Guess what she looks like under those bandages. note She's human, but everyone else has pig snouts.
The resolution of a plot (usually but not always for a Speculative Fiction story) by the sudden revelation of some important detail which has been deliberately hidden from the viewer. Unlike most twists, however, this detail is known to all characters, and is often something that they would consider an obvious and mundane detail. Often, had this detail been made known at the beginning of the story, much of the dramatic tension would have been missing.
Note that withholding important details from the audience is not, in itself, anything special: think of all the murder mysteries that don't immediately reveal the very important detail of who did the murder, or all the surprising twists and turns where characters learn shocking truths about themselves and their world. The Tomato Surprise, however, is only a surprise due to the narration withholding information that the reader might reasonably have expected to have been told up-front, like "the story is not, as you probably assumed, set on Earth" or "the protagonist is not, as you probably assumed, a human being".
The Reveal in a Tomato Surprise tends to be different from other types of twist. Since it is revealing to the audience something the characters already know, it often is not tied to any dramatic development in the story, and often simply consists of the camera showing us something that was previously obscured, or the narrator "casually" naming a character or setting that was previously not identified.
In skilled hands, a Tomato Surprise can make for a stunning ending with a powerful impact. Unfortunately, in the hands of a hack or novice writer, it will almost always come off as a cheat or an Ass Pull.
While this trope is often used for dramatic effect, it can also be used — especially in Science Fiction — to illustrate a moral or ethical situation in such a way as to invoke a different set of prejudices. Once the viewer has fully understood the dilemma as it applies in their assumed environment, the author reveals that the assumption is false and that the circumstances are different, leaving the viewer to reconcile new conclusions with old prejudices. For example, a story might describe the difficulties faced by society before finally revealing that the character is a visible minority, thus hopefully forcing a bigot who sympathized with the character to reconsider their position.
The trope name comes from a set of writer's guidelines distributed circa 1980 by Asimov's magazine, written by its then-editor, George Scithers. The guidelines named the trope and gave as one of the examples hiding the fact that the hero is, in fact, a tomato.
This trope can be considered a form of Unreliable Narrator, though generally the narration doesn't actually lie, merely strategically omits key details.
See Earth All Along, The All-Concealing I, Narrator All Along, and The Ending Changes Everything. Related to Karmic Twist Ending and Cruel Twist Ending. The opposite of this trope is Dramatic Irony, when the audience knows something that the characters don't know.
If the twist comes as a surprise to any characters, it is not an example of this trope. Contrast Tomato Surprise with Tomato in the Mirror, in which the protagonist (rather than just the audience) learns a surprising fact that causes everything that came before to be reevaluated. If the twist comes as a surprise to the protagonists, it is probably a Tomato in the Mirror rather than a Tomato Surprise.
Brace for SPOILERS...from your point of view, of course.
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A commercial for Mercury showed a man driving a new Montego down the same street three times. Each time, subtitles reveal that the weatherman predicted a different weather pattern than what actually happens. (First, rain instead of sun. Then, sun instead of rain. Finally, snow instead of record highs.) The subtitles reveal that fortunately, he has all wheel drive. Unfortunately, he's the weatherman.
A new advert in the UK for Robinsons' Juice has two boys playing together outside, teasing each other about girls, drinking the orange juice and watching a film together at home. The first boy falls asleep on the couch, and the second boy takes off his shoes for him, carries him upstairs and puts him into bed. As the second boy walks out, he pauses at the door and the first boy sleepily says "Night, Dad." We see the 'second boy' at the door again, now grown-up as his Dad. As the text says at the end "It's Good To Be A Dad, It's Better To Be A Friend."
A commercial for Subaru ("The Date") shows a man and a woman driving around the countryside in their car, apparently on a date or a husband and wife outing. They stop for lunch and have some fun at a roadside market. At the end, the man drops off the woman at the side of the road next to a pickup truck. She then takes a gas can out of the trunk revealing she was just a stranded motorist he stopped to help.
Anime & Manga
ef - a tale of memories - Pulled an awesome example, revealed in the second season of the anime (first episode_. Revealed at the very end of the game). Hiro, Miyako, and Yuuko are not in the same city as Renji, Chihiro, and Yuu. The two cities are both named Otowa, both have churches and schools. But one is located in Japan, the other is located in Australia.
Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 does this. After Mirai and Yuki finally make it home, we find out that Yuki died a few episodes earlier, and is actually a ghost/hallucination.
Sola - The whole cast doesn't seem quite right from the beginning.
Pulled not once, but three times in Durarara!!, each time proving our Ordinary High-School Student protagonists to be not quite so ordinary: first, shy, naive Mikado turns out to be the founder and leader of the Dollars, then Shrinking Violet Anri is not only in possession of the original Saika, but she's been keeping it under control for the past five years, and then easy-going, bad-joke-cracking Masaomi is the ex-general of the Yellow Scarves. Whew!
Made even better when you watch the anime back through again, and realize that all the clues are there for you to figure it out yourself.
Another - The fact that his aunt Reiko and his assistant homeroom teacher Ms. Mikami are the same person is not a secret to the protagonist Kouichi, but the anime hides it from the audience until the final episode, making it harder to connect the dots leading to the identity of the Dead All Along person in his homeroom class.
This page showcases some particularly clumsy Tomato Surprises from old comics.
The Warhammer 40,000 comic Damnation Crusade tells the story of three different Black Templar Space Marines: A neophyte, a battle brother, and a Dreadnought. In the very end, it is revealed that all three were in fact the same person, during different stages of his life.
In Enigma, a story about a superhuman who patterns his life after a comic book superhero in an attempt to give his life meaning, the hilarious yet bitterly sardonic narrator is revealed in the end to be a lizard whom Enigma grants sentience to, trying to explain the whole story to a bunch of ordinary lizards. Enigma was making a point about how he felt, living as a superhuman in a world of ordinary humans.
A famous fight over censorship erupted around Judgment Day, a story in EC Comics' Weird Science title. In the story, an astronaut from Earth visits an alien planet populated by robots to judge whether it was ready to be accepted into the wonders and greatness of Earth. He rejects this the world when he realizes that the Orange robots live in a place of comfort and superiority, while Blue Robots live in inferior conditions, are basically kept as slave labor, and have no rights, though they supposedly 'are equal'. The astronaut promises to return when the robots learn to abolish this method. In the final panel the astronaut removes his helmet for the first time, with the shocking reveal that he was black.
Another EC example was a story from Weird Science about a man who worked as a dishwasher in some rundown desert diner. The man recounts how he always wanted to be an astronaut, venturing into space and living on another planet, but things like marriage and providing for his family came first and now he was too old to live such an exciting life. Turns out the whole story took place on Mars, where he was born and lived his entire life. The grass is always greener indeed.
The Touhou fan comic "The End of the Maiden's Illusion" concerns Reimu's death (of old age) and then segues into a reflective, long and sad conversation between her and Komachi. But scroll down the last strip and BAM! Turns out the entire thing was an Oscar Bait screenplay by Nitori.
A Sonic the Hedgehog fanfic, Blast to the Past makes this interesting. Taken as a reference from the comics, Sonic and Eggman were once friends. But then a terrible accident happens to one of then-benevolent Eggman's machines. Sonic tried to stop it but clumsily pulled out the plug by tripping, and things got worse from there. The good doctor tried to see if his young ward was alright, but trips on his foot and crashes into the machine, causing a devastating explosion. When the flames subsided, the now evil Mad Scientist we all love to hate was born and immediately blamed Sonic for his transformation. Sonic also blames himself for his friend's Face-Heel Turn, say that it was his fault that Eggman is trying to rule the world. But as story progressed, it turns out that the real culprit was Princess Elise, along with Silver and Blaze, who had gone back in time to turn Eggman evil on purpose. It's not what it looks like, though...
The Danny Phantom fanfiction "Smokescreen begins with Danny waking up after a fight. He's pretty disoriented afterwards, and as time passes, he has more and more trouble with memory gaps and his powers going berserk. Eventually it is revealed that he isn't Danny at all; he's D-17—one of Vlad's many experimental Danny-clones! Paranoia Fuel indeed; as the fanfic recommendation page says, "Who's to say that you aren't you, but somebody else? "
The Fan VidHaloid, featuring a certain pair of armored badasses (Samus and Master Chief) taking on both the Covenant and each other, with plenty of sexual tension to go around, only to reveal at the very end that The Spartan-II wasn't Master Chief, but rather Nicole, the guest fighter from Dead or Alive 4. This, of course, mirrors the more well-known Tomato Surprise that Samus Is a Girl. This does not defuse the sexual tension. Quite the opposite.
In Ben X, Ben's online girlfriend Scarlite actually left the train station without recognizing him; the version of her that kept him from killing himself and helped him develop his plan was a hallucination.
Identity, starring John Cusack. The main characters are all the selves of a man with multiple personalities, one of whom is a Serial Killer and most of the movie takes place within his mind/a hallucination. The legal men are trying to determine the insane Malcolm Rivers' case.
In Cypher, the protagonist Morgan Sullivan is in fact the legendary spy Sebastian Rooks, which Rita Foster knew all along because she helped him plan the whole thing.
Last Train to Freo's drama is drawn from the fact that not all the characters are strangers to each other and it's no coincidence that they're all in the same train car. There are two major Tomato Surprises. First, Simon and Lisa are not strangers, but are in fact a couple. They boarded the train separately in order to set up and kill The Tall Thug, who attacked Simon's brother and caused him brain damage. Second, The Tall Thug and Simon's brother were closeted lovers. The Tall Thug attacked Simon's brother during an argument; The Tall Thug wanted to come out, but his lover didn't. The Tall Thug got a short prison term after concocting a completely different story which Simon didn't contradict in court out of shame over his brother's sexual orientation.
At the end of Maverick the showdown between Brett and Cooper is resolved when the two stop pretending to not know each other and act as father and son.
In the horror anthology film Body Bags, John Carpenter's character the Coroner, who hosts the wraparound segments, initially seems to be just an intensely weird mortician. There are several hints dropped throughout his parts, including his consumption of the lethal chemical formaldehyde and his lifeless, pale skin, but it isn't revealed until the very end that he's actually another corpse who assumed the role of the real morticians.
Comedian Emo Philips' "cellar door" joke, which usually goes something like this:
When I was small, my mother warned me every day never to open the cellar door. She said that horrible, unspeakable things would happen to me if I ever opened the cellar door. I was frightened, but I still so desperately wanted to know what was behind the cellar door. So one day when my mother was away, I summoned up all my courage and opened the cellar door … and you'll never believe the things I saw! Flowers! Trees! Other children!
The Agatha Christie novel The Murder of Roger Ackroyd is a Murder Mystery with a Tomato Surprise ending. Some readers might find this clever, others might feel cheated — there was a long and difficult debate about it in the pages of the London Times Literary Supplement the year it was published, difficult thanks to the debaters' desire to avoid spoilers.
Endless Night is another Christie example, and a particularly striking one.
The Neil Gaiman short story "Murder Mysteries" features as the main character an archangel, created by God to serve as the living embodiment of the Vengeance of the Lord, who is tasked by God to solve the murder of another angel. Although it's never explicitly stated, we learn that the person the Angel was telling his story to is a murderer himself, and the Angel was there to exact his vengeance upon him. Gaiman comments in the notes that there's even a clue in the title of the story - i.e. that the murder in the Angel's story wasn't the only one.
Another Neil Gaiman story, "A Study in Emerald", is a crossover between the Sherlock Holmes and Cthulhu Mythos universes. It's a re-telling of A Study in Scarlet, except the blood around the room is green. A familiarity with both Conan Doyle's and H.P. Lovecraft's works is preferable before reading this story. In the end, we find that the narrator is Major (not Colonel) Sebastian Moran, and the detective with whom he is sharing rooms is Moriarty. The two murderers- referred to by Moriarty as "The Tall Man" and "Limping Doctor"- are Holmes and Watson.
Another Neil Gaiman short story "Snow, Glass, Apples" retells a well-known story from a completely different point of view. We see a beautiful, wise magical queen who has married the King. The King dies from a mysterious wasting illness, and she rules the kingdom well for some time, until she is dethroned. As she lays waiting for her fiery death, we find the well known story is Snow White, as revealed in the last line.
Novelist Alistair MacLean had a variation on this where the narrator would simply omit to mention certain essential pieces of Back Story. Done most effectively in Fear Is The Key, in which the narrator, having shot his way out of his own murder trial, taken a hostage, and led a high-speed car chase all over the countryside, reveals that it's all been a show put on for the hostage's benefit.
Many science fiction and fantasy novels use this strategy. A particularly good example is Emma Bull's Bone Dance, in which a vital fact about the protagonist is very cleverly concealed from the reader.
Let the Right One In manages a similar thing as the above example until the reveal, despite being written in a third person POV! While Oskar refers to Eli as "she", whenever the POV switches to Eli, or Håkan who knows about Eli's actual gender, the book completely avoids gender pronouns. Sadly this doesn't carry over to the English translation.
In Sheri S. Tepper's novel The Family Tree, the story is told from two disconnected points of view through most of the novel, until it is revealed when the two groups meet that the second set of characters are all talking animals. Then shortly thereafter we find out that the talking animals' dumb beasts of burden are actually human beings.
One of Robert Sheckley's short stories appears to show two men high on drugs beginning to hallucinate that they are insects... ...when they really are insects, who have just come down off a really intense LSD peak during which they hallucinated that they were primates.
Similar is a short story by Julio Cortázar, "The Flip Side of Night", in which a man suffers a motorcycle accident and begins having hallucinations that he is an ancient Mesoamerican warrior about to be sacrificed by the Aztecs. The resolution is much the same: it ends with an Aztec priest cutting his heart out, as he hallucinates about a strange world far in the future.
Bruce Coville's Unicorn Chronicles, where it turns out that the Hunter clan includes everyone who has Hunter as a last name, including the heroine, a previous victim of Only One Name whose last name is now conveniently revealed.
A Len Deighton short story in the Declarations Of War anthology ends with the revelation that it is not in fact set in the future, but during Roman times.
An old science fiction story featured a group of aliens who intend to take over earth. They can take the form of any living thing, so they figure that infiltrating society will be easy. They land and take the form of the first humans they see. Then they walk into town, fully expecting to blend into the populace, but are instead immediately arrested. Turns out they landed next to a nudist colony.
In My Best Friend Is Invisible, Sammy ends up with an invisible friend named Brent. The twist is that Brent turns out be a human, while Sammy turns out to be a member of an alien species. The story apparently occurs in a time where humans are considered to be an "endangered species". The Tv episode reveals that this is the future where aliens have taken over the world, and they gang up on Brent.
A notable example in Attack Of The Jack-O'Lanterns. The main character notes in the beginning that a lot of extremely overweight people have gone missing. Then he and his friend join the school bullies to go trick or treating. They meet up with some friends wearing pumpkin heads who convince them to take a different route that will lead them to the biggest candy haul ever and they give them pillowcases to carry the candy in. The people at the houses on this street are all wearing pumpkin heads and giving out enough candy to fill the bags. The kids want to go home but the Pumpkin-headed friends start breathing fire and threatening the kids into eating all of the candy, telling them that they'll be sent back to eat more and more. Instead, on the second trip into the forest, the bullies run off, weaving through the trees. The Pumpkin-head friends then reveal themselves to be alien kids who have befriended the main characters. But then the Pumpkin-Heads reveal that they actually do eat people, but they only eat really fat humans, and the kids are nowhere near fat enough. Yet.
In Welcome to Camp Nightmare, which inspired the first episode of the TV series, the weird conspiracy at the summer camp was actually a test to see how the main character handled such things: after all, if he's selected, he's going to the highly dangerous planet Earth, and as Humans Are the Real Monsters, he must be ready for anything.
One short story features a group of kids who believe that a new girl is a vampire. Turns out, she's the only one who isn't one.
In another short story, the protagonist meets a new friend who is enthusiastic about bats because her parents are bat scientists. We ultimately find out they're scientists who ARE giant bats - complete with lab coats!
In another short story, the main characters notice that a new girl keeps herself isolated, handles strange tools they have never seen before and seems to live in a tent. The naarator finally finds a perfectly logical explanation for this: She is not an orangutan.
One non-Goosebumps related short story, "Joe Is Not a Monster", describes a boy named Joe whom everyone he meets is terrified of. The narrator insists constantly that Joe is NOT a monster, but a good kid who would never hurt a fly and is devastated by everyone's fear of him. How does the narrator know all of this? Simple: He is Joe's second head.
There's a short science fiction story by Walt Sheldon called The Hunters in which the world is being invaded by your typical merciless alien invaders who mass murder people and destroy civilization entirely. At the end of the story it is revealed that the "aliens" are humans.
There's an Ursula K. Le Guin short story called "The Wife's Story", which at first looks like a standard werewolf story but is not. The narrator's husband is a werewolf; but the narrator herself is a wolf, appalled when her husband horrifyingly turns into a human.
In The Five Red Herrings, Dorothy L Sayers explicitly says she's omitting the identity of a crucial object from the crime scene, as "an intelligent reader ought to be able to figure it out".
The great Robert Bloch's short story "The Yougoslaves" (sic) used this: the narrator has thus far seemed to be a perfectly normal, though insanely determined old man. Then he survives what should be lethal wounds, and it's ultimately revealed that he's a vampire.
In the 13th book of Erin Hunter's Warrior Cats series, The Sight, it took until the end of the 2nd chapter or so to find out that a new main character, Jaykit, was blind.
This was especially clever because those chapters are told from his point of view, and the narration never actually makes mention of what anything looks like. Most readers don't notice this the first time.
Thomas Ligotti's "Notes on the Writing of Horror" is a short story in essay format. It starts as a famous horror writer demonstrates his technique on a basic plot. Each retelling of the story-within-the-story goes a little more off the rails, perhaps revealing more than the writer means to. By the end, it's clear that the author is: a) a demon; b) insane; c) fucking with the reader; or d) all of the above.
An even more unsettling use of the trope occurs in another short, "Drink to Me Only with Labyrinthine Eyes", in which the protagonist, a powerful hypnotist (and lover of monologue), uses his gifts to turn his long-deceased assistant into an undead puppet, then proceeds to hypnotize an entire dinner party into thinking she is still living and, as she once was, irresistibly beautiful. This descends into full-on horror when it becomes apparent that he set the illusion to lift just after he leaves solely to spite the group for not applauding his best "trick".
Richard's Hannibal Lecture to Frank/"Domino" at the climax of My Work Is Not Yet Done contains several of these, the most important being the fact that Frank isn't actually dead.
One of Isaac Asimov's short stories, "The Segregationist", consists largely of a doctor acting disgusted at how a patient wants robotic organs and ranting about how humans and robots should stick to their own kind. It's not revealed until the very end that the doctor is a robot.
Quite a few of Asimov's short stories end with the revelation that the main characters are the aliens, and the humans are creatures from another planet.
Another short story, "Exile to Hell", deals with a man sent to exile because of some criminal offences. The ending reveals that Humanity lives on the Moon and that the Earth is the place where the worst criminals are banished.
"Youth" is another example.
There's a variant on the Tomato Surprise in the short story "Victory Unintentional." The reader is made perfectly aware that ZZ-1, ZZ-2, and ZZ-3 are robots, but the Jovians they're sent to negotiate a peace treaty with believe they're humans ... and that all humans are as strong and invulnerable as the ZZ robots are, making a peace treaty suddenly seem like a really good idea to them.
Diana Wynne Jones's book Power of Three has a Tomato Surprise revealed halfway in the book - the main characters are small people who live in our world, and the giants they see are ordinary humans.
The novel The Thief combines this with Unreliable Narrator, as for most of the book, the narrator Gen seems to be a classic Street Rat, but he's eventually revealed to be a young aristocrat on an espionage mission to steal back a national treasure.
Actually, the whole series abounds with these. (A hint to fellow tropers: if you ever plan on reading the series—really don't read the spoiler tags!)
The short story Shards is very surreal, and starts with the protagonist awakening in a dark place. Slowly he discovers more about his surroundings, and increasingly weird things begin to happen. It's in first-person and it's clear he's not quite all there, making it difficult for the reader to work out what's really going on around him. The truth is, parts of a human brain - hence the title - have been implanted into a fish in a military experiment. This is why he perceives the world in a weird way and can't seem to interact with anything in the early part of the story - he's in a fishtank, and his brain hasn't yet worked out that he doesn't have hands any more.
Steven Erikson's Malazan series loves these. For example, at the beginning of the second book, Deadhouse Gates, it is revealed that Cotillion and Ammannas were Dancer and Kellanved.
Dean Koontz's novel Lightning. Throughout the story, the reader is led to believe that the totalitarian nation using time travel as a weapon is in the modern day, possibly the Soviet Union. Near the end of the book it's revealed that the nation is actually Nazi Germany just before the end of World War II. They're trying to acquire weapons of mass destruction that will allow them to win the war and change history.
Iain M. Banks's Use of Weapons conceals an amazing Tomato Surprise with its Anachronic Order, as the plot thread going further into the past finally hits a crucial event in the hero's past. Meanwhile, the plot thread working into the future catches up with one of the few characters who knows the twist...
Fredric Brown's short story "The Sentry" is a perfect example of this trope: The story is told from the point of view of an infantry trooper, involved in a war with aliens. After he kills one of these aliens we find out that "Such repulsive creatures they were, with only two arms and two legs, ghastly white skins and no scales." - it turns out out the invading, aggressive horrible aliens are humans, and the sentry isn't.
Another one of Brown's stories, "Preposterous", is about parents who are really upset that their son is reading a sci-fi magazine about preposterous things like intergalactic travel and time machines. Then, the husband leaves the apartment and it turns out that he lives in a world slightly more advanced than can be expected.
In Charles de Lint's The Blue Girl, there are three narrators: Imogene, Maxine, and Adrian. In Adrian's first chapter, he describes the first time he saw Imogene (who he has a crush on). The sentences "She just looked right through me, the way everyone does" and "For all that was special about her, she paid no more attention to me than anyone else did" just seem like a description of a typical teenage social outcast... until we find out that it was meant literally, because Adrian is a ghost.
The children's poem "The New Kid on the Block" by Jack Prelutsky features a litany of abuses perpetratd by a new neighborhood bully. At the very end, it's revealed that the bully is a girl.
A few of the Arsène Lupin stories actually use this. The POV character or a protagonist appears to be some normal, often helpless, man who is embroiled in a conflict between Lupin and whoever opposes him. Then the story reveals that said character is actually Lupin is disguise, keeping tabs on the other side.
Another story ("813") had this used as a Crowning Moment Of Awesome: The chief of the Parisian police is Lupin in a cover ID. He managed to get himself elected for the job so that he'd be in charge of trying to arrest himself.
Below Suspicion by John Dickson Carr has an opening scene from the point of view of a young woman accused of murder. In the narration, the woman desperately thinks to herself that she's not guilty of the crime, and is despairing of anyone believing her. Since this is an internal narrative, the reader can be assured that she is perfectly innocent, and she is. Of the murder she's accused of. She is, in fact, guilty of another murder, and part of her despair is that her perfect alibi for the one she committed has left her open to the accusation of the one she didn't. Gideon Fell, the detective of the story, even lampshades this trope by noting that if anyone had been able to "read the thoughts" of the young woman, they would've seen a completely sincere and truthful plea for her innocence of the murder she didn't commit.
Robert A. Heinlein, "Columbus Was A Dope". Some men are in a bar, discussing the launch of a new space ship. One of the men declares that it's ridiculous for men to go out exploring when everything is fine just the way it is. The title comes from the man saying that Columbus should never have bothered leaving home. The twist comes when it's revealed in the very last sentence of the story that the whole thing has been taking place on a bar on the Moon.
In a more minor case, Starship Troopers reveals on its very final page that "Johnny" Rico is actually Juan Rico, a Filipino. Nowadays, this is no big deal, but at the time the novel was written nearly all heroes in American SF and war fiction were stereotypical square-jawed white men. (Cf. pretty much any movie from the 50s.) The few non-white heroes were usually black. And then the movie went and cast Casper Van Dien to play him.
And in an even more minor case, in The Cat Who Walks Through Walls, it's revealed in a single throwaway line about four-fifths of the way through the book that the protagonist is half black.
Another throwaway line in his book Friday reveals that the main character is Native American in coloration. This didn't stop the publisher from releasing the book (even newer releases) with a white woman on the cover.
Ursula K. Le Guin quite deliberately note "My color scheme was conscious and deliberate from the start. I didn’t see why everybody in science fiction had to be a honky named Bob or Joe or Bill. I didn’t see why everybody in heroic fantasy had to be white." springs this on you in her Earthsea books. She doesn't tell you until midway through the first part of A Wizard of Earthsea that most Archipelagans are red-brown, and that the ones from the East Reach are black. Young black and Hispanic readers report bursting into tears on realizing this. Auntie Ursula had a long, bitter fight with her publisher not to make her hero Ged white on the covers. Then there wasthe TV series.
In L. Sprague De Camp's short story "Hyperpilosity," the narrator tells his friends the story of a sudden epidemic that caused humans to sprout full-body coats of hair or fur, and the efforts of various people to combat it. In the end we learn that those efforts have failed and the whole human race, including the narrator and his friends, has resigned itself to being entirely fur-covered from here on out.
A Jeffry Archer short story compilation, A Twist in the Tale, contains one story where a man accidentally killed his mistress in an outburst after seeing another lover of hers leaving the apartment. He anonymously tips off the police about the other guy, reads in newspapers about his arrest and attends his court case where he sees the circumstantial evidence mount against the guy to the point where it seems impossible that any jury member would believe his innocence. It is only towards the end of the story when we hear the verdict of guilty that we find out the main character is actually the presiding juror in the case.
Another of Archer's stories, "Just Good Friends", seems to be narrated by a woman reminiscencing on her relationship with her boyfriend. At the end it's revealed that the narrator is actually a cat talking about her owner.
Judith Merril's infinitely creepy short story "That Only a Mother". The first half is a series of letters from a young woman to her husband, describing the later stages of her pregnancy and how relieved she is that she's given birth to a normal healthy baby, not deformed by radiation like so many are since the war. But, she realizes/reveals, the baby's better than normal: she's a supergenius, able to speak in sentences before she's six months old! The second part is in narrative: the baby's father comes home and realizes that there's something strange about his daughter — stranger even than his wife has mentioned. Not until the last paragraphs does he realize that his wife is delusional: their daughter is indeed a supergenius, but she's also a deformed mutant with no arms or legs.
In Gene Kemp's children's novel The Turbulent Term of Tyke Tyler, the protagonist is a bold, athletic, rebellious schoolchild. At the end it is revealed that the character is, in fact, female, Tyke being a nickname for Theodora. This is an interesting example of the Tomato Surprise, as the twist ending is intended as a challenge to the reader's preconceptions, rather than turning the entire plot on its head. Compare with the LOST episode "Walkabout" (below).
Both the sequels do something similar. In Gowie Corby Plays Chicken, there's a Framing Story in which Gowie is telling the story to his kids, about his childhood as a school bully, his hatred of a girl called Heather, and how an awkward friendship with an American girl inspired him to change. At the end it's revealed that the previously unnamed wife in the framing story is Heather. (It's also not stated in the text that Rosie is African-American until near the end, but if that's supposed to be a twist, no-one told the cover artist.)
And in Charlie Lewis Plays For Time, the final revelation is that the title character is the school vandal, seeking revenge on the Sadist Teacher who's replaced Cool Teacher Mr Merchant.
The end of the book The Lace Reader reveals that Lindley did not kill herself a few years before the book began. She died at birth. The Unreliable Narrator contributes to us not knowing until the very end that it was really Towner/Sophya who was abused by Cal during childhood. Mae was her aunt all along, not her mother. Lindley/Lindsay was her imaginary best friend, who was also her twin.
One Orson Scott Card short-short story consists of a father telling his children how he and the other leaders of their society used "the Ultimate Weapon" to destroy "the enemy," and though it was a terrible thing to kill the enemy down to the last man (since there could be no defense against the Ultimate Weapon), it was a necessary evil, because otherwise the enemy would have killed all of them instead. Now that the enemy have been defeated, the Ultimate Weapon will never need to be used again. What's the Ultimate Weapon? The bow and arrow, against which there could be no defense when the enemy was armed only with the spear.
Tom Tyron's The Other appears at first to be an Evil Twin horror story with 11-year old Holland, identical brother of Niles, killing various and sundry troublesome folks in bucolic 1935 America. Suffice it to say Holland was dead long before the action of the story takes place.
H. Beam Piper used one of these in "The Return", when the nature of the society is explained with the final reveal of their patron deity: Sherlock Holmes.
Although really, there were plenty of clues for any Holmes fan.
Piper also ends up using this trope in "Crossroads of Destiny," where it turns out that the strange man on the train was from our universe.Available here.
Gautam Malkani's Londonstani is a witty and clever examination of British Asian youth culture told in London dialect with sprinklings of Hindi and Panjabi by main character Jas. Towards the end, it turns out that Jas's full name (including the surname which he never says out loud during the main plot because "nobody can pronounce it") is "Jason Bartholomew-Cliveden": Jas is not himself Asian, but a white boy so thoroughly in love with Asian culture that there are almost no clues to his race in his behaviour.
In the Dragaera novel Orca, we have Kiera the Thief as the special guest narrator for a lot of the story. She and Vlad blunder through the complicated politicoeconomic mess that forms the basis of the book's plot, and it's only after it's pretty much been sorted out that we learn Kiera neglected to inform us (and Vlad) that she's actually the vampire sorceress Sethra Lavode, a being so powerful she orders gods around.
All the more impressive as she's been around for six books already, and this clearly isn't an Ass Pull... in fact, it helps explain a number of things. The reason readers didn't realize it long ago is partly because it's never before been really plot-relevant, and mostly because the supposition is just bizarre enough not to naturally occur.
In the Transall Saga, by Gary Paulsen, the tomato surprise comes halfway through the book, when it is revealed the medieval-themed alien planet on which he has been trapped by a strange blue light is actually Earth after it was stricken by a horrific plague.
In Wilson Tucker's 1970 Science Fiction novel, Year Of The Quiet Sun, the main character's ethnicity isn't mentioned until the last chapter, which turns out to be especially surprising, as it leaves readers to make culturally-biased assumptions.
In the Gregory Maguire novel Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister the classic tale of Cinderella is put into a real historical context and is told in a surreal manner by one of the ugly stepsisters. All along, the reader assumes that it's being told by one stepsister, Iris, until it is revealed at the end that the narrator all along has been Ruth, the mentally retarded stepsister. This puts a whole new spin on the story.
China Miéville's Bas-Lag short story "Jack" is narrated by someone who claims he helped Jack Half-A-Prayer, the Remade vigilante, become the legend he was. He did, too: he's a New Crobuzon prison orderly, who once assisted the biomancer who replaced Jack's hand with a giant mantis claw.
Andrew Weiner's short story "The News from D Street" (in the collection Distant Signals) features a detective investigating disappearances, often of people who get on an ominous bus and never return. It turns out that they're all data in a computer simulation — get it, bus?
Bernard Beckett's Genesis depicts a young woman, Anaximander, undergoing an oral examination about history at the prestigious Academy. Philosophical debates about organic vs. artificial life and other topics are heavily featured; in the end we learn that Anaximander, her mentor, and the examiners are all androids made to resemble orangutans.
Arthur C. Clarke has written his fair share of these. In one short story, two guys are innocently talking at a bar about some rather mundane-sounding construction project. In the very last sentence, we find out they were on the moon, and the construction project was actually the most monumental thing the human race has yet undertaken.
In The Giver, the point-of-view character, Jonas, experiences certain objects "changing" in the former half of the story, in a way that seems incomprehensible. It is later revealed that he has the rare ability (in the genetically-created "Sameness") to see color, and up until this point everything was monochrome. The "changing" was him seeing the color red.
In Michael Slade's Ghoul, the RCMP and British police pursue a Lovecraft-obsessed psychotic, a paranoid bomber, and a psychopathic hit man, who seem to be competing for press attention with their increasingly-grotesque crimes. Turns out that they're all the same man, a victim of childhood abuse with Dissociative Identity Disorder, whose later life traumas had driven each of his several personalities insane in different ways. Also a Tomato in the Mirror for the killer, as all but one of his personas had been ignorant of the others' existence.
In Vampire of the Mists, Katya and Trina turn out to be the same person. The heroes don't figure this out until too late, however, because it never occurs to Sasha to introduce his fiancee to Jander, who would have recognized her instantly. This works especially well, because there are clues all along that make it obvious in retrospect.
In a story by Fred Pohl, the narrator is contacted through a dream ("I'm sorry for interrupting your dream, but...") by a race of microscopic people living on a small area of his skin, and who want him to stop scratching at an itch because it is devastating their cities. They come to a peaceful agreement, and the narrator muses on how this experience has made him reconsider his perception of his world and its natural phenomena. As such, he's sorry for interrupting your dream, but...
At the very end of Lois Duncan's book I Know What You Did Last Summer, two of the main characters, Bud and Collie turn out to be the same person: Collingsworth Wilson, brother of the dead boy. The reader is unaware of this because different characters who meet him at different times call him by different nicknames.
Jorge Luis Borges makes use of this trope in several of his short stories. In "The Zahir," the narrator (Borges himself) outlines a story he's working on about an ascetic hermit who guards a huge treasure, protecting others from the temptation that it presents; by the end, it's revealed that the hermit is Fafnir, the dragon slain by the mythical hero Siegfried. "The House of Asterion" features a narrator who describes his home and the things he likes to do for fun (falling asleep in hallways, throwing himself off ledges, etc.), revealing increasingly bizarre details; his last words in the story speculate on the nature of the one who is destined to kill him: will he have the head of a man and the body of a bull, "or will he be like me?" ( Asterion is the Minotaur of Greek Mythology).
Shirley Jackson's famous short story "The Lottery" features a tiny, rural American town with a tradition of holding an annual lottery. The reader starts to suspect that something is wrong when a woman begins to protest when she finds out that someone in her family is going to "win." Things get even more suspicious when the woman protests even more after she gets selected. Turns out the "winner" of this lottery is stoned to death as a Human Sacrifice.
In a short story in a children's book, the protagonist is a young prodigy living in a high-tech city. For his next project, he decides to build an artificial human that mimics real humans as close as possible. He spends weeks designing and building it, and finally takes the artificial human to show the city's leader. The leader looks at him and admits the android shows some potential, but points out flaws such as the lack of tannable skin, or realistic emotions, or aging. When the protagonist fails to see how this is important, the leader has him strapped into a chair and shows him an old video of a group of old men watching a young boy eat. He reveals that these men are the last living humans. The boy is their first robot designed to replace them and is able to do all the things real humans can do. The leader is that boy. The protagonist realizes that all of the city's inhabitants are robots, including him. As he is being led away to have the last hour wiped from his memory (ignorance is bliss), he takes a look at his creation and, for the first time, sees just how fake it looks.
In Chess with a Dragon by David Gerrold, the revelation that the Ki! host-grubs are human children is this trope. Particularly deft in that, even when their physiology is discussed at some length by the insectoids, it sounds like the writer is just confirming what a human character said in the previous chapter (i.e. that mammals are considered disgusting by other races) rather than dropping hints.
In the Robert Cormier novel We All Fall Down, one of the viewpoint characters is the Avenger, an apparent eleven-year-old boy, albeit a precocious and psychopathic one, who kills people and peeps on teenaged girls. In the end, it is revealed that he is actually a mentally-disturbed man in his forties.
Even before the Tomato Surprise, it's clear The People in A. Bertram Chandler's Giant Killer aren't normal humans (among other things, one of the "hideously deformed mutants" whose names describe their mutations is called No-Tail), but knowing what and where they actually are (sentient rats on a spaceship} causes a perspective shift that turns it into almost an entirely different story.
In the short story "Cop Killer", the author manages to depict the entire law-enforcement career of rookie officer Max — his training, teaming up with a veteran of the force, moving into his partner's guest room and befriending his family, participating in drug busts, being commended for bravery, and eventually getting killed by a fugitive gunman — without revealing until the very end that Max is a police dog.
In D. J. McHale's Pendragon series, Ibara occupies the same physical world as Veelox but is in the future.
You'll probably get 2/3 of the way through The Cyberiad before realizing that all of the characters are robots and humans are extinct.
An in-universe example in Stephen King's Dolores Claiborne. When Dolores receives a call from Vera's lawyer about her inheritance, she is stunned to discover that Vera's two children, Donald and Helga, have been dead for decades and Vera was lying to her about it.
One of the Haruhi Suzumiya novels has an in-universe example with "Where Did The Cat Go?", in a fabricated murder mystery game. The brigaders can't determine who the "killer" was because he took Kyon's cat, Shamisen, to the scene of the crime, and snow (literally) covered his tracks; but the cat was still in the house, right next to the protagonists, until after it stopped snowing. Haruhi and Tsuruya eventually guess the tomato twist: the cat that was in the house while it was snowing was not Shamisen, it was a carefully selected and re-colored double. The real Shamisen was dragged off sometime before then, when the murder was committed.
O. Henry's short story "After Twenty Years" has the revelation that the main character is an infamous criminal.
In the Ramsey Campbell short story "Heading Home," you are a Mad Scientist who has suffered some unspecified but debilitating injury after discovering the key to immortality.. Straining "muscles you'd almost forgotten you had," you slowly work your way out of the cellar and into your laboratory to reunite yourself with your headless corpse.
The first chapter with Poplock as a point-of-view character in Phoenix Rising goes out of its way to avoid mentioning, until the final sentence, that he isn't human.
In the short story "IQ-184", by Fletcher Flora, a detective asks Rena Holly and Charles Holly about the death of Richard, who loved Rena and wanted to marry her. Charles Holly claims Richard fell, but the reader is shown Charles's thoughts and knows Charles pushed Richard and Rena knows it. Charles then leaves the room, and the conversation turns to the fact that Charles is not Rena's husband, as you were probably meant to assume, but her twelve-year-old son.
The short fiction anthology Flush Fiction contains a few stories with these kind of endings. One features a woman who is visiting a friend's house, when they are suddenly attacked by secret agents. The narrator's friend is then revealed to also be a secret agent, and she fights all of the bad guys while the narrator sits back in abject fear. The final paragraph reveals the secret agent is not a friend of the narrator's, but rather the main character of a television show that the narrator is watching.
Throughout the Skulduggery Pleasant series, there is a man who acts as a Mysterious Backer for most of the antagonists of the books. The narrator names him "the man with golden eyes" but gives no further clues as to who he is. Turns out he's a regularly occurring good guy—one whose eye colour was never described. The characters knew all along that he had golden eyes, but the reader didn't.
The novel Identical by Ellen Hopkins involves twins Kaleigh and Raeanne, whose mother was in a car accident several years prior which, while she survived, irrevocably changed their family's dynamic. Now Kaleigh lives with her father's frequent sexual abuse, while Raeanne turns to drugs out of a sick sort of jealousy that Kaleigh is the one their father wants. The ending reveals that Raeanne actually died in the accident their mother was in, and the Raeanne we've been seeing is Kaleigh's Split Personality.
A similar twist is used in Me and Emma by Elizabeth Flock. There's no indication that Emma is not an actual, physical person until the last couple of chapters.
In Uncharted Territory by Connie Willis, the plot suddenly makes far more sense halfway through the book when the narrator finally uses a pronoun that indicates that she's female.
In Alexander Kuprin's short story The Blue Star, the royal family of a remote land sometimes gives birth to extremely ugly princes, taking after the foreigner who founded the dynasty. The story itself is centered around the first princess to resemble him - so ugly that, to spare her the blow, her father ordered to destroy every single mirror in the realm. The ending reveals she is actually very beautiful by the standards of most other places - the beauty standards of her country include things like flat lips and yellow eyes. She ends up married to a French prince.
One short story involves a disabled little girl who becomes terrified of her neighbor, whom she believes is a vampire. She expresses her fears to her older sister (also the narrator), who is naturally doubtful, but agrees to look into it to set the girl's mind at ease. The ending reveals that the neighbor is not a vampire, but the older sister is. She feeds on the neighbor and then expresses her intentions to wait around for her sister to reach her age, and then turn her, as vampirism will reverse her disability.
The 50th Anniversary Ninth Doctor novel "The Beast of Babylon" obscures from the reader until the climactic point that the book's viewpoint character, Ali, with the Establishing Character Moment of being on a picnic with her Mum and treated by the Doctor like a sweetly eccentric teenage girl, is actually a massive, terrifying-to-behold crustacean beast genetically programmed to go into Unstoppable Rage, whose exploits in the past inspired the myth of Cancer the crab.
The Short Trips and Sidesteps short story "The Android Maker of Calderon IV" waits until the punchline before revealing that the story isn't actually about the Third Doctor and Sarah Jane, as one would expect from the description of the Doctor's Evil Knockoff and the TARDIS scenes intercut with it, but the Fourth Doctor and Sarah Jane.
The Viktor Pelevin short story "Hermit and Six-Toes" is set in a bizarre, rigidly hierarchical world controlled by "gods," whose high-strung occupants fear the dark and are constantly preparing for something called the "Decisive Stage." It turns out that they're chickens in a poultry processing plant. The two main characters eventually exercise their wings enough to be able to fly to freedom. It's basically a cross between "Chicken Run" and "The Matrix."
Something like the EC Comics examples above, Harry Harrison's The Velvet Glove has a robot underclass Twenty Minutes into the Future. Robots have a curfew and have to take shitty jobs that are little more than indentured servitude. Our hero, Jon Venex, accidentally runs into a man on the street who accuses Jon of attacking him. Jon's just about to get lynched via powerline when a huge truck driver shows up and breaks up the mob. He gives Jon a subversive pamphlet as the narrative reveals that he's black.
A short story by George Langelaan, titled "De fauteuil en déduction" is a murder mystery told from the perspective of the family's grandpa, who's old and tired, but in the end manages to recognize the killer and attack him, revealing him to everyone. It's not until the very end that is revealed that "Grandpa" is the name of the family dog.
Pierre Boulle's original Planet of the Apes novel has a perfect example of this that was never translated to film. Besides the already well-known story twist there's a second one: while the bulk of the story is told from the perspective of the human who encounters the advanced ape race, at the beginning we're told the story was found in a diary by the occupants of a spaceship. At the end of the story, it's revealed the astronauts are actually apes, and they find the whole story in the diary to be hogwash.
The second-season episode "The Invaders" uses a Tomato Surprise to put a trademark Twist Ending on the story. In a script containing practically no dialogue, Agnes Moorehead plays an old crone in an isolated cabin beset by spacemen less than a foot tall. Alas, it wasn't Earth All Along.
"Eye of the Beholder", currently pictured above, hides the fact that the woman undergoing plastic surgery for her horrible mishapen face has what to our eyes would be a beautiful face, while the normal people look hideous.
Saturday Night Live parodied this episode by subverting the trope: All the hideous, pig-like people, as well as the narrator, think the "disfigured" woman is totally hot. Except for one nurse, who's the Only Insane Woman.
TOS episode "Third from the Sun." A family tries to escape to a planet in outer space before they're destroyed in a nuclear war. At the end it's revealed that the planet they're going to is called Earth.
TOS episode "The Midnight Sun." Society breaks down as the Earth moves closer and closer to the sun and people are dying of heat stroke. It turns out the protagonist is just dreaming the whole thing. In actuality the Earth is moving away from the sun and soon everyone will die of hypothermia.
The Twilight Zone was also prone to the "Jar of Tang" variety of Tomato Surprise: "For you see, we are all dolls in the bottom of a donation barrel!" "For you see, we are living in a child's miniature village!"
The original series episode "The Lateness of the Hour" features a young girl who lives alone with her parents and their robot domestics, who she bitterly complains are turning the whole family into 'anti-social freaks'. Obviously, after she off-handedly mentions having children and her mother freaks out, she realises that she herself is a robot.
The LOST episode "Walkabout" hinges on the revelation at its end that Locke was in a wheelchair before the plane crash. In all flashbacks he is sitting at a desk or table, or lying in bed.
Sawyer's first Day in the Limelight had such a twist as well, when it turned out the letter written to him was actually a letter he wrote to the original Sawyer.
LOST did this more than once. Another noteworthy example is the season 3 finale, "Through the Looking Glass", which features a series of seemingly traditional flashbacks for Jack, one of the main characters... until he meets Kate at the end of the episode, revealing that all the "flashback" scenes in this episode were actually flash-forwards.
And then there's the season 4 episode "Ji Yeon", which appears to feature flash-forwards for Jin and Sun, who apparently both left the island... until it turns out that Jin's scenes are actually flashbacks, and he never left the island, but is considered dead by his wife Sun.
In the Scrubs episode "My Screwup" we find out at the end of the episode that Ben is actually the patient that died and Dr. Cox has just been seeing Ben in his head.
There is one hint for eagle-eyed viewers that at first appears to be a continuity error - the man implied to have died through the whole episode appears in the background of one scene.
Another hint pops up throughout the episode, but it's so subtle that the viewer is unlikely to pick up on it until the second watch - The only person who directly interacts with Ben from the time he dies until the end of the episode is Dr. Cox. Everyone else talks directly to Cox while Ben offers him advice on how to respond.
And of course, Ben's line that he'll carry his camera "until the day I die", and that he doesn't have his camera for the latter part of the episode.
Similarly, one Star Trek: Enterprise episode has Phlox and T'Pol the only people awake on the ship as the rest of the crew has to be put into a comatose state to pass through a radiation cloud. It's revealed at the end that T'Pol had been asleep too; Phlox was hallucinating her to help with his isolation.
Like the Scrubs example above, T'Pol never physically interacts with anything=.
One plot thread of The League of Gentlemen comes to an unexpected conclusion when it is revealed that Iris and Mrs. Levison are really mother and daughter. The stage show ups the ante by revealing that they're really father and son.
How I Met Your Mother: In the episode "Three Days of Snow", Future!Ted tells at the same time three stories: (1) Robin taking Marshall to welcome Lily at the airport, (2) Ted and Barney taking care of the bar and (3) Lily trying to get some beers to give to Marshall when he welcomes her in the airport. But when Lily and Marshall had just gotten to get at the airpot, Future!Ted reveals that the three stories are taking part in three different days, so Marshall did not met Lily at day one, he mourned at Ted and Barney's "bar" at day two, and seemingly nobody was in the airport to welcome Lily at day three ( but Marshall surprises Lily by bringing an entire band to greet her).
Also, the series finale, where it turns out that the mother died six years ago, as both the narrator and his kids hearing the story knew all along; the story was never about her, it was future Ted reminiscing about Robin in an attempt to move on.
Once Upon a Time: The second season premiere "Broken" appears to follow the same episode format as the first season, with the point of view switching between the Enchanted Forest in the past and a parallel story in Storybrook in the present. At the end of the episode, it is revealed that the Enchanted Forest segments do not take place in the past. They are actually taking place in the present (actually after the Storybrooke segments).
One Sketch appears to show a ridiculously drawn out quiz show. Turns out they are on a space ship and the "contestants" are being held captive by the "host", a terminaly ill billionare who, refusing to die alone, is flying the space ship into the sun and is making every last second count.
Another sketch starts out as a parody of a relaxation DVD. At the end it is revealed that robots who have taken over the world made the DVD so the human resistance fighters wouldn't have the energy to fight them.
311's song "Hey You" is a tribute to someone who the singer describes as a "constant companion," thanking him for the good times that they've spent together. In the final repetition of the chorus, it's revealed that the companion that the singer is describing is music.
Used to powerful effect in the video for The Prodigy's "Smack My Bitch Up". The video is shot from first-person viewpoint, showing a clubgoer going about their routine... which starts with a line of cocaine in the clubgoer's home and later involves binge-drinking, vomiting into a toilet, assaulting a DJ, accosting a woman in a bar, meeting another woman in an alleyway, stealing a car, and then returning home with her to have sex. At the end, however, the camera finally turns to a mirror, and the clubgoer is revealed... as a woman. Most viewers will likely find their assessment of the preceding events jarred significantly by the discovery.
Also done in a country music video called "I Miss My Friend" by Darryl Worley. The video leads you to thinking that you're looking in on the girl that the singer misses, but in actuality, the woman is the singer's WIDOW, watching a video of her dead husband.
Christian song "Hammer" from the 1989 album "The Altar" by Ray Boltz is an excellent example of storytelling in a song. The narrator is an eyewitness to crucifixion of Jesus; he vocally expresses his outrage over cruel treatment of Jesus and calls out his executors. The crowd mocks him; confused, he sees a hammer in his hand. The narrator turns out to be a regular joe — roman soldier.
The music video for Nickelback's "Someday" seems to show a man running after his girlfriend. He's actually been dead, which is the thing in the newspaper the girl was sad about. She then dies too, in a car crash, and they're together again.
A well-known Spanish pop song by La Oreja de Van Gogh, Jueves (Thursday), tells a cute story of a girl who takes the subway everyday just to see a boy whom she's silently in love with, until she finally gathers the courage to talk to him and finds out he likes her too. Pretty romantic. Then, on the second-to-last verse she mentions that "this special day, March 11th" was when they declared their love to each other. On that particular day, a terrorist group set several bombs aboard four commuter trains in Madrid, killing 191 people. Then, the last verse states: " the lights of the tunnel go out. I find your face with my hands, gather courage and kiss you. You say you love me and I give to you the very last beat of my heart", implying that they were riding one of those trains.
"Sally Cinnamon" by The Stone Roses seems like a typical love song, then in the last verse it's revealed that the preceding lyrics are actually the contents of a letter that was left on a train and found by the narrator.
The Vicki Lawrence song, "The Night The Lights Went Out in Georgia" (later covered by Reba), has the singer tell the story about how her brother got railroaded and eventually hung by small-town justice for a murder he didn't commit. How does she know this? The last verse reveals that she is in fact the killer.
"Escape (The Piña Colada Song)" could be considered a benign example, with the Tomato Surprise being that the singer's lady is secretly just as bored with him as vice versa ... at least, until they discover new common interests through the personal ads they took out behind each others' backs.
The 1964 hit song "Memphis" by Chuck Berry (covered by Johnny Rivers) has a man calling "long-distance information" to "get in touch with my Marie". He and Marie were "torn apart because her mom did not agree". In the last line of the song, the singer reveals "Marie is only six years old" ... she's his daughter.
A very mild example in Gaelic Storm's "Go Home Girl", in that it doesn't really change the narrative any, but it does lend a slightly humorous new layer to it. Having spent the song trying to gently turn down a girl who's become infatuated with him, the gypsy narrator reveals in the last line that the girl is eight years old.
"Save Your Kisses for Me" by Brotherhood of Man seems like a lovesong by a man leaving his loved one at home when he goes to work but it ends on "Won't you save them for me...even though you're only three?" revealing the fact he's singing to his child.
"My Sweet Rosalie" has a similar twist. The man sings about his love for his fun-loving, free-spirited companion who always manages to cheer him up whenever he's down. Turns out that Rosalie is his dog.
Modest Mouse does this very cleverly in the music video for their song "Little Motel". The whole video is shown in reverse - we start with a woman with her child in a motel room as she tucks him into the bed. It then plays the preceding events leading up to this in reverse and the "ending" reveals that the young boy was actually dead (the viewer assumes he's been asleep) the whole time, since we see him flat-lining in a hospital room before she grabs him up and runs out to head to the motel and spend a few final moments with her sonSaddest music video ever
Anberlin has a very similar video for "Paperthin Hymn" involving a young couple. It centers on a woman in a hospital room being whisked away on a wheelchair joyride down the halls by her boyfriend. Near the end of the song, she wakes up still in the hospital bed; he is being worked on by hospital staff in the bed next to hers. He then flatlines.
Garth Brooks' "Victim of the Game" describes someone who's been hurt emotionally, possibly by a failed relationship. Turns out, the last lines reveal that he's "staring in the mirror / At a victim of the game".
Immortal Technique's "You Never Know" tells a story of the singer falling in love with a ice-queenish bookish girl. They take the relationship slow until he tells his true feelings for her. She starts crying until he leaves her. We find out what happens to him and then we find out what happens to her. She contracted HIV through a blood transfusion in 1993 and met/broke up with him 1997 and died 2 months before he tried to contact her again.
Porter Wagoner's 1968 country hit "The Carroll County Accident". The narrator tells about a car accident that killed a prominent small-town man who was riding in a car driven by a female friend. She survives and says she found him on the side of the road feeling sick and was giving him a ride back into town. The narrator then says he learned what really happened: he went to look at the wrecked car and found the man's wedding ring in a box, indicating that the man and the woman were having an affair. But that's not the final twist: in the very last lines of the song, the narrator reveals that the man who died was his father.
In Eminem's "25 to Life", he raps things such as, I don't think she understands/the sacrifices that I made, I've done my best to give you/nothing less then perfectness, Go marry someone else/and make em famous/and take away their freedom/like you did to me/treat em like you don't need em/and they ain't worthy of you/feed em the same s*** that you made me eat, and my friends keep asking me/why I can't just walk away from/I'm addicted/to the pain, the stress,the drama. The whole song reads as something to a girl who doesn't appreciate him. Then one of the last lines, f*** you hip hop, changes the whole meaning of the song.
"Stan" as well. Although the listener knows it already, Eminem (the character in the song) experiences a Tomato Surprise when he figures out that Stan was the lunatic he saw on the news a few days ago.
Queensryche's Gonna Get Close To You is all about the joys of being a stalker. The end of the clip, however, reveals that the woman he's stalking is a vampire. For no apparent reason.
Led Zeppelin's "A Fool in the Rain" is about a guy being stood up by a girl. For a while, he tries to convince himself that she's just late, even waiting out in the rain for her, until he finally gives up hope. He immediately realizes that he has been waiting on the wrong block this whole time.
The Kinks's "Lola" is about a woman the narrator met in a bar and fell in love with, but after dropping a number of hints the last line indicates (still a bit ambiguously, perhaps to avoid censorship) that Lola is actually a transvestite.
But I know what I am and I'm glad I'm a man / And so is Lola
New Order's song 'Fine Time' plays like a conventional love song praising the sexual qualities of the narrator's love-interest, until the song ends and fades out, where if the listener is paying attention... the sounds of a sheep can be heard.
Devo's "Beautiful World", the verses of which are filled with positive lyrics about the world. It's only hinted at during the chorus "It's a beautiful world - for you" that not all is as it seems. Towards the end of the song the chorus becomes "It's a beautiful world - for you - but not for me", changing the entire meaning of the song to one of sarcasm.
"Bus Rider" by The Guess Who appears to be an ode to the working man, who must get up early in the morning to catch the bus to work each day just to make a dime. Towards the end of the song, the singer states that he is glad to not be a bus rider, meaning the entire song was actually describing how being one totally sucks.
The Rays' "Silhouettes (on the Shade)" tells of the jealousy which the narrator felt when he saw two silhouettes making romantic gestures while passing the shaded window of his girlfriend's house. He rushes in only to discover... he's on the wrong block and the silhouettes belonged to a couple of total strangers.
Napoleon XIV's "They're Coming to Take Me Away, Ha-Haaa!" is about the narrator, driven insane by the departure of someone close to him, ending up at the funny farm. And if that someone ever returns... "they'll put you in the ASPCA, you mangy mutt!!!"
Van Morrison's "Cyprus Avenue" is told from the point of view of a man who is desperately in love with someone. It's a 14-year old girl.
This is more of an informed Tomato Surprise, since it's not in the song proper, but it's rather surprising how many couples regard the Michael Jackson song Ben as "our song", given that it was written for the movie of the same name in which Ben is a rat. Not in the slang sense, a literal rat.
"The Troublemaker", written by Bruce Belland and Dave Somerville and recorded by several people, most notably Willie Nelson. The narrator complains about a hippie-ish "troublemaker" who's turning the kids into "a disrespectful mob" and expresses relief that he was arrested and will soon be executed. The last two lines reveal that the song takes place in the 1st century AD and the "troublemaker" is Jesus.
Kenny Rogers had a similar aong, in which the narrator sings about this guy who's kind of weird and how he and his friends would have liked him more if he were "A Little More Like Me" (the title of the song). The song itself doesn't explicitly make it clear (though there are some strong hints), but the subtitle ("The Crucifixion") does.
Ween's "Buenos Tardes Amigo" is a series of threats delivered by the narrator to another man. He swears revenge for the murder of his brother, but confesses in the last verse that he in fact committed the murder and the other man is merely a patsy.
Jim Stafford's "My Girl Bill" is a very lame one. The listener is led to believe that it's about two men in love - very risqué for 1974 - only to discover that the singer and Bill are fighting over a girl ... "She's my girl, Bill." That's right, the Tomato Surprise here is a comma.
This trope is almost perfect for audio dramas: you can hide obvious physical features of primary, present characters by simply not mentioning them. A minor example is at the beginning of Paradise Lost in Space where an exchange between two characters speculating about life on other planets ends abruptly when one of the characters off-handedly mentions their antennae - the entire scene occurs on another planet.
It's something of an It Was His Sled now, but the casual (but sudden) reference in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy to Zaphod having two heads was originally intended to work this way. Trillian was the same idea in reverse; she initially seems to be another alien with her "space name", until it turns out it's a nickname for Tricia McMillian
In 1976, Bob Vernon read one of his "Stranger than True" stories thusly: "5 years ago today, working girl Lois Goldman of Orange, New Jersey was arrested for taking a large record player out of the WNBC studios. That large record player was BIGGIE WILSON!" (This referred to another WNBC DJ of the time, who was celebrating his fifth wedding anniversary.) Here's the aircheck with that story.
The audio play The Natural History of Fear. The end of the play reveals that all the characters are of a species with eight limbs who get through a hundred generations in a year, and therefore cannot actually be the Doctor and his companions with their memories edited as we have been led to believe.
The audio "The Holy Terror". The abomination child killing everyone while searching for its father has the same face as the scribe.
"The Rocket Men" is told in Anachronic Order, cutting between the events leading up to Ian ending up on a hijacked ship, and the actions he takes afterwards. As a result, the Cliffhanger is Ian throwing himself out of the airlock into a gas giant to save Barbara - before the story shifts back to a scene before that in which Ian knocks out a Rocket Man and steals his uniform - the fact that Ian was wearing a jetpack and helmet when he through himself out of the airlock was not previously mentioned. We cut forward to the falling Ian turning his jetpack on and flying down to Barbara.
The Torchwood: The Lost Files radio play "The House of the Dead" begins with Ianto in a haunted pub, waiting for Jack and Gwen to arrive, so they can interrupt a seance which will bring an evil creature through the Rift. Thus, the audience assumes that this takes place before the TV serialChildren of Earth - but it doesn't. Ianto is a ghost himself, Gwen's voice in his headset is actually the creature, and Jack came to the pub alone both to stop the creature and to see Ianto one last time.
In the original Metroid, if players completed the game in a sufficient amount of time, then Samus Aran (who had until this point been wearing a huge suit of cyborgy armour) would be revealed to be a girl.
Adam Cadre's Interactive Fiction work 9:05 has you waking up in a panic and receiving a phone call admonishing you on being late for work. You can go through the (logical) motions of taking a shower, getting dressed, eating breakfast, driving to work and doing your job...until you suddenly are arrested and the game ends when it's revealed that under the bed was the corpse of the actual owner of the house, who you killed yesterday while burgling the place.
Used not once, but twice in another interactive fiction, the very popular Photopia. In one part, the protagonist seems to be a normal, if Mary Sue-esque, astronaut, until you take off your spacesuit and feel the wind ruffle your wings. Later, the connection of this to the other plot is explained when it's revealed that these segments were actually stories a babysitter is telling the young girl, with her as protagonist. It explains the Mary Sue-ness and also why the narrator has been defining words for you, SAT-style.
In the bonus level of The Suffering, it's explicitly revealed that the "Inhuman Monster mode" the protagonist can enter, seemingly turning him in to a large, sub-human beast, is simply him giving in to his primal urges and tearing the demons apart with his bare hands.
In Ever17, Takeshi's real face isn't shown during the first playthrough, to conceal the fact that the two "Takeshi"s presented are different persons. This turns out to be a big part of a plan by one of the characters to save his father and friend from a deadly virus.
This varies based on the order one plays the routes in. If one approaches the final route from Kid's perspective, he also gets tomatoed in the same manner.
In Soul Nomad & the World Eaters, it is revealed in the last few scenes of the game that the main character is not only a direct descendant of the legendary Lord Median, not only is the mysterious black sword that once held Gig's soul an enchanted demon blade once held by Median which can only be used by his direct family line, but the main character is also a World Eater. Without any sort of build-up in advance.
To say nothing of the fact that one of your allies who joined the plot early on is actually possessed by one of the three main World Eaters, waiting for the best moment to usurp Gig. Oh, and that sweet sister of his that another ally of yours have been crushing on? She's now a soulless, empty shell, just so she can be a puppet for his plans.
In Final Fantasy XI, it is said the beastmen are the spawn of the dark god Promathia. Once you prevent The End of the World as We Know It in Chains of Promathia, it's revealed that all mortal life on Vana'diel are actually all parts of Promathia's body, the god himself slain by the Emptiness, with Vana'diel being formed by Altana using the Mothercrystal to try and restore him/it, with mortals as the end result. Her tears are also our souls, apparently, or something like that.
Also, the Wings of the Goddess expansion is touted as a trip to Vana'diel's past in order to ensure the war is still won, and early missions imply it... until you learn that the 'past' is actually a parallel dimension to your own. Or rather, that your dimension is a parallel to the other, where the war was actually won. And yours was never supposed to exist. Your mission is to prevent your dimension from being erased by Atomos, a being that cleans up dimensions that aren't supposed to exist.
In Exmortis, five hikers wander into a forest, and stumble upon an old and decrepit house built there. Shortly afterwards, a brainwashed hermit proceeds to murder all but one of them in a plot to become a living gateway for a race of demons seeking to return to earth; at this point, the game begins with a player character waking up in the forest without any memories. At first, it's believed that the PC is the last surviving hiker; however, the PC is eventually revealed to be the hermit, AKA the Hand of Repose.
Narrator:And so, having defeated the nefarious Cow, our hero, the Cow, wins back the heart of the lovely Cow.
Hits at the mid-game climax of Baten Kaitos, in a truly brilliant execution. Whatever other game has ever had the main character turn out to have been The Mole? The game even manages to explain your (you being the main character's guardian spirit of sorts) "amnesia" at the beginning of the game (from just starting it then) as part of the main character's plot to suppress your memories as you were against his evil plans.
In Manhunt 2, Daniel's buddy Leo, who's been following him around on his journey, often urging him to use more violence and being playable in a few levels is really the personallity of a dead serial killer, implanted in Daniel's brain. The experiment was to create a super soldier who could turn off his conscience and guilt whenever he was needed to, but Leo resisted, and secretly spent the entirety of the game trying to take over Daniel's body. On top of all that, in the end he's revealed to have forced Daniel to kill his wife and kids. Yes, he's kind of a bastard. (This plot twist was so profoundly obvious that it can barely be called a spoiler to come out and say it.)
Utawarerumono - The setting of the plot is revealed to be Earth in the far future, with the world's race as a result of genetic experiments; everything resembles the feudal era because of an apocalyptic period long ago.
And don't forget the whole Hakuoro being a god thing, either. Well, half of one.
Cave Story: A third into the story, the protagonist is stated to be a Ridiculously Human Robot. His antennae-ears are visible from the beginning of the game, but they're easy enough to overlook (or mistake for something else) on his 8-bit sprite. It's also suggested for most of it that you're in an underground civilization, but it slowly becomes apparent that you're actually on the inside of a floating island.
The second Vigilante 8 game had two of these. Garbage Man is Y the Alien from the first game, and Bob O. is a monkey.
After finishing up Natsumi's route in Sharin No Kuni, there's a brief kinda-actiony sequence followed by Isono finally admitting he knew who Kenichi was the whole time. What was much more subtly built up was when he started talking to Kenichi's sister Ririko, who has been standing right behind him the whole time, forbidden from interacting with anyone else or being recognized. Apparently specifically so it doesn't look like an asspull, the story immediately starts a flashback sequence where this reveal had been hinted at. It's a lot more obvious in hind sight, especially when considering the Maximum Penalty badge that had shown up on the title page since the beginning, yet no one in the story bore it.
In Splinter Cell Conviction, one level has you play a Faceless Goon who has to save his squad leader. You are playing Vic Coste and the man you save is Sam. Not really a tomato surprise when said level starts with Vic himself saying that he saved him, which makes the fact that the goon was Vic and the leader was Sam blatantly obvious.
This trope is used pretty often in the Silent Hill series. These include Silent Hill 2's revelation that James murdered Mary (as opposed to her dying of a disease like we were lead to believe,) Henry's realization that he's going to be the next person to die in Silent Hill 4, and when it's revealed that Alex from Silent Hill: Homecomingwasn't in the army, he was in an insane asylum. Was M. Night Shyamalan a writer for these games!?
Silent Hill: Shattered Memories, an Alternate Continuity re-imagining of the original Silent Hill, actually takes a unique approach with this trope with respect to the rest of the series. The plot is as basic as it gets and follows the same premise as the original: Harry Mason was in a car crash and is now traversing the town looking for his lost 7-year-old daughter Cheryl, and along the way he's accosted by all sorts of demented-looking monsters. The game is punctuated by first-person, interactive "therapy sessions" that are set some time after the events of the game. The last scene of the game? You find out that said therapy sessions are happening in the present, and it's not Harry who's the patient but 25-year-old Cheryl. It turns out Harry died in the car crash, which was actually 18 years ago (as opposed to "earlier that day" from your characters perspective,) but the real kicker is that your character isn't even Harry's ghost; the entire game was apparently a metaphorical journey through Cheryl's psyche as she underwent therapy, and your character faces the harsh reality that he's nothing more than a delusion in Cheryl's mind.
Interestingly, it's worth noting that one of the ways this story is unique from the main franchise is that rather than having The Revealbeing based around the series' trademarked supernatural Mind Rape, the twist is that there's nothing supernatural going on at all. Though Silent Hill games tend to be left ambiguous enough and open to enough interpretation that, if you preferred, you probably could validly interpret what we see in the game as Cheryl's delusions being manifested into the physical town, as per traditional Silent Hill.
In the Minerva's Den DLC of BioShock 2 you play as Subject Sigma, a prototype Big Daddy from the same line as the protagonist of the main game, Subject Delta. Unlike Delta,whose previous identity is never revealed; Sigma is revealed to be Charles Milton Porter, the man who has apparently been acting as your Mission Control. The latter was actually a computer simulation of the former.
In Second Sight, the main character gets frequent playable flashbacks to events in the past. However, in said flashbacks, you can actually change events in the past which then have consequences in the future which move the plot along. Mental Time Travel? No. Turns out the "flashbacks" are actually the present time and the "present" portions are actually visions of the future, which ends up being completely erased by the end of the game.
Umineko no Naku Koro ni: It turns out that the majority of the events were written fiction revolving around the actual tragedy of Rokkenjima.
In Assassin's Creed III; an early plot point reveals that Connor's father and the character you've been playing as up until now is a Templar, this is subtly foreshadowed but still kept vague until the very last sentence of you playing as him, when he welcomes another character to the order with the words "welcome to the templars."
Double subverted in Heavy Rain. A few hours into the game, it appears that Ethan may be the Origami Killer. This is later debunked, and then we get The Reveal that Shelby (another one of the playable characters) is the real killer.
In The Witch's House, you play as Viola, a young girl trying to escape the home of a disfigured witch with the help of a friendly black cat. The game's true ending reveals that Viola and the witch switched bodies some time ago, and the witch disfigured her old body so that Viola would suffer all the more when she was left for dead. So throughout the game, the player has been aiding in the witch's escape. The pseudo-third ending also reveals the "friendly" cat to be possessed by a demon, and is the one who gave the witch her powers in the first place.
In Icewind Dale we have the narrator, who reads a book describing the adventures of the Player Character party. After completing the game, in the epilogue, his voice get very angry. Turns out he personally witnessed the story - he's the Big Bad
In the True End of Virtue's Last Reward, several facts obvious to much of the cast are revealed to the player, such as the fact that most of the game has taken place on the moon, 45 years after the player thought it was. Not all of the characters knew this, however. There are also some interesting revelations about the protagonist.
Complete one loop of DonPachi and the player character goes on a monologue about his training he's being put through, which, as he reveals, involves killing his own comrades in combat. Complete the 2nd loop, and he reveals the purpose of the training: to create Super Soldiers for the elite DonPachi unit.
The ending of ALLTYNEX Second reveals that the protagonist is Guehala Dennis, who was behind the development of the Phoenix in RefleX (and was killed about one second into that game).
In Shovel Knight the various Knights tell the player that Shield Knight is dead, which he denies. She was possessed by an amulet years earlier and became the Enchantress. Shovel Knight recognized her and was fighting the Order so he could break her free from the magic.
The famous "Raptor Story" on GameFAQs's Current Events forum. At the beginning of the story, the first-person narrator crashes his sister's lesbian spin the bottle party and is about to make out with her...until she is revealed to be a velociraptor, something that was somehow completely unknown to the narrator. The twist is actually in the first act of the story, not at the end.
The parody creepypasta "DAY OF ALL THE BLOOD" wherein it is revealed that the man that all the blood was coming from WAS YOU!!! (OR HE WAS A LADY IF YOU ARE A LADY) AND YOU FORGOT THAT THIS HAPPENED
The comic, "Product"◊ follows a human grown in a test tube in a post-nuclear war world, and the realization of what his purpose is. Who is he? The Kool-Aid Man.
A lot of Creepypasta stories have tried to pull this off, of course, but arguably one of the most well-known and effective is the story Doors, in which the narrator witnesses a psychopath murdering his adoptive parents and kidnapping his sister. We don't find out until the last sentence that the narrator is a dog.
ThisFoundation Tale seems, behind the numerous redacted segments, to be about an ordinary college student who winds up lost in some sort of alternate hell-dimension. It's only by looking at the full title and paying attention to the last line that you can figure out the narrator is SCP-682, the Nigh Invulnerable reptilian monster that the Foundation keeps in a tank of acid to stop it from killing everything because it finds our world "disgusting."
Used offensively in the 70-Seas side story, Lost and Found, when a man in a stolen Toby Terrier convinces the Toby Town security guards that have surrounded him that he was a lost child who grew up in the park's lost and found, only to reveal that it was actually the park guards who had been raised in the lost and found and suppressed their memories of it.
During a previous storyline of Axe Cop, Sockarang completes a mad rampage where he assaults and kidnaps his supposed allies. Once they're all safely under lock and key, he removes his mask...to reveal that he's actually Dr. Stinky Head, who had disguised himself as Sockarang to trick Axe Cop and his friends. Just then, Dr. Stinky Head shows up and divests himself of his own mask, to reveal that he's actually Sockarang, who had the exact same idea as Dr. Stinky Head.
Brawl in the Family pulled this off when they did the Cocoon Academy arc, about Dedede and "Pinky"'s days in school. Pinky is a very familiar looking pink puffball with good sucking abilities. It turns out that he's actually Meta Knight, who got corrupted into a blue color while defending the academy, whereas soon after he got his mask. Kirby was likely not even born at the time of the arc.In addition, "Headmaster Hand" is actually Crazy Hand. (He was corrupted too.)
In Homestuck, Jane and Jake live in Maple Valley, Washington and a small island in the Pacific respectively, just like their Pre-Scratch counterparts, John and Jade. Roxy and Dirk live in Rainbow Falls, New York and Houston, Texas. However, what was kept hidden from readers was that Dirk and Roxy live in the future where the Troll Empress has taken charge of Earth and flooded it. Roxy's house is part of a chessboard-esque hub and Dirk's apartment complex has been partially submerged.
"Operation: H.O.S.P.I.T.A.L.": It's Tomato mixed with Continuity Nod in one, as the KND go to a hospital to guard a hospitalized operative. A few minutes from the end, it's revealed that said operative is... Bradley the Skunk from "Operation: C.A.M.P.", who had been made an honorary operative in that episode. Cree is surprised to find the skunk on a hospital bed when she (and we) expected a regular kid, and Numbuh Four, who had been a bit jealous at Numbuh Three for claiming to be in love with the injured operative (her exact words were "I love him"), is all "Hey!" when he sees Bradley, who she considered her adopted son.
"Operation: U.N.C.O.O.L.": The KND go on what they think is a mission to rescue an operative, Numbuh 78. In fact, we even see her getting kidnapped by a bunch of zombies. Later on, when it transpires that the "Numbuh 78" Numbuhs 2 and 44 are referring to is a trading card.
Operation: Z.E.R.O. has four. Numbuh Zero is Numbuh One's father, Father is Numbuh One's uncle, Grandfather is Numbuh One's actual grandfather, and the Delightful Children from Down the Lane are the members of the "lost sector" Sector Z.
Batman: The Animated Series played this in one episode ("Almost Got 'em"), where Two-Face, Poison Ivy, The Penguin, Killer Croc and The Joker met to discuss how Batman beat them over a game of poker. The Joker reveals that Harley Quinn has Catwoman tied up in a warehouse, to avenge his defeat to Batman. Then Batman reveals he was disguised as Killer Croc all along, and all the other unsavory malcontents in the poker hall turn out to be undercover cops.
Another Batman example comes from the episode Mean Seasons, where a former model is taking revenge on the executives who dumped her for younger looking rivals. She talks about how she subjected herself to starvation and endless surgery in an effort to keep up, and now all we see is her wearing a mask, leaving us to wonder what happened. When she's captured and unmasked in the end, it turns out she was actually Beautiful All Along.
Batgirl: She's beautiful!
Batman: She doesn't know how to see that anymore. All she sees are the flaws.
Another episode had a new crimefighter known as The Judge, who was meting out deadly vigilante justice on Gotham's arch-criminals including Penguin, Killer Croc and Two-Face. At the end it turned out it was really Harvey Dent, who had become so distraught about becoming the villain Two-Face that his mind fragmented again and spawned the new identity of The Judge, a personality so distinct that it even went so far as to try to kill himself as Two-Face (Batman figured it out when he realized the two were never in the same place at the same time).
Played in South Park with Liu Kim, the City Wok owner, who is actually one of Dr. Janus' personalities.
Referenced on The Simpsons when Homer submits this poem to a literary journal:
After many episodes of suspense, cliffhangers, confusion, and even a Bizarro Episode, the second season of The Secret Saturdays finally ends with the ultimate evil (the being that can be used to take over the world) being Zak Saturday...the main character.
Xiaolin Showdown features an episode where a mermaid and a rather savage-looking barbarian thaw from an ancient iceberg. The monks immediately befriend the mermaid and try to protect her from the barbarian who is the only one who knows that she's an evil fish monster who only takes her beautiful mermaid form when she's wet or in the water.
Ed, Edd n Eddy had a mundane, but very horrifying one at the end of The Movie with The Reveal that Eddy's Brother, who had been presented, by Eddy, as The Ace, is in fact a sadistic Big Brother Bully who made Eddy's life a living hell while they lived together. Eddy lied about him to make people respect and like him.
The Arthur episode "The Boy Who Cried Comet" revealed that all the characters are actually aliens filming the show on another planet.
In Garfield and Friends, one episode features Garfield hosting a show where he passes off a bunch of misinformation as fact such as that there is no state of Wyoming, fire hydrants use compressed water, etc. When he claims that dogs have no brains, the audience is revealed to be a bunch of dogs who are none to pleased and run him out of town.
There's a riddle that goes: the wet, naked body lies in a puddle of water surrounded by shards of glass near an overturned table. There are no marks on the body. How did the victim die? The goldfish died from asphyxication after its bowl fell down and broke.
There are literally hundreds of these kinds of riddles. In some ways, they cheat the person being told the riddle to, because in many cases, the solution is outlandishly farfetched and nothing in the riddle mentions it. Of particular note is the riddle about the man who takes the elevator in his building on rainy days and the stairs on sunny days. Turns out, he's a midget, and the only way he can reach the elevator buttons is with his umbrella, which he only has with him on rainy days. SURPRISE!
These become somewhat more fair (but still pretty darn infuriating) when you're allowed to ask yes/no questions in hopes of eventually stumbling onto the twist.
Another one is; a car is travelling along a road with no street-lights, the headlights of the car are not on either. A pedestrian in black clothes quickly walks out in front of the car. Yet the driver of the car is able to stop in good time and there is no incident. How is this possible? The answer, of course, it's daytime!
A man walks into a restaurant and orders a bowl of albatross soup. He takes a spoonful, pays, leaves, and walks into an alley to shoot himself. Why? He was once a castaway with his ship's crew, and their chef kept the survivors alive with his "albatross soup". When the man noticed that the real soup tasted different, he confirmed his suspicion that the chef cooked the bodies of the deceased victims, and he killed himself because he'd unwittingly committed cannibalism. Exactly how you're supposed to reach such a far-fetched conclusion with so many assumptions is anyone's guess, since you're likely to find several much simpler explanations with a bit of thinking.
When the music stopped, the lady died. The lady was a blind tightrope walker, the end of the song was her cue for when to step off the tightrope onto the platform, and—oops!—someone turned off the music too early!
Alternatively, she was the ballerina figurine in a music box.
'A man lies dead in a forest. How did he die?' He was lifted by a helicopter getting water from a lake to put out a forest fire and 'A man lies dead next to a rock. How did he die?' he's Superman, the rock is Kryptonite are two common examples.
A boy and his father are in a car. It gets into a terrible accident. The father is killed outright. The boy is critically injured and rushed to the hospital. In the operating room, the doctor looks down and says "My God! This is my son!" How is this possible? The doctor is the boy's mother, you sexist pig.
There's a cabin in the woods. Everybody in it is dead. How did they die? It's a plane cabin — they crashed.
A woman sees a house and the windows are closed. She calls the police and many people are arrested. What happened? She saw the windows closed on the picture of the White House on the back of a $20 bill, and realized it was counterfeit.
Lots of stand-up material fits in this category, such as Emo Philips saying that he loves to watch the schoolkids running and yelling and screaming at recess... and then says they don't know he's just firing blanks.
Emo Philips also tells a long story about how he went to the library to look up, attempt to check out, and finally end up photocopying the instructions for the "Heimlich Anti-Choking Maneuver," ending with him saying "So I went back out to the car, and by this time my sister was almost purple from the chicken bone..."
In UK comedy (at least) this trope is also known by the phrase "And then I got off the bus", the humour coming from the fact that the set-up was something that led the audience to think the teller was at home, probably including nudity.
There is an internet meme involving someone telling a very long story where at the end one of the characters turns out to be the Loch Ness Monster and asks for "tree fiddy".
Joan Cornellà's surreal visual strips are a haven for this trope. In one example, a man is looking at the mirror in a bathroom, when he presences another man killing a third one behind him. Understandably freaked out, he looks at his back, but he's relieved as the final panel reveals there weren't two men, but two homunculi growing out of his own back.