact that this potentially tragic scenario ends happily for everyone is possibly the most pointless concealment of a spoiler in the history of TV Tropes.
  • Emil of Lonneberga frequently gets sent to the tool shed as punishment for pranks. His little sister Ida eventually gets jealous, and decides that she wants to go to the tool shed, too. However, most of her attempted pranks backfire into nice actions, and when she eventually manages to commit one, it (of course) gets blamed on her older brother.
  • In Don DeLillo's Libra, the Kennedy assassination is portrayed as a plot set in motion by an ex-CIA agent who intended it to fail so that the United States would be steered into a war with Cuba. Due to postmodernist confusion, somewhere along the line the "failing" part fell out of the equation, but the facts are so fractured and disjointed that no one will ever know for certain how that happened.
  • Happens in How NOT to be Popular by Jennifer Ziegler. Maggie attempts to make everyone hate her (or at least think she's weird) so that she won't form any attachments in her 10th high school. However, everything she does makes people like her more. For example, she decides to dress in ugly clothes from her parents' thrift shop, but ends up starting a new trend. Her parents come to school with her one day and her mother talks about how to keep your vagina tight, but all her female friends think she's cool for being so open minded. A guy even asks her on a date, and she starts political arguments with him over dinner, only for him to think it's interesting. She ends up being more of a Blithe Spirit to the school and a Manic Pixie Dream Girl to the guy.
  • Ender’s Game: Tired of being built into a hero and having the fate of all humanity on his shoulders, Ender opts to win the final test by crossing the Moral Event Horizon, believing his superiors will never let him take command on a real battlefield after he does. Turns out that not only was this exactly what his superiors were hoping he would do, the "test" was actually a real battle being fought by humanity without Ender's knowledge, and he just unknowingly won the war for the humans, committing genocide against the buggers in the process.
  • Percival Everret's novel Erasure has this after an avant-garde black novelist sells out. Infuriated by the roaring success of shitty ghetto fiction that turns black people into caricatures, he writes "My Pafology," the true story of Van Go Jenkins, a youth in the ghetto. He intended it to be a blatant parody, the book itself is incredibly awful, reproduced in its entirety and written completely in ebonics. And then it hits the best seller list and people start wanting to meet the (completely fictional) author who wrote such a "raw and stunning work." Oops.
  • In one of the later Legion of the Damned books by William C. Dietz, the insectoid Ramanthians have invaded a world in the Clone Hegemony. The entire thing is meant as a distraction, to draw forces away from the true objective, Earth. However, to the surprise of everyone, the clone general in charge of the planet proves to be hopelessly incompetant, leading to the Ramanthians not only surviving, but holding the world against enemy attack. At one point, the Ramanthians even say that the clone general is "The best General we have."
  • Political Canadian satire The Best Laid Plans by Terry Fallis. It's about a political strategist for the Liberal Party who wants to get out of politics, and attempts to destroy his credibility by managing an unelectable candidate (who doesn't actually want to be elected himself, and is only running in order to get out of teaching an English course to first-year engineering students) in a strong Conservative riding. Despite the candidate refusing to allow any sort of campaigning to be done, he somehow becomes popular with the voters.
  • In Pyramids, protagonist Pteppic is about to graduate from the Assassins' Guild school, but he realizes that he can't kill, so he attempts to fail his exam stylishly by aiming his crossbow at the wall. The shot bounces off and hits the target anyway, and the examiner passes him with just some points taken off for being too flashy.
  • In Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, Dirk plans to make a completely wrong prediction of the contents of a university exam as part of a scam. He intentionally cultivates a reputation as a psychic by firmly denying that he is one, and dismissing rumors of the contrary as lies. Which rumors? The ones he started, of course. This is all so he'll get a chance to "prove" he's not psychic by predicting what will be on the exam, writing it up, having it sealed, and then revealing it after the exam has taken place. Then he fakes a family illness that requires raising a lot of money, and people start giving him "donations" for a peek at the predictions. In reality he just took a wild guess with the bare minimum of research, which he figures will be close enough to retain his mystique while avoiding any problems. Instead it turns out he was exactly right. To the very comma. He winds up going to jail.
    • By the sequel, his attempts to be a Phony Psychic becoming all too genuine are a Running Gag, as he tries to make vague pointless predictions and gets them all right. This ends with him standing on a rooftop, shaking his fist at the sky and yelling "Stop it!"

    Live-Action TV 
  • In the Seinfeld episode "The Millennium", George is approached by headhunters from the Mets who want to hire him for a more lucrative position than he has with the Yankees. However, due to his contract with the Yankees, he has to get fired before he can take the new job. No matter what he does, he, of course, cannot get fired; some of his trespasses include dressing in Babe Ruth's uniform and spilling food all over it, and "streaking" on the field during a game wearing a flesh-coloured nylon bodysuit (he was too embarrassed to actually go naked). All of these end up getting him PRAISE from the head of the organization or being massively popular with the fans ("HEY! BODYSUIT GUY!"). When he finally commits an offense bad enough to get fired for (driving around the parking lot while hurling insults at the club and George Steinbrenner, all while dragging the World Series trophy from his bumper), Mr. Wilhelm steps in and takes all the blame by claiming George acted under his orders and gets himself fired, because he was after the same job as George.
    • In "The Visa", George gets a new girlfriend who thinks he's the funniest guy out of all his friends. He then convinces Jerry to try not to be funny at all so the girl won't realize that George is actually not that funny. Jerry takes it to extremes and acts like a Nietzsche Wannabe around her. This backfires, as George's girlfriend ends up becoming very attracted to Jerry's "dark and disturbed" persona and says she wants to break up with George. Of course, when George tries to prove how disturbed he is by coming clean about the whole thing, she breaks up with him anyway.
    • In "The Switch", Jerry wants to break up with his current girlfriend Sandy, who never laughs, and date her roommate who laughs at everything he says, or in other words, do "the switch". George and Jerry spend hours coming up with a plan, until eventually George comes up with this: Jerry will ask Sandy to do a menage a trois with the roommate. This will disgust her, causing her to break up with him and tell the roommate all about how disgusting he is. The roommate will then be flattered by the request. Jerry will call at a time when he knows Sandy is at work and the roommate will go out to dinner with him. Later on, Jerry ends up trying the plan, and it backfires because both Sandy and the roommate are up for the three-way, while Jerry himself isn't "an orgy guy".
  • Taking the self-referentiality another level up, in season 4 of Curb Your Enthusiasm, Mel Brooks casts Larry David in the lead of The Producers, believing that he will make the show a flop and therefore never have to deal with revivals of it again. Of course, it's a success. Brooks and his wife Anne Bancroft imitate the scene in The Producers in which the two heroes commiserate at the theater bar.
  • In 30 Rock, Jack finds himself increasingly out of favor with network owner Hank Hooper and likely to be passed over for a promotion. The only way forward for his career, he decides, is to tank the company so hard that Hooper decides to sell it, giving Jack a chance to start over with a new owner. He loads NBC with terrible programs which, naturally, all become hits, but his success puts him back in the running for CEO, so all's the better.
    • After Tracy stars in a movie, he starts feeling pressured to be a more serious actor and role model, which he doesn't want at all. With Liz's guidance, he does a series of publicity stunts to get people to stop looking up to him, but either people think he's in character or forget what he was doing when he stops (at one point, he saves a man from drowning). This one also worked out in the end. All he had to do to lose respect was resume working on television.
  • Happens in an episode of Touched by an Angel where a professional basketball player accepts a large sum of money to throw a big game. He takes a bunch of ridiculous shots trying to miss on purpose, but thanks to the heavenly intervention, he makes every bucket.
  • In an episode of I Love Lucy, the girls start making Aunt Martha's Old Fashioned Salad Dressing, only to find it costs more to make than they can charge. An attempt in a second commercial- in which a randomly picked studio audience member (Lucy) disses the product however, only increases orders for the product to a level three times as much with notes saying "Keep up the comedy bits making fun of the product! We love it!".
  • In the first series of Blackadder, Blackadder resorts to an increasingly desperate set of measures to get out of an arranged marriage including dressing up as a stereotypical Camp Gay of the period. The plan backfires when his betrothed believes he has dressed up as a Spanish nobleman to impress her.
  • The premise of VH-1's Free Radio is that a radio station's shock jock leaves for satellite radio. The station gives an idiotic intern his own show, to keep 'em afloat. His show becomes more popular than the original shock jock's.
  • The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin
    • When Reggie Perrin decides to tank his hyper-successful Grot stores, he hires the three most incompetent people he knows, along with a random manual laborer, and puts them in jobs completely outside of their experience. All four of them reveal unsuspected talents for their positions, and Grot's profits soar even more.
    • Most things about Grot embody this trope. The company was founded as a resounding fuck you to the business world and was intended to be an embarrassment that died quickly. It became a multinational.
  • One Neighbours storyline saw Lou Carpenter setting up a restaurant named Little Tommy Tucker's which he intended to make a loss so he could declare it a tax write off. He had the staff dress up in embarassing Victorian street urchin style costumes and required the patrons to "sing for their supper" by doing a turn up on a stage. Inevitably, the whole thing was so kitsch that the restaurant became a success.
  • Malcolm in the Middle
    • An episode features Francis playing Commandant Spangler at pool. If Francis wins, the other cadets will beat him to a pulp because they fear if Spangler loses, he will pettily take it out on the entire school. However, Spangler threatens to punish Francis personally if he doesn't play at his best. Eventually, Francis makes the decision to half-ass his game, but Spangler catches on and tries to make Francis win by intentionally playing badly. Francis returns the favor. It escalates until no-one cares about the score; everyone is just too impressed by the amazing trick shots both players are making to lose the game.
    • Another episode had two members of Dewey's special needs class running against each other in a school election. Realizing that the campaign was costing their friendship, one of the kids tried to throw the election by deliberately triggering his Tourette's syndrome during a big speech. Naturally, dropping a Cluster F-Bomb in front of the whole school makes him so popular that he wins anyway.
  • Inverted in an episode of All in the Family, where Archie is determined to do everything he can to avoid being forced into retirement (including dyeing his hair jet-black). Oddly enough, it works...but turns out at the end that if he had taken the retirement deal he would've gotten a severance package worth more than his salary.
  • Frasier
    • One episode has Niles being forced to act like an ass in front of his wife's friends so that she will have an excuse to break off the marriage while maintaining her social image (It Makes Sense in Context). One attempt has him rudely criticise a man's drinking problem. Instead of being insulted or offended, he has an epiphany and realises that he needs to stop drinking. Everyone ends up thanking Niles and praising him as a good person.
    • In another episode, the brothers Crane desperately try to sabotage the performance of a truly abysmal actor, to save him (and themselves) from humiliation. The show goes on anyway.
  • Dexter, "Si Se Puede". Now that Dexter has Miguel Prado very interested in his... extracurricular activities, he suggests a target that would be impossible to get to through his means — an Aryan Brotherhood leader in a maximum security prison, giving out kill orders to his gang on the outside — in the hopes that Prado will leave him alone. Instead, Miguel goes for the plan whole-hog, arranging for the victim to get transferred into county for testimony so Dexter can spring him and kill him.
    • In retrospect, Dexter should have known that an Assistant District Attorney, especially one as popular as Prado, may have enough pull to do this.
  • In the third series of The IT Crowd, Jen is elected Employee of the Month, and has to make a speech. The geeks plot to make her the laughingstock of the office by feeding her a bunch of complete nonsense about IT to use in the speech — like, for instance, the "fact" that the entire Internet resides in a small black box. Unfortunately, it turns out that nobody else attending the speech is even remotely computer-literate either. Though it does end up causing an embarrassment when the "Internet" is destroyed through a fight spilling over from next door...
  • Being Human: Annie is trying to play matchmaker between Hugh and his ex, Kirsty, so she gets George to date Kirsty and be the world's worst boyfriend. Unfortunately, Kirsty likes everything they think will drive her away, from German Expressionist films to kebabs, and she even likes George's terrible poetry.
    Annie: (As Kirsty dives into George's arms) Sod it, maybe you two are meant for each other!
  • House: After Chase claims that women aren't shallow enough to be attracted to him solely based on his looks, House bets him $100 that no matter how undesirable Chase acts during a Speed Dating event, he'll still get no less than 12 out of 20 women who want to go out with him again. After one night of trying as hard as possible to turn women off, the Mr. Fanservice is $100 poorer.
    Chase: (with a stereotypical Surfer-Dude accent) I play videogames.
    Speed Date: (genuinely impressed) Wow! Professionally?
    Chase: (snort) I wish, bro.
  • Boston Legal: Denny gets arrested for possessing a concealed handgun and tries to get found guilty so the Supreme Court can overturn the conviction and destroy Massachusetts handgun laws. Despite the most ridiculous closing argument by his own lawyer, he's found not guilty.
  • A common version of this trope appears in sitcoms where a main character, usually male, wishes to rid himself of an unwanted girlfriend but is unable or unwilling to break up with her directly. They go out on a date and the main character belches, farts, eats sloppily, and does all sorts of disgusting things in hopes that the girlfriend will break up with him. Instead, she is flattered that he is so comfortable with her and might even behave similarly.
    • In an episode of Drake & Josh, Drake wants to break up with his girlfriend Ashley because of her annoying laugh. However, he can't because Ashley's mom is his English teacher. So he takes her on a textbook "Springtime for Hitler" date.
    • Zack of The Suite Life of Zack and Cody tries to use this trope and gets a similar level of success.
    • In an episode of Big Time Rush Gustavo pays a girl to date Carlos and then get him to break up with her. Unfortunately, when she tries to break up with him he's okay with her spending all his money and being demanding and emotional. The kicker is when they date for real he breaks up with her because she doesn't like corn dogs.
    • In an episode of Caroline In The City, Richard tries to make his clingy girlfriend break up with him by picking his nose in front of her. This backfired when she takes it as a sign that he's comfortable enough her to indulge in bad habits...and then promptly goes to get her toenail clippers.
  • The Office has an episode where Jim tries to sabotage Dwight's speech by giving him a bunch of quotes from Mussolini, Hitler, etc., but in the end, Dwight's speech is a huge success. Jim apparently forgot that those leaders rose to power with the help of stirring rhetoric.
  • NewsRadio
    • In the episode "Pure Evil", Dave has been demoted to being Bill's producer while Lisa has taken his job as news director. In an attempt to be fired from his job and hopefully restored to his previous one, he lets Bill do a fake interview with President Bill Clinton. Unfortunately, Dave is not fired, as Bill's routines garner the station its best ratings ever.
    • Taken up a notch in the "Who's The Boss?" two-parter. By the end of Part 1, Lisa doesn't want to be station manager again due to the pressure and craziness of the office. She's willing to let Dave takeover again, but he doesn't want the job by this point. (He reasons that since his demotion, he's happier and actually enjoys coming to work.) The trope kicks into gear in Part 2, where Jimmy decides to hold an election for station manager. Both candidates actively try to fail (openly expressing their desire to lose, giving ridiculous answers to questions, etc.). Ultimately, Lisa wins the election, but Jimmy declares Dave "the new boss", clearly wanting the "least likable" to be in charge (it's a business thing). Though he failed at failing, the trope is subverted when Dave accepts what happened and even likes it.
  • A serious example from I, Claudius, a favor-seeking senator informs an ailing Caligula that he'll gladly offer the gods his own life in exchange for that of the Emperor, if only the gods would take it. Caligula soon recovers from his illness and of course, being Caligula, insists that the senator commit suicide since "obviously" the gods have taken the man up on his offer, in exchange for restoring Caligula's health.
  • Not exactly intending to fail, but certainly not intending to win. In the Australian Dramedy House Rules, a suburban housewife puts herself as a protest candidate for a by-election caused by the death of the local member of parliament. However, when the candidate for the party for whom the electorate is a safe seat fails to lodge his application in time, she finds herself standing essentially unopposed and is elected to state parliament.
  • One episode of The Games had Gina attempting to make a strike situation worse in order to teach the Minister a lesson. It backfired, and she ended up saving millions of dollars in wage demands and single-handedly bringing financial stability to the Games. Everyone was shocked.
  • In Hellcats a law professor is trying to teach his students the meaning of failure by assigning to research the fake case Koramatsu vs Tennessee but he didn't count on two of his students finding a guy named Koramatsu and convincing him to sue the state.
  • In one episode of Covert Affairs, Annie is trying to make herself look like someone Trapped by Gambling Debts so her mark will have a reason to believe she needs a way out, and incriminate herself in providing one. She bets her last chips on an event with extremely low probability... and it comes up, winning her thirty thousand dollars.
  • Get Smart
    • In the episode "Double Agent", Maxwell Smart needs to lose a lot of money gambling so that KAOS will think he has gambling debts and is willing to defect. Naturally, he ends up winning. He even discards a poker hand of four kings, only to be dealt four aces.
    • In the episode "The Whole Tooth And...", Smart has planted a tooth containing secret plans on microfilm in the mouth of someone who turns out to be a criminal. He needs to get arrested and jailed to retrieve it. Attempting to get arrested by not paying his restaurant bill results in the waiter and manager making excuses, expressing sympathy, offering to let him pay later, and finally they and a half dozen other customers all pay out of their own pockets.
  • In the Reno 911! episode "We Don't Want the Pope," the Catholic Church is considering Reno as a possible city to visit, and the police have to make it look as bad as possible to prevent that from happening. It seems like this trope is in effect when the Pope's representatives say they're impressed by the way the police didn't hide their city's problems, and that they're in desperate need of help from the Church. Then it's subverted when they laugh at the idea that the Pope would ever go to Reno, spit at them, and take off in their Helicopter.
  • WKRP in Cincinnati: After the station's changeover to Rock finally turns a profit, Carlson's mother announces yet another format change. Johnny reasons it out: WKRP is meant as a tax-write-off, meant to lose money. Rather than destroy her son's dreams, Mrs. Carlson relents and accepts the profitable station — poor thing.
  • Friends: In one episode Joey attempts to intentionally set Ross up on a terrible blind date. However he selects an intelligent woman he once dated who loves puzzles and foreign films. Only once he describes her to Phoebe does he realise that he's accidentally set Ross up with his perfect woman.
  • In the third season Made In Canada episode "Beaver Creek: The Movie", Pyramid Productions CEO Alan has written a TV script called Water on the philosophy that many successful television series revolve around water in some way. Production heads Richard, Veronica, and Victor all know the script is terrible and, dreading the idea of Alan holding incessant production meetings for the series, try to kill it by sticking it in Development Hell. Richard also gives a copy of the script to Mandy Forward, who played the title character in Adele of Beaver Creek in the 1980s and is reprising the role for a TV movie, but who also wants revenge on Alan for making a pornographic parody of Beaver Creek using the same sets, and looks forward to telling him to his face that his pet project is awful. However, to everyone's surprise, she loves the script, and offers to make two more Beaver Creek movies if she can play the female lead in Water. Veronica, Victor, and especially Richard are not sure whether to be delighted that the full Beaver Creek trilogy (essentially a licence to print money) can now be made, or frustrated that their efforts to strangle Water at birth have failed.
  • In the direct-to-video Sesame Street release The Alphabet Game, contestant Gary Grouch participates on the game show "Alphabet Treasure Hunt" because he wants to lose (being a grouch), but keeps getting points by accident (when he's supposed to bring in something that begins with the letter B, for example, he decides to trash the place and brings in a trash can, which he points out does NOT start with the letter B, but inside the can are bugs, which DO start with B).
  • In the Only Fools and Horses 1985 Christmas special "To Hull and Back," the owner of a boat rental company agrees to let the Trotters hire one of his boats, thinking that they're certain to sink or otherwise badly damage it, which will result in a hefty insurance payout. The boat in question ends up being the only ship which Uncle Albert ever failed to sink—though the owner's scheme doesn't backfire on him, and he presumably still ends up with the rental fee that Del paid, plus the boat itself to foist off on some other unsuspecting fool.
  • A Square One TV episode of Mathnet was a remake of The Producers from the audience's point of view. An over-the-hill former Broadway starlet, Lauren Bachanall, raises $2 million and puts up another $2 million of her own money for a revival of her ancient breakout hit, "Anything Went." George Frankly and Kate Monday see the show since Kate's college roommate, Eve Adams, is the number two actress. At Sardi's, the reviews come in saying that while Lauren was horrible, the play was saved by Eve's powerhouse perfomance. The next day, Lauren can't be found, so Eve, as understudy, takes Lauren's lead role to even greater critical acclaim. Unfortunately, the search for Lauren turns up a ransom note for $5 million and a taped message implying that Eve was in charger of the kidnapping. When Lauren is found a couple of days later, she confirms that Eve kidnapped her to take the lead role - and that Lauren gave her $2 million to the kidnappers to temporarily pacify them. After doing a little digging, the Mathnetters realize that Eve couldn't have kidnapped Lauren, because she was performing a matinee at the time. Further, the account for the show only ever had the backers' $2 million - which was withdrawn before Lauren was kidnapped. It becomes clear that Lauren wanted the show to fail so she could take the backers' money and run. When the show became a hit, she faked the kidnapping so that she could explain why her non-existent $2 million was missing. And, of course, since this is a Broadway show, the explaination is given during an "ad-libbed" musical number. The episode's title: "The Case of the Un-Kidnapping."
  • One skit on Mad TV had Bill Cosby (played by Orlando Jones) try to "better capture the black experience" with "Cosby's Crib", where the parents actively dissuade their son from becoming a doctor by explaining how selling crack renders a FAR higher profit-margin. It got renewed for 8 seasons.
  • In Las Vegas, a man heads to Vegas after being dumped by his girlfriend and tries to gamble all his money away (not trying to lose on purpose, but intending to keep gambling until he does lose it all), after which he plans to kill himself. He ends up winning millions of dollars, which prompts the casino's management to investigate him. After learning his story, they call his girlfriend, who, taken aback by how hard their breakup hit him, agrees to give him another chance.
  • Top Gear had one epic race where the three were tasked to get from Basel (Switzerland) to Blackpool (England) with only a single tank of fuel and no refills allowed. Jeremy Clarkson, believing that the whole thing was impossible and that he could at least run out as he passed his home, decided on a hugely powerful, gas-guzzling Jaguar and intentionally wasted fuel on powering the gadgets in his car (including using the heaters on the back seats simply because he could). While the other two presenters, Richard Hammond and James May, made more sensible choices for their cars and were extra-careful to save as much fuel as they could. Now, three guesses who won in the end.

    Pro Wrestling 
  • There is a belief that WWE's writers and John Cena are attempting to have him pull a Face-Heel Turn by making his opponents (except The Nexus) look good, but the female and younger male members of the WWE Universe are eating this up and cheering for Cena even more.
  • This happens a lot in pro wrestling now. With the death of Kayfabe, fans' love of a Draco in Leather Pants and the IWC's refusal to boo who they believe is the better wrestler, heel heat always eventually turns to pop. Currently, nothing CM Punk can do, be it his holier-than-thou attitude or attempt to flee the company with the WWE Championship, will keep half the crowd from cheering for him. The current feud between Randy Orton and Christian is between two guys who will always get huge pop no matter how heelish they act (Christian being the nominal heel here). As for CM Punk — he was in his hometown of Chicago on the night he won the world title. And he is also currently feuding with Triple H, who is actually loathed by WWE fans outside of Kayfabe.
  • The WWF decided to pull a practical joke on Fit Finley by making him the women's trainer, without doing their homework and realizing he had been running a wrestling school for years and that he had taken a few women through it, nationally renowned Macaela Mercedes not the least of them. The end result, the most success the women's division had had since Aundra Blayze. So, WWE would still find a way to nearly kill the division and then stuck Finley on tv, grooming him to become a jobber. But fans invested too much in him for their tastes. So they stuck him with a little bastard to make him less popular. This made the little bastard popular. Eventually WWE just made Finley a jobber in spite of his popularity and then removed him from the active roster, claiming he was too old.
  • For that matter, WWE had Jim Johnston help Jillian Hall put out a joke album which ended up selling better than the celebrity endorsed album put out by their ring announcer and National Anthem singer, Lillian Garcia.
  • Beth Phoenix and Natalya turned heel and supposedly formed an alliance to stop the WWE from being taken over by "the Barbie doll Divas." They're still getting more pop than current Divas Champion Kelly Kelly. What makes the last scenario all the more absurd is that Beth was friends with Kelly literally one day before Kelly won the championship. Her abrupt heel turn only came about because Kelly's scheduled feuding partner, Kharma, had to take a year off from wrestling after becoming pregnant.
  • After Ric Flair assumed leadership of the WWFnote , Vince McMahon had an episode long Villainous Breakdown, where he finally reveals that he intends to pull this trope and kill the business. He plans to inject a lethal dose of poison and do what killed WCW: bring in the NWO.
    • Speaking of which, "Hollywood" Hulk Hogan was supposed to be the ultimate heel when he joined the NWO. Unfortunately, Scott Hall and Kevin Nash, the originators of what became the NWO, were obsessed with seeming "cool," so WCW cranked out a ton of NWO merchandise that fans seemingly snapped up without a second thought. Thanks to Executive Meddling, they became enmeshed in the company's inner workings, to the point that Nash got to be made head booker and use his newfound powers to kill Goldberg's huge undefeated streak and beat him for the WCW World Heavyweight Title. This led to the Fingerpoke Of Doom and the demise of the company two years later.

    Radio 
  • In the Absolute Power episode "Healthy Eating", Martin's friend Roger is a tax lawyer who opens a restaurant in Devon to lose money. However, he's relying on the out-of-the-way location to achieve this, since he's too proud of his cooking to actually offer bad food. Out of sheer mischief, Martin neglects to mention this to Charles, who surprisingly decides he wants to help (he thinks) a decent, honest man with a failing business. It's only after the wheeze is successful that he learns the truth.
    Charles: Let me get this straight. I've been slaving my guts out to get customers into this restaurant, and I've been wasting my time? You swine!
    Roger: You! You're responsible for these ghastly punters and peasants all over my tax dodge? You swine!
    Both: Martin!!

    Tabletop Games 
  • There is also a classic conundrum around the gaming table. Say, for example, I am trying to shoot a warning bullet over someone, but not hit them. If I roll a critical failure, should the GM say that I failed at my task of failing and hit the target?
    • Used in DM of the Rings — see example under Web Comics.
    • One popular solution is that the gun jammed and doesn't fire at all.
  • In a published scenario for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles And Other Strangeness, a pair of villains try to reproduce The Producers scam, but by selling shares in a research facility with only one researcher, and he's a Mad Scientist. Unexpectedly he creates a successful bionic man.
  • In Warhammer, a dwarf that is dishonored becomes a trollslayer. His goal is to die in glorious battle against a troll. If he fails in this, because trolls are too small a threat, he becomes a Demonslayer. Or Dragonslayer. All the while cursing because he keeps failing to die.

    Video Games 
  • Big Boss in the original Metal Gear sends Solid Snake on a mission which he's assumed to fail. He doesn't, and Big Boss gets a couple rockets to the face for his trouble.
  • Almelexia from The Elder Scrolls III: Tribunal tried this by sending the Nerevarine {you} to Sotha Sil to become a martyr for her cause, which is to establish a monotheistic state where only she is worshiped and only she is the savior of the people. You end up killing her and thus starting the fall of the Tribunal temple.
  • In The Legend of Kyrandia Book 3, the protagonist Malcolm is summoned by the Fish Queen for a game of Tic-Tac-Toe. Despite her enthusiasm for the game, she is exceptionally bad at it, and will always demand a rematch if Malcolm wins. Thus, you have to go out of your way to lose.
  • Similarly, Episode 106 of Sam & Max: Freelance Police requires you to lose a game of Tic-Tac-Toe against a bunch of computers trying to create the most intelligent A.I. ever. Turns out the A.I. is actually very good - it just deliberately plays to lose, and the challenge is in forcing it to win against you.
  • Something similar can be found in The World Ends with You. At one point, a Reaper challenges you to a Tin Pin match. No matter what you do, he'll let you go: If you win, he lets you through because he promised it, but if you lose, he's so happy because he won that he lets you go away anyway.
  • Thane, the dying repentant assassin of Mass Effect 2, willingly joins what is by all accounts a suicide mission to perform The Last Dance — he's dying of a terminal illness and wants to die doing something right for the galaxy. If you play your cards right, Thane can come through the suicide mission unharmed. If you take the time to gain his loyalty (and play your paragon cards right), you can reconnect him to his estranged son, giving him a reason to want to live till the end, if he survives. But if he survives ME2, he will die in Mass Effect 3.
  • In RuneScape, there's a low-level quest that basically gets you to fetch 3 odd items. Among them is a piece of burnt meat. You get burnt meat if you have unfavorable luck while trying to cook meat. Meat is one of the easiest things to cook successfully, and if your cooking level is above 10-20, there's a very slim chance to burn meat, which leaves many mid-high level players stuck and forced to buy burnt meat from someone else. What many people don't know is that you can get guaranteed burnt meat by cooking cooked meat, so it's averted in this way.
  • Modern Warfare 2 features this for everyone in Task Force 141. Shepard planted Allen in Makarov's airport attack (and tipped off Makarov about his real identity) so that when Allen's body was found, Russia would unite against America and start another war. Shepard then sent off the other members on suicide missions so that no one would know he was behind starting the war, getting more and more blatant about trying to kill them:
    • In Rio, after the 141 captures and interrogates Rojas, he blocks the evac chopper, forcing them to fight Rojas's army on their way out and get another mercenary to help them out of the city instead.
    • In the Gulag, he tries to have the Navy destroy the Gulag after the 141 is trapped inside.
    • At Makarov's safehouse, he abandons all subtlety and just shoots all the 141 operatives that survive the assault dead. This would have happened to Captain Price and Soap as well at the same time in the airplane graveyard, but they figure out the betrayal in time and escape.
    • Soap and Price make it to Shepard's hideout. When Shepard realizes they've infiltrated his base, he sends all his soldiers against them to buy time, sets off the base's self-destruct mechanism, calls in an artillery strike near everyone's position, and fights Soap and Price in hand-to-hand combat.
  • Henry from No More Heroes is a quasi-example, created as a parody of cooler-than-thou rivals, and even moreso in the sequel. Of course, it didn't stop him from becoming one of the most beloved characters in the game, with fans gushing over how cool he is.

    Visual Novels 
  • Alita Tiala in Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney hired the eponymous character, thinking he would be incompetent enough to lose and get Wocky Kitaki convicted, due to Apollo being a rookie. Apollo manages to get his client off, and pin Alita as the real murderer.

    Web Animation 
  • Homestar Runner
    • Part of the surprise ending of the cartoon "A Death-Defying Decemberween". After sledding down the Steep Deep, Homestar complains about his success, revealing that he had hoped to die in the attempt, so he could get out of visiting Marzipan's parents. And he only survived because Strong Bad, attempting to sabotage Homestar, removed the mattress Homestar had hidden at the bottom of the Steep Deep... not realizing that Homestar had filled said mattress with "hammers, broken glass, and candy canes sucked down 'til they're all pointy".
    • Strong Bad is sent an email from someone named "Sibby" requesting that SB write a song about him. Strong Bad reacts badly, announcing "I will never ever ever ever ever write a song about Sibby!", only to suddenly notice a hip-hop beat playing in the background; the Cheat is actually setting his rant to music. Soon Strong Bad finds that the "song" is a hit, being sung by Strong Sad and even played on the radio. SB loses his temper and screams "I freaking hate Sibby!". Not five seconds after that, "I Freaking Hate Sibby" starts playing on the radio.
  • In the Barbie: Life in the Dreamhouse episode "Bad Hair Day", Barbie takes her bad hair day and tries to turn it into a full-blown fashion disaster, in hopes of giving her rival Raquelle a spot in the sun for once. Being Barbie, she instead ends up starting a fashion trend.

    Web Comics 
  • The Bruno the Bandit plot "Skeleton Crew" reports the writer's real life experiences at a software startup run as an investment fraud scam.
  • An interesting part fiction/part real example occurred in Dan and Mab's Furry Adventures , when a donation-war was declared between Bishōnen Incubus Abel, and enigmatic demoness Regina, with a full backstory going to the winner. Abel does NOT want to win. He REALLY doesn't. And for a while, he seems to be succeeding at failing. But some tension remains, and when the finally tally is revealed... well, let's just say that you can find the latest chapter of Abel's Story here. And considering the content, you really can't blame him for wanting it to remain private.
  • Freefall does that here.
  • El Goonish Shive has Ellen attempt to get Elliot in trouble. She is told to choose a topic to discuss for two minutes in Elliot's speech class. Her first choice? PMS. The teacher approves, and Ellen freezes up, not expecting that result. Not to mention she didn't know a single thing about PMS due to being an Opposite-Sex Clone created by accident the night before.
  • DM of the Rings features a D&D version of this: Aragorn is attempting to fall off the animal that he is riding. The GM rules that he needs to make a Riding roll to dismount. Aragorn rolls a critical failure, and assumes that this means he fell off. The GM decides that, since Aragorn was trying to fall, his failure means that he stays on the creature's back and rides it over a cliff.
    • This is discussed in the comments, where the author notes that if the player pisses off the DM enough (as Aragorn did, not long ago), anything they try to do tends to end up badly for them.
    • This is also a Brick Joke, as earlier the DM had made a mental note to send Aragorn off a cliff.
  • Dinosaur Comics: T-Rex tries to do something funny and instead accidentally finds himself with a job as a florist.
  • Like in the King of the Hill example below, Something Positive has an arc where a man applies for a job at Aubrey's nerd phone sex line, expecting to be rejected out of hand and gaining material for a sex discrimination lawsuit. Aubrey promptly hires him to deal with Nerdrotica's growing gay male customer base.
  • In Life, to Lex's consternation, when he sends 'Edward' to go ask Madison out, Madison doesn't say no.
  • Karin-dou 4koma: Kinka challenges Tamaryu to a Yu-Gi-Oh! card game with the intention of going easy on her, but she ends up crushing Tamaryu because her hands instinctively cheat. Ginka—who doesn't even know how to play and makes a deck out of whatever catches her eyes—takes over to cheer Tamaryu up, but also ends up crushing Tamaryu because her great luck keeps giving her good cards.
  • In 2000, Llewellyn of Ozy and Millie ran for president on the People With Nothing Better To Do ticket on a lark. Since he doesn't actually want the job, he then runs the most idiotic campaign imaginable - his running mate is a stack of pancakes, and his platform centered around banning bread and selling Arizona and New Mexico to Mexico and using the money to buy British Columbia from Canada. Thanks to confusing ballots, he ends up neck-and-neck with Bush and Gore, and is ultimately forced to withdraw from the election in order to get out of becoming president, causing the papers to announce "CANDIDATE DOES NOT ACT LIKE TWIT: We picked the wrong one, say voters."
  • In Drowtales, the side story of The Flower Queen explains how the titular queen, a dark elf in a kingdom made up mostly of drow, was prejudiced against the drow and tired of their attempts to woo her, so she set out an Impossible Task for a particular flower that existed in the ravaged old world, never expecting anyone to actually find it. However, one such knight did find a similar, but not exact, flower, but she was impressed enough by his tenacity that she kept her end of the bargain, and the two seem to have been quite happy for a time. Unfortunately, said flower turned out to be a parasite that eventually killed her and the entire city, and the Knight's last known actions were trying to track down the person who directed him to the flower so he could take revenge on them, and then murder the sentient tree that gave him the soul parasites instead of letting him adopt her children. Oops.

    Web Original 
  • The supervillain Wrecking Ball, from the Global Guardians PBEM Universe was a two-bit crook who stumbled into superpowers. He spent twenty-five years in prison and became acclimated to it. When he was released on parole, he quickly decided the outside world wasn't for him, wanted to go back to prison, so put together a group of other B-list villains, slapped the name "Gear Grinders" on them, and embarked on what he hoped would be a very short career as a criminal mastermind followed by a very long career as a lifer in prison. His plans always involve high profile crimes with a minimum of collateral damage and no innocent bystanders getting injured (he wants life in prison, not a death sentence). Turns out that he has a natural penchant for planning crimes, his teammates are much more effective than he ever suspected, and his planned career as a prison lifer just hasn't materialized. The heroes now consider him one of the most effective villains they've ever faced and hate it when they hear he's embarking on some grand scene.

    Western Animation 
  • In one episode of the second Animated Adaptation of The Addams Family, Gomez intentionally tried to fail at something, just for a change of pace. Naturally, his every attempt at failing actually succeeded. At the end of the episode, Morticia managed to cheer Gomez up by pointing out he had actually failed at failing, so, in the end, he succeeded in his goal. Well, his goal was to fail. He succeeded at failing by failing to fail, which itself is still a failure to succeed. Really, this could go on forever.
  • An episode of Daria had Mr. O'Neill assign his class a project in which each student must attempt something they know for sure they'll fail at. Most succeed, with disastrous results, and even those who fail end up harming themselves somehow in the attempt. The point of the project was O'Neill's misguided idea from a teacher's learning lecture simply put that, failure is not a bad thing and can provide learning opportunities. What he failed to realize was that failure was not the goal itself, but the ability to learn from that failure; not just any failure would do. Later, when Daria attempts to cheer him up/get him out of his funk of seeing himself fail at something he was sure would work by saying he should complete the assigned project himself, he promptly calls it a load of hooey.
  • Launchpad's inability to properly land a plane is a Running Gag in Disney's DuckTales. In the series's finale, during a Race Against Time to stop a cursed artifact from turning the entire world (and everyone in it) to gold, Scrooge orders Launchpad to "just crash!" into the temple — Launchpad instead makes a perfect three-point landing, and even complains how he "had a chance to crash on purpose, and blew it."
  • Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends
    • Bloo attempts to get banned from supper to avoid eating the disgusting-looking food being offered, referred to only as "It". He attempts massive amounts of pranks to get banned, but it backfires on him spectacularly as everyone else except him gets banned instead. Just to give context, that episode's A-plot is about Mr. Herriman being paranoid over others finding out about his carrot addiction, leading him to punish everyone except Bloo because he was afraid they were "onto" him. It ended with Herriman (and Wilt) going to jail for stealing Madame Foster's jewelry (It Makes Sense in Context).
    • Bloo wants to get removed from the house so he doesn't have to fight "the new guy". To get himself banned from the house, he tells Mr. Herriman about pranks he has done, such as flooding the house, setting off 1000 lawnmowers on the grass and breaking every clock in the house. Everything is going well until Bloo mentions he's getting in a fight "with the new guy" (a huge bruiser who would surely kill Bloo), prompting Mr. Herriman to refuse to sign the release forms, forcing Bloo to fight the new guy, it the hopes that it would finally rid Herriman of Bloo and his shenanigans. Herriman's letting Bloo get away with his pranks so he will get beaten also backfires, when it turns out the new guy just wants to show Bloo his comedy routine. And then Double Subverted when Bloo gets himself beaten up anyway.
  • King of the Hill
    • "Suite Smells of Excess": Hank and his friends sneak into the box seats at a Texas-Nebraska football game, only to discover it belongs to a famous Nebraska player. Late in the game the Nebraska coach calls the box to ask for advice and Hank, pretending to be the player, gives him a terrible suggestion so that Nebraska will lose — only for it to work perfectly against all odds, costing Texas the game. Specifically, Hank called for Nebraska, who was in possession of the ball and losing to Texas with only seconds to go in normal play to run a "quick kick," which would turn the ball over to Texas (despite Texas already being ahead). However, the play is only complete once the ball comes to a stop, but a Texas player accidentally touches the ball, making it into a fumble (and thus a live ball) into Texas' endzone, where a Nebraska player quickly pounced on it, scoring a touchdown and winning the game.
    • In "Cops and Robert", Dale comes up with a Zany Scheme where he applies for a job at the local Hooters equivalent, gets rejected, and sues for sexual discrimination. Much to his shock he gets hired anyway, and he actually does pretty well - the customers appreciate having a guy to talk to about sports and beer, so he gets even more tips than his busty, scantily-clad co-workers, Then Hank, Boomhauer, and Bill come running in from the B-plot, chased by an enraged man who trips and accidentally yanks down Dale's shorts. When he tries to sue for emotional damages, the boss agrees but still fires Dale due to the fact he was giving customers free appetizers which is employee theft.
  • Rocko's Modern Life
    • In "Wacky Delly", Ed Bighead's cartoonist son Ralph wants to get out of a contract for a second show, so he uses Heffer's idea of making a cartoon about "deli meats", and even lets Rocko and his friends help him make the cartoon. Ralph hopes the resulting mish-mash will be canceled quickly and he can get on with a career as a serious artist. Unfortunately for Ralph, Wacky Delly becomes a hit, despite his best efforts to sabotage production, which include overexposing the film, doing an episode consisting of nothing but a still image of a jar of mayonnaise, and attempting to flood all of "Holl-o-wood" by melting the ice caps with an orbital laser. A speech from Rocko inspires Ralph to enjoy his success and make the show "real art," so he makes a high-brow Fantasia-like episode, which gets it promptly canceled. Then he goes off into the desert and spends ten years carving a bowl of fruit out of a rock formation, prompting a conveniently placed bystander to say "Hey, not bad — but have you seen Wacky Delly? The first season, that is — before that new guy ruined it."
    • In another episode, though by no means done intentionally, the strange "edits" that Rocko's home movie receives winds up making it a world-wide phenomenon. Unfortunately, he does not want his parents to see the video... and naturally they do, but for some reason, they love it. He even wins an award for the video. Of course, it still showed him nude, but that's beside the point.
    • In yet another episode, Ed Bighead has been asked to deliberately throw a golf match against the CEO of his company. In fact, he has confederates in this plan secretly (but not-so-subtly) dropping pianos on the balls after Ed hits them. It works well at first, but then Heffer discovers that Ed's allies are cheating and starts cheating in Ed's favor. Like with the pianos, no one notices Heffer doing anything (despite him being extremely conspicuous) and Ed gets blamed for every successful shot.
  • South Park
    • In the episode "The Death Camp of Tolerance", Mr. Garrison attempts to get fired by acting in a grotesquely Depraved Homosexual manner so he can sue the school for discrimination. However, everyone in town is primed to be politically correct towards him, so when the students raise their objections to his behavior, their parents merely assume that their kids are being homophobic and end up shipping them to the title camp to teach them a lesson. Chef suffers the same fate for reporting Mr. Garrison's behavior to the principal. Much to his horror, however, Garrison finds his "bravery" being applauded by everyone in town to the extent that he receives an award for it. Instead of accepting, Garrison and his 'assistant' demonstrated the kind of behavior that scared the kids, only to be further applauded for his 'courage'. He screams at the assembled crowd that he should have been fired for his behavior regardless of his sexuality, and actually asked to be fired so that he could sue. While it made the parents realize their kids weren't homophobic, just disgusted with Mr. Garrison, and didn't deserve to be sent to tolerance camp, Garrison ended up sent there; while the reason given was that "[he] isn't tolerant of [his] own behavior", the real reason was punishment by the principal for trying to bilk money from the school.
    • In "Jakovasaurs", the town stages a fake game show for Jakov to "win" the prize of airfare to somewhere that isn't South Park. The problem is that Jakov is too dumb to win a contest that's rigged in his favor, and Officer Barbrady is too dumb to let him win.
    Mayor: What color is blue?
    Jakov: I DON'T KNOW!
    Barbrady: Blue?
    Mayor: What?!?
    Barbrady: Blue is blue?
    • In the episode "The Losing Edge", the boys deliberately try to lose all their baseball games because they find the sport extremely boring and don't want to go regional. Turns out every other team feels the same way, and they're all "better at sucking". The teams' losing strategies even developed over time, feats like hitting the ball right into the opposition's hand shows that losing can actually be more impressive than winning.
    • Yet another episode had the boys write a book called "The Tale of Scrotie McBoogerballs" which would be so inhumanely disgusting it would be banned. They put the blame on Butters, but everyone loves the book despite making them vomit regularly. Butters then writes a followup called "The Poop That Took a Pee" which the boys find so stupid it will get Butters banned, but readers love this as well. However, someone is inspired to kill the Kardishans because of the book, which finally gets Butters's work banned. Also subverted in that The Poop That Took a Pee was implied to only be successful because no-one would admit that the book wasn't as 'good' as the previous work.
    • The episode "Sarcastaball", has Randy Marsh complain about football becoming too safe by sarcastically claiming the game should be played wearing bras and tinfoil hats, while hugging instead of tackling. This being South Park, they take him at face value and create the sport. The more sarcastic Randy gets, the more seriously the world agrees.
  • 2 Stupid Dogs where the Dogs appear on a take-off of The Price Is Right, and try to lose in order to get a dog food consolation by deliberately bidding low on an expensive rug. Somehow, they go on to play the pricing game after the closest contestants are both fifty cents away from the actual price of the rug. Said pricing game has them guessing everything at one dollar, and winning every prize, save one: dog food worth ninety-nine cents. Then it's the wheel spinning bit where the smaller dog shoves the wheel away from the winning space to the five-cent space, but is told by the Bob Barker wannabe that he cheated, so they "win" yet again.
    • In another episode, the Dogs are in Vegas waiting for a hot dog buffet to open. But just before the doors open, they happen to pull a slot machine that wins the jackpot. Now the owner tries to get the Dogs to keep playing so they'll lose the money, but the Dogs keep winning, draining the casino's funds. Finally, the owner begs the dogs to call off one last roulette bet, but too late. Instead, he offers to take over the bet, and when the dogs insist on 100 trips through the hot dog buffet and a limo ride out of town, he agrees. The trope averts right there as the roulette spin loses, but it simply means everyone's happy: the casino has its money back and the Dogs finally get to eat.
  • In a Dudley Do-Right cartoon, Dudley tries to get kicked out of the Mounties so that he can go undercover as a member of Snidely Whiplash's gang, but his efforts at committing crimes backfire. At one point he blows up a dam, but discovers that this solves the city's irrigation problem. Then he burns down a building, only to find that the building was scheduled for demolition, and is lauded by the government for saving them a fortune in taxpayers' money. He ultimately gets kicked out of the Mounties for eating peas with his knife.
  • The Simpsons
    • In the episode "Homer's Enemy", Frank Grimes tries to humiliate Homer Simpson and show the world how much of a buffoon Homer is by tricking him into entering a power plant model-designing contest for kids. Except Homer wins the top prize. This pushes Grimes far off the edge, and he goes on a rampage resulting in his own death.
    • In "Team Homer", Mr. Burns's performance is dragging down Homer's bowling team, so Moe says Burns might end up having a little "accident". As Burns limps into the bowling alley, complaining of a knee injury and saying he'll have to withdraw, Moe leaps out (in a ski mask) and bashes his knee with a tire iron, popping it back into place and allowing him to stay on.
    • In "Homer Scissorhands", Homer becomes a successful hairdresser, but soon tires of having to hear his female clients going on and on about their lives while he cuts their hair. In an effort to drive away business, he deliberately attempts to cut a client's hair badly...and ends up giving her a spectacular haircut that wows everyone.
  • Jimmy Two-Shoes: In order to escape an Arranged Marriage to the Weavil Princess, Beezy attempts to fail at the challenges he must pass to win the right to marry her. Unfortunately the weavils, who arranged the marriage entirely to get rid of her, makes sure he passes.
  • An episode of the cartoon version of Punky Brewster had a plot mirroring Brewsters Millions, with the money coming from a game show rather than an inheritance. Somewhere, somebody reading this has just had an idea for a Reality Game Show...
  • On Archer, the title character tries to convince everyone there is a mole in the office in order to get access to the mainframe and cover up his Hookers and Blow adventures. None of them bite, but all the gossip about it scares the real mole into revealing himself.
  • On Total Drama World Tour, thanks to his animal-hurting curse, DJ begins trying to lose, only to finally turn around the Curb-Stomp Battle that Team Victory had been suffering. Naturally, when he starts trying to win again, he's eliminated.
  • Goof Troop: Pete wins ownership of a race horse that appears to be incapable of winning a race, so he instead offers shares of the horse's ownership in order to sell his used cars, giving away more percentages than are actually available. Goofy then discovers the only problem was a bad nail in the horse's shoe and, despite Pete's efforts to sabotage him, rides the horse to victory and ends up sending Pete to jail.
  • In the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic episode "Green Isn't Your Color", the Shrinking Violet Fluttershy accidentally becomes a famous model. Fluttershy dislikes the attention and would quit, except for the fact that she doesn't want to disappoint her best friend Rarity, who's encouraged her to take the job. Secretly, though, Rarity is jealous of Fluttershy's newfound success, and almost wishes her failure out of spite. Twilight Sparkle, being the confidant for both secrets but finding the stress of keeping both parties unhappy too much to bear, comes up with a plan to make Fluttershy's next runway event be as ungraceful as possible using Twilight's magic. This works, initially, except that Rarity, being utterly disappointed in herself for her own feelings and completely unaware of Fluttershy's, decides to support her friend with cheerful applause. This, combined with Rarity's great fashion sense convincing the fashion-critical crowd that her opinion has weight, ends up making Fluttershy more popular than ever.
    • A minor example in one scene of "Spike at Your Service". In order to stop Spike from helping Applejack, Rainbow Dash has him do what she believes to be an impossible task: build a large rock tower for her to smash through. To her surprise, Spike actually succeeds at the task, forcing her to smash through it.
  • Prince Zuko from Avatar: The Last Airbender has something like this in his Smite Me, O Mighty Smiter moment. He's trying to learn how to bend lightning, or at the very least, redirect it so it doesn't hurt him. Since he knows the universe hates him, he climbs a mountain during a storm and tries to goad the universe into striking him with lightning. He's trying to get struck by lightning so he can practice redirecting it, but the lightning doesn't even go near him.
  • Dan Vs.: In "Dan Vs. Art", Dan seeks to ruin the reputation of Art Artstein by breaking into the museum and defacing Art's latest exhibit the night before it opens. However, critics think the vandalism is deep and symbolic, and Art rolls with it because he's only in it for the money. Dan is furious to realize that he just made Art more successful.
  • The Jetsons: One episode had Judy entering a lyric contest where the prize was a date with her favourite musician, who George hated. Trying to sabotage her chances, George swapped her entry for a list of codes Elroy had made with a friend, assuming they would be too nonsensical. She still won the date.

Real Life examples

    Anime & Manga 
  • Supposedly Word of God has it that L in Death Note was designed to be an anti-Bishōnen... his fangirls still found him adorable and cute anyway.
  • Yoshiyuki Tomino made his first four Gundam works to have depressing endings that won't let him make any sequels. Instead Gundam has become one of the most popular anime ever made, and started the Real Robot genre.
  • Bleach: Tite Kubo once admitted that Gin Ichimaru was designed to be off-putting and sinister so he was surprised at the number of fangirls the character gained.
  • Neon Genesis Evangelion: Rei Ayanami, in the same way as Gin above, was intended to be a creepy Take That at the ideal of a shy love interest character, with a backstory and plot that doesn't help matters. And now she's arguably the most well-liked character in the series.

    Arts 
  • In 1924, as a way of mocking an art exhibition jury for rejecting his wife's paintings, Paul Jordan-Smith submitted an intentionally bad painting under the false name "Pavel Jerdanowitch," claiming that it represented a new art school called "disumbrationism". Unfortunately, the painting ended up being very well received by critics, and he went on to paint several more before revealing that the entire thing was a hoax.
  • The art world has a persistent urban legend about a museum employee stepping away from a small cart with his lunch on it and returning to find a knot of aesthetes appraising the work for, say, its application of cinema-verite sensibilities to three-dimensional installations.
  • The "Dada" movement also around the '20s was a potshot at man's unquestioning admiration of anything labeled "Art" which would be put into galleries. Dada used things like urinals, postcards of the Mona Lisa with a mustache painted on it, and objects intended to be destroyed, offensive and otherwise without any major artistic qualities. Guess where many surviving Dada works have ended up?
  • Back in 1937, while Nazi Germany was promoting art glorifying Nazi ideology, they also decided to stage one show of "proper" German art, and another of "degenerate art" to allow people to be properly disgusted by the supposedly perverse, anti-religious, "Jewish-Bolshevist" modern art. The exhibition of "degenerate" art attracted over two million visitors, almost four times as many as the Nazi-approved art, making it one of the largest modern art shows of the 20th century.

    Board Games 
  • In Mahjong, if the dealer wins a hand, an extra hand is played which does not count towards the total number of hands in the match, and the dealer keeps the dealer button for the extra hand(s). In the Japanese Riichi variant, it is not uncommon for the player who ends in first place to receive a large bonus (of ranking points in league or tournament play, or cash in gambling play). Thus, on the final hand, if the dealer is in first place, they might be better off not winning the hand because that ends the game and secures their first-place finish, while winning the hand would trigger an extra hand, during which they would have to risk being knocked out of first. This has led to an Obvious Rule Patch in the form of the agari yame House Rule, where the dealer winning on the last hand does not trigger an extra hand if they are in first place.
  • This sort of thing happened to a player at the World Scrabble Championship Tournament. The first letters he drew only needed one extra letter added to make an 8-letter word. In Scrabble, using all seven tiles in a player's rack at once awards the player an additional fifty points. There was no seven-letter word that could be played using the letters on his rack, so if he wanted the 50-point bonus, he needed to play his 8-letter word. Unfortunately, he had the first move. So, he decided to give up his turn by playing a word which he believed was not real, getting his opponent to challenge it off the board so that he could use all his letters on his next turn. Unfortunately, his "non-word" was actually a real word, so it stayed on the board and he lost his chance at getting fifty extra points. (Why he didn't just pass…)
  • Craps has two major sets of bets among many other bets — Pass/Come and Don't Pass/Don't Come. Both bet sets have roughly the same odds of winning and the same payout. It's commonly thought that a Pass/Come is a "win" and Don't Pass/Don't Come is a "lose" for the dice shooter, but anyone can make either bet, including the dice shooter — which can lead to an entire table rooting for a seven while the shooter wants anything but.

    Card Games 
  • A game mechanic in Hearts is "shooting the moon": The object of the game is to avoid collecting points (from heart cards, and the Queen of Spades), but if a player manages to collect all the point cards within a round, instead of the 26-point total being added to their score as usual, their opponents receive 26 points apiece (for a total of 78 points!), or in some variations the player can subtract 26 points from their score; either one is enough to quickly shift the balance of a game. However, since it is an official mechanic, opponents are quick to notice if a player is suspiciously collecting the points during a round. It will normally only occur when a player has the Queen of Spades and lots of high-value hearts in their hand: particularly the Ace. They then play the Queen when they know they can win it, breaking hearts, and then lead hearts starting with the Ace and working down, forcing all the other hearts out of their opponents' hands. The only way to block a moonshot is for someone else to have more hearts than the shooter, breaking the run and allowing someone else to possibly take a heart.
  • A similar mechanic in Spades with a 'nil' bid — which can be worth 100 points, if the nil bidding side takes no books. If house rules permit, blind bidding doubles that amount. If the other side bids Boston and takes all books, they get more than enough points to overtake the gains of a successful nil. In this (very rare) event, either side can sabotage the other by sabotaging themselves.
  • In one of his Poker books, Dan Harrington briefly talks about the practice of tournament poker players selling "pieces" of themselves (essentially, letting people buy or trade for a percentage of their winnings). He recounts the story of someone who accidentally sold more than 100% of himself in a tournament, meaning that any winnings would cost him money out of pocket, and the most profitable course of action would be to let himself be eliminated without winning anything. He won first place.
    • This is not always unintentional. This is a common scam. A conniving player entering a tournament agrees to split his winnings with a person who bankrolls his stake. This person is called a backer. If two or more people agree to back a con artist, he will then take an intentional dive. If he has N backers, he will clear N-1 times his original stake at no risk to himself. Or rather, no financial risk so long as his backers don't find out the truth. If he won the tournament, he would break even (a loss, since he wasted his time) with two backers and lose money with more than two backers, making it an example of this trope.
  • Magic: The Gathering: One of the ways to lose the game is to deck out; that is, have all of the cards in your library end up in your graveyard. You'd think it would be counterproductive to actively put cards into your graveyard, but that's exactly what the Dredge mechanic relies on, and it's a very powerful force in every format where it's allowed. Later increased by Laboratory Maniac, which turns decking yourself into a win condition.
  • Fluxx: Every version has a Creeper, which specifically states that you can't win the game if you have it. Until, that is, you get a Goal that says you need it to win.
    • The Zombie version takes it a step further, so that the zombies win.

    Comic Strips 
  • Bloom County creator Berke Breathed attempted to troll his audience by introducing an anti-Garfield, the most unappealing cat character he could devise. This character was Bill the Cat — who unexpectedly proved very popular with the comic's fanbase and soon within the fictional world as well.

    Comicbooks 
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles may perhaps be one of the best comic book examples of this. Peter Laird and Kevin Eastman created the concept as a joke; talking turtles in the same style of a Frank Miller comic. They self-published it, not knowing how it would end up becoming one of the biggest Cash Cow Franchise in the USA.

    Eastern Animation 

    Fan Works 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In 1955 somebody got the idea to adapt a popular episode of a TV anthology series to film. Burt Lancaster and his business partner decided to fund it, figuring the low-budget picture wouldn't make any money (who would pay to see a film they could watch for free on TV?) and they could use the expenses as a tax write-off. Compounding this plan was their casting of some fat, ugly guy best known for playing villains as the romantic lead. The film? Marty, which became a huge box office smash and ended up winning four Oscars, including Best Picture and Best Actor. Cracked's 5 Classic Movies Made by People Who Wanted Them to Fail describes its production as having "literally started out as the plot of The Producers."
  • The film version of Battlefield Earth was the subject of a $121.7 million lawsuit, possibly in an attempt to pull one of these.
  • Some speculate that Seltzer and Friedberg at least were attempting to fail on purpose due to the complete lack of quality in their films. Unfortunately, they failed at failing in the box office for so long that, after succeeding at failing with the aptly-named Disaster Movie, they produced another parody film. Vampires Suck did make a profit...
    • If that was their intention their policy of making movies for such a low budget that no matter what they would make a profit wasn't the way to go.
  • An example that's not related to money or contracts: Wes Craven intended for Scream (1996) to kill the Slasher Movie once and for all, by parodying its tropes and making it impossible to take seriously anymore. Not only was it a smash hit, it spawned three sequels and kick-started a wave of post-modern teen horror films (many of which were, you guessed it, slashers) that ran for the rest of The Nineties and much of The Two Thousands.
    • Interestingly enough, by spurring interest in Post Modernism in mainstream films, he may have inadvertently ruined the parody film by putting most of the smarter jokes in regular movies, leaving parodies to make do with dated pop-culture references (so Seltzer and Friedberg above might have Wes Craven to blame for their failures).
  • As relayed by Ahmed Ahmed, an Arab-American actor and stand-up comedian in one of his routines in the mid '90s, he went in to read for a stereotypical Arab terrorist role. Since his stand-up comedy career was starting to flourish, and because he considered the role an offensive stereotype, he decided he'd go in and treat the audition as a complete joke, completely mocking the role and the producers. Ahmed proceeded to read the part as the most crazed, screaming ethnically offensive Large Ham stereotype he could manage. The casting director loved it and promptly offered him the part.
  • It's rumored that Harrison Ford objected to putting voice over into Blade Runner and deliberately gave a flat, monotone performance so that it wouldn't be used (Ford himself denies this). It was used anyway in the theatrical release (Ridley Scott dropped it from later recuts).
  • There has been some speculation that After Last Season was actually an elaborate fraud and that the producers ran off with most of the film's budget.
  • Many fans accused Uwe Boll of doing this with his video game adaptations. Due to a German tax loophole, the investors in his movies would make a profit no matter how the films performed. It was therefore more convenient and easier to make money from bombs than quality films. The tax loophole has since been closed, though ironically Boll was one of the few directors who used it as it was meant to be used.
  • Robert Pattinson has been very vocal about his outright hatred for the Twilight series and the characters, particularly his own character Edward Cullen. In interviews he's said that he portrays Edward as a pathetic, socially maladjusted loser, just the way he imagines a 100-plus-year-old virgin would be. Unfortunately for him, this only seems to have encouraged the crazy fangirls.
  • Jaye Davidson decided to retire from acting after his starring role in The Crying Game, but the producers of Stargate just kept pestering him to take the role of Ra. So to get them to go away, he demanded the most outlandish salary he could think of for the role ($1 million)...and they said yes.
    • The exact same stunt was pulled by Elizabeth Taylor, who was uninterested in playing the main character in Cleopatra. The film turned out to be one of the biggest bombs of all time.
  • If there is any other reason to green-light Sex Lives Of The Potato Men, a Genre Throwback to 1970s British sex comedies that a) was not a parody, deconstruction or both and b) contained a sex scene featuring Johnny Vegas, the mind boggles as to what it might actually be.
  • Animal House featured a scene where a college student has sex with an underage girl. Originally, the director wanted the girl to be 16 (in-story - the actress playing her was 19 at the time), but was concerned that the censors would object due to the Unfortunate Implications of statutory rape. They decided to change her age to 13, figuring the censors would reject it and they could come back with 16 as a "compromise." To their shock, the censors allowed the scene with no objections.

    Literature 
  • Ernest Hemingway wanted to break out of his contract with Horace Liverwright for a better deal with a new publisher, so he wrote The Torrents of Spring as a mocking parody of the style used by Liverwright's favorite author.
  • Chuck Palahniuk wrote Fight Club when his novel Invisible Monsters was rejected by his publishers for being too disturbing. He intended to make Fight Club even more disturbing to give them something they would at least remember. The publishers liked it, and it was published.
  • Once upon a time, an unsuccessful author of High Fantasy novels was told by the teacher of his writing class that, seeing as he liked Anita Blake and Buffy the Vampire Slayer so much, he should write a novel like those using the teacher's method of novel creation.
    Jim Butcher: When I finally got tired of arguing with her and decided to write a novel as if I was some kind of formulaic, genre-writing drone, just to prove to her how awful it would be, I wrote the first book of The Dresden Files.
  • In the Inheritance Cycle, ever since the first book both fans and anti-fans latched onto Murtagh, seeing him as cooler, more sympathetic and moral than the main character. What's hilarious is that he's supposed to be one of the villains. So, time and again, the author tries to write him as an unlikable prick. Unfortunately his turn to evil due to terrible circumstances beyond his control (not to mention that he is literally forced to be evil) makes him The Woobie and gives him more of a character arc than the main character!
    • After the fourth book where Murtagh makes a Heel-Face Turn, Paolini either wanted him to be a woobie or decided to give the readers what they wanted.
  • William Ashbless is a fictional poet created by writers James Blaylock and Tim Powers as a reaction to what they felt was the poor state of poetry in the 1970s. They wrote deliberately bad poetry under the pseudonym and still managed to get it published.
  • According to crime novelist Val McDermid (the author behind Wire in the Blood), this is basically what happened when she wrote her children's picture book My Granny is a Pirate. For a while there was a trend of celebrities writing children's books, and McDermid's publisher wanted her to write one too, and refused to listen when she said that that was a particular skill she didn't possess, so she sent her a poem she had made up for her son when he was younger.
    McDermid: But eventually, she just kept going on and on and on, and the only way I thought to shut her up, was to send her something. [...] So I had written this, well, I had made up really, I hadn't even written it down to begin with, this poem about my granny being a pirate. You know: "My granny is a pirate! She sailed the the seven seas. She's captured many pirate ships, but was always home for tea." And I sent this off to my publisher thinking; at least she'll shut up and leave me alone now, but no. No no no. She called me and said: "Darling, we love it! We want to publish it, darling!" And I'm like; Oh, for Christ's sake...

    Live-Action TV 
  • SCTV's Bob and Doug McKenzie were created as a Take That to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. In Canada, the show ran two minutes longer than in the U.S. (due to fewer commercials). The CBC required SCTV to fill these two "extra" minutes with "distinctively Canadian content." The writers and performers mocked this idea: "What do you want us to do? Throw up a map of Canada and sit there wearing tuques and parkas?" They ended up doing exactly that to prove their point of how ridiculous the CBC mandate was... and ended up creating the most popular characters in the show's history.
  • A somewhat similar case of Executive Meddling occurred during the first season of WKRP in Cincinnati. CBS wanted more broad, kid-friendly comedy in the show. Producer Hugh Wilson wrote "Fish Story" as a Take That to the executives, a broad farce with silly costumes (Herb in the WKRP "carp" costume fighting the WPIG pig), pratfalls, and contrived explanations. Wilson hated the episode, and wrote it under a pseudonym as the last episode in CBS's initial 13-episode order. It got great ratings, and has always been one of the fans' favorite episodes.
  • This was what happened behind the scenes of the original Battlestar Galactica. The short version: ABC expected the series to fail, and that they could make money from its failure. The series succeeded, so ABC found a way to make it fail anyway — and they ultimately failed to make any money in the end. The long version: Battlestar Galactica was a very expensive series, and ABC executives only greenlit it because they thought it would flop. Space Operas were huge at the moment (Thanks, Star Wars!), but execs were expecting audiences to get bored with the genre very quickly. ABC wanted a loss-leader to take advantage of this trend: the logic was that people would tune in for Galactica, then stick around for one of ABC's cheap sitcoms once they got bored with sci-fi. No other sci-fi TV series since Star Trek had lasted beyond one season, so Galactica flopping seemed like a good bet. In spite of the prevailing wisdom, Galactica proved to be huge hit, putting ABC in the position of having a show that was too popular to cancel, but too expensive to continue producing. ABC resorted to screwing the show over to drive down viewership to the point where they could cancel it without completely losing face. And the real kicker: the stunt didn't help the ratings of ABC's sitcoms at all. None of that season's new series were hits, and last season's big hit, Mork and Mindy, bled ratings thanks to a bad re-tooling.
  • Star Trek:
    • Patrick Stewart has admitted in interviews that he only took the role of Jean-Luc Picard in Star Trek: The Next Generation after being assured by his agent that the show would fail in its first season (supposedly Stewart refused to unpack his suitcases during the first six weeks of shooting). His plan was to make some quick cash and go back to acting in the theater. While not finding its feet until the second or third season, The Next Generation ran for seven seasons and eventually became what has been called one of the best television shows ever made, due in large part to Stewart's performance as Picard.
    • Robert Beltran, who played Chakotay in Star Trek: Voyager, got so fed up with the Unfortunate Implications of his character and the quality of the show as a whole that he demanded an extraordinarily large pay raise in order to stay on the cast, hoping that his bosses would ditch him rather pay such a huge amount. They simply forked over the money. Voyager managed to find its legs and ran for seven seasons as well.
  • When Jason Narvy tried out for the role of Skull, he was tired of the entertainment industry and was as obnoxious as possible during the audition. For reasons that should be obvious to Power Rangers fans, this ended up getting him the part.
    • Much of the continued success of the franchise can be attributed to this trope. When Haim Saban managed to get his adaptation of Kyoryu Sentai Zyuranger greenlit, Fox expected to run the show for one 40-episode season and be done with it. Then the ratings and toy sales came in, and Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers was the biggest hit of its time. They quickly commissioned more footage from Toei and renewed the show at the last minute; hurriedly editing the intended finale.
    • After the disappointment of Power Rangers Turbo (which suffered for trying to adapt the footage from parody Sentai Gekisou Sentai Carranger into a serious storyline), the budget was severely cut and the show was entering its intended final season. The footage from Denji Sentai Megaranger turned out to be technology-based. Judd Lynn decided to move forward with a Power Rangers series based on a space story. Not only did the resulting series, Power Rangers in Space save the franchise, it turned out to be the Growing the Beard moment for the series and the standard for future Power Rangers seasons.
    • The bulk of Disney's ownership of the show is this. Disney acquired the rights in their purchase of Fox Family and related assets. They weren't interested all that much in Power Rangers, so they intended to end the series with the expiration of Saban's original deal with Toei after Power Rangers Wild Force (even titling the finale "The End of Power Rangers", meant as just that). Then, two former Power Rangers writers and producers then elsewhere at Disney talked them into moving production to New Zealand for tax benefits, and the show continued to be a success... until Disney's apathy towards the show became more apparent. After Power Rangers Jungle Fury, Disney tried to end the series again, but Bandai convinced them to do another season because of toy sales often outperforming the show itself in that time. The Sentai footage was from another parody Sentai, Engine Sentai Go-onger. Executive producer Eddie Guzelian (replaced midstream by Lynn due to Executive Meddling) adapted it into a serious storyline, which is what they tried to do with Turbo above, only this time it worked. The resulting series, Power Rangers RPM, is incredibly well-regarded for its story; and could have been the most successful series since In Space. Most ABC affiliates, including Disney-owned stations and stations in nearly all major markets, ended up screwing the show over to a graveyard early-morning slot or not airing it at all; which finally ended the series; save for the 2010 re-version of MMPR. Then, Saban bought the rights to the franchise again; moved airing to Nickelodeon, and Power Rangers returned to being a top-rated TV show and best-selling toyline.
  • The cast of The State was pressured to write more catchphrase-driven comedy like Saturday Night Live, so they wrote a Take That sketch starring "Louie, the Guy Who Says His Catchphrase Over and Over Again." In it, Louie repeats his catchphrase, "I wanna dip my balls in it!" over and over again to a crowd who find it hilarious every single time, while the Only Sane Man criticizes the concept. The skit was pretty popular and the character made at least one reappearance.
  • The success of The Waltons was a complete accident; it being a show that would've fallen victim to the "rural purge" had it been broadcast any earlier, CBS put it in the Friday Night Death Slot in a deliberate attempt to sabotage it. Needless to say, it backfired spectacularly, and it became one of the network's biggest hits of the '70s instead.

    Music 
  • In the music industry, there is the phenomenon of the "contractual obligation" album. These are albums produced to fulfill the terms of a contract with a record label, usually at the label's insistence; but which the musicians do not want to record, either because they are unhappy with their contract, or they feel they lack sufficient good material for an album, or they are just no longer interested in doing it. "Contractual obligation" albums are typically either complete garbage done as a "Fuck You" to the record label, something completely silly done as way to blow off steam, a Greatest Hits Album, or a bizarre/experimental art project of some sort. Most of the time, these albums flop as intended; but occasionally, they will go on to achieve a substantial cult following. Occasionally, they will even make a small profit for the label.
  • Neil Young was in the midst of a creative dispute with his label Geffen Records, due to his 1982 experimental techno-rock album Trans, which flopped. Young recorded and had intended to release the straight country album Old Ways next, but it was rejected by Geffen, who requested Young to release a rock album instead. Not one to take such executive meddling in stride, Young recorded Everybody's Rockin', an intentionally silly rockabilly album in hopes to anger Geffen enough to get out of his contract. The result was a lawsuit and counter lawsuit from both parties.
  • The quintessential example is Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music: a double album consisting exclusive of layered feedback from multiple instruments. It became a minor success, selling over 100,000 copies, and resulted in the creation of the entire musical genre of Noise (which is particularly popular in Germany and Japan) and strongly influenced Industrial music. Most people assumed that Reed made it as a big middle finger to the record company, but Reed has denied this, saying that he was completely serious at the time, but was also on a lot of drugs.
  • Another good example is The Beach Boys' Party, an album of covers thrown together quickly, as the studio wanted to have a release available for the holiday shopping season, and the planned album Pet Sounds was being delayed due to Brian Wilson's perfectionism. The last song on the album, a cover of Fred Fasset's "Barbara Ann", became a surprise hit, charting at #2, although not initially released as a single; while the album itself hit the top 10 at #6.
  • Lampshaded with Monty Python's Contractual Obligation Album, which was originally released with the tagline "Now a Major Lawsuit". The album actually was produced to finish out a contract, and listening to it, it's clear that the Pythons didn't put much effort into it. Over half the album is songs and brief spoken word pieces by Eric Idle, and the rest is new recordings of old material that the Pythons had written for other projects. But because it's Monty Python, it's of course hilarious.
  • Mike Oldfield's Amarok album includes "fuck you rb" in morsecode, targeted at Virgin's boss Richard Branson. Since Virgin had been pressing him to produce more tracks that could be released as singles, Amarok was deliberately constructed as a solid 60 minutes that is impossible to cut into a single. Many consider it his best album.
    • Mike's page has an entire section of Take That examples dedicated to showing all the different ways Amarok is a big middle finger to Mr. Branson.
  • Love and Rockets (post-punk/synth-rock band consisting of former Bauhaus members) did one of these with their side project "The Bubblemen" — a single release consisting of "The Bubblemen Are Coming," "Bubblemen Rap" and "Bees", and featuring the band dressed in bee costumes — as a "blowing off steam" variation of this trope. The project quickly became a cult hit; and they often performed as The Bubblemen as part of their regular concerts.
  • In the late '60s, Van Morrison recorded an entire album of deliberately, unreleaseably awful songs (The Big Royalty Check, Ringworm, Here Comes Dumb George) in order to get out of his contract with Bang Records. This ended up backfiring on him in the early '90s, when the cash-strapped rightsholders began licensing them out...on "Greatest Hits" compilations, no less.
  • Sara Bareilles was forced by her record company to write a love song for her album Little Voice. So she wrote the "Fuck You" song Love Song. Ironically, it was her first hit. Same story with her second hit "King of Anything"... so which party gets to say "I told you so"?
  • British extreme metallers Cradle Of Filth were sick of their then current label Cacophonous Records, yet were pigeonholed into making a new release before they could leave the label. The result was the EP Vempire (Or Dark Faarytales In Phallustein), which many fans of the band consider to be their best release.
  • Supposedly, the guitar "crunches" just before the chorus of Radiohead's song "Creep" were an attempt by disgruntled lead guitarist Jonny Greenwood to ruin the master track. It wound up being one of the most distinctive parts.
  • The power chords to REO Speedwagon's "Keep On Loving You" were a similar reaction by guitarist Gary Richrath to singer Kevin Cronin's song, which Gary thought was sappy and uncharacteristic of the hard-rock group. The combination became an early example of the '80's "power ballad", and their first number one single.
  • Todd Rundgren's The Ever Popular Tortured Artist Effect is another one of these. He intentionally wrote "Bang The Drum All Day" to be as stupid as possible and it's quite possibly his most recognizable hit.
  • Depending on who you ask, Marvin Gaye's Here, My Dear may or may not be one of these. He was divorcing Motown owner Berry Gordy's sister at the time, and legend has it that he had to give all the royalties of his next album to her as part of the settlement. Whether he filled the album with (at the time) uncommercially emotionally raw songs as an attempt at this or not has been much disputed, but it worked. Now, however, it's considered to be one of the finest albums ever made, so it can be argued that this is a time-delayed example of the trope. The actual divorce settlement puts paid to that notion: The actual agreement was that she got $600,000, no matter what; however, that $600,000 would be paid first with the royalties off of "Here, My Dear", then out of Gaye's own pocket. So she was getting $600,000 anyway, and he really had a disincentive for tanking an album.
  • The Residents originally intended their album Duck Stab! to prove that even if they released an album of songs that actually followed traditional song structure, still no one would buy it. The album became one of their most popular.
  • The Turtles, a surf band turned folk-rock band from The Sixties who had cheery bubblegum hits like "Happy Together" and "She'd Rather Be With Me", was having problems with their label, White Whale, who wanted them to keep churning out more commercial product two years later as the band wanted to move into more progressive music. So they wrote the most deliberately banal pop song they could, "Elenore". It obviously was not taken as such, and became a Top Ten hit.
  • Guns N' Roses guitarist Slash was "joking around" with a riff. He hated it. Axl Rose loved it. Over objections within the band, the track was recorded for their album-in-progress. The result? "Sweet Child O'Mine," a song Slash reportedly "really fucking hated to play" during their gigs. Slash had to spend a month recording that riff in the studio to get it just right for the album.
    • The Red Hot Chili Peppers mocked that riff at the end of their 1989 song "Punk Rock Classic." That song's chorus begged "Put us on MTV/ Help me, please, please, please..." One album later, the Peppers' ballad "Under the Bridge" landed them in heavy rotation on MTV — and on subsequent albums, their music has sounded less like "Punk Rock Classic" and more like "Under the Bridge."
  • Steam's "Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye", intended as a throwaway B side, instead a #1 hit. In fact, the over-long chorus repetition at the end was specifically intended to be annoying. The plan was to encourage disc jockeys to only play the A side. The plan didn't work.
    • Add Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive," Vanilla Ice's "Ice Ice Baby," and Kiss's "Beth" to the list of successful B-side hits (though the last one didn't hit #1).
  • "Barely Breathing" by Duncan Sheik was similar, intended to be a filler song to bring the album up to proper length, it became his only hit (unless you count the music he did for Spring Awakening.)
    • Same with Carl Douglas' "Kung Fu Fighting". After spending over two hours on A-side song "I Want to Give You My Everything", he recorded his immortal one hit wonder in a little more than ten minutes!!!
  • German Kraut Rock band Neu!'s budget ran out during the recording of their second album after completing one side of an album. Short of material, they included the previously released single sides "Super" and "Neuschnee", and decided to fill the rest of the second side with sped-up and slowed-down versions of those two songs. In the process, they pretty much invented remixes.
  • Mudhoney were asked to contribute a fast, driving song for a scene of the film With Honors wherein one of the characters runs through the snow. They offered up an instrumental they'd already written and recorded, but the studio insisted on a song with words. So the band added minimal throwaway lyrics to their instrumental, called the result "Run Shithead Run" and sent back both this version and the original, figuring they'd be forced to use the instrumental for the scene anyway. Guess which version ultimately ended up in the movie and on the soundtrack album?
  • In 1976, amateur musician John Trubee, then a teenager, found an ad in a tabloid for a song poem company.note . He submitted a deliberately offensive, nonsensical poem titled "Peace And Love," hoping he'd get a humorous (and rather offended) rejection letter.note  He did not. 80 USD and a quick change to the lyrics later, a comically godawful, upbeat country march was set loose upon the world, where it would later gain a marked cult infamy.
  • Kurt Cobain wanted to make Nirvana's third album, In Utero, a noisy punk album in an attempt to get rid of the mainstream audience they'd picked up with Nevermind. It shot to number one on the Billboard charts, anyway.
  • The metal band GWAR got its start this way. Originally, the members were in a different band called Death Piggy, but in a few concerts, they tried a publicity stunt in which they posed as a Fake Band dressing up in Conan-esque barbarian costumes (borrowed from a film they were making at the time) and running around screaming obscenities in the idea that after the audience was subjected to this, Death Piggy's arrival would come as a relief. To their surprise, many fans would stay for GWAR and leave when Death Piggy made their entrance, so they decided to play as GWAR full-time.
  • During the height of Psychedelia, The Hollies (particularly Graham Nash) tried hard to develop a more elaborate, "serious" sound. The results, namely the single "Kind Midas in Reverse," were met with commercial indifference, prompting the label to demand something more marketable. In response, the band recorded the deliberately cheesy bubblegum song "Jennifer Eccles." It was a Top Ten hit, much to Nash's dismay.
  • As a joke, The Four Seasons recorded a version of Bob Dylan's "Don't Think Twice, It's Alright" with intentionally silly, self-parodic falsetto vocals, which they never intended to actually release. Their record company liked it enough to release it as a single anyway: Even though it was released under the name The Wonder Who? for contractual reasons, it reached #12 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and sold a million copies.
  • Speaking of Dylan, he has often claimed that his much-reviled Self Portrait album from 1970 was intended as one of these.
  • Anal Cunt attempted to make the worst music ever with music so abrasive it's difficult to tell what notes are even being played. They coupled this with lyrics that were frequently misogynistic, racist, homophobic, anti-Semitic, or otherwise offensive. Their singer, the late Seth Putnam, even admitted sending copies of their albums to reviewers who they knew would dislike it solely so they could get negative reviews. They wound up being admired by people who saw through the Stealth Parody and are one of the most influential bands of the grindcore genre. They even attempted making an album that even their fans wouldn't like, Picnic of Love. The album is the opposite of their usual output, featuring acoustic songs with Seth Putnam wailing in an obnoxiously high pitched falsetto about respecting women. Many fans consider it their funniest and even critics gave it much more favorable reviews than their usual output.
  • Quiet Riot were asked to do a cover of the Slade song "Cum On Feel The Noise" as a demo for their record company. Kevin Dubrow hated the song, refused to do more than one take, and put zero effort into it (there's an audible sound error at one point - he demanded the band keep playing because he didn't want to have to start over). The song made their entire careers.
  • Similarly, Sammy Davis Jr.'s version of "The Candy Man" was his biggest hit, spending three weeks at #1. This is in spite of his recording it in one syrupy, sanctimonious, and condescending take, and then grumbling about the song would "take his career down the toilet".
  • According to designer Steve Joule, this is how Black Sabbath's Born Again cover art came to be: Joule was known for designing Ozzy Osbourne's album covers, and was asked by Sabbath's management to submit some rough designs for the band's next album. Fearing he might lose his main gig if he worked with Ozzy's former band, he decided to throw together some intentionally silly, hideous artwork in the hopes of getting rejected. One of these designs was a stock photo of a crying baby crudely altered to look like a demon, which of course actually ended up being on the cover — Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler, and Black Sabbath manager Don Arden reportedly approved of the design. On the other hand, then-vocalist Ian Gillian didn't see the artwork until it was already in stores, and was famously quoted (in a 1984 Kerrang! interview) as saying “I looked at the cover and puked!”.
  • Johnny Cash was one of a number of established artists who found the transition to the 80s difficult. Cash blamed it on poor promotion by his record company and recorded the intentionally awful Chicken in Black in attempt to get out of his contract. It actually worked, but it also became his biggest hit in some time.
  • Australian pop singer Marty Rhone thought he was going to die in Vietnam and recorded So You Want to Be a Pop Singer as a Take That to the music industry. The song, which references then Countdown host Molly Meldrum, Russell Morris's hit "The Real Thing" and Elvis Presley, is pretty tame by today's standards and didn't come across as particularly scathing in 1970 either. It failed to chart, but it didn't sink Rhone's career either.
  • As an experiment, a "Most Unwanted Song" was created by combining a whole bunch of themes and instruments that people claimed to hate. Not surprisingly, it's hilarious. (And far better than the "Most Wanted Song" they made to go with it.)
  • Norwegian comedy duo Ylvis, comprising brothers Vegard and Bĺrd Ylvisĺker, made "The Fox", an intentionally nonsensical little ditty destined to go viral. They had done a favour for production team Stargate, and in return asked that Stargate produce "The Fox" to promote the new season of Ylvis' TV talk show I kveld med YLVIS, the joke being that they had a chance at finally becoming pop stars but they did a nonsensical song that was destined to flop instead. Contrary to what they predicted, the song very quickly caught on and ended up being immensely successful on the charts instead of staying the joke Ylvis had originally created.
    "The whole humor is that we didn't succeed and had lots of obstacles. The obstacles generated the comedy. Then suddenly we're on this trip to America, the place people want to go, and there's no obstacles. Every doorway is open… and there's no comedy."
  • Canadian Prog-Rock band Rush had just released their third album, a proto-concept piece entitled Caress of Steel, to poor sales and even worse reviews. Fans and critics alike were confused by the fantasy-literature-based lyrics and increasingly complex musical experimentation; and their record company was unhappy by the non-conventional song structure and lack of single-release material. The band was pressured by Mercury Records to return to their earlier blues-rock sound, and create more single-friendly songs. Believing their next album to be their last, they decided to give a big "fuck you" to the Mercury execs, do the album their way, and push their musical experimentation to its limits; resulting in a science-fiction concept album inspired by Ayn Rand's Anthem featuring some of their most complex music to date. The album, 2112, would go on to be their breakthrough album, becoming a major commercial success, and going triple platinum. It would eventually be hailed as a landmark of the evolution of Progressive Rock music; and would catapult the band into major international stardom.
  • Australian Post-Punk band The Birthday Party wrote their single, "Release the Bats", as an over-the-top joke. It became their best known song.

    Professional Wrestling 
  • Many fans questioned the idea of giving WWE wrestler Finlay, a no-nonsense Irish brawler, a leprechaun sidekick (later named Hornswoggle), and soon the rumors came out that it happened because an executive within the company (head of talent relations John Laurinaitis was the most-often-fingered culprit) disliked Finlay, and set up the gimmick with the creative team in an effort to make him fail. However, the sheer absurdity (Hornswoggle would randomly appear from under the ring to present the commentary team with cans of Guinness) and Comedic Sociopathy (Finlay would only refer to Hornswoggle as "the little bastard" and often used him as a projectile weapon to win matches) soon won fans over, not only making Finlay more over, but also gaining Hornswoggle a sizable following of his own.

    Puppet Shows 
  • Spitting Image made The Chicken Song as a Take That to catchy summer pop ear worms, only to have the song reach #1 on the charts.
    From the shores of Spain
    To the coast of southern France
    No matter where you hide
    You just can't escape this dance

    Radio 
  • When Humphrey Lyttelton originally auditioned for the Radio 4 panel game I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue, he was apparently in a bad mood, and really didn't want the part, so spent the entire show being irritable and sarcastic. Everyone else loved this, and so he ended up hosting it from 1972 up until his death in 2008. Apparently he was the only thing people liked about the first show, and Tim Brooke-Taylor and Graeme Garden felt they'd done so badly that they turned to each other afterwards and said, "Never again." When it was picked up and became the BBC mainstay that it is, they made this a good-luck ritual.

    Sports 
  • It isn't documented that any deliberate losses actually took place, but the strange playoff system adopted by Major League Baseball for the 1981 season created an environment in which teams could theoretically benefit by losing games. Due to the lengthy midseason players' strike, the season was split into two halves that year, with the winners of each half facing off for the divisional championship. Logic would dictate that if a team won both halves, it would receive a first-round bye; however, Major League Baseball, not wanting entire series to be scrapped, refused to implement a bye system. The original plan was that if a team won their division in both halves of the season, they would face the team in their division with the next best overall record. A sportswriter pointed out that the arrangement would give a team with a good overall record an incentive to lose games against the first-half winner to help a division rival win both halves. Major League Baseball revised the rules so that if a team won both halves of the season, it would face the second half runner-up instead. However, this meant that the teams who won the first half divisional race had nothing to play for in the second half, and in fact could try to "assist" a team that they felt would be an easier playoff opponent by intentionally losing games to them during the regular season. In the end, nobody won both halves of the season, which led to both the Cincinnati Reds and St. Louis Cardinals posting the best overall records in their divisions and not making the playoffs, while the overall-losing-record Kansas City Royals did.
    • In a more normal occurrence; in baseball, a game is official once it's reached five innings and one team is ahead (four and a half if the home team is winning). If it's raining enough that the game might be called, the winning team will often try to speed the game up as much as possible (while the losing team, of course, will try to slow things down so the game can't be completed before five innings) so they can get out of there with a win. Naturally, that involves trying to deliberately make outs, and naturally, often that means, for example, grounders become hits or, thanks to errors made by the other team, the hitter ending up on base anyway.
  • Draft systems often encourage losing; for instance, the NFL Draft gives the first draft pick to the worst team.
    • The above reason is why the NBA has used a Draft Lottery for teams not making the playoffs since 1985, after some accused the Houston Rockets and other teams of losing intentionally to get the best picks in the '84 draft (one of the most talent-laden in history with Michael Jordan, Hakeem Olajuwon and Charles Barkley). However, even the Draft Lottery itself is controversial as some still believe the '85 lottery was rigged since New York got the top pick with Patrick Ewing as the prize. Today, the teams with the worst records get the best chances of winning the lottery, which leads sportswriters to ridicule bad teams when they don't try to invoke this.
    • Several NBA teams such as the Boston Celtics and Toronto Raptors were projected to have poor win/loss records for the 2013-14 season, undergoing roster rebuilds with an eye on getting a high pick for the 2014 Draft, which was expected to include several highly regarded prospects. Nobody anticipated the Eastern Conference would exhibit a collective Epic Fail: as far as a quarter into the season, the Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers were the only teams in the East with a winning record. For a time, it was projected that the majority of Eastern Conference playoff spots would be filled by teams with either break-even or losing records. Ultimately, seven of the eight playoff teams finished comfortably over .500, one of those being the aforementioned Raptors (who, you will remember, came into the season expecting to fail miserably). While the Celtics did eventually crash and burn as anticipated, the Raptors (after trading away their supposedly best player to help the team "tank" further) instead ended up topping their division, finished with their best-ever record in team history, and lost out in the first round of the playoffs to the vastly more experienced Brooklyn Nets by just a single point in Game 7.
    • 2011's "Andrew Luck Sweepstakes" in which the worst team in the NFL stood the best chance of using the #1 draft pick to take Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, one of the most NFL-ready quarterbacks in the history of the game. Some fans of perpetually-losing franchises publicly encouraged their team to "Suck for Luck". It's unclear whether any games were thrown by the team that eventually "won", the Indianapolis Colts, who had lost their All Pro quarterback Peyton Manning for the year before the season even started due to a neck injury and were legitimately bad as a result. In fact, the only two games the Colts won that year were late in the season (once they replaced their struggling backup QB Curtis Painter with veteran Dan Orlovsky), and legitimately jeopardized their chances of getting the #1 pick.
    • There are also times where the player would refuse to play for the team that drafted him; two of the most notable cases were John Elway (in 1983) and Eli Manning (in 2004), who refused to play for the Colts and the San Diego Chargers, respectively, and instead were traded to different teams (Elway with the Denver Broncos, Manning with the New York Giants).
  • This happens in Olympics in Sailing, owing to the scoring system used, as with Ben Ainslie taking Gold in the 2000 Sydney Games. Ainslie led going into the final race knowing that if Brazil's Robert Scheidt didn't finish better than 22nd he would win gold. Ainslie thus tacked and tacked upon Scheidt's wind to stall his rival and subsequently pushing him down the fleet. Ainslie finished 37th, but Scheidt was 22nd, giving Ainslie the gold.
  • The last round-robin group match of the 1998 Tiger Cup soccer tournament was between Thailand and Indonesia: Regardless of the outcome of the game, both were already guaranteed to advance to the semi-finals, but whichever team won that game would face Vietnam while the loser would face Singapore. Both Thailand and Indonesia thought Singapore would be the easier opponent. This led to both teams playing to lose, culminating in Thailand deliberately kicking the ball into their own goal while Indonesia tried to stop them. Ironically, they'd both proceed to lose in the semi-finals, while Singapore would go on to win the whole tournament.
  • There are times in the final seconds of a basketball game where a team is shooting a single free throw while trailing by two or three points. Since making the free throw (worth one point) would not help tie the score, sometimes the team elects to intentionally miss the free throw in hope of gaining an offensive rebound and scoring the necessary points. However, the rules state that a free throw attempt must hit the rim, so occasionally the ball goes in even though the player was intentionally trying to miss.
    • Amazingly, a team may try this exact same thing while leading by a point or two - since the clock is stopped during free throws and a stopped clock doesn't restart until the ball is touched by a player inbounds, this forces the other team to get the rebound and get the ball down court for a shot with the clock running rather than throw a long inbounds pass after a make that could get the ball across court with no time running.
      • Note that this strategy only works if the opposing team is out of timeouts. Otherwise, they can just call timeout when they recover the rebound, giving them the ball out-of-bounds anyway.
  • In 2008, the Seattle Mariners had the worst record in baseball by a game over the Nationals. They wanted to finish last so they could have the #1 pick and draft super prospect Stephen Strasburg. Unfortunately, the usually uber terrible Yuniesky Betancort proceeded to have possibly the best two games of his career and led the Mariners to victories in both games, resulting in them losing the top pick.
  • In the 2012 Summer Olympics, the badminton rounds were changed from a knockout format to a round-robin one which meant that instead of teams being eliminated on the first loss, they could still advance to the next round provided that they didn't lose too much and actually be up against lesser competition than if they had been at the top. Cue an Epic Fail match between the Chinese and South Korean teams trying to one-up each other in hilariously poor serves with the Chinese ultimately proving to be better at losing. And then both teams got disqualified for basically making every other badminton player hide their faces in shame, so everybody lost in the end.
  • Algerian sprinter Taoufik Makhloufi was ejected from the Olympics for not trying in his 800m event (Algeria failed to withdraw him on time, forcing him to compete), instead choosing to save his energy for the 1500m event. Makhloufi was reinstated in time to win gold.
  • Amateur sports competitions that are split into divisions based on performances during a grading period can punish a team for lucky wins. One solution is to throw the games you probably weren't going to win anyway. If that's too unethical to contemplate, another option is to genuinely try to win, but impose handicaps such as fielding the worst players available or having the players play in positions to which they're not suited.
  • The infamous 1994 Barbados-Grenada match had a team score an own goal to force overtime rather than win with only a 1-point difference. SubvertedTrope in that it worked: They managed to win with a two-point difference at the end of said overtime.
  • Point-shaving, an illegal practice in which a team or player deliberately plays to lose. In general, this befalls a player who owes a bookie a lot of money, so they deliberately play bad so their team doesn't cover the spread (or flipping a game from the favorite to the underdog), thus netting the bookie a lot of money. Usually, for the player and the bookie to avoid being caught, the player has to Do Well, But Not Perfect; if a basketball player misses too many shots that he'd normally make, for example, that's a big tip-off.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Gary Morley, former sculptor for Games Workshop, is responsible for the infamous Nagash model from Warhammer. A suit had rejected his original (much better) head sculpt, so Gary created the "Bobo the Evil Skeleton" head in the belief that the cartoonish job would get rejected and he could go with the one closer to the artwork. It was approved.

    Theater 
  • The Marx Brothers were originally struggling as a primarily musical act before an appearance in Texas, where the audience left the theatre during a performance to go watch a mule. This outraged the team, and they began breaking from their script to abuse the audience with pointed jokes. Instead of getting angry, the audience ate it up and the family realized that their real talent lay in comedy.

    Video Games 
  • Ian Bogost created Cow Clicker as a satire of social games like Farmville. The idea was to distill the games down to core mechanics to expose how ridiculous they are. However, Cow Clicker actually became popular, with some people even paying real life money to click their cows more often.
  • Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty could have been titled "You want me to make a sequel even though I don't want to? Here you go. It's about how much the player sucks. I hope that teaches you a lesson." if that weren't so cumbersome. Supposedly, Hideo Kojima has kept this up for the entire franchise, repeatedly trying to sabotage his own games so that he never has to make another one. The fact that he's up to the fourth numbered Metal Gear Solid game (plus the Peace Walker side-game) after vowing that the first, second, and third Metal Gear Solid game would be the last Metal Gear game he would ever direct should indicate roughly how successful this has been. Unfortunately, there has been alleged death threats involved each time he tries to quit. The aforementioned fourth Metal Gear Solid game, Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, was filled with "there, happy now?" moments, like Doing in the Wizard of Vamp's unexplained powers in a deliberately unsatisfying way. It got to the point where Kojima wanted to have Snake and Otacon brought in for terrorism charges and executed at the end of Metal Gear Solid 4. His staff refused to work with him until he changed the ending.
  • The video game, Divekick, was meant as a spoof to poke fun at the fighting game genre, and the EVO pro-gaming scene. Instead of it being a complicated fighting game with many buttons and combos, the game simply has the player Dive and Kick. Turns out the game became a huge hit in the EVO scene, because of its simple yet hard to master concept - creating many competitive matches. As a result, the creator of the game, in 2013, is heavily promoting it for release on the PlayStation Network and the PC. Not to mention the game has now become a main tournament feature at the EVO Championships.
  • This is apparently the story behind the ZX Spectrum version of SQIJ!, widely regarded as one of the worst Spectrum games of all time. The author, Jason Creighton, signed a contract with the publisher to make the game, but later got into an argument and wanted to cancel the contract. He couldn't, so he decided to make use of one of the clauses, and deliberately create the worst game imaginable so that it would get rejected. It was accepted for publication, despite being literally impossible to play due to a Game-Breaking Bug.

    Web Comics 

    Web Original 
  • The Cinema Snob and Phelous teamed up to review Troll 4, a movie that doesn't exist. During the review they put in a lot of cameos from other That Guy with the Glasses contributors, a known Berserk Button for the Fan Dumb (To the point where JewWario's sole line in it is leaping out of the elevator and declaring "CAMEO!"). They were surprised when people actually enjoyed the video.
  • TotalBiscuit made an Angrish and exaggerated rage filled WTF Is... video for I Wanna Be The Guy Gaiden both to make fun of similar videos and to see if his fanbase would recognize it as stupid and dislike it. It became one of his highest rated videos.
  • The cast of Red vs. Blue originally didn't want Becca Frasier to voice Sister, so they sabotaged her audition in an attempt to discourage her. How? By giving her increasingly more and more vulgar lines to see how far she could go before she refused to say them. To their surprise, Becca had no limits at all, and she ended up getting the part.
  • The Runaway Guys' LP of Mario Party 4, in Episode 2 of Goomba's Greedy Gala: Chuggaaconroy and ProtonJon are neck and neck for first place, with one star each and a four coin difference in their coin totals (at this point Chugga is in first), while the computer player (Daisy) is right in front of the Boo house with enough coins steal a star from one of them. Both of them know that the AI will steal from whoever is in first, so they both try to lose as much money as possible before Daisy's next turn. Chugga loses 8 coins by playing the lottery and losing, then landing on a red space. Jon goes to the roulette, bribes the Goomba manning the wheel 20 coins to change the outcome... and wins all those coins back. Cue the AI stealing his star.
    Chugga: Even when you are incredibly lucky, you still have shit luck.
    • Another example happens on Boo's Haunted Bash (Part 2): Chugga, Jon, and the AI are in front of a star. Chugga knows he can't get it, but Jon might be able to before the AI. So during the next mini-game (which is a coin-collecting game), Chugga, who is teamed up with Jon, tries to get Jon away from as many coins as possible. This fails miserably as they not only get enough coins for the star, they actually end up getting MORE coins than their opponents!
  • In Enter The Arena As Your Avatar, Micool completely intended for Kyubey to be a Joke Character, but somehow managed to get a girl to sign a Contract with him.
  • Naruto The Abridged Comedy Fandub Spoof Series Show, an April Fool's Day joke LittleKuriboh created to be a Take That of Naruto The Abridged Series became unexpectantly popular with his viewers. He ended up creating a full-on series with it.

    Western Animation 

    Other 
  • There is a real-life stock market practice known as "short-selling." Short-selling means borrowing shares of stock from someone else and selling them at the current price, then buying equal shares in the future after the price falls and giving them back to the original owner. The most sure-fire way for this plan to lose money is if the stock's price goes up.
    • And this happened to a few short-sellers when Porsche revealed that they controlled Volkswagen in 2008, causing the latter firm to temporarily become the most valuable (by market capitalization) firm in the world. Those short-sellers cumulatively lost billions and one of them committed suicide as a result.
    • This very practice (and how to get ruined by it) is a vital plot point in the ending of the movie Trading Places.
      • The Trading Places example is actually in the futures exchange, not the stock market, but it works essentially the same way: the protagonists sell orange juice futures they don't have at a high price, then buy them back when the price drops to make up for it.
    • It's also a plot point in Schlock Mercenary, where it gets the crew in trouble for a very unique sort of insider trading — they know the network is going to tank because they're going to blow it up.
    • Such a scheme is also the main plot of the most recent film version of Casino Royale: the Big Bad Le Chiffre buys put options (another financial mechanism where you profit from plummeting stock) for blue-chip firms, then hires mercenaries to stage "terrorist" attacks on them to drive their stock price down.
    • This is also part of the Big Bad's real plan in The Taking Of Pelham 123 remake: he takes a subway train hostage not for the ransom money itself but rather the suspicions of terrorism behind the hostage crisis making the stock market plummet, which allows him to make a killing via put options.
  • This is how we got potato chips. Some guy at a restaurant kept sending his potatoes back, complaining they were too thick, too soft, and not salty enough. So the cook, George Crum, got frustrated and sliced them super thin, fried them to a crisp, and poured on the salt. The customer loved it and a new snack food was born.
  • "Lord" Timothy Dexter, everyone else was trying to ruin The Fool, but fate conspired to make him just richer (he actually sold coal to Newcastle). His is the sole entry on Real Life. Read and be amazed.
  • The City of Pasadena was founded in part by a bankroller who wanted to capitalize on Medical Tourism, which was popular at the time, and short-sell the land, believing it to be a fad vacation spot. Then the railroad came and it is now one of the biggest cities in California.
  • Touched upon above in the Boston Legal example, but the same happens in real life, and several cases and state laws have never been challenged specifically because "winning" would give them the ability to appeal up to the Supreme Court and have the decision enforced nationwide.
    • Would probably have been averted with Kitzmiller v. Dover, had the Dover school board that wanted Intelligent Design taught in science classes in the district not been defeated en masse in the next election. The new school board, more amenable to evolution, declined to appeal.
    • The opposite is also true; sometimes states knowingly pass unconstitutional laws (particularly in regards to abortion) with the sole hope that they'll be appealed to the Supreme Court and ruled constitutional.
  • Many joke political parties end up doing this as they become more popular.
    • Case in point: the Monster Raving Loony Party, as they would, stood for the Bootle by-election in 1990, and placed higher than the SDP candidate. Screaming Lord Sutch was suitably disturbed by this result.
    • The Polish Beer-Lovers' Party managed to win 16 seats in the Polish Parliament. The result forced them to drop their joke image and become a serious group, the Polish Economic Program — a failure at failing if ever there was one.
    • American third parties usually succeed by failing. They do not win elections, but if they gather support, one of the major parties will adopt a few of their positions into their platforms in order to recover the votes. When they actually gather enough steam to gain a significant number of votes, they usually hand the election to their consolidated political enemies. For example, Teddy Roosevelt's Bull Moose Party split the Republicans and allowed the Democrat Woodrow Wilson to win easily. Ross Perot's 1992 run is a lot more murky, as his support seemed to come equally from the left and the right.
    • Possibly the most successful political example of this trope is Jón Gnarr, who ran for mayor of Iceland's capital city Reykjavík in 2010 as head of the satirical "Best Party." Iceland had just gone through a major financial crisis and Jón mostly created the party to satirize establishment politics. To everyone's surprise (including his own), he and his party won the election and he suddenly found himself mayor of a coalition government (after famously vowing not to enter into a coalition with any politician that did not watch The Wire, his favourite TV show).
  • This sometimes occurs when challenges to laws are filed if the current government consists of people opposed to the law who weren't in power when it was passed. Even though they are considered obligated to defend the law regardless, presenting a very weak defense or not defense at all is not uncommon, though of dubious legal ethics. Examples:
    • After California passed Proposition 8 overturning the court decision allowing same sex couples to marry, several lawsuits were filed against it. Former and current Governor Jerry Brown was then the state Attorney General, meaning that he was obligated to serve as the attorney for the state and represent it in defending the law. However as a staunch supporter of gay marriage, Brown refused to present a defense of Proposition 8, resulting in a few formal complaints filed against him by the law's supporters.
      • This is somewhat complicated by the fact that Proposition 8 was obviously unconstitutional, rendering defense of the law in court a waste of the taxpayer's money as the outcome was a Foregone Conclusion. A number of states have since refused to defend anti-gay marriage statutes in the wake of numerous court rulings against them.
    • While he was Governor of Minnesota, Jesse Ventura was opposed to the state's archaic laws prohibiting sodomy and other types of "unnatural" sexual activity between consenting adults, but despite overwhelming support in the state for repeal could not get it through the legislature due to a few Moral Guardians who wielded disproportionate power in blocking any attempts to repeal. His solution was to organize a lawsuit against the laws, which was filed with Ventura himself as the defendant. Ventura and Attorney General Mike Hatch, a fellow opponent of the laws didn't present much of a defense against the suit, and the suit passed the State Supreme Court overturning the laws with ease. Despite having technically lost the case, Ventura himself praised the decision.
    • The Obama Administration at first averted this trope by defending the military's Don't Ask Don't Tell policy in court, despite Obama's personal opposition to it and call for repeal, as Obama believed the policy would be better overturned through legislative means. However some info came out that if legislative repeal stalled, the Obama admin would cease defense of the policy in addition to blocking enforcement of it. Legislative repeal coupled with a moratorium on enforcement for the remainder of the policy's existance rendered the point moot.
    • In November of 2013, House Speaker John Boehner attempted to enroll in Healthcare.gov to prove to his constituents that the President's much publicized website was unusable. He was able to successfully enroll in only 45 minutes.
  • /v/ attempted to ensure reddit wouldn't again blatantly copy their memes by intentionally modifying the Rustled Jimmies meme. It was changed into "le monkey face", a Take That against reddit. Reddit, however, accepted "le monkey face" as a meme, not understanding and accepting its "le" "humor" naturally. 4chan no longer uses the meme, as it is discredited, but reddit still continues to.
  • In 2012, the Australian Labor Party managed to get Liberal Party member Peter Slipper appointed as the Speaker of the House of Representatives because doing so would effectively neutralise Slipper and increase Labor's "wafer thin" majority in the House. The Party's motives turned out to be the least of their problems with Slipper...it's best not to go into it here.
  • A possible example: in 1964, US President Lyndon Johnson's administration started a bill that would end legal discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, or national origin. Howard W. Smith, A southern congressman, added "ending legal discrimination on the basis of sex". His actual intent on doing so is ambiguous; some claim that the addition of the "and sex" clause was to kill the bill by getting people to oppose equal rights for women. However, he himself claimed to be sincere, hoping that by adding women's rights to rights for blacks that both would have enough votes to pass. Still others believe that he actually introduced it in order to embarrass Northern Democrats who were for the bill as it stood but were against equal rights for women, something which many Republicans at the time supported. Several female members of the House took up the bill, and the bill was passed... protecting race, color, religion, national origin, and sex.


Putting on the ReichReichstropenState Sec
RetironyFinagle's LawStatus Quo Game Show
RetironyIronic IndexVehicular Turnabout
Spoof AesopComedy TropesStandardized Sitcom Housing
Space Whale AesopUnexpected Reactions to This IndexStop Being Stereotypical
Audience ReactionsImageSource/Live-Action FilmsClose on Title
Special Effect FailureIndex FailureStatus Quo Game Show

alternative title(s): Failure To Fail; Fail At Failing; Failed At Failing; Accidental Hit Wonder
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