The Runner-Up Takes It All

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You've never even heard of the first place guy.

When the person who comes second or worse in a Reality Show gets more out of it than the winner, be it in post-show popularity, sales, endorsement cash, or simply not looking like as much of a jackass on national television.

For the talent-based shows, the reason can be described easily. When you win, you're hot, and the producers of the show want to capitalize on that. This leads to getting pushed too fast and too hard. With singers, for example, it might involve churning out a sub-par album to capitalize on their star power. Hype Backlash sets in, and people will tend to get a little sick of them. But for the contestants who finish lower in the ranks, they still have all the recognition—all of the same people watched the show, after all—but are allowed to relax, work at their own pace, and develop a high-quality body of work that people are more likely to enjoy. Also note that, almost by definition, many more people don't win than do (for every winner, there are multiple "runners-up" from the top Ten or Twelve contestants.) So even if any given winner is more likely to hit it big than any given runner-up, you still might see more runners-up who become stars than winners. Another reason is that the runner-ups simply decided that they weren't up to par in that field (they did lose, after all), but also discovered they had talent in a different field during their time on the show (acting is the most common such talents) and successfully pursued a career in that without attaining the trappings of the original competition's winner.

This trope is also common in awards shows such as the Oscars or the Grammys, where the winners can vanish almost as soon as they win, and then be completely overshadowed by at least one of the competitors they beat in a given category. User polls can also generate this kind of result, as in the Australian Alternative Rock radio station Triple J's annual Hottest 100 poll; at least when they're not making Colbert Bumps out of the winning song(s).

Compare Second Place Is for Winners, Award Snub.

Examples:

  • Gareth Gates from Pop Idol, at least to begin with. Not so much several years down the line when Will Young was still fairly successfully releasing material and Gareth was finishing fourth in Dancing On Ice.
  • Clay Aiken from American Idol. A lot of people actually forget that he was the runner-up.
    • Fantasia Barrino of Season Three hasn't done too terribly, but it's seventh-placer Jennifer Hudson who has done the best in the long term.
    • Season Five champion Taylor Hicks, while making big bucks in Las Vegas, has been outdone, mainstream success-wise, by two of his competitors: fourth-placer Chris Daughtry as the frontman for the band Daughtry, and sixth-placer Kellie Pickler, who later went on to compete on (and win) Season 16 of Dancing with the Stars. Even Katharine McPhee, who came second and ended up more successful as an actress, is better known than him.
      • Chris Daughtry might be the best example of this trope, as he currently sits behind winners Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood as the third-highest-selling Idol contestant. And again - fourth place, meaning that the collective American consciousness felt there were three better contestants than him.
    • Adam Lambert, who despite finishing second to Kris Allen, has made quite a career for himself.
    • David Cook and David Archuleta have had about equal success, but neither of them really became superstars.
    • Really the only actual winners who are still more popular than all others from their season are Kelly Clarkson, Carrie Underwood, and Jordin Sparks.
    • At least initially, the Top Two Idol finalists were locked into an onerous contract with 19 Management which basically signed over their souls. While those who finished lower got a lot of the same buzz but were not so encumbered and were free to manage their careers properly. After Jennifer Hudson's success, 19 Management has since changed the rules to have access to anyone in the top ten.
    • Casey James is the most successful singer from Season 9, having a few songs on the country chart, but the most successful of the finalists is Katie Stevens, who finished 8th place, but emerged five years later as one of the stars of Faking It. Chances are no one remembers any of the other Top 24 contestants, including Casey (except for Lee DeWyze being the worst winner ever).
      • The only other contestants from the season who get any attention are Todrick Hall, who didn't make the Top 12, but became a successful YouTube celebrity, and Tori Kelly, who didn't even make it past Hollywood Week, but emerged in 2015 with the album "Unbreakable Smile", which led to her getting a supporting role in the film Sing a year later.
    • MacKenzie Bourg, who finished fourth on Season 15, may be on his way to becoming another example of this, which could be owed to both his surprising diligence and the efforts of his fiercely loyal fanbase that's been with him since his stint on Season 3 of The Voice. A mere two days after his elimination, MacKenzie went on to record his widely-praised original song "Roses", releasing it the night before the finale, which led to it skyrocketing up the iTunes charts in less than a day. Overall it sold 22,000 copies, enough for it to debut at #4 on the Rock Digital Songs chart, the best position for an Idol alum since Phillip Phillips' coronation single "Home".
  • Runners up in Australian Idol tend to go on to have a better career than the actual winner.
    • The initial success of Shannon Noll and Damien Leith compared to that of Guy Sebastian and Jessica Mauboy led to the belief that winning Australian Idol was always a less desirable outcome than being runner up. Sebastian was hard to market because of his overt Christianity, while songwriters found it hard to find a niche for Mauboy, who was a country singer in her early teens, but didn't want to take that up again. However, those two winners went on to outsell their runners up, Sebastian becoming the most successful ''Australian Idol singer" and break records that don't include the "Idol singer" qualification.
  • Colby Donaldson was the runner-up of Survivor: The Australian Outback came close. The winner won $1,000,000. Colby won $100,000 and two cars, but also went on to a modest acting career (including razor ads, which was sad because he was gorgeous with stubble.) He also was asked back for the All-Stars and Heroes vs Villains seasons and was a finalist for All-Stars' "favorite survivor" poll, which would have earned him a million.
    • As of Jun 2010, he is the host of Top Shot, a competitive reality show on the History channel that features marksmen and shooting challenges.
    • Elizabeth Filarski (now Hasselbeck) came in fourth place on Outback, and went on to become a successful television presenter. She left a 10-year gig as co-host of the popular women's talk show The View to join Fox News Channel.note 
    • Rupert Boneham of Survivor: Pearl Islands, who, though only placing 8th in that season, then 4th in All-Stars, won the Favorite Survivor poll and the prize of a million dollars... in other words, the only person to win a million without even placing in the top three!
      • Compare: The first winner of Survivor: Richard Hatch who failed to pay taxes on his winnings and ended up in big trouble. (According to The Other Wiki, he served a 51 month sentence, which prevented him from competing in Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains).
    • "Boston" Rob Mariano from Survivor: Marquesas came back for All-Stars, but didn't get the million dollars... he got the million-dollar winner, marrying Amber Brkich (in addition to his own second-place winnings). The two then took the opportunities their Super Couple status offered them, including two stints on The Amazing Race, and Rob would make more repeat appearances on Survivor, ultimately winning the Redemption Island season.
    • Quite a few people have a hard time remembering that Russell Hantz was the runner-up in Survivor: Samoa due to how astronomically well-known he is (not necessarily well-liked, but well-known). It doesn't help that he played the Heroes Vs Villains season while under the impression that he did win (as it was filmed before Samoa aired, and therefore before Samoa's live finale - he knew he made it to the finals, but it never occurred to him that he might have lost).
  • Jade Goody of the UK version of Big Brother. In fact she only came fourth!
    • On the 2006 Celebrity Big Brother it was widely predicted that winner Chantelle Houghton (who in fact wasn't a celebrity at all, but an average 20-something planted by the producers) would enjoy her five minutes of fame and then disappear, while runner-up Michael Barrymore's career would recover from several years of scandal. Ultimately it was inverted, as Houghton did fairly well for herself afterwards, whereas Barrymore's career promptly died again, apparently for good.
  • Liberty X were the runners up on Popstars and did much better than the actual winners - Hear'say.
    • Although Hear'say's Myleene Klass went on to have a better solo career than either, and Kym Marsh has built herself a steady acting career on Coronation Street.
  • America's Next Top Model: Some blogs sound surprised when they talk about past winners actually getting modelling work. Every contestant leaves the show with some extra experience of an industry they want to work in and a portfolio of pictures.
    • Elyse Sewell from Cycle 1, who has been very successful in Asia, is considered the most successful contestant to date, even though she came in 3rd.
    • That's mostly because the competition is heavily rigged. Tyra may decide from the beginning what kind of winner she wants and stage the competition accordingly. Picking mediocre photos on purpose, editing the film with a bias against certain contestants, eliminating girls who might pose a threat to the pre-selected winner, etc. It's pretty common knowledge that C10's Whitney won over far more modelesque Anya only because "It was about time they had a plus-sized girl win." In C12, Allison and Teyona were pretty toe to toe, but Teyona was picked to continue the pattern of a black winner every 3rd cycle.
      • There's also the fact that Tyra, despite her good intentions/narcissism, has a tendency to pick girls who will never get work in the real modeling world for one superficial reason or another. Too "old" for being over 22, too "fat" for being over 115 pounds, too "short" for being under 5'7, etc. It wouldn't be surprising at all if none of the girls from Cycle 13 (where the gimmick was that all of them were under 5'7" tall) got work after the show wrapped for the season. Because of this and the reason above, agencies are hesitant or outright refuse to hire past contestants. One fashion expert mentioned that agencies just don't like being told who the "next big thing" is. Those who do find work tend to change their names to avoid the stigma.
    • Analeigh Tipton, who placed third on its eleventh cycle, has easily outshone the two contestants who finished above her.
  • These days Search for a Star is only remembered because the runner-up was Wendy Padbury, who went on to play Zoë in Doctor Who.
  • Venezuelan TV fame-seeking reality Fama y Aplausos, provided us Hany Kauam and Mayré Martínez, two singers who were expelled before the finale. About two years later, and nearly at the same time, Kawam released a pop album who went Gold, and Mayré become one of the favorites contestants in Latin American Idol, causing several journalist to say "those judges from Fama y Aplausos must be kicking themselves now". Then Mayré went to prove this trope right by winning LAI, and having her career stalled since then.
  • Finnish Idols has this too. First year, runner up Antti Tuisku became the iconic Idols star, third season, though the winner got a decent amount of fame, the runner-up Anna Abreu is generally the bigger star. This is also predicted to happen with the 2008 season, with Pete Parkkonen who came in third.
  • Similarly, on the French Popstars, Chimene Badi ended up doing much better than the winners (a group of four).
  • Spain's Operación Triunfo, first edition. The winner was Rosa López, who went to Eurovision Song Contest and is still active in the industry. But runners ups Chenoa and David Bisbal are way more successful than her, and are the only ones known at the other side of the pond.
  • A similar situation happened in the first edition of its Mexican simile La Academia, where Yahir became the most successful singer despite ending up in fourth place.
  • Star Search has this reputation. The list of winners is no comparison to the list of those who DIDN'T end up winning at the end of the season: Aaliyah, Christina Aguilera, Drew Carey, Dave Chappelle, Destiny's Child, Alanis Morissette, Kevin James, Dennis Miller, Rosie O' Donnell, LeAnn Rimes, Jessica Simpson, Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake, and so on. This one, at least, is easy to understand. Star Search, for some completely inexplicable reason, uses a single elimination format, meaning that aside from skewed voting blocks and unpredictable judges, an unlucky seeding can knock out a strong contender early, especially comedians who tend to use their strongest material early on, leaving less for later rounds.
    • In one of his shows, Dave Chappelle talks on how it started his career, but each time he scored lower and lower until he eventually dropped out:
    "I got four stars on my first time out. Three and three quarter stars on my second time out. Three and a half stars my third time out. And I think that's when I got beaten. You know who beat me?"
    *beat*
    • In a wonderful case of sweet revenge, Drew Carey ended up appearing on "The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson" and in only his first appearance was awarded the rare honor of being invited to sit next to Johnny and have a chat with him. During an interview for a PBS special about Carson, Drew said THAT moment was the moment where he knew he'd made it.
  • WWE's Tough Enough reality show created a minor lower-midcard star for a couple of years in the form of Maven. Much more success was found by fourth season runner-up The Miz and third season co-winner John Morrison (a lone exception), who were later hired and ended up the top tag team in the company in early 2009.
    • Morrison did pretty well as a singles wrestler too, picking up various midcard titles including the (theoretically World Title-level) ECW strap, and groomed to be one of the top stars on WWE's Friday Night Smack Down.
    • More recently (2011), Miz has become the WWE Champion and has successfully defended the title at Wrestlemania, while Morrison's career subsequently stalled in lower midcard hell.
    • Chris Nowinski came in second against Maven in the first TE, but eventually earned a WWE contract of his own. While his wrestling career was cut short by a concussion, he drew on his experience to write Head Games: Football's Concussion Crisis, and became a noted expert on the subject, continuing his fame and recognition long after Maven vanished from the public eye.
    • Other successful TE runners-up include TNA's Kenny King and Matt Morgan.
    • Almost one year after the latest revival, winner Andy Leavine was fired whereas the very first person elimination, Ariane "Melina vs. Alicia Fox" Andrew, is on televsion weekly as Cameron, back-up dancer for Brodus Clay.
    • To bring everything full circle, the aforementioned Miz replaced Hulk Hogan as one of the judges of season six.
  • WWE NXT either Double Subverts or plays this trope straight.
    • Season 1: Daniel Bryan became one of the most popular wrestlers in WWE history, becoming a one-time World Heavyweight Champion and a three time WWE Champion while Wade Barrett hasn't had anything as big as his initial world title chase during the Nexus angle — it took a gimmick overhaul into a messenger of "bad news" to regain him some of the popularity he had lost since then. The season's only other notable success story was sixth-placer Skip Sheffield, who became mega-face Ryback and soared to main event status only months after his re-debut. Like Barrett, his popularity waned very quickly after his
    • Season 2: Runner up Michael McGillicutty has become a Tag Team champion and is now repackaged as Curtis Axel, winning the Intercontinental Title but quickly flatlined afterwards. The actual winner Kaval was more-or-less jobbed out up until his release. Alex Riley was associated with The Miz until he no showed a match that led to Miz losing his WWE Championship and his clumsiness cost him two shots at John Cena's WWE Championship. After his Heel–Face Turn, he scored a victory over his former employer and had some success until an incident where he botched Jack Swagger's gutwrench powerbomb got him demoted into a jobber. The most successful person from this season is fourth placer Husky Harris, who became Bray Wyatt of The Wyatt Family and out of all the stars in NXT's history is second only to Bryan in popularity.
    • Season 3: Kaitlyn is an exception, having won the Divas Championship. However, 3rd-placer AJ Lee has been involved in many major storylines, as well as becoming the longest reigning Divas Champion at the time, holding it for 295 days.
    • Season 4: Johnny Curtis hasn't even appeared until recently (nor did he get his guaranteed tag title shot due to R-Truth's Face–Heel Turn), while runner up Brodus Clay appeared on Smackdown as Alberto Del Rio's bodyguard, then disappeared from TV when Del Rio was drafted to Raw. After his debut was delayed week after week, he took a dramatic Heel–Face Turn as the Funkasaurus. Curtis has recently returned as Fandango, a ballroom dancer who became a sensation after a hyperactive post-WrestleMania crowd sang his theme song, leading to the short lived "Fandangoing" craze.
    • Season 5: While the contest was effectively abandoned, Titus O'Neil and Darren Young ended up getting promoted with Smack Down contracts, leaving Derrick Bateman as the lone rookie and technically, the unofficial winner.
  • The 2004 WWE Diva Search. Christy Hemme won the contest and got put on TV almost immediately. She then got pushed into a WrestleMania program with Trish Stratus (as a replacement for the injured Lita) that she was nowhere near ready for, and was bad enough she went around apologizing for her poor performance afterwards. She then wound up having to be the focus of the entire WWE Divas division (injuries, firings and departures left WWE with few veteran female wrestlers in 2005) before being released by WWE in December of that year. Meanwhile, Michelle McCool (who placed seventh) bided her time in some bad gimmicks before winning the WWE Women's Championship three times and being the first WWE Divas Champion as well as being 1/2 of the most hated female duos ever, Team Lay-Cool (with 2006 DS winner Layla).
  • Eurovision Song Contest
    • Gali Atari & Milk and Honey won in 1979, but outside of Israel, where Hallelujah's still really well-known, very few people know who they are. One of the losers, however? Dschinghis Khan. Enough said, really.
    • It's not the only example from the Song Contest - Mocedades' "Eres Tu" from 1973 and Cliff Richards' "Congratulations" from 1968 both finished second, yet became far more massive hits than the winners (although Congratulations would have won if Dictator Franco hadn't fixed the voting for Spain). Julio Iglesias was also a runner up who became more successful than the winner. Olivia Newton John would have been viewed the same way if ABBA was not the act that beat her.
      • "Volare" (as "Nel blu dipinto di blu") finished third in 1958, yet went to #1 on Billboard; in 1959 it won two Grammys, for Record of the Year and Song of the Year - the only non-English song to achieve this honor (not to mention the only Eurovision song to date that has won a Grammy).
      • "Eres Tu" was another rare Eurovision single that was successful in North America; it was on the Billboard Top 40 for a spell in 1973.
    • Ukraine's "Dancing Lasha Tumbai", the runner up song in 2007, outsold Serbia's winning song, "Molitva". By almost double. In the long-term, Serbia's entrant Marija Serefovic was more successful, but Russia's Serebro (3rd) had the most successful act that year.
    • In 2009, winner Alexander Rybak was successful enough to have his own movie, yet wasn't as popular in the long term as Azerbaijan's entrant Arash (3rd), who has collaborated with Sean Paul, or Turkish entrant Hadise (4th), who has judged X Factor and The Voice in both Turkey and her native Belgium.
    • Subverted in 2011 - that year's winning song, "Running Scared" for Azerbaijan, wasn't too successful, yet triumphed among an unusually strong competition. If the song's composer Iain James had not worked on Emeli Sande and Little Mix's biggest songs soon afterwards, Ell and Nikki would have been completely forgotten outside the Middle East- although this is partially because Azerbaijan was found trying to use bribery for votes for the next two years.
    • In 2010, the Moldovan entry placed 22nd, yet is better known to many than the actual winner, almost solely because of the Epic Sax Guy. However, it was winner Lena Meyer Landrut from Germany who fared best in the long term.
      • Lena, however, is one of many aversions of the trope. Sandie Shaw, ABBA, Celine Dion, Dana International, Ruslana, Helena Papariozou, Lordi, Dima Bilan and Loreen are other major aversions, and Conchita Wurst may be added to this list as time goes on.
      • Papariozou and Bilan were modestly successful in previous editions, the former placing 3rd as part of the duo Antique in 2001, and the latter settling for runner up to Lordi in 2006, before their wins in 2005 and 2008 respectively. Johnny Logan is the only person to have won three times (1980 as a singer, 1987 as singer and composer, 1992 as composer).
      • No former winning singers entered in 2013, but Iain James and Thomas G:Son (who wrote the winning songs in 2011 and 2012) finished in mid table with their 2013 compositions for Belgium and Georgia respectively.
      • Dana International and Charlotte Nilsson are among the recent cases of ex-winners who barely registered a blip on the radar when they returned (in 2011 and 2008 respectively).
      • Loreen lost at Swedish Idol and Melodifestivalen in the past, but her career did not truly take off until she won Eurovision with "Euphoria", one of the most popular winners of all time.
    • 2013 had a bit of a zig-zagging in Italian singer Marco Mengoni. He placed 7th in the contest proper, yet won that year's Sanremo festival (and got to Malmo from there), broke sales records back in Italy, and had won the Italian X Factor before then. Mengoni also won an MTV EMA at the end of 2013.
    • This also applies to the Eurovision preselections. In 2013 Winny Puhh participated in the 2013 Estonian national final, the Eesti Laul. The band's spectacular performance, which took the aforementioned Lordi Up to Eleven, placed third in Eesti Laul yet the YouTube video of their performance gained over a million views in just a month. On the other hand, the actual Estonian entrant Birgit Oigemeel (who ironically was an Estonian Idol winner in the past) barely scraped into the final, and finished 20th.
      • Agnes only placed a mere 8th in the 2009 Melodifestivalen with the song "Love Love Love", but her next single "Release Me" was globally successful whereas Sweden's actual entry in the 2009 ESC fared poorly.
    • Eurovision had an amusingly direct example of this trope in 2016. That year it was decided that jury and public votes would be tallied separately before choosing the winner. Thus, Dami Im (Australia) won the public vote and Sergey Lazarev (Russia) won the jury, but both artists scored significantly lower in the opposite category. Jamala (Ukraine), however, scored second place in both, which gave her enough overall points to win the contest.
    • Not even the junior contest is immune to this. Jack Garratt fared poorly in the 2005 UK preselection, but became a respected vocalist in adulthood during The New Tens and is well on his way to eclipsing all the other JESC stars in popularity.
  • The most recent seasons of The Bachelor had an interesting take on this trope. Jason selected Melissa Rycroft as the winner over Molly Malaney in the Finale. But during the "after show", he dumped winner Melissa in favor of Molly. Melissa ended up on Dancing with the Stars (and wound up winning the All-Stars season), while Molly ended up with the "not as rich as he says he is, and willing to humiliate Melissa on national television, so how great can he be" Jason.
  • Saira Khan and especially Ruth Badger from the first two seasons of the British version of The Apprentice. The winners of the first two seasons, Tim Campbell and Michelle Dewberry are still doing pretty well for themselves, but the runners-up from those years are definitely higher-profile in the media.
    • Also James Max from the first season, who only made it as far as the interview week, but often pops up as a guest presenter on TV shows and has his own radio show with a pretty decent audience. For a while this also applied to Raef Bjayou from the fourth season, although he seems to have faded into obscurity more recently.
    • Another example from the fourth season; Ian Stringer bombed out in the third week, and Sir Alan Sugar branded him "an absolute waste of space" and the worst candidate from that year's bunch. These days however he's a fairly well known sports reporter, and enjoys a higher profile than the vast majority of that year's candidates.
  • However, the most prominent example for The Apprentice had to be the Martha Stewart version. The winner? Someone whose name has been mostly lost to history. The second-place finisher? Only a New York girl named Bethenny Frankel, who has since starred in multiple reality shows (including The Real Housewives Of New York City), released a line of vodkas, and now has her own daytime talk show-if she continues this way, she could become a media mogul the caliber of Martha herself.
  • You may not remember that, thanks to Hype Backlash, Susan Boyle actually came second in Britain's Got Talent 2009, what with more than 10 million copies of her debut album sold worldwide. To be fair, the winners of that season, dance troupe Diversity, have done pretty well for themselves, though... it's just that dance troupes don't really release albums or anything.
  • Ninet Tayeb won the first season of Israel's equivalent of American Idol. Her most significant career move since then was her role as an Expy of herself in Hashir Shelanu ("Our Song"), a Soap Opera about music school. Two-odd seasons of this later she finally got to releasing an album, then went on tour to thundering, embarassed silence whenever she tried to have the audience join in the singing, for lack of familiarity with the words. Meanwhile the runner-up Shiri Maimon released an album that went gold, placed fourth in the Eurovision Song Contest and won the MTV Europe Award for Best Israeli Act.
  • In a way, Gwen from Total Drama Island (the runner up of the first season) because she is better liked by the fanbase.
    • The winner of Total Drama Island is decided by vote from the viewers, though, so the more popular one is generally the winner (which Owen was at the time, at least in Canada). In later seasons, Gwen has turned out to be much more liked than Owen, though.
  • Heather Morris was eliminated just before the top 20 of So You Think You Can Dance. She went on to dance for Beyoncé in the Single Ladies tour and is best known for playing the famously brainless Brittany in Glee.
    • Likewise with fellow Gleester Amber Riley. She was rejected on American Idol (in fact, she didn't even get to appear on TV) and now she has probably gotten more fame and exposure than some Idol winners thanks to her role of Mercedes.
    • Several So You Think... alumni also went on to do bigger and better things even without having actually won. Many of the Latin Ballroom dancers went on to join the lineup of professional dancers on Dancing with the Stars (with Witney Carson going as far as to win Season 19 alongside Alfonso Ribeiro).
  • In 1997 Japanese music producer Tsunku ran a competition to find a new rock vocalist; the winner was Heike Michiyo. He later decided to create an all-girl group made up of the five runners-up and challenged them to sell 50,000 copies of their first single with only five promotional events. They did in four, and Morning Musume went on to be incredibly successful.
    • A cross-group case: in 2011, Sakura Oda auditioned for a spot in S/mileage's 2nd generation, but lost. She was, however, added to Hello! Project Eggs (a trainee group) — and the next year, she ended up being the sole winner of Morning Musume's 11th gen audition.
  • Project Runway has had its fair share of runner-ups both breaking into the industry and generally being more well-known than the winners; the only winner, out of its eight-plus seasons, that has actually come through is Season 4's Christian Siriano (ironically, he's the youngest winner in the show's history). The most well-known players are probably Season 1's Austin Scarlett (fourth place) and Season 2's Santino Rice (third place); both had their own reality show airing on Lifetime and in Santino's case is now well known as a recurring judge on RuPaul's Drag Race.
    • Let's not forget Chris March from Season 4, who lost his spot in the final three to Rami Kashou. Since then he's dressed Meryl Streep for the Academy Awards and Golden Globes, and has his own reality show.
  • Shear Genius, Season 1: Tabatha Coffey was eliminated mid-late in the show; she now has her own reality show and owns a very high-end salon.
  • The X Factor has played this trope straight. The runners up from the first series, the vocal group G4, were ultimately more successful than winner Steve Brookstein, whose coronation single was his only hit ever, although this was more to do with diusputes with the label, who he has been INCREDIBLY critical of since. In the 2009 series, runner up Olly Murs seems to have become more successful than winner Joe McElderry (whose singing career looked to have been kind of a non-starter after very publicly losing the Christmas number one single spot to Rage Against the Machine - he released a cover of a Norweigan song that disappointed, his follow up singles went nowhere, and his appearance on another talent competition reality show, Popstar to Operastar, was mainly to build up whatever momentum he had left), as have memorable and visually distinctive duo Jedward, who appear to be getting into children's TV presenting and advertising and have twice carried the Irish baton at Eurovision successfully enough.
    • The X Factor is actually interesting because the trope is only really played straight when the winner is a solo male. The two Under-25 females and one Girl Group who have won thus far (Leona Lewis, Alexandra Burke and Little Mix) have enjoyed very successful careers so far, with each of their post-show debut singles (at least) reaching #1 on the UK Singles Chart.
    • The two overs to have won, Steve Brookstein and Samantha Bailey, did not have a lead single, but their albums got no 1.
      • While Leona Lewis was the only contestant from her series to have any success, the act that finished behind Alexandra Burke, JLS, may be more successful than her, in the UK at least, although both acts ended up falling downhill after 5 years, with JLS Jumping the Shark with their 4th album Evolution and spitting after it failed, with their farewell single failing to make the top 10, whilst Alexandra's second album also failed to do so, and she was dropped. The three acts that finished behind Little Mix have also had top 10 success in the UK. However, out of the top 4 that series, Amelia's popularity in Eastern Europe is the only semblance of overseas success from someone other than Little Mix (who broke a US chart record for a top 5 placing album there, after having a song featured on the season finale of Glee). Amelia (3rd) and Misha B (4th), however, are taking ages to release an album, and their 3rd singles fared badly in the UK. Marcus Collins, the runner up, released a questionable cover 2 months after the XF final, meaning his career was but done before another act from the series thought about a single.
      • Alexandra and Jade Thirlwall from Little Mix failed to make the live shows after succeeding their auditions, both 3 years before their respective wins. Alexandra lost the Judges' Houses in 2005, whilst Jade was ejected from bootcamp in 2008. In 2011, the Bowties Are Cool Geordie was initially rejected in Bootcamp, than put into a group named Orion, they were rejected, but she was then put into a new group called Rythmix- LM's then-appellation.
    • Shayne Ward has been the only male X Factor winner to more or less avert this trope so far, going on to enjoy a moderately successful career as a singer and musical theatre performer. The runner-up from that year, Andy Abraham also did quite well initially, but his career imploded spectacularly following his disastrous performance as the UK's Eurovision Song Contest contender in 2008.
      • James Arthur seems to have averted the trope for now with a 2nd place song and album, and a tour of Europe. However, his war with Matt Cardle puts James in a very volatile situation, and has turned him into someone many love to hate, even given for his good music. It reached tipping point when James was in a rap battle with the rapper Micky Worthless, and both used put downs viewed as homophobic. When James got criticized for it by a gay contestant from his series of the X Factor (Lucy Spraggan), he responded to her in an offensive manner, and a fan demanded a refund of his no. 2 album on iTunes, and a petition was set up trying to boycott a performance he did on his return to the XF. This detracted from the success enjoyed by his winners single across Europe, and the good chart positions of his album. His runner up Jahmene Douglas had his album of covers reach number 1, but none of the covers have charted well. Ella Henderson, on the other hand, has debuted at #1 with her first single.
    • Leon Jackson was also the most successful contestant from his season, but his career quickly faded.
    • Like a lot of other singing shows, the prize (a record deal with Simon Cowell's label) for coming first is more or less worthless, because almost everyone who gets into the finals will inevitably get the same deal if they get enough hype during the show, but without the massive pressure and expectations associated with coming first.
      • If anything, they stand a better chance. The actual contract you get when you win X Factor is somewhat notorious, so runners up actually have a shot at getting a better deal than the winner.
    • Series 7 provides what is probably the most egregious example of this trope. The first act to have an original hit single was neither winner Matt Cardle nor runner-up Rebecca Ferguson; it was fourth-placer Cher Lloyd with the number 1 "Swagger Jagger." She would also find success stateside with the catchy "Want U Back" a year later. Ferguson would manage to have modest success of her own, while Cardle faded into obscurity. Then there's One Direction, who finished third and are more commercially successful than everyone else from the show's history combined.
    • Actually, every winner has charted in the top 5 with their debut album, with only Leon not in the top 3, but only 4 contestants (Shane, Leona, Joe, Little Mix) had their second albums also in the top 5 out of the first 8 winners, and even then, Joe was dropped by Syco by this time and had to rebound on Popstar to Operastar.
    • On the American version, 3rd placer Chris Rene has to this point had those most success, due to his uber-catchy single "Young Homie." The second series saw the 3rd and 4th place girl group and boyband, Fifth Harmony and Emblem3 respectively, being more successful than winner Tate Stevens, but, whilst they are popular on social networks, they have struggled commercially in the US and are nowhere near as successful as their UK counterparts. But Emblem3 burnt out rather quickly (in large part due to the boy band scene being monopolized by the aforementioned One Direction) whereas Fifth Harmony are getting bigger and bigger every day. Second-placer Carly Rose Sonenclair built up a huge momentum and dozens of YouTube views during her tenure on the show, but quickly dropped to a lower profile.
  • You may have seen Dave Holmes as the co-host of the FX Network's "DVD on TV". He was also the runner-up in MTV's first "Wanna Be a VJ?" competition. The actual winner, Jesse Camp, pretty much disappeared shortly after his 15 minutes in the spotlight... and his debut album completely bombed.
    • Holmes was offered a job as an interviewer after the competition. He worked there for four years, while Camp has a show only for one contractually-obligated year. This is another one that was pretty obvious. Jesse was the more interesting character, which made him the type of person you want to vote for in a contest like that, but also made him look erratic and out of control as a VJ. Dave, on the other hand, while looking more boring next to the very unique Jesse, also came across as more dependable and reliable around the big-name talent MTV was pulling in at the time.
  • Seemingly a reoccurring pattern among Vh1's "Celebreality" dating shows as New York (real name Tiffany Pollard), runner up of Flavor of Love, would get her own dating show, where the runners up, "Real" and "Chance" would later get their own as well.
  • The gay-themed episodes of the MTV dating show Next reveal the problem with applying the standard reality/dating show formula to gays. At least once, the chosen contestant decided they'd rather date one of the other (losing) contestants instead of the designated bachelor. Ouch.
    • In a way it happens to straight girls as well; a few times they bond with each other and decide the guy isn't worth it
  • On the Irish Popstars, Nadine Coyle made it to the final but was disqualified for lying about her age. However, while the winners of that competition, "Six" had one dubious hit, Nadine went on to win another version of the program, Popstars: The Rivals, and garner more success as a member of Girls Aloud.
  • Averted for the most part by The Ultimate Fighter. Former TUF winners Forrest Griffin, Rashad Evans, and Matt Serra have all gone on to become UFC champions, while other winners like Diego Sanchez, Michael Bisping, and Nate Diaz have become legitimate contenders, at some point, in their weight classes. Not to say that non-winners haven't done well, considering the success that guys like Josh Koscheck and Kenny Florian have had. It's not that surprising given the show's format, where the contestants directly compete against each other, so it's all the more likely the stronger, more talented fighter would end up winning.
    • However, this was played straight in the female fighting ranks. Ronda Rousey, who was heavily promoted for her ability to end fights with a submission hold during the opening seconds of the first round and being undefeated, suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of Holly Holm who was her biggest test. Despite the defeat and the huge Hype Backlash from fans, the media doubled down in promoting Rousey, by putting her in movies, on the cover of popular magazines, high profile television interviews, etc., while Holly Holm quickly faded into the background with the media treating her win over Rousey like a fluke, because of the upcoming mandatory rematch.
  • America's Got Talent incidents:
    • While Jackie Evancho came second on, she is the one performing with the big singers and orchestras, and she is the one with bestselling albums, while the first-place contestant is not remembered. It became cemented a year later when Michael Grimm, the guy who beat Jackie, performed in the results show of the Top 10 episode while Jackie performed in the finale special. It also may have been planned: AGT producers may have been leery of having an 8-year-old girl headlining a show in Las Vegas.
    • This pretty much happened to all the winners except for Terry Fator, who has his own Vegas show. Acts like Nuttin' But Stringz, Recylced Percussion, and Fighting Gravity have done better than the winners of their seasons.
    • The judges on this same season told Lindsey Stirling she'd never sell as a "Hip Hop Violinist", that she needed a band to work with, and that she just wasn't good enough to fly through the air playing the violin. She's now gone on two tours and has surpassed Lindsay Lohan in YouTube search popularity, she does not work with a band in most of her music videos, and in her "Mission Impossible" collaboration, she imitated the "Mission: Impossible" Cable Drop whilst playing.
  • Rachel Tucker finished fourth on the Andrew Lloyd Webber talent search show 'I'd Do Anything', however unlike the winner who has virtually disappeared, Rachel went from strength to strength playing Meat in We Will Rock You, and played Elphaba in the West End production of Wicked for over two years. She ended her run as the West End's longest-running Elphaba and a fan favorite.
    • Samantha Barks finished third. She went on to play Eponine at the Queen's Theatre, sing the role at the 25th Anniversary Concert at the O2, and played the same in the 2012 film version. Not too shabby.
    • And fulfilling the trope to the letter, runner-up Jessie Buckley went to RADA, made quite the splash at the Royal Shakespeare Company and broke into television with glowing reviews for her role as Princess Marya Bolkonskaya in the BBC's 2016 adaptation of literary classic War and Peace.
  • This trope is older than Reality TV. In 1986, Halle Berry was Miss Ohio in the Miss USA pageant, but came in second place for the main title. Obviously, she has since gone on to become an Oscar-winning actress.
  • On a similar note, the winner of the inaugural Elite Model Management Look of the Year contest in 1983 was a 15-year-old called Lisa Hollenbeck. Among the losers that year were Cindy Crawford and Stephanie Seymour, who've probably gotten over their disappointment by now.
  • CMT's Can You Duet (a two-season show that formed new musical duos) zig-zagged this trope:
    • Season 1 winners Caitlin & Will broke up after only one single, while third-placers Joey + Rory (Rory Lee Feek and his wife, Joey Martin Feek) recorded eight albums and amassed a sizable fanbase with almost no help from country radio, helped in no small part by Rory's name recognition as a songwriter and producer. They continued to record until Joey died of cervical cancer in March 2016. Even fourth-placers Kate & Kacey were more successful, releasing three albums and co-writing a George Strait album track.
    • Season 2 winners Steel Magnolia were One Hit Wonders with "Keep On Lovin' You" and had a semi-successful debut album, but they broke up in 2012. Fifth-place O'Shea already had a following and some awards in their native Australia. The Stellas went on to have a few hits in their native Canada, and their daughters Lennon and Maisy, in addition to being regulars on the show Nashville, have gotten something of a cult following in Switzerland after a song of theirs was used in a commercial.
  • Nashville Star (2003-08) zig-zagged this trope, with some seasons producing famous people only among the runners-up, and some seasons producing nobody of note at all, winning or losing:
    • Season 1 winner Buddy Jewell was a Two-Hit Wonder with the smashes "Help Pour Out the Rain" and "Sweet Southern Comfort", but his second album bombed and he was never heard from again. Miranda Lambert had an extremely slow start, with no major hits off either of her first two albums between 2005-08, but finally had her Breakthrough Hit in 2009 with "White Liar" and has since become one of the most popular female acts in Nashville in The New Tens.
    • Season 2 was a wash, at least stateside: winner Brad Cotter had no success whatsoever with his debut album (even though the lead single "I Meant To" briefly held the record for the highest debuting single by a new act on the country charts {later bested by Lambert, above}, it stalled at #35). Runner-up George Canyon went nowhere in the US, but remains fairly popular in his native Canada.
    • Season 3: Also a wash, as winner Erika Jo's album went nowhere, and runner-up Jason Meadows's success with his lone single "18 Video Tapes" was limited to small-market stations at best. Fourth-placer Lance Miller has written a few hit singles for other people, though.
    • Season 4: Also looked to be a wash at first, as winner Chris Young's debut album was a flop; however, he scored a Breakthrough Hit with "Gettin' You Home (The Black Dress Song)" from his second album and has been a consistent hit-maker since. Fourth-placer Matt Mason later won the only season of CMT's short-lived CMT's Next Superstar, but his win seems to have been for naught.
    • Season 5: Perhaps the biggest example yet, as winner Angela Hacker never released anything other than an album of demos that she cut while she was still on the show, and a couple guest appearances on Cowboy Troy albums. She's such a nobody that she doesn't even have a Wikipedia article. Meanwhile, fifth-placer Whitney Duncan managed to get a full album out (although she had an Early-Bird Cameo on a Kenny Rogers song back in 2004), and seventh-placer Kacey Musgraves has become a popular artist in The New Tens despite minimal airplay.
    • Season 6: Also a wash. Winner Melissa Lawson only put out one single that never made it to an album; fourth-placer Coffey Anderson did a few independent Christian albums; and seventh-placer Justin Gaston switched to acting.
  • For a while, Canadian Idol Season 5 winner Brian Melo had the best career of the singers that season, if only because his winner's single hit #11 on the Canadian Hot 100. A few of the winners such as Ryan Malcolm and Kalan Porter had number one hits on the old Canadian charts, but that chart used the outdated method of counting only single sales (for example, Elton John's "Candle in the Wind" remake stayed in the top 20 for over three years!). Four years later, third-placer and then two-hit wonder Carly Rae Jepsen releases the single "Call Me Maybe," which not only became the show's first top 10 hit, but also reached number-one. But that was only just the beginning. Shortly after the song reached the top, Justin Bieber tweeted that he was a fan of the song and made a video of it with his friends. With million of people hearing about Carly for the first time ever, her song proceeded to top over ten other national charts including the Hot 100 in the United States, and become a full-fledged meme, especially after a Barack Obama-inspired parody was released. Jepsen remains the only Canadian Idol contestant to be famous outside of Canada.
    • Three years earlier, Jacob Hoggard places third behind Kalan Porter and Theresa Sokyrka. Jacob's band, Hedley, has since gone on to chart more singles and albums than any other acts associated with Canadian Idol. (In Canada, that is. As mentioned above, most non-Canadians have only heard of Jepsen.) They even cracked the US Modern Rock charts once.
    • According to That Other Wiki, both Melo and runner-up Jaydee Bixby have sold more albums tham Jepsen, but it is a totally different story for singles success.
  • A downplayed example from Masterchef Australia. Season 7 winner Billie isn't doing bad, having earned herself a respectable career in the cooking industry as a new member of Heston Blumenthal's "The Fat Duck". But the one who got the most out of the show is probably 4th place Reynold. Hailed as the "Dessert King" of the show, he proved to be one of the most popular contestants the series has to offer; and after getting eliminated, he managed to open a successful dessert bar in Sydney. He was brought back in Season 8 to coordinate one of the Pressure Tests, an honour typically reserved for only the best cooks in the country.
  • None of the male winners of Golf Channel's The Big Break have made it to the PGA Tour since their appearance, but quite a few lower finishers have. Several older contestants had already played on the PGA Tour before Big Break; Jeff Mitchell (from BBVI) was for a while the only Big Break player to win a PGA Tour event... the 1980 Phoenix Open. (He was also a co-leader after the 1st round of The Masters that year.) Since then, Tommy Gainey, eliminated fifth in Big Break IV, and Matt Every, eliminated second in Big Break VIII, have won on the PGA Tour.
  • Several singers were rejected by American Idol such as Colbie Caillat, Lady Antebellum singer Hilary Scott, and R and B singer Bobby Valentino.
  • It's hard to remember that Christina Grimmie didn't win Season 6 of The Voice considering that she's still popular on YouTube while the two singers that placed above her disappeared as fast as Adam's beard did. Of course the show has yet to see a truly successful winner; Cassadee Pope from Season 3 may be the leading success story, but Melanie Martinez from that same season has also achieved considerable success after her stint on the show.
  • The UK series played the trope disastrously straight in its first season. Leanne Mitchell's 'winners' song didn't make the top 40, and her album, released a year later with almost no promotion, failed to even make the top 100. Runners up Bo Bruce and Tyler James never made it onto the wider stage, but at least their albums didn't fare this badly.
    • The second series both averted and played straight the trope. Mentor Will.I.am put everything on his protégée Leah McFall winning, but it was instead won by Andrea Begley. Begley was the first UK voice alum whose album charted in the top 10, but McFall has been better known, and Will has kept faith in her.
  • Star Search had one in 1985 Jr. Female Vocalist runner-up Tiffany Renee, who dropped the "Renee" and became the first SS alum to land a #1 hit. Meanwhile, the girl who defeated her, Melissa Moultrie, had an appearance on the '80s version of The Twilight Zone... and that's pretty much it.
  • On Last Comic Standing, the only winner to have a relatively successful career after the show was Josh Blue. Runners up Doug Benson, Ralphie May, Rich Vos, Kathleen Madigan, Gabriel Iglesias, and Amy Schumer are far more popular than the winners of their respective series (May and Vos were 2 and 3 behind season 1 winner Dat Phan. Madigan came in fifth in Season 2, where John Heffron won. Schumer came in fourth and Benson in sixth [although the latter was fairly well-known beforehand] in Season 5 to Jon Reep. Iglesias was also already well known when he competed in Season 4, where he was disqualified for using a cell phone to contact his family).
    • Kathleen Madigan was also an established comedian, having appeared in nationally televised stand-up programs since at least the early 1990s.
  • On RuPaul's Drag Race, simply appearing on the show is enough to grant superstar status in the gay club circuit, since almost every queen gains a following during the course of the season, in addition to whatever fanbase they had prior to entering, and all former contestants go on the Drag Race tour. Actually winning the season is a formality more than anything.
  • In September 2012, Matchbox 20 finally scored their first #1 album on the Billboard 200 with North. Debuting one rung below it was Imagine Dragons' Night Visions. The former would go on to become the second lowest-selling #1 album of 2012, while the latter on the other hand would become one of the best selling albums of 2013, and one of a very small number of albums to sell 1 million copies in a declining sales climate. Additionally, North's debut week was the only one in its lifetime in which it sold more copies a week than Night Visions.
  • Big Brother Canada season 1 ended with Jillian winning and Gary Levi placing second. Gary has since gone on to be a huge social media personality, a spokesperson for being yourself across Canada, and co-hosts the second season after-show with Peter Brown (sixth place). Jillian, meanwhile, is rarely heard of and often thought of as the woman who stole Gary's first place prize (one of the jurors accidentally voted for the wrong person, and that one vote decided the game.)
  • In the South Korean professional StarCraft scene, Hong Jin-Ho a.k.a. YellOw is known as the "King of Silver" for repeatedly placing 2nd in tournaments but never managing to win first place in a major tournament. But after retiring from professional StarCraft, he leveraged that reputation and popularity to become a TV star, re-purposing his quick wits as a frequent guest on SNL Korea as well as various game, panel, and variety shows.
  • Anyone remember Little Boots? She was the singer who won BBC's Sound of 2009 poll. She hasn't gone onto much success, but third-placed Florence + the Machine and sixth-placed Lady Gaga become much more successful.
    • Same deal with Michael Kiwanuka, who faded into obscurity after winning the "Sound of 2012" whereas Frank Ocean and Skrillex soared to superstardom in the months that followed.
    • Haim, who won in 2013, hasn't done too badly, but The Weeknd would ultimately eclipse them by 2015.
    • Sam Smith, the 2014 winner, has averted this so far. He is still far and away the most successful act to have been featured that year. This would happen again with 2015 winners Years And Years.
    • The Sound of 2016 poll was won by Jack Garratt, who's obscure compared to second placer Alessia Cara.
  • The Billboard Year-End charts rank the most popular songs of each year for the pop, R&B, and country charts. On a few occasions, the top song of the year has been one that did not reach #1 on the actual chart. Once this happened two consecutive years: Faith Hill's "Breathe" and Lifehouse's "Hanging by a Moment" both only got to #2 on the Hot 100 but were that chart's top songs of 2000 and 2001, respectively.
  • This is also true of the Year-End charts for the Country Music format, which have presented a few oddities:
    • "Friends in Low Places" by Garth Brooks only ranked at #28 for the year, with the top hit of 1990 being the largely-forgotten "Nobody's Home" by Clint Black.
    • Surely the biggest country hit of 1992 was Billy Ray Cyrus's inescapable "Achy Breaky Heart", right? Nope, according to Billboard it was "I Saw the Light" by Wynonna Judd; Billy Ray ranked #2 for the year.
    • 2003 presents a real oddity. The year had multiple long-lasting #1 hits, including "19 Somethin'" by Mark Wills, "Have You Forgotten?" by Darryl Worley, "Beer for My Horses" by Toby Keith and Willie Nelson, and "It's Five O'Clock Somewhere" by Alan Jackson and Jimmy Buffett. So what was the biggest hit? "My Front Porch Looking In" by Lonestar, which barely squeaked in a single week at #1 after "Beer" did. Respectively, "19 Somethin'", "Have You Forgotten?", "Beer for My Horses", and "It's Five O'Clock Somewhere" ranked at #3, #12, #2, and #4.
    • 2010's biggest hit was "Love Like Crazy" by Lee Brice, which only got to #3, and became the first song ever to take the Billboard Year-End honor for country despite not peaking at #1 on the main charts. This is due mainly to "Love Like Crazy" setting a new record for the longest run in the chart's history, as it spent a whopping 56 weeks on the charts.
    • 2012's biggest hit was "Time Is Love" by Josh Turner, which only got to #2, but also benefited from an abnormally long chart run.
    • Brice did it again in 2015 when "Drinking Class" was the top hit of the year despite also only peaking at #2, but also benefited from an abnormally long chart run.
  • At the 1965 Academy Awards, the winner for Best Live-Action Short Subject was Claude Berri's Le Poulet, a 15-minute Deliberately Monochrome short about a family who buys a chicken. While it's a cute movie and there is a decent punchline in there, it's not exactly memorable, and Le Poulet faded into obscurity. One of the losers? Oh, only a cute little Jim Henson movie called Time Piece...
    • This wasn't the last time this would happen to Jim - in 1979, "The Rainbow Connection" from The Muppet Movie lost its Oscar to "It Goes Like It Goes" from Norma Rae. The winning song, while decent, is barely remembered these days, while "Rainbow Connection" has become a modern standard, covered by everyone from the Carpenters to Johnny Mathis to Sarah McLachlan.
  • Canadian reality competition The Next Star has produced these results at least twice. For example, the first season was won by a boy named Dunnery Bond who quickly faded to obscurity after the show. A few years later, sixth-place contestant Alyssa Reid would burst onto the scene with a hit remake of Heart's "Alone," which became an unlikely #2 hit in the U.K. A few years later, Diego Gomes would find himself outperformed by fellow teenage singer Victoria Duffield, who had a hit with "Shut Up and Dance". While neither Alyssa nor Victoria can really be called "superstars," they've certainly done better than the winners.
  • The 1990 Juno Awards (Canada's Grammy equivalent) had Daniel Lanois win the award for Most Promising Male Vocalist. While he's been modestly successful, he didn't get much fame outside of Canada, and he's better known now as a producer than he is as an artist. One of the losers just so happened to be a young Rufus Wainwright. Enough said, really.
    • The 1980 and 1981 awards were won by Walter Rossi and Graham Shaw. Even in Canada these names are very obscure today. But it just so happens that one of the losers both years was some guy named Bryan Adams.
    • In 1979 the award was won by Nick Gilder. Today, Gilder is recalled as a one hit wonder for "Hot Child In The City" but one of the victors was future funk legend Rick James.
    • In 1987 the Most Promising Female award went to the late Rita MacNeil — and beat out an up-and-coming Quebecois vocalist named Céline Dion.
    • Kiesza won in 2015. While she hasn't done too badly, one of the artists she beat out was Shawn Mendes, who has all but eclipsed her in popularity especially outside of Canada.
  • A fictional example in Discworld's Witch Trials. Since witches are almost all terrible losers, the winner can look forward to being vaguely resented for the rest of the year (which is fine because it's always Granny Weatherwax and she doesn't care). Nanny Ogg, as runner-up, gets told it was a good try, and she did really well, and would she like a drink? In "The Sea and Little Fishes", she's very afraid that without Granny entering, and no-one else having their head in the game, she might actually win.
    "She only just lost" was a much better compliment than "she only just won".
  • At the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, the Women's judo 70g tournament was won by Masae Ueno. While most people won't recognize that name, they'll certainly know the athlete who finished in third: Ronda Rousey.
  • During October of 2013, Justin Timberlake's The 20/20 Experience - 2 of 2 debuted at #1 on the Billboard 200 with 350,000 copies sold. At #2 was Drake's Nothing Was the Same, which hit #1 the week prior with sales of 658,000 and second week sales of 148,000. Below both of them was Lorde's debut album Pure Heroine, which stalled at #3 with a debut of only 129,000. Eventually, Pure Heroine became a Sleeper Hit that outsold both albums in the United States and worldwide, reaching double platinum status in the U.S. alone and global sales of nearly three million. Considering that this was a debut album by a teenage girl from New Zealand and they were established superstars, that's impressive.
  • Lana Del Rey taking #1 on the Billboard 200 in June 2014 with Ultraviolence was an impressive accomplishment in its own right, especially given that it ended the long-lasting #1 streak of Linkin Park. But the true Cinderella story of that week was the #2 album, Sam Smith's In The Lonely Hour. In the long run, Del Rey barely made it to gold (and Linkin Park didn't even make it, period), while Smith captured lightning in a bottle on the way to a massive 2 million copies in the U.S. alone. Not bad, considering it was Smith's debut album.
  • Many times, the Grammy for Best New Artist is won by an artist who hasn't done too well in comparison to the runners-up.
    • Famed Broadway star Robert Goulet won the 1963 award. While Goulet had a respectable career, Peter, Paul, and Mary and the Four Seasons have held up better.
    • Averted in 1965, which was won by The Beatles. who by the time of their win already achieved more than their competition ever would combined. Had someone else won and they would today be considered the How Green Was My Valley of the Grammys.
    • Bobbie Gentry won the 1968 award; today, she is only remembered for her sole #1 hit "Ode To Billie Joe" while Jefferson Airplane has had a much longer-lasting influence.
    • José Feliciano, a Puerto Rican rock singer, won the award in 1969. Today, few people would say the award should have gone to anyone other than Cream, while Feliciano is mostly known today for the Christmas classic "Feliz Navidad".
    • Crosby, Stills & Nash won the award in 1970. They're still well regarded today, but not exactly as much as Led Zeppelin.
    • 1971 champions the Carpenters are still a legendary Adult Contemporary act; problem is, they also beat a guy named Elton John.
    • America, the band who won in 1973, have done quite well for themselves. Still, it isn't easy to hold your reputation as Best New Artist when you beat a little band called the Eagles.
    • The Starland Vocal Band of 1977 were a very infamous winner, ended up a One-Hit WonderBoston definitely won in the long run.
    • Debby Boone of 1978 was another one-hit wonder who failed to have the same legacy as, say, Foreigner.
    • A Taste of Honey won in 1979. A two-hit wonder disco band beat out, amongst others, new wave legends The Cars and Elvis Costello and stadium rock icons Toto.
    • Rickie Lee Jones is a cult songwriter who won the award in 1980, but never really made it into the mainstream like the world-renowned Dire Straits — and even then, they don't compare to the impact that a young comedian named Robin Williams made outside the music world.
    • Averted in 1991, when Mariah Carey won the award and would have far more success than any of her competition.
    • Marc Cohn, who won in 1992, hasn't exactly aged as well as Boyz II Men or Seal.
    • Lauryn Hill who won in 1999, vanished about a year later while the Backstreet Boys continued their meteoric rise to stardom.
    • Shelby Lynne, the 2001 champion (despite recording since 1989), faded into nearly complete obscurity after the ceremony, while all four of her opponents have done better than her in the long run. Well, maybe not Sisqo, because his sole #1 single was completely overshadowed by the "Thong Song".
    • 2008 winner Amy Winehouse was the biggest name of the bunch at the time, but she died under tragic circumstances not long after her win with the Dead Artists Are Better trope keeping in the public eye. One of the losers that year was Taylor Swift, who would go on to equal her in popularity during The New Tens.
    • Everyone was shocked when Adele, a little known British singer, came out on top over the heavily favored Jonas Brothers in 2009. Later she would go on to become one of the industry's biggest superstars of all time, and her win today is about as contested as The Beatles' victory in 1965.
    • Jazz bassist Esperanza Spalding beat out Justin Bieber and Drake in 2011. Both Canadian singers would continue to soar while Spalding vanished back into complete obscurity.
    • 2012: While Bon Iver is still well-respected in alternative circles, they're not quite as popular with the general public as Nicki Minaj, Skrillex or even The Band Perry.
    • 2014 winner Macklemore, at the time of his win, was easily the biggest of the five nominees at the time of his win. However, his popularity has waned considerably since then, and Ed Sheeran and Kendrick Lamar became more popular than him.
    • Just about everyone listed on Cracked's 7 Most Unforgivable Grammy Snubs fit this trope, including the previously-mentioned A Taste Of Honey (although only in relation to Costello's snub).
  • The annual Triple J Hottest 100, which lists the biggest alternative/indie songs of the year as voted by the Australian public, has produced these results from time to time, usually showing favoritism for local acts:
    • The top six of the 1997 poll were blink-182's "Dammit", Radiohead's "Paranoid Android", The Verve's "Bitter Sweet Symphony", Chumbawamba's "Tubthumping", blur's "Song 2", and the winner was… "No Aphrodisiac", a song by a not particularly well known Aussie group.
    • Powderfinger nabbed the top spot in 1999 and 2000, beating out the likes of "Praise You", "The Bad Touch", "Guerrilla Radio", "Nookie", and "Scar Tissue" the former year and "Beautiful Day", "Teenage Dirtbag", "Yellow", "Californication", and "Bohemian Like You" the latter.note 
      • Powderfinger's lead singer, Bernard Fanning, topped the 2005 countdown with "Wish You Well". He notably beat out "Feel Good Inc." and "Best of You".
    • The 2006 award wasn't won by Gnarls Barkley's "Crazy" or Snow Patrol's "Chasing Cars", but by the much less known Augie March song "One Crowded Hour".
    • The winner taking it all is actually very rare in the contest - of the 23 annual Hottest 100's that have been held, there have been only eleven cases thus far where the winning song didn't fade into obscurity: The Cranberries' "Zombie" in 1994, Oasis' "Wonderwall" in 1995, The Offspring's "Pretty Fly (For a White Guy)" in 1998, Queens of the Stone Age's "No One Knows" in 2002, Jet's "Are You Gonna Be My Girl" in 2003, Franz Ferdinand's "Take Me Out" in 2004, Muse's "Knights of Cydonia" in 2006note , Kings of Leon's "Sex on Fire" in 2008, Mumford and Sons' "Little Lion Man" in 2009, Gotye's "Somebody That I Used to Know" in 2011 and Macklemore's "Thrift Shop" in 2012. "Riptide" would be listed here since it also crossed over to the US charts but as noted below, it was nowhere near as big as the second and third-placed songs and also tends to be overshadowed by the fourth placed song.
    • The 2013 contest: In fourth place was the Arctic Monkeys' career-defining garage rock anthem "Do I Wanna Know?"; in third place was Daft Punk's Grammy-winning comeback smash "Get Lucky"; in second place was Lorde's "Royals", a song that launched one of the most unlikely success stories of the 2010s. And the winner? "Riptide" by Vance Joy, a folk-rock song by a completely unknown singer-songwriter. While it became a bigger success later in the year it's still not enough to overtake any of the former three songs.
    • Chet Faker's "Talk Is Cheap" came out victorious in 2014. It hasn't done as well as Milky Chance's third-place European smash hit "Stolen Dance" and Sia's unlikely ninth-placed hit "Chandelier". And all of those are barely a blip on the radar compared to the song that ended up in sixth-place: Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars' decade-defining megahit "Uptown Funk!"
    • 2015 was won by another little-heard Aussie jam: "Hoops" by the Reubens, with high favorite "King Kunta" by Kendrick Lamar at #2. However, neither was as big as the third-placed song: Major Lazer, DJ Snake and MØ's "Lean On". In addition, a few other global hits were found scattered around the list, such as Drake's "Hotline Bling" and Macklemore's "Downtown".
    • Denis Leary won the very first annual Hottest 100 in 1993. While he's still well-respected as an actor today, his winning song "Asshole" has fallen into obscurity, while 2nd-placed "Creep" by Radiohead, 3rd-placed "Linger" by The Cranberries and 4th-placed "No Rain" by Blind Melon have all fared much better.
  • The biggest new opening of the February 19-21, 1999 box office was October Sky, a film about the space race. Another, much more iconic film with the same initials was the week's second biggest new film — OfficeSpace.
  • The 1967 Grammy for Best Rock Song had not one but five all-time classic songs on their list: "Eleanor Rigby" by The Beatles, "Last Train to Clarksville" by The Monkees, "Cherish" by The Association, "Monday Monday" by The Mamas & the Papas, and "Good Vibrations" by The Beach Boys. A sixth nominee, "Winchester Cathedral" by the New Vaudeville Band didn't even sound like a rock song (it was more of a Retrauxy 20's swing song) and it still came out on top, though its win seems to be for naught.
  • On several occasions in the race for the Christmas Number One position on the British charts, the Christmas Number Two song has a longer shelf life among listeners. Two notable cases are John Lennon's "(Just Like) Starting Over" and Mariah Carey's "All I Want For Christmas Is You", which are still heard today but lost the Christmas slot to St. Winnifred's School Choir's "There's No One Quite Like Grandma" and East 17's "Stay Another Day" respectively. More here.
  • The BRIT award for British Breakthrough act:
    • In 1990 it was won by Lisa Stansfield, who had the most commercial success in the U.S., but ultimately has barely made any impact in music compared to The Stone Roses.
    • 1991 was won by the long forgotten Betty Boo. Compare her success to the likes of Happy Mondays and The Charlatans.
    • 1992 winner Beverly Craven. She's essentially a one hit wonder, and hardly anything compared to Seal.
    • 1993 may be the most infamous example in British history. It was won by Tasmin Archer, a singer who faded into almost complete obscurity after her hit "Sleeping Satellite". One of the acts she beat? Take That.
    • 1994 winner Gabrielle was no Jamiroquai.
    • 1997's winner was Kula Shaker, who beat the Spice Girls. Enough said, really.
    • 2001 was won by long forgotten boy band A1. One of the acts they beat would go on to become one of the biggest bands of the new millennium. Their name was Coldplay.
    • Arctic Monkeys, who won in 2006, were initially overshadowed by James Blunt. However, they later turned it around and are far more respected than Blunt ever was, scoring two #1 singles in their native UK.
    • The Fratellis (2007) haven't done too badly, but Lily Allen is more known than they are. Unless you're a fan of the Chicago Blackhawks.note 
    • Adele lost to Duffy in 2009. She would later eclipse her in popularity.
    • Although JLS, who won in 2010, were very popular at the time of their victory, they faded into complete obscurity only a few years later and Florence + the Machine won in the long run.
    • Tinie Tempah won in 2011 — today he is all but forgotten even in the U.K. while Ellie Goulding and Mumford & Sons were the big winners.
  • MTV Video Music Award for Best New Artist
    • It's easier to list the total aversions, where the winning artist had the most success, and their song is a classic: 1988 (Guns N' Roses with "Welcome to the Jungle"), 1992 (Nirvana with "Smells like Teen Spirit"), 1993 (Stone Temple Pilots with "Plush"), 1996 (Alanis Morissette with "Ironic"), 1999 (Eminem with "My Name Is"), 2001 (Alicia Keys with "Fallin'"; Coldplay is the only nominee that can compete with her), 2002 (Avril Lavigne with "Complicated"), 2004 (Maroon 5 with "This Love"; although it's a close call with Kanye West), 2005 (The Killers with "Mr. Brightside"), 2009 (Lady Gaga with "Poker Face"; another close one with Drake), 2010 (Justin Bieber with "Baby") and 2012 (One Direction with "What Makes You Beautiful").
    • The first winner was Eurythmics in 1984 with the iconic "Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)". One of the artists they beat was none other than the queen of pop herself, Madonna, as well as two Cyndi Lauper classics ("Time After Time" and "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun").
    • 'Til Tuesday won in 1985 with "Voices Carry". Lead singer Aimee Mann became an Oscar-nominated singer-songwriter, but solo or not her commercial success is barely a blip compared to Sade, whose "Smooth Operator" was also nominated that year.
    • a-ha won in 1986 for "Take on Me". It's certainly one of the 80's most iconic tracks, but a-ha never had much success Stateside. Whitney Houston was the clear winner in the long term.
    • Living Colour beat out Paula Abdul in 1989, although their winning song "Cult of Personality" is, like "Take on Me", probably the best remembered song.
    • 1990 winner Michael Penn didn't have a very long career, choosing to marry the lead singer of '85 winners 'Til Tuesday, and largely faded into the shadows of The Black Crowes and Lenny Kravitz (although neither with their more well-known songs). "Black Velvet" is the best remembered song of the bunch.
    • Jesus Jones won in 1991. Seal was the only one who is remembered as anything more than a one-hit wonder (although Deee-Lite was the only actual one-hit wonder there).
    • Counting Crows won in 1994. While still well-respected, they aren't nearly as iconic as Beck or Green Day.
    • Hootie & the Blowfish won in 1995, so they're an aversion. However, their legacy hasn't aged quite as well as that of, say, Jeff Buckley. And their lead singer Darius Rucker has largely left the rock genre, establishing a quite successful career as a solo country artist.
    • Fiona Apple in 1997 is a weird case. Her winning song "Sleep to Dream" is the least known of the five nominees, but she herself is probably the best known of them all.
    • Macy Gray beat out Christina Aguilera, Papa Roach, P!nk, and Sisqo. Of those, only Sisqo was more quickly forgotten than Gray.
    • 50 Cent's "In da Club" was 2003's victor. While it's easily one of the most iconic songs of the new millennium, his career hasn't aged nearly as well as Kelly Clarkson. Interestingly, Clarkson's nominated song, "Miss Independent" is seen as one of her lesser-known hits. The biggest song that can compete fame-wise to "In da Club" is "Bring Me to Life".
    • Avenged Sevenfold are easily one of the biggest metal bands of the new millennium, but one of the artists they beat out for the 2006 prize was Rihanna.
    • Gym Class Heroes, 2007's winners, have had their fair share of success, but they're barely a blip compared to female icons Carrie Underwood and Amy Winehouse.
    • Miley Cyrus, Katy Perry, Taylor Swift, and Jordin Sparks were beat in 2008 by Tokio Hotel. However, Tokio faded into obscurity shortly afterwards and the former three became pop megastars.
    • Tyler The Creator, who won in 2011, is a popular underground rapper, but his success isn't nearly as great as Wiz Khalifa.
    • One Direction, who won in 2012, are an aversion, as they are by far the most successful of the nominees. However, their winning song "What Makes You Beautiful" isn't quite as iconic as Carly Rae Jepsen's "Call Me Maybe".
    • Austin Mahone, who won in 2013, was a fairly popular teen idol, but his career was held back by the continued popularity of One Direction. Thus, his career quickly fizzled out, and he himself faded into obscurity. His opponents included Iggy Azalea, Twenty One Pilots, The Weeknd, and Zedd, all of whom had considerably more success than him.
    • Fifth Harmony beat out 5 Seconds of Summer in 2014. At first, this was seen as an upset as 5SOS was easily the bigger name at the time. Most people were expecting the latter to win easily. However, as time went on, 5SOS's popularity waned and 5H proved to be the more successful act. Overall, it's played perfectly straight, as Sam Smith remains the biggest name of the bunch.
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