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Dark Horse Victory

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You shouldn't bring a knife to a fist fight, but you can bring a sock monkey to a dog show.
"A dark horse which had never been thought of, and which the careless St. James had never even observed in the list, rushed past the grandstand in sweeping triumph."
Benjamin Disraeli, The Young Duke

A Dark Horse Victory involves a third competitor winning in a competition with two major rivals. In many cases:

A common manifestation of this trope involves the protagonist of the story as the judge in a contest, forced to choose between two people, each of whom is extremely important to him (say, a love interest and a best friend or relative). He will often attempt to dodge the difficult decision by Taking a Third Option and ignoring both choices in favor of someone totally different (who may or may not actually deserve the honor).

Often, though not always, the third competitor who wins the award is a throwaway character completely out of the blue — who the audience may not have even known was in the competition until the end or, in fact, may have never seen before (or since) — or even an Inanimate Competitor. And even if they were seen, their performance may have been obviously inferior to either of the rivals, even after you factor in their rivalry. As a Dark Horse Victory requires a third competitor, an upset in a strictly two-potential-winner competition would fall under Assumed Win.

Obviously, this is Truth in Television. Sub-Trope to Non-Protagonist Resolver. Compare Slow and Steady Wins the Race.

In-Universe Examples:

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  • A variation is used in commercials, when a perennial also-ran in the market wants to raise its profile in the mind of the consumer. The commercial presents a story in which the top two brands are fighting it out, but the third brand pulls a surprise win. Rarely does this actually pull the company in question into the top two, but it can get it recognized as the underdog.
    • 7up did this, with Coke and Pepsi trucks drag racing and being overtaken by the 7up truck.
    • Snapple took this a step further by designing an entire ad campaign celebrating their status as the #3 beverage company in the U.S.—because "unlike #1 and 2, 3 knows not everyone likes the same thing"—never mind that the #1 (Coke) and #2 (Pepsi) companies also make more than one product.
    • DHL did a series in which UPS and FedEx drivers are in a race, but it's futile, because the DHL truck was ahead of them all the time.
  • A priceless Super Bowl Coke commercial where Macy Balloons of Stewie and Underdog are fighting (aka bumping into each other) in order to get that balloon of a coke bottle. Eventually, the bottle starts to float away, both characters turn and see a round shape on the horizon. It's actually Charlie Brown, who then wins the prize.
  • The Dan vs. Dave Olympic campaign by Reebok was derailed by this trope. More below in "Sport". The Aesop? Don't count your athletes until they've qualified.

    Anime & Manga 
  • Dragon Ball:
    • In the Buu Saga in Dragon Ball Z, the contestants in the World Martial Arts Tournament included all of the Z-Fighters, the Supreme Kai and Kibito, and two humans powered up by Babidi's magic. The eventual winner? Mr. Satan. Android 18 could have beaten him, but throws the match in exchange for double the prize money.
    • The Universal Survival Saga of Dragon Ball Super ends not with Goku or Freeza being the last man standing but Android No. 17, since the former two sacrificed themselves to knock off Jiren and secure the win for Universe 7. Honestly, the main cast were as shocked as the real life audience was.
  • A filler episode of Fairy Tail shows one of the guild's many traditions, an annual 24-hour race among all active members. Jet is expected to win handily with his Super-Speed, as he has in previous years, so the primary competition is among Natsu, Erza, Gray, and Gajeel for second place; meanwhile, Makarov has introduced a new rule against the use of flight magic, apparently ruining Happy's chances. Jet is so confident that he takes a nap in the middle of the race; while he's still able to return to the front of the pack when he wakes up, the second-place pack is able to catch up just enough to grab onto him, dragging them all down into a tangled pile right in front of the finish line; they're so distracted that they forget to stand up and cross the finish line until everyone else has already beaten them to it. While Erza managed to sneak out of the pile and across the finish line with the rest of the guild, the remaining four ended up tying for last place. Meanwhile, first place went to Happy, who'd managed to avoid all of the sabotage efforts that the guild members had been throwing at each other, since nobody saw him as a threat.
  • The pilot episode of Fate/Grand Carnival features Nero hosting a mock-Olympics, with one of its competitions being a 100-yard dash. Atalante and Achilles hype themselves up to compete with each other, with several other racers being shown just as the race begins - only for the track to be crossed in a single step by the enormous Kingprotea, who until then had only made one appearance in the background when the contestants were being introduced.
  • Dream 9: Super Collaboration Special!!: Mr. Satan ends up winning the fighting portion of the contest as Goku, Luffy and Toriko wind up destroying the ring and knocking themselves out of bounds, while Mr. Satan just barely winds up starting on the only patch of the ring still intact.
  • During the final rounds of the Autumn Festival Arc of Food Wars!, everyone was so engrossed with the rivalry between Hayama and Kurokiba, and the fact that Souma is also in the finals was barely acknowledged. However, the trope ended up being subverted as, after the judges remarked that all 3 dishes were equally good, they declare Hayama as the victor. Still though, the fact that he did get into the finals despite his background puts Soma on the map as a cook not to be taken lightly by the rest of the school.
  • In the K-9 Dance Arc of Inubaka, rival stores Woofles and Wan Kaw each sends a representative to participate in a local tournament, hoping to achieve victory and increase their publicity. Suguri goes to represent Woofles, while Wan Kaw sends the incredibly talented dancer Yasmin. While Suguri and Yasmin manages to earn high points, the competition is eventually won by a blind girl.
  • JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Stone Ocean chronicles the battle between Jolyne Cujoh and Enrico Pucci. The winner? Emporio Alniño, a minor ally of Jolyne's who turns out to be the Sole Survivor of Jolyne's party after Pucci uses Made In Heaven to accelerate time and reset the universe.
    • JoJo's Bizarre Adventure: Steel Ball Run is about a cross-country horse race, with the two main characters being Johnny Joestar and Gyro Zeppeli. The winner ends up being Pocoloco, a minor character who had no stake in the main overarching plot. Justified as his insane luck is emphasized at numerous points in the plot.
  • The victor of the Kengan Annihiliation Tournament in Kengan Ashura is Kuroki Gensai. He has no personal stake in the matches, is uninvolved in any of the larger conspiracies going on, has no tragic backstory, no flashy personality or audience popularity; he wins simply because he turns out to be the best fighter in the tournament.
  • The Grand Prix racing episode in Kirby: Right Back at Ya!. Instead of Kirby, Tiff and Tuff, or King Dedede winning the race, it was the Mayor who won who caught up being several laps behind.
  • In an episode of Mermaid Melody Pichi Pichi Pitch, the Mermaid Princesses and Dark Lovers face off in a beauty contest, each side vaguely suspecting the other's identities. They all get beaten out by some random girl named Caren... who turns up again soon after, revealed to be not so random after all.
  • In Midori Days, Ayase and Lucy vie to win the school's female marathon event in order to impress Seiji. When Midori decided that she wants to take part too, the three crash and fall, allowing Nao to breeze past them and take the win.
  • Chapter 17 of Monster Musume has Miia challenge Meroune to a swimming race. While the mermaid is the obvious favorite, Miia does an excellent job of keeping up with her. However, it turns out that the heated pool isn't quite warm enough for the cold-blooded Miia and chlorine really does a number on Mero. So the winner is; Cerea, who was ignored for the entire race. For bonus points, she's a centaur, making her a literal dark horse.
  • During the Sports Day Festival mini-arc i My Monster Secret, Mikan, Shiho, Rin, Akane and Akari all competed ferociously (read: cheated and bent the hell outta the rules) to win the title of the MVP. At the end, the one who won is Youko, who simply wanted to have fun.
  • Naruto:
    • The Chunin Selection Exam reunites the protagonists and many genins from every ninja village to be promoted to a higher rank. It was canceled during the third trial when Suna and Oto suddenly assault Konoha. In the end, nobody reaches Chunin except Shikamaru, who gave up during the third trial thinking he had no chance of winning over his adversary, Temari; he'd outmaneuvered her and caught her in his Shadow Jutsu, but was nearly out of chakra and had no clear way to finish her off. Two ninja note that they thought it was a wise decision compared with Naruto (the main character) and Neji (considered the strongest Genin in the village) fighting until they were almost exhausted.
    • The omake Ramen Eating Contest leaves Naruto in third place, despite his being a Big Eater and ramen being his Trademark Favorite Food. Yamato, who doesn't like oily foods such as ramen, out-eats Narutonote  by one bowl, and Hinata wins after eating 46 bowls.
  • By the time the Grand Finale of Neon Genesis Evangelion has begun, the series has been revealed to be a battle between an Ancient Conspiracy called SEELE and its less evil offshoot, NERV. Both want to initiate the apocalypse because they believe humanity cannot survive otherwise. However, due primarily to the head of NERV's cruel treatment of his son, Shinji Ikari, and a startling number of Shinji's friends dying in horrible ways, Shinji himself ends up being the one to initiate Third Impact. And then, essentially, everybody dies. Hey, whoever said that a Darkhorse Victory was always funny or happy?
  • The Osomatsu-san episode "Iyami's Counterattack" features the entire cast racing for the title of protagonist of the series. By the episode's end, nearly all of the competitors have been killed, except for Iyami and Osomatsu, as well as Jyushimatsu who doesn't care about the race and took an extended detour early on that took him out of most of the action. In a major twist, the winner doesn't turn out to be Jyushimatsu, but Shounosuke Hijirisawa, who wasn't even shown competing up until the moment when he crosses the finish line. Hilariously, the very next episode actually does begin with him as the star, but proves to be so horrendously bad that it gets canceled and returned to the old format barely a minute into the first scene.
  • This happens in Pokémon: The Series every time Ash enters a regional championship after getting his eight Badges to qualify: When he goes over to the venue, the show will establish at least one rival to Ash, sometimes several. Ash always loses, his rival usually loses, and the winner of the championship will either be a minor rival Ash encountered for an episode or even just a portion of one, or some extra who was never onscreen or mentioned up until that point. Johto's Silver Conference takes this to the logical extreme: Ash loses in the quarterfinals to his rival Harrison. Harrison goes on to lose in the semi-finals to an unknown opponent. The winner is some random person named Jon Dickson, who is shown being given the big trophy and holding it up next to the other extras who placed 2nd and 3rd, and none of the three are ever shown or mentioned ever again.
    • Ironically, the show became so notorious for this that when Ash actually did win the Alolan League in Pokémon the Series: Sun & Moon, it arguably counted as a dark-horse victory in its own right, since most fans were expecting him to just fizzle out again.
  • In a way, Negima! Magister Negi Magi's harem ended this way. After many chapters about Nodoka and Yue having to deal with loving the same boy and everything about Asuna and Chachamaru, the one who ended winning Negi's heart in the end was Chisame, of all people.
  • Ranma ½:
    • A filler episode features a go-kart race between many of the recurring cast, but Nabiki and Kasumi won by driving conservatively while the other racers got into one of their typical fights and finally blew themselves off the road (literally).
    • Another episode has Ranma-chan, Akane, Ukyo, Kodachi, Shampoo and Tsubasa enter a beauty contest organized by Nabiki for various reasons. The winner? Kasumi, who was acting as the assistant and not actually taking part in the contest.
  • Rune Soldier Louie has a filler episode where Louie and his mentor/rival Genie compete to see who can finish a race first. They spend so much time fighting that another rival's horse finishes first (A White one, to confuse things).
  • This is essentially how the protagonists' school advances to Nationals in Saki. The audience was expecting a titanic clash between Kazekoshi and Ryuumonbuchi, but a bunch of nobodiesnote  snatch the ticket.
  • Sleepy Princess in the Demon Castle has Princess Syalis taking part in a Beauty Contest, with Hades, Poseidon, Demon Cleric, and Siberian joining while Disguised in Drag in a last-ditch effort to prevent the Princess from walking away with the grand prize, a powerful magical item (all the other entrants were zombies, making Syalis' victory a Foregone Conclusion if someone else didn't join). The eventual winner? Harpy, who nobody realized was even competing until she was announced as the winner.
  • In Super Dimension Fortress Macross, the Miss Macross contest appears to be in the bag for famous actress Jamis Merin, with Roy Focker going as far as suggesting that the whole contest was just a publicity stunt for her (or else she'd have been a judge rather than a contestant). Indeed, the novelization of Robotech explicitly portrays it as such. However, Minmay ends up winning, likely due to the fact that the audience is full of soldiers who frequent her restaurant.
  • Tenchi Universe has an episode where the girls enter a swimsuit competition, naturally with emphasis on the rivalry between Ayeka and Ryoko. Nagi wins with a last minute entry.
    • It became a semi-running joke in both Tenchi Muyo! and Tenchi Universe to have Ayeka and Ryoko (and sometimes the other girls) competing fiercely to tend to a wounded Tenchi, only to be beaten to the punch by Sasami when they weren't looking.
    • Played for laughs in the original OVA Tenchi Muyo series. In one episode, Ayeka and Ryoko are strongly competing to gain Tenchi's affections. It continues throughout the day and during the night when both girls try to sneak into Tenchi's room to make out with him. In the end, Sasami (who also has a crush on Tenchi, but is better at hiding it) is able to gain entry just by knocking on his door and asking to come in. Once Ayeka and Ryoko realize this, they try to rush into the room, only to fall into a trap which teleports them to the lake outside of the house. And then Mihoshi shows up.
    • Tenchi in Tokyo: the Third-Option Love Interest got the first ever animated kiss or declaration of love from Tenchi.
  • In Yuuna and the Haunted Hot Springs, during the Magical Water Gun contest, Yaya and Shion, who were ignored by everyone else, win after all the other girls eliminate themselves.
  • The ending of the YuYu Hakusho series is like this. The three demon factions competing for supremacy are Raizen's (led by Yusuke), Yomi's, and Mukuro's. Yusuke loses, but the fighting has weakened the others to the point where a relatively unknown demon (Enki, a former acquaintance of the deceased demon lord Raizen), uninterested in the factional fighting, wins.

    Comic Books 
  • Archie Comics did this a few times:
    • One issue had Archie as one of the judges of a swimsuit competition. Both Betty and Veronica manipulate him into promising them his support in the contest. Moose also intimidates him into supporting his girlfriend, Midge. In the end a fourth girl wins. Betty, Veronica and Moose are all about to pound Archie, but he defuses the situation by showing them his clipboard, proving that he did his best to help them by giving them all an "A" grade. His skin seems saved until the girl who won comes by to thank him for tipping the scale in her favor with a grade of "A+ ". The story ends with Archie running for his life.
    • Another Archie story involves a track meet between several schools. Riverdale finishes second in every single event while two rival schools alternate beating them out for first. In the end, however, Riverdale, thanks to all its second place finishes, wins the meet on total points.
    • Another story is sort of a combination of the above two. Every judge in a beauty contest votes for Ethel for second place because no judge wants to give points to someone who might beat his choice for winner (i.e. his own girlfriend), so she gets the most points overall. The judges' girlfriends are not happy.
    • Because they don't want to choose between Reggie and Archie for a school election, Betty and Veronica try to throw Jughead in for the sake of a darkhorse. He does win, but refuses to accept the title because he didn't want to run in the first place.
  • In PS238, the students are supposed to vote between USA Patriot Act and American Eagle, two annoying, politically-supported heroes, for "Official Protector of Student Liberty and Guardian of Constitutional Values." Nobody likes either of them, so they all write in Tyler's name instead, figuring that it would be a good consolation prize to someone without superpowers. At first, the official candidates seem like they're going to be Graceful Losers (because they "support democracy", after all), but they later try to get Tyler disqualified on a technicality.
  • In Rising Stars, Randy Fisk decides to run for President of the United States as the logical next step of his efforts to make the world a better place. His first two campaigns fail utterly, as he runs as an Independent, but then, on his third try, one of the frontrunners is caught up in a major sex scandal one week before Election Day... which only comes to light because the other frontrunner commits a felony by spying on him. When Election Day comes around, the public finds themselves choosing between an adulterer, a felon, and a superhero. Randy wins easily.
  • The Simpsons: Mr. Burns holds a competition to see who can improve the power plant, with the winner gaining a hundred dollar bill. Lenny tries setting up Christmas lights, which cause epileptic fits in everyone. Carl hands out hamsters, until they drink some runoff, grow to giant size and, naturally, become super-aggressive. In the end, Smithers gives the bill to Homer, who was asleep through all of this, simply because he did the least damage to the plant.
  • In Udon Comics' Street Fighter, Karin tries to use a hot dog-eating contest to trick Sakura into fighting her with a full stomach. As the contest degenerates into an actual fight when Sakura's friends from Rival Schools step in, E. Honda ends the contest by choosing the winner to be Karin's butler Ishizaki, who happened to have eaten more than the both of them combined.
  • The Transformers (Marvel): In the wake of Optimus Prime's death, the Autobots are debating who should become leader. Then, Trypticon attacks, and taking command of the situation to keep him at bay until he's called home for being too wasteful is someone the "council" wasn't even considering: the Dinobot commander, Grimlock. They unanimously vote him in. They come to regret this very quickly.

    Fan Works 
  • In Calvin & Hobbes: The Series, Elliot is elected class president at the end of "CALVIN FOR PRESIDENT!"
  • Total Drama:
  • Fantasy of Utter Ridiculousness:
    • The draw of the main story was Megas vs. Suika. It's safe to say no one in-universe was expecting Marisa, who wasn't anywhere near the battleground.
    • In the Extra Stage, Reimu, Marisa, Alice, Patchouli and Reisen engage in an authorized Mêlée à Trois in order to settle a massive argument between the five of them. Coop ends up the winner when, desiring to make them stop, he decides to "gift" them with Megas's Super Destructor Mode.
  • In A Rose Blooms in Sorcier, Mary, Sophia, and Maria are all trying to ask out Catarina to the Rose Bloom Festival, an all-woman festival celebrating women friendship where a girl asks another girl to accompany them by offering a rose bloom. The girls all try to get Catarina alone so they can ask her, but also prevent the other two from doing the same. It ends up being Lady Francine, a minor character and classmate of Catarina, that ends up asking her to the Festival, with Catarina happily accepting.
  • Ruby Pair: In "My Fair Tenn", first place for the beauty pageant that the chapter is built around ultimately goes to GIR, who isn't even a contestant, because Beauticiatron finds him cute, and she's the one running the pageant.
  • 1-X: Bakugo was highly favored to win the Sports Festival due to being The Ace of Class 1-Y and placing highest on the Entrance Exam, Present Mic outright stating a special betting site has him as the one to win. Pony beats him in the first round of the finals instead, leaving everyone, including Midnight and Present Mic, stunned beyond belief, the latter even struggling to find words at what just happened.
  • The Victors Project: Frequently, whenever a tribute with a low score ends up winning the Games. This mainly happens with female tributes (with Johanna, Circe, and Cotton being the cited examples), but "the dark horse to end all other dark horses" is the male tribute Abram, who scored only a three during training. Even he seemed to be astonished at his own victory, and he's still not entirely sure how he did it years after he won.

    Films — Animation 
  • In Surf's Up protagonist Cody is up against Jerk Jock Tank in the finals, with Chicken Joe on the side basically oblivious to the fact that he's even in the contest. Tank's constant efforts to take down Cody result in Joe winning, much to his surprise.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • The Best Man (1964) is about two candidates locked in an ugly battle at their party's presidential nominating convention. The more principled one gets ahold of what in 1964 would be a devastating smear: his rival may be a homosexual. But he's the more principled one. So instead of dropping the bomb, he quits the race and throws his support behind a lightly-regarded also-ran candidate, who winds up winning the nomination.
  • The Family Channel's made-for-TV movie Christmas Every Day features a take on this, where the main character rigs a jelly bean counting contest to keep his rival from winning later days of the film's "Groundhog Day" Loop, first himself, and then on the final repeat of the day a poor family that had only been briefly seen early on so they can win the prize.
  • In political satire The Dark Horse, the two factions at a party convention are deadlocked over who to nominate for governor. One faction throws the name of amiable idiot Zachary Hicks into the ring in a bid to fracture the other faction's support. The other faction winds up swinging to Hicks out of spite. Hicks is nominated for governor, and despite being dumb as a fencepost, is elected.
  • Escape Room (2019): The Game Master admits that Ben, the only person to get through all the rooms in the traditional way, thus making him the "winner", was given the lowest odds of survival.
  • Exam: After staying, for the majority of the movie, out of the spotlight and being one of the most sensitive ones, Blonde is the one who wins, figuring out what's the question and having her paper completely fine.
  • In the 2007 Hairspray musical film, rivals Amber von Tussle and Tracy Turnblad are battling it out for the Miss Teenage Hairspray title (which Tracy wins in both the original film and the stage musical) when Link gets a spur-of-the-moment idea to ask Little Inez to dance (she was supposed to dance on the next Negro Day, and was devastated when it was cancelled) and she ends up winning in a last-minute surge of votes. Amber isn't happy, but Tracy is thrilled by this turn of events even though she doesn't get the title because not only does she see Inez as a Worthy Opponent, but it makes her the first non-white regular on the Corny Collins show.
  • High School Musical 3 has a supposed battle between Troy and Sharpay for a Juilliard scholarship (although Troy's application was submitted behind his back). The actual scholarship goes to Ryan and Kelsi.
  • Steve McQueen's classic movie Le Mans features a double dose of this. McQueen crashes his original car halfway through the race and is out. Then he takes over his teammate's car, and still finishes second to an almost unnoticed third Porsche. The German villain finishes third. McQueen famously flicks a playful 'V' sign to the German guy after the finish.
  • The documentary Murderball focuses on the rivalry between the USA and Canadian wheelchair rugby teams. At the 2004 Paralympic games, Canada beats the USA team. And then Canada still loses overall to New Zealand.
  • Not Another Teen Movie: During prom, the camera (and viewer expectations) focus on the protagonist and the Rich Bitch cheerleader. When the Prom Queen is finally announced, it's a tie between two conjoined-at-the-head twins.
  • Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End has a variant in-universe example: All of the pirates vote for themselves to become their leader—except for Jack (expecting this to happen), who votes for Elizabeth.
  • Smile concerns a beauty pageant, and while a number of the contestants are given a spotlight in the story, the actual winner is a character who wasn't featured at all. In fact, the girl given the most screentime doesn't even place.
  • A major plot in Stardust involves the princes trying to outdo each other at doing each other in to become king. The new king is the son of their sister, who had disappeared about eighteen years before.
  • In Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, the climactic race has hero Ricky Bobby and the antagonist Jean Girard competing so fiercely with each other that they ultimately get themselves disqualified. The winner of the race ends up being Ricky's best friend and perennial runner-up Cal Naughton, Jr. — much to Ricky's pleasure, and he finally treats his old friend like an equal.
  • In golf movie/Rom Com Tin Cup, you'd expect the winner of the US Open to either be main character Roy or his arrogant rival David Simms. Throughout the tournament though, occasionally a third golfer is mentioned who keeps getting closer and closer to the lead. In the final round Simms starts buckling under the pressure and once he gets behind, he plays too conservatively to catch up, while Roy effectively takes himself out of contention by obstinately trying to hit a near impossible shot that he is sure he can make, only to repeatedly hit the ball into the water. This leaves the third golfer to actually win the tournament. Fortunately for Roy, the film embraces the Second Place Is for Winners trope.

  • One book in The Baby-Sitters Club series had the various sitters and charges competing against each other to win a pageant. The prize went to a girl none of them knew, but who had been in pageants before and knew exactly what to do to win, in contrast to the charges, who were relying on their special talents.
    • Although Myriah Perkins, the only BSC charge who had a realistic shot, did come in runner-up. Given that the second-place prize was a shopping spree at a toy store, while the winner got a savings bond and entry into another pageant, Myriah makes it clear she's perfectly happy with the outcome.
  • Davita's Harp: The yeshiva's top contenders for an overall academic award are Davita and a boy named Reuven Malter. It turns out that Davita deserves it, but the school won't recognize her because she's a girl and parents would stop sending their sons to the school. Reuven declines the award because he didn't really earn it, and it ends up going to some other male student, whose name we never hear.
  • In Parson Dimly's Treasure Hunt from the Fern Hollow books, Polly Prickles shows up on foot, while everyone else has some sort of vehicle—from a penny-farthing bicycle to cars. Even a fire engine gets involved! Nobody thinks she has a chance. Not only doesn't she fall afoul of any vehicular mishap—Brock Gruffy's car ends up in a river while Sigmund Swamp's penny-farthing blows a tyre and sends him into the drink—she's likewise unaffected by a massive traffic jam at Mr. Bramble's farm. By the time everyone else has sorted that mess out, she's won. She shares the prize though—a big hamper of food—as a picnic.
  • Though Haganai ends with Kodaka shooting down everyone in his Unwanted Harem, it's Yukimura, not Sena or Yozora, who gets to date him for a bit.
  • In the first section of The Haunting of Drearcliff Grange School, a team from Drearcliff competes in an annual interschool scavenger hunt. It's widely regarded as a grudge match between Drearcliff and rival school Draycott's, whose team trounced them by underhanded means the previous year; the other teams aren't considered much threat — especially St Cuthbert's, a school of Upper Class Twits whose team always blows off the competition and goes on a pub crawl instead. After several chapters of close-fought contest between the Drearcliff and Draycott's teams, the contest goes in a resounding victory to St Cuthbert's, with Drearcliff coming a distant second one point ahead of Draycott's.
  • Young adult fiction example: in Here She Is, Miss Teeny-Wonderful, the plot mostly focuses on the tomboyish protagonist's rivalry with a pair of obnoxious, underhanded twins for the title of Miss Teeny-Wonderful. Naturally, they lose, but so does the protagonist. She does at least beat them, by placing second where they get third. The title goes to a girl the audience hadn't even met before.
  • John Putnam Thatcher: In Accounting for Murder, the combination of his natural incompetence and the bad publicity from the murder of an auditor guarantee that The Alleged Boss won't hold onto his job for long. His nephew and a couple of ambitious division managers consider themselves potential successors for the company presidency and occasionally behave accordingly. In the end, the job goes to the company controller, who has spent the entire book offscreen, wisely making excuses to avoid going back to the main office amidst all of the drama and police investigations.
  • Ōkami-san has a beauty contest in which Otohime and Mimi are competing. Mimi places dead last with 0 votes and Otohime gets only 1 vote, while a character who won't be important until later wins.
    • This was all Exactly As Planned by the other members of the Otogi Bank. Otohime's one vote was from Urashima, the guy Otohime and Mimi were fighting over in the first place, to remind her what's really important. The character who actually won was a ringer thrown in by Otogi Bank.
  • The heroines of Oreshura enter an "expressing your love" contest as a thinly-veiled culmination of their competition for Eita's affection. They all make uniquely dramatic and sappy performances, but they all lose to a random little girl who talked about how much she loved her dad.
  • Romance of the Three Kingdoms: Liu Bei, Cao Cao and Sun Quan establish kingdoms and try to unify China. Eventual winner? Sima Yi's descendants, who established the Jin Dynasty.
    • Only really works on the surface, though. Cao Cao's kids who were chosen to rule seem to have been incompetent in some way or other, angering Sima Yi. Yi was fiercely loyal to both Cao Cao and his son Cao Pi, however. And the popular and effective heroism of Liu Bei and his Tiger Generals overrode much of the military success of Wu in peoples' minds. (Wu was much more powerful and had far more experienced generals and warriors. Shu was the 'Perot' in the mix, a peasant/militia army like the Americans at the time of the Revolutionary War.)
  • In A Song of Ice and Fire, the Night's Watch election is won by someone who wasn't even running in the first round of voting (Jon Snow) because two major contenders give their support to him to prevent Smug Snake Janos Slynt from winning.
    • Fire & Blood: Due to the occasional misfortunes in Westeros history, often an unlikely person ends up being the one left standing. For example, Daella Targaryen was the least capable of all King Jaehaerys I's children (a Nervous Wreck suffering from severe learning disabilities), but it's through her children the family line continued. A few generations later, Daella's great-great grandson Viserys would become king, mainly because his four older brothers all died (three of them before he'd even hit puberty), and his last brother's sons died without issue.
  • Sword Art Online: Alternative Gun Gale Online:
    • The second Squad Jam tournament is largely a fight of LLENN against Pito, with both of them killing anyone on their way to their final confrontation. After a suitably dramatic final battle, LLENN finally kills Pito... and then is shot by Team S-T, who had been hiding in a corner of the map for the entire tournament and been completely forgotten about. The people watching the tournament complain loudly.
    • The winners of the fourth Squad Jam end up being Team ZEMAL, a group of hotheaded and none-too-bright machine gun wielders. The climactic battle in the mall ends with LLENN and Fire, The Hero and the leader of the alliance of teams, respectively, as the only two left alive, and LLENN ends up getting taken out by the zombies that spawn if people stay still too long, while Fire resigns. This results in ZEMAL being the last group standing.
  • A more lethal variant than usual occurs in Warrior Cats. The whole first arc was focused on the rivalry between Firestar and Tigerstar. Then, when the final book of the arc, The Darkest Hour reached their final showdown, Tigerstar revealed that he had an ally named Scourge, who proceeded to kill both Firestar and Tigerstar. Fortunately, Firestar came back from the dead, or else Scourge would have ruled the whole forest.
  • This also happens in The Wheel of Time, when Egwene, a mere Accepted, is raised Amyrlin because the two main contestants fear the other might win. To most, she was supposed to be a puppet or a sacrificial lamb, but she turned out to be just as manipulative and stubborn as the rest of them and by the time they realized this she was already in power.
  • Fletcher Knebel's Dark Horse plays with this. There's a "dark horse", but he doesn't end up winning.
  • The Trope Namer is Benjamin Disraeli's novel The Young Duke, published in 1831. Disraeli's protagonist, the Duke of St. James, attends a horse race with a surprise finish: "A dark horse which had never been thought of, and which the careless St. James had never even observed in the list, rushed past the grandstand in sweeping triumph."

    Live-Action TV 
  • The "Final 3" on The Amazing Race tends to come down to two teams racing for the million dollars, while the third team has no chance at all of winning.
    • The First major and the most negative example happen in the first All-Stars in 2007. Most was expecting fan favorites Dustin & Kandice To win because of their dominance in the second half of the race. Charla & Mirna was also a decent team in their own right, was good with Airports and won back to back legs. Eric & Danielle bickered all season, avoided elimination multiple times and was dismissed as fodder. Because of a Luck-Based Final Roadblock, Eric was able to leave before Dustin & Kandice and pull out the win.
    • In Season 16, those two teams were expected to be Fan Favorites Jet & Cord and Scrappies Brent & Caite, with brothers Dan & Jordan just along for the ride. The fanbase was legitimately shocked when Dan & Jordan ran a perfect final leg to pull out the victory.
    • Season 21 featured this Final Three: Jaymes & James, who had run a strongly consistent race throughout, Trey and Lexi, who had a couple of victories and were likely the strongest team remaining, and Josh and Brent, who had never won a single leg and in fact faced elimination at least three times. While not a perfect run, Josh and Brent caught a couple of lucky breaks, claimed a victory in the last task and ended up winning the $1 million dollars.
    • Season 25 had four teams remaining. Adam & Bethany, a fairly strong team and the Fan Favorites to win. Misti & Jim was the most dominant team of the final four. The bumbling Brooke & Robbie managed to win the penultimate leg. Leaving Amy & Maya, who was Out of Focus for the first half of the season, nonathletic, didn't win any prior legs and would have left if not The Reveal that four teams was racing in the final leg. The All-female team managed to get a lead on the others and Quickly finish the Final Exam Finale first to barely beat out Misti & Jim for the win.
    • The very first season of the Asia version had in the finals Sandy & Francesca, who were very athletic; Andrew & Syeon, who were not as athletic but still a strong and smart team; and Zabrina & Joe Jer, one of the least athletic teams, who had never finished first and whose performance had declined during the second half of the season. In the final leg, Zabrina & Joe Jer suddenly came from behind, overtook the other two teams and pulled off the win, also becoming the first all-female team to win in the franchise as a whole.
  • For pretty much the entire eighth season of American Idol, nearly everyone declared that the winner would be either Danny Gokey or Adam Lambert. In the end, Adam beat Danny, but both were beaten by Kris Allen.
  • One episode of The Andy Griffith Show had Andy acting as judge for a beauty pageant. Everyone starts trying to do him favors so their daughters or themselves can win. When come time to decide a winner, Andy elderly old woman who was working on the pageant as she was the only one who wasn't badgering him about it.
  • In Disney's A.N.T. Farm, this trope is inverted in a way. Chyna and Olive were competing to try and lose the election. They were both hoping for the other one to win, because winning meant having to be shot out of a cannon. In a twist ending, Chyna's brother Cameron wins the election and is happy about it because he never wins anything.
  • Boardwalk Empire had Nucky go to the 1920 National Republican Convention in Chicago as par to the New Jersey delegation. He quickly realizes that the two front runners will deadlock and quickly makes a deal with Warren G. Harding's campaign manager to throw the New Jersey votes to Harding if the vote goes past the third ballot. Harding then wins the nomination on the tenth ballot and Nucky not only gets the support of the future President but also thwarts Senator Edge (who double crossed Nucky on a road fund bill) from becoming Vice President.
  • The Brady Bunch: Greg, a judge for the cheerleading tryouts, picks a third girl instead of either Marcia or his girlfriend. Marcia is very understanding and concedes that Greg made the right decision, but the girlfriend dumps him, leading Greg to conclude that she was only dating him so she could win the competition.
  • This happens on Brooklyn Nine-Nine in "Halloween III". Jake and Holt are competing with each other in the heist after Jake won the first year and Holt the second. In the end, however, they're both duped by Amy. This happens again the next year, when the three of them are outwitted by Gina.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer, "Homecoming": Buffy and Cordelia are competing viciously for the title of Homecoming Queen and are then forced to work together to defeat some demons/villains on the night of Homecoming. They've put their differences behind them by the end of the night, and it's announced that there's a tie for Homecoming Queen!...between Holly and Michelle, two Spear Carriers whom you probably forget were also competing in this race.
  • In the Disney Channel Original Movie Camp Rock, Peggy, the girl that Rich Bitch / Alpha Bitch Tess has been belittling the entire movie, wins the "Final Jam" competition over Tess and main protagonist Mitchie (though Mitchie did get the guy in the end).
  • The Community episode "Intro to Political Science" focuses on an election for student body president. Most of the plot is dominated by the conflict between two frontrunners: Annie, who has a strong and meaningful strategy and focuses on the issues, and Jeff, who, in an attempt to mock the whole process, runs a deliberately style-over-substance campaign that never once discusses his actual plans. Towards the end of the episode, both of them (along with a number of other candidates) drop out, leaving only minor characters Magnitude and Leonard, whose campaigns consist of the words "Pop-pop!" and blowing a raspberry, respectively. Ultimately, the election ends with the student body having cast eleven votes, of which seven were for a write-in candidate: South Park. As in, the TV show. The Dean grumpily implies that this has happened before, and it's why he abolished student government in the first place.
  • Season one of Dawson's Creek has this with a beauty contest in which Joey and the Alpha Bitch compete.
  • In an episode of Eureka, this happens when voting for town mayor. The competition is between Lucas (Zoe's boyfriend), Vincent (Town cafe owner), and a new character who's a weatherman. Guess who wins. contestant #4, Henry (who didn't even know he was running.
  • In the Ever Decreasing Circles episode "Snooker", the ever competitive Martin is delighted to discover that his usually highly capable neighbour Paul is hopeless at snooker, and he eliminates him easily in the first round of the local pub snooker tournament. However, usual light comic relief character Howard's anger at being seen as a loser boils over after an incident at work, and he wipes the table with Martin in the final.
  • Season 3 of For All Mankind features a three-way race to Mars between NASA, the Soviet Union, and the private company Helios. Along the way, the Soviet ship is damaged and most of their crew are rescued by NASA, leading to a joint NASA-Soviet mission which manages to land on Mars before Helios. the end of the season, it's revealed that they were beaten by North Korea of all places.
  • In the Frasier episode "And the Whimper Is," Frasier fights for a Sea Bee award, but finds out that one of his three competitors is an esteemed talk show host, who is retiring and has never won the award. Frasier is momentarily thrilled to learn there is a tie, but of course, it is between the other two competitors.
  • Game of Thrones: In the end, the ultimate victor of the Game and ruler of the Seven Kingdoms proves to be Bran Stark, who is the Three-Eyed Raven now, never really took part in the politics or wars, and is one of the small few people who never wanted the throne. Indeed, this is actually part of the reason why he’s chosen; most of the remaining Houses and factions are more or less neutral on him which, combined with the fact that he’s carrying the wisdom of entire generations of kings in his mind, makes him a fairly safe, non-divisive choice for Westeros’ first elected monarch. For bonus points, he Wins by Doing Absolutely Nothing, as another part of the reason he’s chosen is because almost all of the other viable candidates are either dead or in no state to rule.
  • Ghosts (US): The episode "Viking Funeral" has Alberta and Isaac run against each other for the title of "Ghost Representative". Isaac tries to win by enlisting the votes of the plague ghosts, only for them to vote for one of their own, leading to "Creepy Dirk" becoming the winner instead.
  • Gilligan's Island:
    • On 'President Gilligan', Mr. Howell challenges the Skipper for leadership of the castaways, so they hold an election. The final tally is Skipper — 2, Mr. Howell — 2... Gilligan -- 3.
    • On "Beauty is as Beauty Does", the women of the island decide to have a beauty contest, with the men as judges. The Skipper supports Ginger, the Professor supports Mary-Ann, and Mr. Howell supports his wife, leaving Gilligan throwing the deciding vote. Gilligan declares that all three women are ineligible to win the contest, since they're not native to the island, and gives the prize to a monkey.
  • In the Glee episode "Prom Queen", it's prom. The election of Prom King and Queen is of course Serious Business, and especially the Prom Queen candidates treat it like a matter of life and death. None of them win. Instead, Kurt is elected Prom Queen in a homophobic prank that apparently the whole school except his friends in glee club took part in.
  • The Golden Girls, episode "The Flu," sees Blanche, Dorothy and Rose fighting over which of the three of them will win the Volunteer of the Year award. Naturally, Sophia wins.
  • Greek, "The Popular Vote": It's Frannie vs. Casey for the Zeta Beta presidency, and they go positively Rovian on each other (though Casey takes the high road near the end). When the votes are counted, the winner is...Ashleigh, Casey's best friend.
  • Growing Pains: In "Michaelgate", a class election between Mike and the Big Jerk on Campus gets both candidates (and the vice-President of Mike’s rival) disqualified for cheating. This causes Boner (the perpetually dumb sidekick who won a coin toss to be Mike’s Vice-President) to be the only eligible person on either ticket left to win the election.
  • Hell's Kitchen:
    • Season 7 had the final four in Jay, who was considered the major favorite to win early on in the season, Benjamin, who while a scrappy, was consistent and could back up his words, Autumn, who had an underdog story going on and had seriously improved her attitude, and finally Holli, who while consistent, was Out of Focus thoughout the season. Many people were shocked once Holli won, over Jay in the finals no less.
    • Perhaps a bigger example of this happened in Season 12. The three major front-runners were Jason, who was returning after failing to make it to the first service in Season 9 and showed great promise, Rochelle, who was very popular and consistent, and Joy, who while divisive, was still very good in service. No one expected Scott to end up as the winner, despite being nominated as much as Elise (although a good chunk of those nominations were the result of chefs like Ralph, Anton, and Joy throwing him under the bus).
  • Food Network had their annual Holiday Baking Championship. Eight bakers, one grand prize of $50,000. There were bakery owners, executive pastry chefs from high-end resorts...and one home baker. The home baker was a short, scrawny guy who managed a cafeteria in middle-of-nowhere Kentucky, had a mile-thick accent to match, and no formal culinary education, relying on recipes he learned from his grandma, mother, and aunts. He became the first home baker to take home the prize.
  • Jeopardy!:
    • The current version's first-ever Tournament of Champions from 1985 pitted the first season's fifteen undefeated champions against each other. Among the participants were Paul Boymel who won $56,200 on his original run and Elise Beraru who set the show's first one-day record with $23,800 and became the first champion to retire undefeated. Jerry Frankel, a musician from Buffalo, New York, put together a meager $32,650 during his five-game streak and had the lowest score among wildcard qualifiers in the semifinals. Nevertheless, Jerry would come out victorious after curb-stomping his opponents in Double Jeopardy! of his semifinal match and finishing tough in the finals by becoming the only player to correctly respond to Final Jeopardy! of the deciding game.
    • The 2014 Tournament of Champions finals included two celebrated contestants from the previous year: The controversial Arthur Chu, and Julia Collins, the winningest woman to ever play the game. The third player, Ben Ingram, had a solid but unspectacular 9-game win streak. It would be Ingram, however, who took the Champion title with a strong first-day performance.
  • Episode 8 of Leonardo is about a painting contest organised by the Duke of Florence. It's presented as all about Leo and his rival Michelangelo. The winner is Leo's friend Tomaso.
  • Little Lunch: In "The Beep Test", Debra Jo—who is the one who hates the beep test the most—is the last one standing after Tamara sprains her ankle, Atticus makes himself sic, Melanie cramps her foot by attempting to force it into a too small cast, and Rory (who decides to run wearing an eyepatch) collides with Battie and takes them both out.
  • In an episode of Lizzie McGuire, the main character and Claire go against each other in a school election. The winner ended up being the third candidate Tudgeman, who only won because he ate worms in exchange for votes (which he even acknowledges in his acceptance speech).
  • Played with in M*A*S*H. Father Mulcahy turned out to have some gambling skills, and he used it to anticipate a game of bridge, by betting on Potter's and Winchester's partners, not the guys themselves. Fortunately, he used the winnings for charitable work.
  • The Masked Singer
    • In Season 6, while Bull and Banana Split were favored from day one (the former was even declared by judge Robin Thicke to be finale bound as early as his first performance), it was ultimately Queen of Hearts who won the competition. She even called herself this. It is downplayed however, as Queen of Hearts was still a fairly popular and talented performer.
    • Season 7 contained an arguably bigger example. The final 3 consisted of Prince, who proved himself able to handle various different styles of music without compromising any talent, Ringmaster, who was the favorite to win due to her powerful voice and talent of pulling off very difficult songs and Firefly, who ended up in a Duel (meaning she was in the bottom two in one round) and wasn't the favorite of her group. Going into the finale, many assumed Firefly would wash out in the first-round while Prince and Ringmaster would compete for the Golden Mask, yet in the end, it was Firefly who ultimately beat out Ringmaster in the final round to win the trophy.
  • Ned's Declassified School Survival Guide: In "Spirit Week", Ned competes against Martin Querly for Spirit King, so he can be Susie's date, and eventually end up tied. In the end, neither of them wins, as instead the election goes to Loomer (who kept getting zeroes), for the sake of unintentionally saving the Spirit Stick.
  • The Office (US): Michael, Jim, and Karen are all competing for a job at corporate, which goes to Ryan, who had been interviewing for the job in secret. This fact was not revealed until the tag at the end of the episode.
  • The scoring system on QI is so legendarily incomprehensible that it's nearly impossible to tell who is in the lead at any given time (even Stephen Fry, the host, often seems surprised when reading the scores at the end). However, what really makes this trope is the several occasions in which the studio audience won the show, due to having answered at least one question correctly while the panelists were all in negative scores.
  • In The Red Green Show episode "The Folk Art Convention" from Season 15, the "Adventures" segment features an ATV race between Bill, Winston, and Dalton. Dalton is essentially driving a riding mower, while Bill and Winston have faster, more powerful vehicles. However, they drive recklessly and ultimately run out of fuel just short of the finish line, handing victory to Dalton.
  • Remember WENN has an episode where Jeff and Scott competed for the "Golden Lobe" award.
  • RuPaul's Drag Race. By and large, the queens who win each season are also the ones who have the most main challenge wins. In season 9, RuPaul flipped the script, and the finale of the seasons became a sudden-death lip sync mini-tournament for the crown. This put the top four contestants by season's end on level ground, with often surprising results.
    • For example, at the end of season 9, walking art-school project Sasha Velour, despite a consistently high track record, became the first contestant to win the crown without the most challenge wins. In fact, she had two, against Shea Couleé's four, and Trinity Taylor's three. And Sasha's two wins were team wins with Shea, at that. Being Always Second Best during her season made her surprise win that much more of a shock.
    • And then there's season 11 and Yvie Oddly. She often placed high, only spent one time in the bottom two (a famous lipsync with Brooke Lynn Hytes that was so good, they were both allowed to stay), but she only scored one challenge win — a team win with Scarlet Envy during an acting challenge. Yvie Oddly still got a lot of attention based on her monstrous style of drag, and extreme flexibility while performing (brought on by Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome). This allowed her to hang in there until the finale, where she became the first person to win the crown off of one challenge win.
  • In the Scrubs episode "My Life In Four Cameras", each of the main characters is trying to win a talent competition to save a popular cafeteria worker's job... the cafeteria worker himself wins the contest. Except it turns out the whole episode was J.D. fantasising about Scrubs being like a happy-go-lucky sitcom where Status Quo Is God. The cafeteria worker loses his job in real life.
  • Seacht ended like this — after the characters spend the entire episode trying to win a music contract, complete with all sorts of blackmail and behind-the-scenes shaggery, the winner is somebody who had never appeared in the series before the last five minutes. Lampshaded when Brian asked who the f*** this was.
  • In an episode of Seinfeld, George has a chance to score a terrific apartment, but learns that the tenant board wants to give it to an Andrea Doria survivor instead. George works laboriously to prove that his life has contained more suffering and hardship than that of the shipwreck survivor. He succeeds, as his tales of the mishaps he endured in previous episodes leave the tenant board in tears. In the end, however, Elaine's boyfriend gets the apartment by giving the super a fifty dollar bribe.
  • On Selfie, the company holds a mud obstacle course. Henry and Freddy, who previously trained for the course together, end up stopping to fight due to their conflicting interactions with Eliza. This allows Charmonique to pull ahead and win.
  • Small Wonder, "Little Miss Shopping Mall": Vicki and Harriet (perennial rivals again!) both lose to Ellen Sue Beasley, whose parents own the shopping mall and are judging the contest. And it's a Crack Defeat too, since Beasley was clearly outclassed by Vicki.
  • The second season of Superior Donuts has Arthur run for president of the Business Owners' Association against Faws over the proposal to turn a local park into a parking lot. They have a debate with Sofia moderating. While they throw insults at each other, Sofia tries to keep the peace and even proposes a workable solution to the parking problem. When it dawns on the voters that she's the only one who's read the bylaws, they hold an impromptu vote then and there and elect her as the new president.
  • No list could be complete without the biggest WTF? winners of Survivor: Vecepia, Amber, Chris, Danni, Parvati, Natalie W. and Fabio.
  • The Weird Al Show: Weird Al and perennial rival Uncle Bobby both lose the TV Host of the Year competition to senile, ukelele-playing puppet man Fred Huggins, another kids show host, which provides the Aesop for the story.
  • In the Welcome Back, Kotter 2-part story "Vinnie in Love", the Sweathogs are competing in a talent show as "3 Do's and a Don't". In the midst of rehearsals, Barbarino falls in love with a girl from another school and starts neglecting the others, which leads to their group being dropped from the competition. After talking it over, they get a second chance, only for the other acts to lose to someone who does bird calls.
  • On Welcome Freshmen, Erin Kelly is disgusted with the fact that a super-slick politician-in-training will likely become class president, with only disgusting slob Billy Cushman providing competition. She enters the race, but is immediately hit with so much negative campaigning that she eventually has no choice but to go negative in response. They both end up so damaged that Cushman wins.
  • The Democratic Primary in Season 6 of The West Wing was this. In-universe, the race was widely assumed to be a straight contest between the current Vice-President Bob Russell and former Vice-President John Hoynes, but the nomination eventually went to the little-known Congressman Matthew Santos.
    • Given some of his comments President Bartlett himself was one prior to the start of the series.
  • The Worst Year of My Life, Again: After Troy wins the cross-country race and gets his photo on the trophy next to Nicola, Alex attempts to use the 'loop year' to ensure that he wins instead. However, his messing with the time line cause neither himself nor Troy to win: with the victor being the one boy too slow to have been redirected by the detour Alex caused the rest of the runners to run into.

  • In Yes, Minister, the only reason Jim Hacker makes it to party leader and then Prime Minister is that he is up against two far stronger candidates, who end up cancelling each other out because they are strong enough to have acquired many enemies (not to mention both have major potential scandals that make them rather unsuitable). Nobody can be bothered to hate Hacker very much as he is widely seen as mediocre and ineffectual. note 
  • Zondag Met Lubach: In a segment lampooning how first-time buyers are being driven out of the real estate market by large investors, both foreign and domestic, there's a sketch showing an open house sale with many prospective buyers showing up. Then it turns out the house was already bought up by Pino.


    Pro Wrestling 
  • Professional Wrestling does this with Triple Threat matches when one of the three wrestlers in the match has not been involved in a running feud between the other two, or is otherwise pushed into the match with an intentional lack of build-up. A recent example: Randy Orton, a textbook heel and then-WWE Champion, went into WrestleMania 24 defending his belt against John Cena and Triple H in a Triple Threat match. Triple Threats as championship matches are notorious for hamming up the defender losing a belt unfairly or without being 'properly' beaten, because one of the non-champions can win the belt by pinning the other non-champion. WWE even did a phone-poll for fan speculation on who would win the match, with Orton receiving an underwhelming five percent of the vote. Guess who won the match?
  • Dark Horse Victories are common enough in wrestling that WWE has begun successfully swerving the audience by letting the odds-on favorites win handily. The most visible example is WWE's recent years-long campaign to re-establish the #30 spot in the Royal Rumble as the odds-on favorite (since drawing #30 out of 30 had previously been, statistically, the worst chance to win the match) by having a streak of victories from the final entrants; meanwhile, Wade Barrett was built as such a foregone conclusion to win the first season of WWE's NXT show that his victory was a surprise.
  • Manabu Nakanishi's New Japan Pro-Wrestling 1999 G1 Climax win over the legendary Keiji Mutoh. Later, when he won the IWGP Heavyweight title in a bout wit the much younger Hiroshi Tanahashi.
  • Much to the joy of every internet Smart Mark alive, CM Punk held the WWE Championship, Daniel Bryan held the World Heavyweight Championship and Zack Ryder held the United States Championship simultaneously (at one point). All three (Punk and Bryan being indy circuit vets and Ryder being an internet darling (more so than the other two)) were widely seen as "not championship material" by management. Following their victories after the 2011 TLC pay-per-view, all three joined together to defeat Dolph Ziggler, Alberto Del Rio and The Miz in a tag-team match, and then celebrated with the crowd as the collective "People's Champions". A subsequent promotional video, using the song "Dark Horses" by Switchfoot, was made in recognition of this time of events.

    Puppet Shows 
  • The Dinosaurs episode, "And the Winner Is..." revolves around the dinosaur equivalent of a Presidential election, with Earl running as an everyman candidate against Corrupt Corporate Executive B.P. Richfield. The winner is Edward R. Hero, the political correspondent who anchored the election coverage, by a landslide write-in vote.
  • In the Muppets Valentine Show, Kermit has to fight a giant rat for Miss Mousey's affection. And then she goes with another guy with the cool motorcycle.
  • In a 1973 Sesame Street News Flash sketch, Kermit is reporting on the race between the hare and the tortoise. When the starting bell sounds, the tortoise plods away, while the hare, true to the story, relaxes by the starting line, telling Kermit he'll sprint to the finish after giving the tortoise a head start, the better to make the race interesting. Kermit heads to the finish line to cover the end of the race... and, in so doing, crosses the line before either of the runners and is declared the winner.

  • Survival of the Fittest's version 3 endgame (Spoilered for massive spoilers) ultimately subverts this. In this case, there are four competitors: J. R. Rizollo, Trish McCarrol, Lenny Priestly, and Louise "Lulu" Altaire. Lulu is obviously the odd one out here, only killing 2 people, both only out of revenge, not to mention she is massively outpowered by everyone else. Ultimately, she makes it to endgame, and puts up a brutal fight against one of the biggest killers in the game so far, J. R., going so far as to even cutting off several of his fingers. Unfortunately, he takes advantage of one of her flaring disadvantages, her glasses which she can't see without. This allows him to kill her, and he wins v3, subverting the expected trope (Trish and Lenny had both killed each other by this point).

  • One of the shows in the late, great Adventurer's Club, the Balderdash Cup competition, involved a 'rivalry' between one character (Otis T. Wren) and another member (Hathaway Brown), who Wren sends on a Snipe Hunt before the competition. Both of them, however, almost always lose to a third contestant, on his "first night". Each of the other two have won at least once, though, as the contest is judged by the audience. While it's generally understood that the audience is supposed to vote for Bleehall, a group of guests colluded and threw the contest for Brown. And, on the very last night the club was open, Otis T. Wren finally won.

    Video Games 
  • Sometimes, consoles that are expected to succeed are blown away by seemingly less noteworthy rivals, such as:
    • The Sony PlayStation. Most doubted that it would be a winner, as Sony was a newcomer to the gaming market. But they had a lot of know-how from producing Unix workstations, which they adapted into a simple yet powerful 3D-centric console; also, they provided the best development tools, and offered third-parties advantageous publishing deals. Meanwhile, Sega's Saturn was an overcomplicated beast that pointlessly clung to 2D, and the Nintendo 64 was hindered by the higher cost and limited storage of cartridges.
    • The Nintendo Wii. After the poor sales of the Gamecube, expectations for their next machine were low. But by appealing to the casual, "non-gamer" audience, it became a massive success and managed to beat the PS3 and Xbox 360 (although by a relatively small margin).
    • The Sony PlayStation 4 was expected to lose to the Nintendo Wii U and the Xbox One. However, poor advertising on the Wii U's part and a horrible first impression of the Xbox One firmly put the PS4 in the lead and the Wii U in dead last.

  • This is the backstory to AI War: Fleet Command. Two human factions waged a massive war for centuries, but then the combat AI turned and beat them both.

  • In the Arknights event Gavial: The Great Chief Returns, Gavial returns home to the Acajutla region just in time for the Great Chief's Ceremony, a trial by combat to decide who will be the leader of the tribes living there. While she easily won the last one before she left, many powerful challengers have cropped up in the time since then, including her old friend and admirer Tomimi, Wrench Wench Eunectes and her weapons of war, and Flint, a Pintsized Powerhouse from a tribe in the rainforest. Eunectes proceeds to decimate the competition with her Mini-Mecha, but Gavial destroys it once it gets out of control, claiming victory. However, since she'll be returning to Rhodes Island shortly after, she can't accept the position, and with every other notable contender deciding to come with her for their own reasons, the title of Great Chief ultimately goes to Inam, a merchant who never even entered the contest in the first place.
  • In Choice of Magics, Saint Twimsby is a kind-hearted healer and animal lover, but apolitical and frankly a bit simple-minded. If he becomes Hierophant after the death of the previous one, it's because the voting system allows electors three vetoes each, and he's the only one nobody bothers to waste a veto on.
  • In the Dragalia Lost event "The Hunt For Harmony", Luca takes part in the Vernal Banquet's Egg Hunt in hopes of winning the right to allow sylvan festivities to be celebrated by all, but he ends up having fierce competition in the form of Laranoa and Sylas. He also meets a younger sylvan named Fleur, who isn't as good at the egg hunt as the other three due to dedicating her skills to painting more than hunting. In the end though, Fleur wins the contest thanks to the other three deciding her reason for competing having more value than theirs and thus give her all their eggs and a quick ride back to the village on a dragon.
  • In Fallout: New Vegas, three factions are fighting over Hoover Dam and the city of New Vegas: Caesar's Legion, an army of raping slavers, Mr.House, a brilliant former businessman with his own robot army, and the New California Republic, a strong, rich, democratic republic from the west. The main plot of the game is deciding who wins by helping them take bases, screwing up their enemies intelligence, annihilating minor factions who are allied against them, etc. However, instead of helping any of the above, you can assassinate Mr.House and take control of his robot army. You can then use that robot army to defeat both the New California Republic and the Legion at Hoover Dam (after optionally dealing with the various raider groups and Legion bases around the Mojave) and take control of Vegas for yourself. It's not statistically the best ending (it ends with at least two "bad" ending slides and several neutral ones, as opposed to the NCR ending where all "good" endings are possible for everyone).
    • Depending on the player's actions, the downloadable content Dead Money can feature a significantly darker version of this trope. Throughout the questline, you've been trying to help the insane former Elder of the Brotherhood of Steel, Elijah, break into a massive pre-war casino which for some reason had numerous technological wonders like matter replicators and invincible laser shooting holograms in it, and an army of Ghost people guarding it. It's also surrounded by a huge red toxic cloud only called "the Cloud". When you finally get into the section of the Casino he was looking for (the one that lets him control the holograms and the flow of the cloud), he tries to pull You Have Out Lived Your Usefulness on you, and tries to kill you. However, you can convince him through a very specific set of dialogue that We Can Rule Together, resulting in a Non Standard Game Over. Then, a little cutscene will play explaining how Elijah and the Courier unleashed the Cloud and the holograms upon the Mojave, which killed everything in their path. No living thing set foot in the Mojave for years after due to rumors of ghosts immune to gunfire and a red cloud that brought death in its wake. All that remained was Elijah and the Courier, waiting in the Sierra Madre for the world to begin again.
  • A strange example occurs in Final Fantasy VII. When Sephiroth goes mad and it turns out Cloud had been taking on Zack's persona. The fights went like this: Tifa vs. Sephiroth, Zack vs. Sephiroth, and a random mook (not even a Class-Three SOLDIER) vs. Sephiroth. The winner of the first two is Sephiroth. The winner of the third fight? The random mook, who turns out to be Cloud.
  • Any sports management game (Football Manager and the like) will let you pull off this trope by taking charge of an unfancied team and leading them to glory, but the computer will sometimes pull this off itself, with competitions being won by the most unlikely or obscure of teams. The Internet is rife with tales of international minnows winning the World Cup, or lower-league sides winning cup tournaments.
  • In Grand Theft Auto IV and its DLCs, after bloody gang wars that were fought over it, the diamonds that has killed almost everyone who holds it was finally claimed in the end by a random hobo in Meadows Park who stumbled upon it by accident in a trash can.
  • At one point during Might and Magic VII, your actions as Lords of Harmondale lead to another war over Harmondale between Tularea and Erathia. There are two variations for how a victory is achieved (bloody war or negotiated compromise following skirmishes), but at first it might seem as if those are the only two contenders. Take the right actions, however, and a third victor is possible: You. If you get the Gryphonheart Trumpet and give it to the Arbiter, Harmondale becomes an independent buffer kingdom.
  • In Ogre Battle: The March of the Black Queen, after the final battle, the Lord has united the continent, both holding control of the kingdom of Zenobia and The Empire of Zeteginea. In most of the endings, either Tristan, the heir to the throne of Zenobia, takes the throne, or he abdicates it in favor of the Lord, but in one ending, Rauny, the first female Paladin and the heir to the Zeteginean Empire, takes the throne in her own name, marrying the Lord to support her claim. This is the only ending where Rauny takes the throne, and she's not otherwise a candidate.
  • Similarly to the Romance of the Three Kingdoms example above, the Sima clan (considered their own faction of Jin as of 7) in Dynasty Warriors are the eventual winner of the warring between the three kingdoms, though they do so under the banner of Wei.
  • In Tyranny, the player character is an official who travels the lands of the final conquest of an evil overlord Kyros and executes justice in his authority. The conflict is based around two armies that participated in the conquest who now compete for the govenorship of the conqured province, while also clashing with the remenants of the conquered realms acting as rebels against the overlord's authority. In all endings the player himself comes out on top, suprising everyone, including the overlord himself. This is usually done by siding with one of the three factions throught the game and then siezing direct controll of the faction, ultimatly bowing to or defying the overlord using the power he aquires during the events of the game. The most radical example of this trope is the so called „anarchist“ victory. In this ending, the player doesn't side with any faction, but instead sizes the entirety of the game area by himself, destroys all other factions and proceeds to attack the Overlord's lands.
  • One of Undertale's neutral endings, if you kill every boss but absolutely nobody else, results in the Annoying Dog becoming ruler of the Underground. Somehow this works out pretty well. Notably, this is the only ending where you kill Papyrus and Sans doesn't call you out for it.
  • In The World Ends with You, the mission for Week 2 Day 2 requires the players of the Reaper's Game to win a Tin Pin Slammer tournament. Neku turns out to be something of a natural, but is totally outclassed by Shooter, who destroys him in the semifinal. However, because Joshua tampered with his pins, Shooter ends up losing the tournament to Sota, another player, who Neku and Joshua hadn't even met yet.

    Web Animation 
    • Famously, the battle between Dr. Wily and Dr. Robotnik ended when Metal Sonic went rogue, sending the whole thing Off the Rails and ending with him killing everybody.
    • In a case of Dark Horse Loser, the battle betwwen Scooby-Doo and Courage the Cowardly Dog ended in a draw with neither able to permanantly kill the other. However, they did team up to kill Eustes, the Jerkass among Courage's two owners.
      • In its spinoff series, DBX, the battle between Daffy Duck and Donald Duck ends this way in the default ending: after shooting Donald dead with his own shotgun, Daffy is unceremoniously shot by a Zapper-wielding Bugs Bunny.
      Bugs Bunny: Ehh... Ain't I a stinkah?
  • In the (written, but not released) Homestar Runner cartoon "Soap Box Doiby", Homestar and Pom Pom compete viciously for first place. Marzipan, who isn't even revealed to be taking place in the race until the last second, ends up winning. (Homestar's usual rival, Strong Bad, winds up getting last place, however.)
  • Rocket & Groot: In part 4, Rocket enters a space race. Before the race begins, Rocket empties out the ship of anything that could slow him down. This includes Groot, who he tricks into an escape pod. Throughout the race Rocket is neck-and-neck with Blackjack O'hare. When the two get close to the finish line, Groot's escape pod smashes them both and crosses, making Groot the winner.
  • The SMG4 episode "MARIO'S CHALLENGE" features over 100 different characters competing to get to the top of the tower where Mario is, all to win what's in his box. There's a lot of suspense as to who will make it to the top and win the titular challenge, with focus being given to Luigi, Bowser and especially Meggy. The last shot of the final floor has the three, amongst a few others, racing to the elevator... only for the victor to be revealed as Shroomy, a character who had never been seen before. Even Mario is taken aback and confused about the result.
  • During the pre-tournament draw for determining preliminary groups for hololive's 2022 New Year's Mario Kart 8 tournament, as soon as it became known that Group B would have both of the previous two years' champions Aqua and Suisei in it every other talent started praying they wouldn't get drawn into that group. It only got more formidable once other strong players Towa and Pekora were also drawn into it, becoming termed a "Group of Death" as only the top three finishers in each eleven-person group advanced to the final and most fans thought there was little chance for anyone else in Group B to get through. When the day came, the top three finishers included Suisei, Towa...and Gura, who just beat out Pekora on the final race with a timely red shell at the final turn of the final lap and finished ahead of her by one point in the standings. Gura's performance was especially notable as her earlier races in the past year or so showed she wasn't that good, but had put in a lot of practice between then and the New Year's tournament. Gura ended up finishing fourth overall.

  • In the Batman: Wayne Family Adventures issue Assassin, the Bat kids are playing paintball assassin. At the end, right when it looks like Orphan is going to win for the second year in a row, Bluebird shows up and takes her out, winning the game.
  • Played for laughs and zig-zagged in 8-Bit Theater, when Fighter competes in a Drownball tournament, where the goal is to drown. Fighter is a favorite to win, as he competes wearing heavy plate armor. Despite this, he fails to drown, thus making his performance the worst of all the competitors. However, since that makes him the only surviving participant, he's made the winner of the tournament by default.
  • In Chapter 9 of Dating a Team Magma Grunt the titular grunt and a grunt from Team Aqua both enter into a Pokémon Contest to compete for Brendan's affection. Tobias note  won.
  • This was the protagonists' first true victory in Dubious Company. Izor sends the Imperial Guard to quash a rebelling town. The Guard puts down the rebellion in an overly nonsensical manner. The pirates later come in and take the Guard prisoner and sack the town. Given that the Imperial Guard has always curb-stomped the pirates before, this was a bit of a surprise.
  • Played for laughs in El Goonish Shive, with the card game tournament. The comic had been following several main characters as they play their matches... only for the winner to be Some Guy, a random background character who doesn't even have a name.
  • The "Blood on the Sand" arc of Ennui GO! centers on Izzy hosting a series of all-ages competitions, with the winning team getting a single wish granted by her. Captain Orca and his crew compete to see if they can get Izzy to tell them where Key Manati's fish girl population is, and much of the focus is on them and Izzy's friends competing; however, the winners end up being Izzy's nephew Max and his friends, who were largely ignored (both by the narrative and the other competitors).
    Noah: Ayo hol' up. Not that I give a shit, but how did THEY win?
    Izzy: Everybody else was too busy sabotaging each other to actually do well in the events. And nobody bothered fucking with the kids.
  • The webcomic Girls with Slingshots did this in a blogging contest between two characters: [1]
  • In Gunnerkrigg Court Andrew is named the Court's medium instead of Annie by the Headmaster's decision. Everyone was so certain who it would be that they start congratulating the assumed winner, who with false modesty expresses surprise, before they realize who was chosen.
  • In Kevin & Kell, Frank Mangle challenged the Herd Thinners C.E.O. R.L. for control of Herd Thinners. By the rules, the last man standing would be the C.E.O. That turned out to be Kell Dewclaw, who had only intervened to keep R.L. and Frank from killing each other.
  • qxlkbh: La Croix wins the election for Mayor of Citygradville in 133: election results, thanks to weird circumstances which nobody expected due to them previously having just 0.06% of the vote. note  This trope is called out by name in 134: dark horse victory and LC plays a game called Dark Horse III.
  • Dark Horse Defeat in Shortpacked!: Galasso warns everyone that someone will be laid off at the end of the holiday season. Ethan desperately tries to make sure it is the new guy they all hate, Faz, who goes, or at least not himself. At the end of the arc, Galasso announces that the employee to be fired... is a girl who has not once appeared on camera, spoken a line of dialogue or been named or referred to until this point, with vicious lampshading. This leads into Robin getting mad at the cop-out and trying to increase the comic's drama.
    • This character, "Sydney Yus," does return later as part of the forces Faz has assembled to lead his coup against Galasso.
    • This is also a gigantic parody of Tonight, Someone Dies.
  • In Survivor: Fan Characters, this happened in Seasons 5 and 9.
  • This Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal comic. "I have a fantastic attorney," indeed.

    Web Videos 
  • Console Wars:
    • In the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighters episode, April O'Neil is on a dating game show with two bachelors; Shredder and Casey Jones. At the end of the episode, it is revealed that there was a third bachelor whom Shredder and Casey didn't know about because they were too busy trying to figure out which version of the TMNT Tournament Fighters game was better. The third bachelor is revealed to be Raphael, who made a real connection with April.
    • In The Great Circus Mystery episode, Pat and Dan find out that the SNES and Sega Genesis versions of the game have equal advantages over the other, with the SNES version having better graphics, the Genesis version having a better presentation, and each version having an exclusive level. They get a call from Mike to help them settle their dispute. Mike cites the Game Boy Advance version as being the best one, having all of the elements of the SNES and Genesis versions, as well as a save feature in place of the passwords, an improved character select screen, a language select, and an improved ending.
  • The ball pit challenge in Kittisaurus features the cats competing over who can cross the ball pit obstacle course first, with each course being harder than the last due to an additional obstacle (silver string for the second, water trays for the third). You would expect Lulu, Lala or Dodo to win, given they are the most active and the biggest eaters. The winner is Chuchu and she won against all three of those cats because they were either too distracted or too hesitant.
  • When The Nostalgia Critic did an Old vs. New debate about Cinderella and Cinderella (2015), the tallies ended up being a draw, so everyone decided that the best Cinderella movie is Ever After.
  • In Strip Search, the fourth round of eliminations pitted Nick Trujillo against Mackenzie Schubert. The winner was Lexxy Douglass, whose comic in Elimination #3 had been so absolutely good that the judges couldn't bear to destroy it.
  • Dana Cardinal from Welcome to Night Vale wins the mayoral election, beating out the Faceless Old Woman and Hiram McDaniels, despite not having run for the position in the first place.
  • Youth & Consequences: Grace Ho wins the Student Council President, despite only becoming a candidate very late in the election and basically being an unknown in school, thanks to Lovable Alpha Bitch Farrah's support.

    Western Animation 
  • All Grown Up!, "Rats Race": Tommy vs. Angelica (despite being cousins, they, too, are perennial rivals) in a go-kart race... but the winner is Harold.
  • Angela Anaconda, Angela, Nanette and several other kids entered a bicycle race. The only kid who made it to the finish line was Josephine, who didn't crash into any other racer. Angela's best friend tried to comfort her with the fact Nanette also hasn't won. Angela said that it'd usually be enough consolation but she needed the money prize.
  • In the Arthur episode "DW Swims With The Fishes" Emily wins the swimming race because DW stopped to help James after his swim fin got caught on the pool rope.
    • In "Show Off" a dachshund wins the dog show after Killer and Sebastian the poodle both got disqualified (the former being distracted with a wind up mouse toy, the latter with roast beef and he ends up attacking a judge for it)
  • Baby Looney Tunes: Bugs and Lola are racing Daffy in a toy car race, with Sylvester and Taz seeming only to make up the numbers (those two have to pool together their parts to put together an entry, even)... until Daffy's car bumps Bugs and Lola's car off the course, leaving the other car (Sylvester and Taz's) the only one to finish and win.
  • In non-baby Looney Tunes, the classic Bugs Bunny short "Ballot Box Bunny" has Bugs and Yosemite Sam as rivals in a small town's mayoral election. Both are beaten out by a literal "dark horse", who becomes "Our New Mare".
  • The CatDog episode "Climb Every CatDog" features Cat participating in a mountain climbing contest against Cat's arch-enemy Mindy, who has beat him in every competition since elementary school. The winner gets the mountain named after them. In the end, Mindy is hit by a flying bird with a bear holding on, thanks to an earlier CatDog mishap and CatDog finally reaches the summit of the mountain only to find that their friend Dunlap made it there before them. The real kicker, he wasn't even competing. He was only trying to return their earmuffs!
  • Daria:
    • Played Straight and averted when the Fashion Club are competing for a modeling contract along with a pudgy, redheaded background character. Oddly enough, she's not the Dark Horse—the contract winds up going to Kevin, one of the boys whom the modeling agency had asked to pose with the competing girls.
    • In "Arts 'n' Crass," the school has an art contest about student life. Most of the episode focuses on Daria and Jane's submission (a well-done but deliberately shocking take on eating disorders) and how they want to rescind it from the contest after Ms. Li alters it without their approval. At the very end we find out that Brittany's entry (which looks like it might have been done by a five-year-old) actually won, to Daria and Jane's amusement.
  • Dennis the Menace: In "The Backyard Band", Dennis, Gina, Tommy, and Jay form their own band and are entered in a talent show against Timmy, the son of a snobby entrepreneur who insults them. Mr. Wilson helps Dennis' band to practice and by the time of the talent show, the results are greatly improved, while Timmy performs a very off-key rendition of "O My Darling", which annoys everyone in the audience, except for his father. When the talent show ends, the judge gives the first place trophy to his twin nephews. Dennis' band gets the second place trophy, though, and give it to Mr. Wilson to thank him for being such a great coach.
  • Played for Laughs in a episode of Doug which finds the titular Doug running against a classmate for student council treasurer. In the end, neither student wins the election and an adult businessman is elected to the student council due to Skeeter using leftover campaign materials from his uncle's failed campaign for city treasurer. Skeeter's uncle had the same initials as Doug.
  • On The Fairly OddParents! Timmy Turner invokes this trope, sending Cosmo (or rather, his disembodied head) into a race with two villains, figuring they would cheat each other but ignore him.
  • In The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy Grim and Mandy face Billy and Irwin in a go-kart race. They are both close up to the final lap, but a series of supernatural events leads to both karts getting trashed, leading to a mysterious rider in a red wagon — revealed to be Pud'n — to win the race. After the episode constantly cut to the wagon barely going faster than molasses and even overturning at some points.
  • Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends:
    • Subverted in the episode "Room with a View". Several regulars compete for ownership of a room, but a friend who came out of nowhere named Peanut Butter ends up winning it....but only at the closing of the second act. The third act has the other competitors managing to get him to give up the room, and in the end, one of the regulars wins.
    • Also in an episode where Mac and Bloo were competing against a rival kid and his imaginary friend, at the end the winner was a previously unmentioned imaginary friend.
  • Jimmy Neutron: Boy Genius:
    • In one episode, the school has a day where students and their parents compete together in sports events. Naturally, the focus of the episode is Jimmy vs. Cindy, both of whom cheat. However, at the end it turns out that every family was cheating except for Carl and his equally unathletic father, so they win by default.
    • In "Jimmy for President", Jimmy, Libby, Sheen, and Funny Foreigner exchange student Bolbi run for class president. After the former three try to pressure Carl into picking them to vote for, they end up getting disqualified for bribery, blackmail, and flying a blimp over school grounds without a permit, leaving Bolbi to win by default.
  • Kim Possible:
    • The very next episode was "Return to Wannaweep": Cheer camp at Lake Wannaweep. Bonnie vs. Kim again, this time, for the Spirit Stick. Your winner: A guy in a shark suit named Sharkie from a rival school. Bonnie and Kim both lost because they only cared about showing each other up, but instead both conclude that "Cheer camp stinks." Ron points out either of them could have won if they'd put their differences behind, but agrees with them for different reasons (he spent the whole episode ostracized for correctly suspecting Gil).
    • In "Exchange", Kim and Monique compete for the same Japanese Pretty Boy exchange student, who's seen macking on the Alpha Bitch, Bonnie, as he leaves for Japan instead.
  • After an episode-long simmering rivalry in "Chain of Command," Lightning Lad challenges Cosmic Boy (who has been absent the entire series until just now) for leadership of the Legion of Super Heroes (2006), it's a quick-cut to the tallied votes, and Bouncing Boy wins instead, as the other plot of the episode was him learning to be a better more assertive Mission Control.
  • Molly of Denali: In "Brand New Flag", Molly holds a town-wide contest to design a flag for the Trading Post. Overwhelmed with all the entries, she laters finds a flag design that she thinks is perfect, even though it has no name. It wins the contest. It turns out that Suki made it.
  • In Race For Your Life, Charlie Brown, Charlie and friends don't win the big river rafting race that forms the plot of the movie... but neither do the three bullies and their mean cat. The upset winner in this case is Snoopy's little yellow bird friend Woodstock. What's more, until right before the finish Snoopy was racing with Woodstock in a makeshift tire raft when the cat pops it with his claw. Woodstock crosses the finish line in a little handmade twig raft (made on the spot), which means technically, none of the FOUR groupsnote  competing against each other for the entire race ultimately won.
  • Ready Jet Go!: In "Asteroid Belt Space Race", Eggplant and Zerk, Zucchini and Moonbeam, and Jet, Sean, Sydney, Celery, Sunspot and Face 9000 compete in a race around the asteroid belt. Eggplant and Zerk end up winning the race because of their anti-gravity fluxinators.
  • Recess:
    • The A.V. Kid is leaving and uses a series of practical tests to find a successor. TJ and Vince are vying for the position. Initially fiercely competitive, they chose to set aside their differences during the final stage when their equipment malfunctions. They fix each other's projectors just before time runs out and are both successful. A.V. Kid commends them on their teamwork before handing the position to an obviously incompetent third candidate (who we've never seen before or ever see after, yet TJ and Vince apparently know him well), tangled up in the film, for his "independence" (Being a solitary job, the candidate had to prove that they could work without resorting to outside help).
    • This trope was averted in a later episode when Gretchen and Vince are running against each other for class president. Gretchen wins by one vote, which turns out to be cast by Vince after realizing that Gretchen actually had some good ideas and could make a difference, whereas he was treating it basically as a popularity contest.
  • Rocket Power: One episode focuses on a sandcastle contest, where Sam, a Teen Genius rival, and various other entrants make elaborate and difficult sand sculptures. In the end, the award goes to recurring character Mackenzie Benders, a bratty kid whose entry is about what you'd expect from anyone her age. Ray, one of the judges, notes that they had to give it to her—she was the only one who made an actual sandcastle.
  • The Simpsons did this with the aptly named "Lisa's Rival", where Lisa replaces Allison Taylor's diorama of Edgar Allan Poe's The Telltale Heart with a bloody cow heart, but the guilt gets to her and she reveals Allison's real diorama (getting off the hook despite her feeble excuse), but Allison still doesn't win; Principal Skinner is unimpressed. Lisa does not think she deserves to win after trying to cheat, but she is still surprised when she does not win for a diorama of Oliver Twist. In the end Ralph Wiggum wins simply by putting Star Wars figures in a box. Lisa and Allison decide to be friends and even befriend Ralph despite his initial gloating ("I beat the smart kids! I beat the smart kids!")
    • Also not so 'befriend'. It was suggested that they want to prove him not-smart by showing him games Lisa couldn't beat (at least initially).
    • By most measures, a convict would stand little chance of becoming a city's mayor. It happened in the episode "Sideshow Bob Roberts", when Sideshow Bob defeated the incumbent Mayor Joe Quimby. It was later revealed, however, that his victory was not entirely legitimate.
    • Played for Laughs in the episode where Homer goes to space. The episode begins with Mr. Burns about the announce the Employee of the Month; the rules say that everyone has to win it once, and everyone but Homer already has. Instead, it goes to "this inanimate carbon rod!"
  • In the Sonic Boom episode, "My Fair Sticksy", both Sticks and Dr. Eggman get nominated for an Awardy Award, which ends up going to Leroy the Turtle.
  • SpongeBob SquarePants
    • "The Great Snail Race": Patrick's "snail" Rocky (a rock) wins a snail race ahead of perennial rival Squidward's pedigree snail in love with SpongeBob's pet snail, Gary (who crashed into the wall).
    • In "Slimy Dancing" Squidward inside Spongebob enters a dancing competition, and at first wins, but loses immediately when Spongebob reveals they're two dancers, disqualifying them as only one dancer at a time is allowed. It turns out everyone else cheated in the same way... except for Patrick, hence he wins.
  • Teacher's Pet: In the first episode, "Muttamorphosis", Scott Leadready and Leonard Helperman both lose to the gross kid in class named Ian for class president. Actually, it's the usual ending for the requisite election episode on just about any show.
  • In Tiny Toon Adventures, Babs Bunny and Plucky Duck competed for who could end up in the greater number of photographs in the school yearbook. It turned out they both tied, but 'The Kid in the Orange Hat' was in the background of every picture either of them was in, winning easily. And that Kid turned out to be Buster Bunny in disguise trying to teach them a lesson; instead, they both proceed to rain violence down upon him.
  • An episode of the cartoon Spin-Off of Beetlejuice had the eponymous character disguised as "Betty Juice" compete against Claire Brewster for class president. Even after some literal mud-slinging, BOTH characters lose to some unknown classmate.
  • An episode of Sagwa, the Chinese Siamese Cat involving a writing contest entered by, among others, Sagwa and the daughter of a magistrate the Foolish Magistrate has a recurring prank war with, ultimately concludes with this trope. After the officials spend the entire episode messing up the contest, both Sagwa and the girl lose to an old guy...who had won the contest 48 years in a row prior to this one.
  • We Bare Bears: In "The Money Man", Chloe and Saanvi Patel are competing against each other in a science contest with Chloe's invention that turns thoughts into visual images vs. Saanvi's Amaze Navi that can help find lost things and help with mazes to win a scholarship from Dr. Bean, an eccentric, Absent-Minded Professor. Chloe and Saanvi reluctantly decide to team up and combine their inventions into one to find Dr. Bean when he wanders off, only for the professor to choose "a basketball with a personality", which is nothing more than a jock drawing a smiley face on a basketball with a magic marker. As Chloe and Saanvi are wondering what to do next with their creation, the government comes and takes the invention away for their own.
  • Bromwell High did this when the school had a contest for the students to do presentations on social tolerance. In spite of all her efforts, including a multi-cultural interview show and parachut stunts, Natella doesn't win. And Keisha, in spite of throwing a gypsy boxing match, doesn't win either. The prize is awarded to the giner-haired Kylie, who didn't compete at all.
  • Every Which Way But Lose, in the fourth season of American Dad!: both Francine and "Carlotta Monterey" (Hayley) are beaten by "Emmy Lou Sugarbean" (Roger) in the baking competition at Langley County Fair.
  • Futurama: Zoidberg rigs the Oscars to ensure this will happen twice in a two-minute span: first by listing Calculon among the nominees, and then by announcing the winner, "instead of any of those guys," is his uncle.
  • Played with in the Talent Show episode of The Weekenders. Lor isn't competing against anyone in particular (thanks to Tish inexplicably not even qualifying for the competition), other than her own lack-of-confidence (and inability to remember that the lyrics to "Home on the Range" are NOT "where the deer and the cantaloupe play"). She gives a good performance, but loses to Bluke's "Incredible Flying Hams" act, which consists of him throwing ham in the air and running away, terrified.
    • This trope frequently crops up whenever the main characters are in direct competition with each other to provide An Aesop about the strength of friendship. The regular Darkhorse(s) who benefit are typically Bluke and/or Frances.
  • The Avatar: The Last Airbender crack chibi-short ‘School Time Shipping’ ends this way. Basically the entire young male cast (minus Sokka) are trying to convince Katara to go to the school dance with them. Aang, Jet, Haru and Zuko all try their hardest — but Katara admits she’s already going with someone else. The Blue Spirit! Zuko says “I didn’t see that coming” which is fitting, since the Blue Spirit is his alter ego!
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic:
    • Played with this trope during the Running of the Leaves in "Fall-Weather Friends". After a lot of trickery in an attempt to get ahead of each other, Applejack and Rainbow Dash finished at the same time in last place. Then after they got over that shock, resident Squishy Wizard Twilight Sparkle walked up to them to reveal that she won... fifth place, a result that pleased her since it was her first race (she's read a lot about running and knew how to pace herself while most of the others ran themselves ragged.). The actual winner of the race was an unnamed pony.
    • The winners of the eponymous competition in "The Sisterhooves Social" are Berryshine/Berry Punch and an unnamed filly (nicknamed "Piña Colada"), with Rarity and Sweetie Belle coming in second.
    • In "Sparkle's Seven" the crown of the Sibling Supreme is a reward given in a Sibling Rivalry contest between Twilight Sparkle and Shining Armor ever since they were young. Shining Armor challenged Twilight to one last contest to determine who keeps the crown and the title permanently. If she can find a way to get past all the defenses to the castle and steal the crown then she wins, but if she gets caught then he wins. The winner ends up being Spike, who always wanted to be considered part of their rivalry himself but felt ignored by them. He managed to steal the crown himself by manipulating events from the beginning and getting help from Luna behind the scenes, basically teaching their older siblings a lesson about listening to them.
  • In The Spectacular Spider Man, gorgeous Mary Jane gets set up with Peter for his school's Fall Formal. Peter is, unsurprisingly, called off on superhero business, but M.J. sticks around and winds up being elected Homecoming Queen, even though she doesn't attend that school.
  • A Running Gag on WordGirl—anytime there's a competition among the kid characters, and especially if Tobey is trying to win it, the prize will go to Violet. Sometimes this makes a little sense, like when she wins because of artistic skills, but usually it comes out of nowhere.
  • In one of the endings of Total Drama Presents: The Ridonculous Race the Surfers, who had previously lost but came back thanks to one of the other pairs leaving thanks to injury, first beat the Ice Dancers for a place in the final two and then beat their (the Ice Dancers') arch-rivals, the Police Cadets to win. Most of the fanbase was expecting them to come third with the final being between the Ice Dancers and the Cadets seeing as the latter two's rivalry had been built up all season.
  • Inspector Gadget: In "Race to the Finish", both Dr. Claw and Gadget are disqualified (the former for cheating and leaving the grounds, the latter for being on police duty), resulting in the #17 car taking first place.
  • Detention, "The Man with the Golden Brain": The smartest kids in detention (twin sisters, to boot) were disqualified from a Spelling Bee as one of them has butted into the other's turn.
  • Used twice in The 7D, both times with Hildy Gloom and Snazzy Shazam.
    • In "Sleepytime," Hildy and Snazzy are in the running for Best Sleeping Spell, but the presenter gives the award to himself for putting most of the audience to sleep with his "spellbinding" performance.
    • In "Hildyrella", the winner of the Ultimate Supreme Sorceress Pageant is not any of the finalists, but Hildy's fairy godmother.
  • Two examples related to The Smurfs:
    • In the 1980s cartoon show special "The Smurfic Games", Hefty, Handy, and Clumsy are in a three-way tie when competing in the games, and so the final game, the Smurfathlon, is to determine who will be the winner. Hefty and Handy both end up ahead of Clumsy, but because Handy was swept off the track by an avalanche created by Gargamel reciting an incantation to activate the Artifact of Doom and Hefty goes to dig his friend out, Clumsy passes by the both of them and ends up as the winner, which nobody expected. Neither Hefty nor Handy had a problem with Clumsy winning since they both came to learn that winning isn't as important as friendship.
    • In The Smurfs: The Legend of Smurfy Hollow, Gutsy accidentally causes Brainy to be captured by Gargamel by scaring him away from a secret patch of smurfberries in Smurfy Hollow and ends up as the winner of the Smurfberry Hunt, but after Gutsy began to feel guilty for what he did to Brainy, he makes it up to Brainy by offering him the medal. However, neither Brainy nor Gutsy are willing to accept it, and so as they argue over who should get the medal, it slips out of their hands and lands around Lazy's neck, thus declaring him as the official winner.
  • In the Gravity Falls episode "The Stanchurian Candidate", when the mayor dies Stan competes for the position against Bud Gleeful (under orders from his son Gideon) and recurring character Tyler Cutebiker. While Stan ultimately wins, he's disqualified due to his extensive criminal record and the fact that he and Bud never actually bothered to turn in any of the necessary paperwork. The position goes to Tyler by default.
  • In Peter Pan & the Pirates, the Lost Boys and the pirates compete in a race. Through most of the episode, the main focus is on either the competition between Peter and Captain Hook, or the twins, who have been fighting for the entire episode. In the end, Michael, who had been tailing dead last on a tricycle for the entire race wins, partly thanks to the twins who decide to bury their differences and fix up his tricycle after it crashes.
  • Dexter's Laboratory: The Wacky Races nod episode had five of the racers jockeying for position to cross the finish line, only for the winner to be the police officer who had stopped the van of Mandark's hippie parents and took off out of control in it after activating a jet propulsion tank.
  • The Adventures of Lariat Sam story arc "The Great Race For Office Space" had Badlands Meeney running for sheriff of Bent Saddle. Sam runs against him, and they both become competitors in a horse race to decide the outcome. Sam rides his steed Tippytoes while Badlands rides his minion Bushwhack in a horse costume. Sam wins the race but he defers the sheriff position to Tippytoes, who went above and beyond to win. Badlands waxes philosophical:
    Bushwhack: Don't feel bad, Badlands. I would have voted for you.
    Badlands: That woulda made three, Bushwhack. Your one and my two.
  • The Epic Tales of Captain Underpants has the second season finale end this way. Over the course of two episodes, George, Harold, and Melvin have been competing in an obstacle course that will give the winner the highest grade of the year and a scholarship to Eliteanati Academy. At the end, the three have reached a temporary truce and are ready to end the game...only for Erica to come in and snag the win at the last second.
  • DuckTales (2017): Scrooge's major plot in season 2 involves a bet made with Glomgold; whoever has more money at the end of the year gets the loser's company. The winner of the bet is Louie, who manages to trick Glomgold into handing the resources of both companies (as well as those of the villains Glomgold recruited) over to him. Ultimately, Status Quo Is God; Louie gives Scrooge back his company in the next episode, and Glomgold gets his own company back later on.
  • The Life and Times of Juniper Lee: In "Citizen June", June runs for class president against incumbent Melissa O'Malley. When June's hero duties prevent her from being able to give a speech, her friend Ophelia manages to save the occasion by giving a speech about how horrible Melissa is. This wins over so many people that Ophelia ends up winning the election for class president via write-in votes, despite not running. She, along with everyone else, is shocked by this.
  • Kamp Koral: In "Hill-Fu", Sandy is able to curb-stomp all the competitors in the karate tournament. Prior to the battle, SpongeBob learns Hill-Fu from Nobby so he can stand a chance. After a big battle, he and Sandy end up tying, and agree to share the badge... and then Nobby appears, karate-chops them both, and claims the badge for him and Narlene.
  • One episode of King of the Hill involved Peggy, Nancy and Minh all running for the same seat on the school board, in hopes of restoring the after school programs that had been cut for budgetary reasons. They spend so much time undercutting each other that the seat is won by a ((The Fundmentalist fundamental]] moral guardian who plans on cutting the after school program anyway, along with geometry, biology and all "offensive" encyclopedias.
  • Pocoyo: Sleepy Bird manages to win a race that was only supposed be between Pocoyo and Elly. Granted, the two managed to break their own vehicles and were so busy combining their broken parts that she slowly passed by them unnoticed.

Real-Life Examples:

    Awards Shows 
  • Judy Holliday's win in 1951 for the Best Actress Academy Award for Born Yesterday was seen as this, as Gloria Swanson (Sunset Boulevard) and Bette Davis (All About Eve) were thought to be the frontrunners, but likely cancelled each other out, allowing Holliday to take a plurality from the outlier votes for her lighthearted performance.
  • The 1992 Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Animated Program. For the first time, The Simpsons had a worthy opponent in Ren & Stimpy. The award went to the CBS special A Claymation Easter. In DVD commentaries made a decade later, staffers from both shows were still angry about the decision, and basically said "if we didn't win, the other show should have!" averting the "at least they didn't win" variant.
  • The 1993 Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress looked like a dead heat between Joan Plowright (for Enchanted April) and Vanessa Redgrave (Howards End), with Judy Davis (Husbands and Wives) and Miranda Richardson (Damage) also seen as in contention. Marisa Tomei, nominated for the comedy My Cousin Vinny, was seen as a bit of a surprise nominee. After Tomei won the Oscar, it sparked a rumor that presenter Jack Palance had read the wrong name (those rumors were finally put to rest after the Best Picture mix-up between La La Land and Moonlight at the 2017 Academy Awards, showing that the producers can and would correct such a mistake).
  • The very next year, the same category was seen as a showdown between Winona Ryder and Rosie Perez, respectively nominated for The Age of Innocence and Fearless. Instead, it went to 11-year-old Anna Paquin for The Piano. Paquin was so stunned, she could barely speak at the podium.
  • The 2003 Oscar Best Actor race was a tight one, as Nicolas Cage (Adaptation.), Jack Nicholson (About Schmidt), Daniel Day-Lewis (Gangs of New York) and Michael Caine (The Quiet American) (all past winners) were seen as neck and neck in various precursor wins and support. Instead, the Oscar went to first-time nominee Adrien Brody (The Pianist), who was as stunned as anyone, and was reportedly the only nominee who hadn't bothered to prepare a speech.
  • Nickelodeon Kids' Choice Awards:
    • Who can forget the night SpongeBob went down? In 2008, Avatar: The Last Airbender gave Nick's own cash cow its first and only loss.note 
    • SpongeBob's domination of the KCAs was so huge that nobody expected The Sponge Bob Movie Sponge Out Of Water to lose its category in 2015. But then, once the show won its umpteenth prize and no announcement was made about the movie, its loss was all but confirmed. Alas, Big Hero 6 won.
    • The Harry Potter vs. The Twilight Saga vs. The Hunger Games battle of 2012 was the most highly anticipated battle in the history of the Favorite Book category. But who expected Diary of a Wimpy Kid to walk out with the Blimp? And that's not even counting its victories in other years over young-adult heavyweights.
    • Wipeout (2008) constantly won "Favorite Reality TV Show", beating out several much more iconic shows like American Idol, America's Got Talent, and The Voice. Its luck run out in 2015, when Dance Moms won, and that was its last nomination as it had concluded the year beforehand.
    • Fifth Harmony winning the 2016 award for "Favorite Music Group" was a huge moment not only for fans of the band, but because they won over the seemingly unbeatable One Direction, who have never lost a Kids' Choice Awards nomination beforehand. Granted the latter were on hiatus at the time, and they likely would have won had they still been active.
    • Most people expected Inside Out to win "Favorite Animated Movie" and Selena Gomez in Hotel Transylvania 2 to take home "Favorite Voice from an Animated Movie" in 2016. Instead, the reverse happened (with Amy Poehler taking home the voice acting award).
    • While Stranger Things is a very popular television series, few people expected it to be nominated at a kids' award ceremony, let alone win, due to it being a dark TV-14 rated show. But alas, that's what happened in 2018 for both the show itself and Millie Bobby Brown, Even more surprising was the fact that Brown actually showed up, since people assumed an actress who specializes in serious adult fare wouldn't be bothered to attend a kids' show. She gave a speech honoring the survivors of the Parkland school shooting (their March for Our Lives protest took place earlier that day), and while she got a lot of praise for doing so, quite a few people say Nick rigged the award in her favor to let her make the speech, since it was evident it was pre-planned and they have already announced beforehand they would honor the movement.
    • Demi Lovato rather unexpectedly took home the "Favorite Female Singer" award in 2018 against much more popular competition like Selena Gomez and Taylor Swift.
    • Noah Centineo and Joey King in the movie acting categories of 2019 for their starring roles in two teen-oriented Netflix comedies. In doing so, they beat out several actors who starred in big budget blockbusters like Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War.
    • Given its themes, Riverdale being nominated for, let alone winning, "Favorite TV Drama" in 2019, would probably have counted as an example if not for Stranger Things' winning the year before.
  • The 1985 Grammy award for Album Of The Year was expected to be won by either Prince's Purple Rain or Bruce Springsteen's Born In The USA. The two ended up splitting the rock-oriented voting bloc, allowing Lionel Richie's Can't Slow Down to take the award. (For the record, the other two nominees for that year were Tina Turner's Private Dancer and Cyndi Lauper's She's So Unusual.)
  • The 2011 Grammy for Album of the Year turned into one. Lady Gaga won for Pop Album, Lady Antebellum's "Need you Now" won both Song and Record of the Year, and Eminem won Best Rap Album. Think one of those three would win? NOPE! It went to Arcade Fire, a semi-obscure indie ensemble from Canada who never had any hits prior.
  • At the 2015 Video Game Awards, the nominees for "Best Shooter" category were Call of Duty: Black Ops III, Star Wars Battlefront, Halo 5: Guardians, and Destiny: The Taken King, all of which were very much hyped by their developers, had enormous budgets, were sequels to well-established franchises, had Hollywood-level marketing campaigns, and created by teams with years upon years of experience in shooters. Oh, and there was also some new IP about cartoon-ish anthropomorphic squids created by a company with little experience making shooters and was released on a console that barely anyone even owned. Splatoon took the victory.
  • Mark Rylance's numerous Best Supporting Actor wins for his role as Rudolf Abel in Bridge of Spies certainly weren't out of nowhere (he had taken BAFTA and several critics prizes and was nominated at every single major precursor ahead of the Oscars), but it was generally considered a shock when he managed to emerge victorious over Christian Bale (The Big Short), Tom Hardy (The Revenant), Mark Ruffalo (Spotlight), and perceived favorite Sylvester Stallone (Creed).
  • Lizzo's Watch Out for the Big Grrrls's Emmy win for Outstanding Competition Program in 2022 was a surprise, as the odds at the time largely favored RuPaul's Drag Race to win again, followed by The Amazing Race and Top Chef.
  • Bonnie Raitt winning the Grammy Award for Song of the Year in 2023 with "Just Like That" was a surprise to many, including Raitt herself, as the veteran blues rocker, while having a long and influential career, hadn't seen the Hot 100 in over a decade, and had several of the biggest names in pop music — including names like Taylor Swift, Lizzo, Beyoncé, Adele and Harry Styles — as the other contenders for the award.

    Fan Polls and Other Awards 
  • Most people who were paying attention to the voting running up to the 1991 World Fantasy Award for Short Fiction expected it to go to either Thomas Ligotti's "The Last Feast of Harlequin" or Elizabeth Massie's "Stephen." The winner was the 19th issue of The Sandman (1989), "A Midsummer Night's Dream", by Neil Gaiman and Charles Vess. The fact that a comic book, and not one of the "serious pieces of literature", walked away with the award was so upsetting to the World Fantasy Convention's board of directors that they altered the rules so that no Comic Book would ever be nominated for the short fiction prize again, much less actually have the gall to be good enough to win the thing.
  • Time Magazine's lists can cover this in spades! For example, how many people expected "You" to win the Person of the Year in 2006? Or for Frozen's representation on the 2014 Time 100 to be songwriters Robert and Kristen Lopez over Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee, the movie's directors, or Idina Menzel, the public face of the film? Or for TV actresses to be represented on their "Most Influential Teenagers" list by Mad Men's Kiernan Shipka over Game of Thrones's Maisie Williams despite the latter being much more widely known?
  • When Hasbro asked the fans to pick five nominees for the Transformers Hall of Fame, most fans predicted the five choices would be Soundwave, Shockwave, Grimlock, Jazz, and Rodimus. However, Rodimus didn't make it in... But Dinobot did. Then, nobody expected Dinobot to topple the others especially Soundwave but in the end... A character from Beast Wars beat four of the most famous TFs from G1.
  • In 2011, EA Sports and ESPN hosted a tournament to see which NFL player would grace the Madden NFL 2012 cover. The best player from each team was chosen for the bracket, and the fans voted each round. Such big names as Aaron Rodgers, Adrian Peterson, Hines Ward, and Drew Brees fell by the wayside. In the finals, the controversial Michael Vick made the finals, but he lost to... Peyton Hillis of the Cleveland Browns. Making him only the second Madden cover boy from a team that didn't make the playoffs the previous year. (The first? Vince Young, who had just won Rookie of the Year the previous year.) To be fair, many fans admitted to voting for the player they didn't like, so that their guy didn't fall under the Madden Curse.
  • The winner of GameFAQs' Character Battle 6 in 2007 was not Link, who had won almost every contest he took part in, nor was it Cloud, who was the only to ever topple Link. It wasn't even someone like Mario, Sonic, Snake, or Master Chief. No, the winner of the contest on that year, who was able to topple every character to be thrown at it was... an L-Block. From Tetris. By tens of thousands of votes. By the time it reached the third round, the inherent hilarity of a Joke Entry becoming the most popular character ever was simply too strong to resist for the voters.
    • This caused the site to hold a quick small character battle directly after L-Block won by pitting it against other similar video game objects and it lost to the ? Block.
    • Years before, StarCraft managed to upset some heavy competition (Halo, Kingdom Hearts, Wind Waker) in a game contest. The legacy was tarnished when StarCraft had some vote-stuffers in the eventual defeat to Super Smash Bros. Melee, but it's still fondly remembered by the contests board.
    • Very nearly happened in the Gamespot poll as well with Bub&Bob from Bubble Bobble, even spawning multitudes of fanwork for each victory accomplished.
    • Though it still happened in the Gamespot contest with the victory of Gordon Freeman, and later again in the Greatest Sidekick contest where Launchpad McQuack triumphed over Albert Einstein in the final vote.
    • In a less popular note, 6 years after L-Block, Draven from League of Legends won the Character Battle IX, including defeats over Link, Snake and Samus due to Reddit rallies. GameFAQs users immediately raised hell, as it was it was basically a Hostile Show Takeover by a Zerg Rush (voting had decayed from regular 100,000 votes to 50-60k in good days... numbers Draven regularly got by himself starting in round 2) who wanted to push to victory their memetic character — while L-Block has a general appeal, Draven was Fan Myopia at its finest. Reddit trolls, fishy happenings, and indications that the LoL forums offered prizes if Draven won the contest didn't help the least.
    • Two years after Draven, another case of rallying deciding a contest was Undertale winning a Best Game Ever contest. There was some backlash and trolling, but thankfully less than with Draven.
    • The Contest board also coined two explanations that fit many upsets: Sore Thumb Factor (people vote for the weird one that stands out) and Leech Fanbase Factor (if two\three entries share support, split vote will help a third wheel go through).
  • The Super Smash Bros. character ballot had a few surprises after it was introduced.
    • Of all the characters that Nintendo could get the rights to, few expected that the titular protagonist of Bayonetta would be the one to get the most votes — or that Nintendo would happily bring the infamously M rated maelstrom of innuendo, violence, and camp into the very E10+ rated Super Smash Bros. (There were, of course, necessary adjustments.)
    • Interestingly, the ballot turned out to be more of a suggestion box than anything else by Ultimate's release, as characters with moderate-to-high levels of support — King K. Rool, Banjo & Kazooie, and veterans like Solid Snake — that were specifically supported in the context of it got considered and included. Bayonetta's initial victor status for the DLC roster of 4 mostly came out of practical and timing reasons (although the high level of support in Europe helped). Eventually, it was revealed that the winner of the ballot was Sora, but he wasn't included until the Grand Finale of Ultimate's DLC due to the Executive Meddling necessary to get Nintendo and Disney to come to an agreement.
  • Touhou Project's annual popularity polls always had main character Reimu Hakurei in first place for a decade. Then in 2015, she was dethroned by not-quite Breakout Character Koishi Komeiji, which shocked just about everyone. Fanartists, of course, reacted accordingly.
  • A contest for the best RWBY character on the show's sub-Reddit was in 2018 won by a pilot that only appeared in two episodes but caused a good impression and became a meme in the community under the nickname "Pilot Boi". The topic talking about the results even mentions how it was a joke that went too far and they'll disregard some of his victories (as he beat two of the four main characters and the Cool Uncle that won the previous two editions!). By the following year, everyone had grown out of the joke and Pilot Boi crashed and burned in round 1.
  • For many years, The Godfather occupied the #1 spot on IMDB's "Top Rated Films" list. In 2008, The Dark Knight dethroned The Godfather from that position, leading to a "war" between the two fandoms trying to secure the spot for their favorite film by downvoting the other. Hilariously, this ended up making way for The Shawshank Redemption to take the #1 spot instead.
  • When The Cinema Snob started doing Patreon polls on which film he should review next, the first case, a tie-in for Independence Day: Resurgence ended up like this — even The Snob expected a porn parody of Independence Day to win, but votes instead flocked to a 1983 melodrama also called Independence Day (because patrons expected it to be terrible like other romances reviewed by him). Thus started a Running Gag of featuring equally forgotten melodramas against the exploitation films and cheesy horror movies the Snob typically reviewed, starting with Windy City, which after a few polls beat out a slew of sci-fi titles that were meant to tie into Alien: Covenant.
  • For the podcast Mouse Madness, which did a March Madness-inspired poll for the Disney Animated Canon, the winning film was...the ninth-seeded The Emperor's New Groove. Not only that, but it defeated three #1 seeds (Beauty and the Beast, Fantasia, and The Lion King) to win.
  • Amazon's Facebook page ran a March Movie Madness round Robin poll in 2014, which included films such as Pulp Fiction, The Godfather, Indiana Jones, and The Lord of the Rings Trilogy among its entrants. The eventual winner? Dredd.
    • Prior to season ten, the show ran a poll that allowed fans to vote for one 3D episode and one sprite episode to appear in the next season. While the 3D animation winner, Alex Mercer vs. Cole MacGrath, was regarded by many as a fairly obvious pick, having been requested for many years, the sprite winner, Bill Cipher vs. Discord, was something not many predicted, considering it was up against highly requested or anticipated fights such as Captain America vs. Kamen Rider Ichigo, Kyle Rayner vs. Simon the Digger and Finn and Jake vs. Mordecai and Rigby and the crew having stated that they didn't want to use any more My Little Pony characters.
    • This would happen again during the poll for season 11 during the first round. Everyone had assumed that Anne Boonchuy vs Luz Noceda would advance to the semifinals due to the popularity of both the match up and both shows overall, only for the winner to instead wind up being Monokuma vs Koro-sensei, which, among other things, consists of two series that are not as well known to the general public and, again, had to compete with Luz vs Anne's overwhelming popularity.

  • Some argued that the true winner of 1995's Battle Of Britpop between Blur and Oasis was actually Pulp.
  • Triple J Hottest 100 2013. Daft Punk's "Get Lucky" was one of the most talked-about songs worldwide that year, hailed by everyone including the radio DJs. Lorde had her own hat in the ring with "Royals", an anti-pop song disguised as a party song. Both those songs were international hits, breaking the Top 10 of nearly every country, and it looked like Triple J would follow that consensus. Final result: Vance Joy, an unlabeled artist who didn't even have a full album yet, with "Riptide".
  • After The Beatles broke up, it was expected that either of the band's main songwriters, John Lennon or Paul McCartney, would score the first solo number one album. No one would have suspected the honor would go to George Harrison note  and his All Things Must Pass triple-disc album, nor that it would outsell anything released by his ex-bandmates. To hang a lampshade on this, George would name his 1974 solo album (and the boutique record label he started in 1976) Dark Horse.
  • In 2013, if you asked someone which female artist would have the longest #1 reign on the Hot 100 that year, chances are they would guess Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Miley Cyrus, or Beyoncé. Probably the last answer they'd come up with would be a 16-year-old from New Zealand. Come fall of 2013, and that's exactly what happened.
  • If you were to ask people whether Lana Del Rey or Linkin Park would sell the most albums when released against each other then people would have picked the latter in a heartbeat. If you were to bring up the idea of a little-known 22-year old singer from England beating Linkin Park then people would have laughed at you even harder. But alas, that is what happened to The Hunting Party, giving them their first non-#1 since Hybrid Theory.
  • A decent handful from the Eurovision Song Contest:
    • One of the first major examples was Spain's Massiel beating out the United Kingdom's Cliff Richard in 1968. His song, "Congratulations," was co-written by the same songwriting duo who had written Sandie Shaw's victorious "Puppet on a String" the year before, had already become a smash hit on the British charts, and he himself was considered the biggest pop star in Britain at the time.note  Newspaper headlines even asked, "Who will come second to 'Congratulations'?". The song has since become a contest evergreen, but Spain and the UK leveled the score the following year when both countries made up half of a four-way tie for first place (the other two being the Netherlands and France).
    • Sweden's Herreys brothers and "Diggi-Loo Diggi-Ley" in 1984. The big favorites that year were Germany, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands, but lackluster live performances led to Luxembourg finishing tenth and Germany and the Netherlands missing the top ten entirely.
    • Theretofore-perennial underdogs Norway in 1985. While they were never out of contention, Germany's Wind were expected to sweep the board with their anthemic "Für alle". Instead, Germany's early lead got scuppered by a few nonplussed countries (including, surprisingly enough, Austria and Switzerland), while Norway scored consistently well through the whole voting sequence.
    • 1994 saw host country Ireland as a distant third-favorite on their second year in a row of hosting, with the United Kingdom's Frances Ruffelle and Germany's MeKaDo the big favorites with their more Eurovision-friendly pop songs. The song was performed by a male duo (a grouping that had never sealed a victory before) and was drawn relatively early on in the show, which seemed to indicate a bad outcome. Instead, the quiet and introspective "Rock and Roll Kids" walked away with the biggest victory ever seen at the contest up to that point, with 226 points in the bag (sixty points clear of runner-up Poland), allowing Ireland to complete Eurovision's first and to date only three-peat.
    • 2000-2003 was pretty much the era of Dark Horse Victories. The first two were unconventional male duos (Denmark's Olsen Brothers were two veteran musicians in their mid-50s, and the following year saw a duet between 50-year-old Aruban Dave Benton and 21-year-old Estonian Tanel Padar) and the other two were lightweight pop songs with flashy stage performances (Latvia's Marie N with her gender-bending costume-changing extravaganza and Turkey's Sertab Erener and her squadron of bellydancers). The first two utterly crushed the competition and the latter two were neck-and-neck with their more favored rivals (Malta in 2002 and Russia and Belgium in 2003) until the bitter end.
    • Two narrowly-averted examples in 2018 and 2019 by virtue of the jury vote. 2018 saw the two contenders, Israel's Netta and Cyprus' Eleni Foureira, both lose to Austria's Cesar Sampson and his soulful "Nobody but You" in the jury vote (Israel took third, Cyprus fifth). They also both finished behind perennial favorite Sweden's Benjamin Ingrosso and "Dance You Off," a low-key number with music video-like staging. The situation changed dramatically when the televote scores were announced: Austria came thirteenth and Sweden only came twenty-third, paving the way for Israel to win and Cyprus to finish as runner-up.
      • Then, in 2019, heavy favorite Duncan Laurence from the Netherlands and strong contender Mahmood from Italy took a backseat in the jury vote to Sweden's John Lundvik (not out of the question, given his song's more positive reception compared to "Dance You Off" and the juries' general affinity for Swedish entries)...and North Macedonia's Tamara Todevska, whose country hadn't qualified for seven years and wound up winning the jury votenote , with the Netherlands in third and Italy fourth. On the televote side, the Netherlands' second place allowed them to win and Italy's third brought them up to second. The surprise was Norway's Keiino, a fan-favorite that had tanked in the jury vote, won the televote handily. It was only the second time that neither the jury nor televote winner won the overall contest (that being Ukraine in 2016, whom both parties placed second), but the margin by which their respective winners differed was much larger.

    American Politics 
  • The 1998 Minnesota gubernatorial election was seen as a race between St. Paul Mayor Norm Coleman and Attorney General Hubert "Skip" Humphrey III, the son of Lyndon Johnson's Veep and former US Senator Hubert Humphrey. Polling indicated a close race between Coleman and Humphrey, though Jesse Ventura, running as the Reform Party nominee, had been creeping up the polls despite being outspent six to one, and even those taken only two weeks before election day showed him trailing the major-party nominees by double digits. Ventura's aggressive late campaigning, off-beat television advertising, and effective debate performances apparently helped close the gap, and he unexpectedly won the election with a narrow 37% plurality.
  • James K. Polk won the Democratic presidential nomination in 1844 only after entering the ballot six votes in after a deadlock between Martin Van Buren and Lewis Cass. Under the previous voting system Van Buren would have easily won the nomination early, but a newly introduced requirement for a two-thirds majority killed both his and Cass' chances, as Van Buren had too many detractors from his first (and ultimately only) term as President, while Cass had enough enemies in the party that they voted for Van Buren out of spite to keep Cass below the victory threshold. Eventually Polk was introduced as a new candidate, Van Buren withdrew and threw his support behind him, and Polk defeated Cass on the next ballot. (Polk's nomination was the first time anybody is known to have said "dark horse" in a U.S. political context.)
  • Something very similar happened with Franklin Pierce in 1852. This time there there were four candidates (Cass, James Buchanan, Stephen A. Douglas and William L. Marcy) with radically different positions, and the vote kept swinging between the four with none of them willing to back out. Eventually Pierce was introduced to the process, and gradually earned enough support to win the nomination. For perspective, the 1844 race that saw Polk get nominated took ten ballots; this race took forty-nine ballots.
  • Abraham Lincoln's strategy to get the Republican nomination in 1860 — the three favorites (William H. Seward, Salmon P. Chase, and Edward Bates) had each made too many enemies, especially Seward. Among those who were determined to stop Seward, Lincoln was the alternative candidate that they could agree on.
    • Lincoln was on the opposite side in Illinois' 1854 U.S. Senate race. Republicans and Democrats against the Kansas-Nebraska Act had a slight majority, but a few such Democrats voted for Lyman Trumbull instead of Lincoln on the grounds that they wouldn't be re-elected if they supported a Republican. To prevent the pro-Nebraska Act Democratic candidate, Joel Matteson, from winning, Lincoln withdrew in favor of Trumbull, who was at least an anti-Nebraska Democrat.
  • At the 1868 Democratic National Convention, George H. Pendleton was the initial frontrunner, with numerous other candidates such as incumbent president Andrew Johnson, Winfield Scott Hancock, Sanford Church, Asa Packer, Joel Parker, James E. English, James Rood Doolittle, and Thomas A. Hendricks vying for the position as well. However, the nominee would ultimately be none of them, but former New York governor and convention chair Horatio Seymour, who did not want the nomination but was unanimously selected after the delegates couldn't agree on anyone else. Seymour went on to lose to Republican Ulysses S. Grant.
  • In the 1876 election, James G. Blaine was the initial favorite for the Republican nomination, but came short of the majority needed to win. As his support dwindled throughout the ballots, Republicans feared that he'd lose the election if nominated, so they tried to find an alternative. After his closest opponents Oliver P. Morton, Roscoe Conkling, and Benjamin Bristow dropped out, Rutherford B. Hayes, who came in fifth place on the first ballot, became the primary opposition and narrowly won the nomination over Blaine, and then narrowly won the election.
  • And in 1880, the Republican Convention deadlocked between James Blaine and Ulysses S. Grant, with John Sherman also having support, leading to Blaine's nominator James Garfield being nominated, then elected President.
  • Two-time Democratic candidate William Jennings Bryan decided to sit out the 1904 presidential election, knowing he had no chance of defeating the enormously popular Theodore Roosevelt, and so tried nominating little-known senator Francis Cockrell in a Springtime for Hitler gambit, so he would prove a complete disaster and allow Bryan to swoop in and rescue the party in 1908. On the other hand, newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst bid for the Democratic candidacy himself, and his radical views made him popular among voters but feared by the party bosses. In the end Cockrell and Hearst lost the nod to Alton B. Parker, chief judge of the New York Court of Appeals,note  who was well-liked by the few who knew of him and became the only viable candidate simply because he wasn't too controversial. Roosevelt easily bested Parker in the general election.
  • Warren G. Harding was a rare deliberate example of this trope. Going into the 1920 Republican convention, he knew full well that he didn't have enough support to win the party's nomination outright, but neither did any of the other candidates. Rather than going in at the start and potentially falling by the wayside early on, he started by campaigning passively, then when it became clear none of the other candidates could win, as initial frontrunners Leonard Wood and Frank Orren Lowden saw their support diminish, Harding presented himself as a compromise candidate and secured the nomination and went on to win the election in a landslide. However, this came back to bite him on the butt; the other delegates, angry at this tactic, successfully conspired to put up Calvin Coolidge instead of Harding's preferred running mate, Irvine Lenroot, which proved all the more important when Harding died halfway through his term, and Coolidge succeeded him.
  • The Democratic Party also had a tumultuous 1920 convention. The initial frontrunners were William Gibbs McAdoo and A. Mitchell Palmer. However, as the ballots continued due to no candidate reaching a majority, James M. Cox saw his support build and became the nominee.
  • The Democratic nomination in 1924 was even more hotly contested. Initially, McAdoo was the frontrunner again. However, controversies arising from his business relationship with Edward Doheny, who had been implicated in the Teapot Dome scandal, and his support from the Ku Klux Klan dealt severe blows to his chances. With this, Al Smith's chances of winning the nomination began to grow. However, at the convention, neither candidate was able to win a majority, which ultimately resulted in John W. Davis being nominated as a compromise candidate on the 103rd ballot. Davis was then crushed in the general election by incumbent President Calvin Coolidge.
  • Robert A. Taft, Arthur H. Vandenberg, and Thomas E. Dewey were seen as the frontrunners for the 1940 Republican nomination. However, Wendell Willkie, a businessman, lawyer, and former Democrat who had never run for political office before, became an unexpected contender. His support for the Allies in World War II earned him the support of Republicans opposed to the other three candidates' isolationism, and he was nominated on the sixth ballot, though incumbent Franklin D. Roosevelt beat him in a landslide in the general election.
  • In 1952, incumbent President Harry S. Truman had initially attempted to gain the Democratic nomination to run for a second full term, but dropped out due to low approval ratings and poor showings in early primaries. Estes Kefauver then became the frontrunner, but the party bosses refused to support him because they viewed him as a maverick who couldn't be trusted. The Democrats attempted to find another candidate, but all had weaknesses. Richard Russell Jr. had support in the South, but his support of segregation made him unacceptable to too many racially liberal Northern Democrats to get him nominated. W. Averell Harriman was Truman's preferred choice, but was seen as too inexperienced. Vice President Alben W. Barkley was rejected for being too old. Ultimately, the Democrats nominated Adlai Stevenson II, who had few political weaknesses but didn't seem to want the nomination much. Stevenson proceeded to lose in a landslide to Republican Dwight D. Eisenhower.
  • The 1972 Democratic nomination initially saw 1968 vice-presidential nominee Edmund Muskie as the frontrunner, with former vice president/1968 presidential nominee Hubert Humphrey also picking up momentum, and George Wallace doing well in the Southern (and even Michigan) primaries after his third-party run as a segregationist candidate in 1968. However, the anti-Vietnam War candidate George McGovern built up a grassroots campaign and managed to secure the nomination. President Richard Nixon proceeded to bury McGovern in the general election.
    • This result was less "good fortune" for Nixon than "exactly what we were planning": Muskie's downfall especially was orchestrated by the Republican Committee to Re-Elect the President. The tactics they used to influence the Democratic primaries fall somewhere between distasteful and illegal; some CRP members used the charming sobriquet "ratfucking" to describe their role in the primaries.
  • The 1976 Democratic presidential primaries had 17 major candidates vying for the nomination, with Jerry Brown, Walter Mondale, Mo Udall, Henry M. Jackson, Birch Bayh and George Wallace the favorites to win. Little-known former Georgia governor Jimmy Carter was considered a fringe candidate with no chance of winning. When he told his mother he was running for president, she asked him, "President of what?", and when he announced his campaign his hometown newspaper The Atlanta Constitution ran a headline calling him "Jimmy Who?" Polls taken a month out showed he was the first choice of only 4% of voters. Carter made the unconventional decision to strongly contest the Iowa caucuses while most other candidates ignored the state and its relatively small delegate haul, rationalizing that the media narrative of winning the first contest was more important than the delegates it awarded. The plan worked, and Carter was first in Iowa by a comfortable margin, the news media fell in love with the narrative of a scrappy peanut farmer running for president which led to a comfortable win in New Hampshire. Carter's national strategy was to chip away at his rivals' regional support by aggressively campaigning in regions before them and knock them out of the race until he was the last man standing. He knocked Wallace out of the race by defeating him soundly in North Carolina and consolidated the Southern vote, then knocked Udall and Jackson out with come-from-behind victories in Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. By June, Carter's nomination was assured. Carter went on to defeat President Ford in the general election.
  • An almost perfect example of this happened in the 2004 Iowa Democratic caucus: the analysts were certain that the race for the state was between Dick Gephardt (who won the caucuses in 1988) and Howard Dean (who had been leading in the polls in Iowa for months), and the pair got engaged in a vicious negative campaign for much of December. Come January and the caucuses, and two dark horses swept in: John Kerry won, and John Edwards came in second. Dean and Gephardt were turned into also-rans, and quickly eliminated from the field thereafter. Kerry and Edwards went on to be nominated for president and VP respectively.
  • John McCain's early victory in the 2008 Republican primaries was unexpected leading up to the first contests, with the frontrunners being Mike Huckabee, Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani. During the summer of 2007, McCain's campaign fundraising was poor and he was forced to downsize his staff dramatically, leading many news outlets to predict he would drop out of the race before the primaries even began. He gained in the polls until the end of the year, however, and became the frontrunner after winning the New Hampshire and Florida primaries.
  • In 2009, the Democratic primary for governor of Virginia featured Terry McAuliffe, former DNC chairman and high-profile supporter of the Clintons, and Brian Moran, a Virginia politician. This was a classic matchup between the more liberal northern Virginians and the more conservative southern Virginians ... and then the party was crashed when Creigh Deeds, a candidate who drove himself to rallies and fundraisers, won the nomination in a walk. Deeds, however, lost the general election to GOP candidate Bob McDonnell.
  • The lead up to the 2016 Republican primaries looked like it was going to be a Jeb Bush coronation: he had raised by far the most money, had name recognition and his family's political machine behind him (his father and brother were most famous as the last two GOP presidents), and led in most polls. If there was going to be an upset, most pundits predicted it would come from newer party faces like Marco Rubio or Ted Cruz, while many viewed the candidacy of Donald Trump, a real estate mogul and television host who had never held prior office, as a publicity stunt. Early on, the establishment vote was split so many ways among so many candidates, most of whom agreed on the major issues; Trump was able to dominate the field with a minority of the vote mainly by espousing ideas that most party members disagreed with in substance, style, or both, but could rally a plurality of the party larger than any other single candidate's base. It also helped that Trump also got a deafening amount of media coverage,note  more than all his competition combined. Jeb Bush did poorly in the early primaries and quickly became an also-ran. Later it become a more traditional version of this trope with Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, who became Trump's main opponents. Many pundits noted that Cruz and Rubio often spent more time either attacking each other, or appealing to each other's voters, than they did addressing either Trump or his base;note  also, John Kasich stuck around.
  • After Alaska's single, at-large congressional seat became vacant after the death longtime Rep. Don Young in 2022, two prominent Republicans entered the August special election to fill it: Sarah Palin, a former governor and the party's 2008 vice presidential nominee; and Nick Begich III, a scion of the Begich political dynasty.note  Given Alaska's strong tilt toward the Republican Partynote , it was assumed the election would be a showdown between Palin and Begich. Nearly half of the vote in the jungle primary went to Palin and Begich, with independent Al Gross and Democrat Mary Peltola also advancing to the four-candidate ranked choice election. Gross dropped out shortly thereafter, and Democrats consolidated around Peltola, a virtual unknown who had last held elected office in 2013. Peltola, running on a platform of "pro-fish, pro-family and pro-freedom", proved to be a surprisingly strong campaigner with a unique ability to connect to individual voters and started surging in the polls. Palin and Peltola were also old friends and both refused to run a single negative ad or badmouth the other in any way, which was a bit weird because Palin is known to be a brutal campaigner (and didn't hold back from attacking fellow Republican Begich). Also boosting Peltola, a month before the election, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the landmark abortion decision Roe v. Wade, which energized Democratic voters. Peltola pulled off a 3-point upset win in the final ranked choice tabulation, and won the seat again in the regular November election by a 10-point margin.

    British Politics 
  • The 2010 British election debates were like this. Basically, there's Labour (then led by Gordon Brown) and the Conservatives (led by David Cameron) both hovering between 30% and 60% of the seats in the House of Commons at any one time in the past hundred years, and the Liberal Democrats (led by Nick Clegg) holding all but around 30 of the remaining seats.note  Due to Brown's longstanding unpopularity and growing suspicion of Cameron, it was obvious Clegg had to be invited to participate on as it was likely his party could hold the balance of power in the next parliament. What wasn't expected was him to curb-stomp the other two figuratively in the first debate and hold his ground against Cameron in the second debate, mostly because he was a damn good orator (being atheist, nuclear weapon–averse, and most importantly, Europhilic should've destroyed him, but he made it work by noting the Eurosceptic parties in the European Parliament failed to support anti-paedophile legislation and efforts). And between the first and second debate, the Lib Dems jumped from clear third to joint first in the polls as well.
    • Hell, the Lib Dems essentially won the 2010 election despite a net loss of five seats from the 2005 election. Meanwhile, the Conservatives won the most seats but failed to get a majority, resulting in a hung parliament, so both Labour and the Tories tried to court the Lib Dems into forming a coalition government to gain an overall majority, since they essentially had the balance of power on their side. The Tories successfully agreed a deal with them and Nick Clegg was installed as the Deputy Prime Minister, although as entering a coalition, especially as a junior partner, involves plenty of compromising and changing policy to accommodate the other party, LD support dropped significantly and resulted in demonization as the other parties went to squeeze disaffected LD voters to their side, having to rely on years to rebuild and banking on a good economy to recover position (reversing on tuition fees cost them huge support, but keep in mind that reversing on civil liberties to accommodate Labour would also have cost them huge support).
    • In terms of defeats in certain seats, Lembit Öpik (Lib Dem) and Peter Robinson (leader of the DUP, a Northern Irish unionist party) losing their respective seats with massive swings count too. Had Robinson (not just leader, but first minister of Northern Ireland) had a smaller majority, it would probably have been expected, since he'd recently been involved in a fairly major scandal and Belfast East was traditionally the Alliance Party's strongest constituency (the previous closest time they'd come to winning a seat at Westminster was there in '79, where Robinson won by fewer than a thousand votes, though he'd built up a large lead since then).
  • This is almost TRADITIONAL in Conservative Party leadership elections:
    • 1957: Anthony Eden was forced to stand down as Prime Minister after the Suez fiasco. At this stage the party lacked a formal leadership election process,note  and it was widely expected that Rab Butler, who had effectively taken over many of Eden's duties during the final two months of his leadership, would succeed him. After the party executive consulted with senior ministers and Conservative associations up and down the country, however, they found they saw Butler simultaneously as having been both too aggressive (for initially pushing for Eden to overthrow the Egyptian government outright and install a puppet regime) and too weak (for not telling President Eisenhower where to go when he demanded that the UK stop what they were doing) on the matter of Suez. As a result, Eden's chancellor, Harold Macmillan, got the top job instead.
    • 1963: Macmillan stood down due to a combination of health problems and a growing backlash to the Profumo scandal. Rab Butler was again the initial favourite, but it quickly became apparent that his popularity had not risen appreciably from six years prior. The new favourite was Quintin Hogg, who campaigned for the leadership at that year's party conference, then resigned from the House of Lords (he had been the Viscount Hailsham) and won a safe seat in a by-election ... and in doing so, inadvertently ended up ensuring that he didn't become the new leader, as actively campaigning for the leadership was considered beneath a potential prime minister at that time. As a result, the leadership ended up going to another peer, Alec Douglas-Home, who also resigned from the House of Lords (he'd been the Earl of Home) to join the Commons, but waited until after he had actually been made leader.
    • 1965: Douglas-Home, who had never been particularly comfortable as party leader, stepped down after an election defeat, but not before overseeing the implementation of rules for proper leadership contests. Reginald Maudling was widely expected to win, with Edward Heath as a dark horse and Enoch Powell as a complete outsider. However, Maudling's poor record as chancellor, plus a perception that the Conservatives ought to choose a leader from Harold Wilson's generation, left Heath with a majority (though he failed to win due to the rather complicated rules) and both Maudling and Powell withdrew.
    • 1975: Heath was now flagging badly after losing both 1974 elections. However, Maudling had retired, and Powell had hurt his chances by defecting to the Ulster Unionist Party and telling people to vote Labour, leaving Keith Joseph as consensus candidate for the right and frontrunner, only to have to withdraw after giving a speech wherein he espoused support of eugenics, while the main heavyweight on the left, Willie Whitelaw, pledged loyalty to Heath. A woman on the right, Margaret Thatcher, decided she may as well be the one to challenge Heath. Nobody expected her to win, but they did expect her to get enough votes to stop Heath winning, forcing him to withdraw in favour of Whitelaw (candidates were at this point allowed to enter and withdraw whenever they please, though if they withdrew they couldn't re-enter, until somebody won a majority with at least a 15% lead). She ended up winning a plurality, which was enough to give her a second-ballot victory jointly with several other candidates from the left standing as well as Whitelaw.
    • 1990: For the first time since her first mandate as prime minister, Thatcher was seriously flagging, now over the poll tax (or, to use her Insistent Terminology, Community Charge) and a damaging resignation/"The Reason You Suck" Speech from Deputy Prime Minister Geoffrey Howe, though she easily beat off a challenge from Anthony Meyer the year before, and was challenged by Michael Heseltine. Almost everyone expected the Prime Minister to win again and live to fight another day, but she didn't quite get the necessary lead of 15 percentage points in a vote of her parliamentary party to thwart a leadership challenge. She initially announced she would fight on, only to be persuaded by the Cabinet that they still supported her but didn't think she could win, and she stood aside for Chancellor John Major to take the lead over Heseltine and Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd, who then both withdrew.
    • 1995: Rather odd this one. Major was now flagging, and when he resigned to force out his main challenger, Michael Portillo, everyone expected Portillo to win. But Portillo didn't stand, having realised it was better to be in a strong position to be leader rather than actually leader, while Heseltine agreed to become Major's deputy instead, and Major comfortably beat John "vote for Redwood, not the deadwood" Redwood.
    • 1997: Major stood down after a landslide defeat in the General Election. Michael Portillo would still have been the frontrunner to succeed him — except that at the election he surprisingly lost his seat,note  leaving Michael Howard the frontrunner from the right of the party, with the support of young up-and-comer William Hague in exchange for becoming his deputy. But Hague went back on his word, which, combined with damaging criticism of Howard from Ann Widdecombe, left him dead last on the first ballot and made him withdraw. Ken Clarke then became the favourite, but destroyed his chances by getting rival John Redwood to drop out and endorse him in exchange for becoming deputy leader, which given that Clarke and Redwood were polar opposites politically, was seen as a cynical bit of politicking, and enabled Hague to overtake and defeat Clarke on the final ballot.
    • 2001: Hague resigned after a very bad electoral performance,note  making him the first Tory leader not to become PM since Austen Chamberlain in the First World War, leaving a leadership election under new rules. Ann Widdecombe was an early favourite, but decided against entering after finding out that, while she was immensely popular among the party base, she didn't have much support among the other MPs. Michael Portillo, back in Parliament since a 1999 by-election, was again the frontrunner, closely followed by Ken Clarke — only to be eliminated on the third ballot, leaving Clarke favourite to beat Iain Duncan Smith in the runoff in the party membership ... only for the unheralded Duncan Smith to thrash him 60.7%–39.3%. This was largely attributed to Margaret Thatcher endorsing Duncan Smith prior to the leadership election, and fourth- and fifth-placed candidates David Davis and Michael Ancram throwing their support behind him to prevent Clarke or Portillo from winning.
    • 2005: Having finally succeeded to the leadership unopposed in 2003 due to Duncan Smith's unpopularity among MPs, and despite a much-improved performance in that year's general election (knocking Labour's majority down to 66 seats from 167 in 2001), Michael Howard resigned largely because he would likely be 68 or 69 years old by the time the next election rolled around (indeed, he was 68 years old at the time of the 2010 election). With the Constitutional Treaty firmly off the agenda, perennially popular veteran Ken Clarke was again the frontrunner — only to go out in the first round, leaving David Davis the favourite. But then, after he gave a poorly received speech at conference, the previously unheralded young up-and-comer David Cameron gained momentum and went on to thump Davis 67.6%–32.4% in the members' vote.
    • 2016: After Cameron was forced to resign as prime minister following the country's narrow vote to leave The European Union (he had campaigned to stay), it was treated as a Foregone Conclusion by the press and much of the public that Boris Johnson would replace him. However, an ill-timed newspaper column where Johnson, the de facto leader of the "Leave" campaign, admitted still being unsure as to whether it was the best thing for the country, combined with fellow Leave campaigner Michael Gove (who had initially promised not to run for leader in exchange for becoming Johnson's chancellor) launching a brutal attack on him in the press and announcing his own candidacy, destroyed his support among the party and forced him to withdraw from the race. Gove himself was subsequently knocked out in the MPs' vote (along with Stephen Crabb and Liam Fox, both of whom were mostly seen as no-hopers), leaving Andrea Leadsom to face off against Home Secretary Theresa May, the new favourite, for the membership vote. Many predicted that Leadsom might be able to pull this trope off, given her right-wing leanings and an apparent desire among the party membership to re-embrace Thatcherism. However, she wrecked her chances by seeming to accuse May of being unfit to be prime minister because she had never been a mother, resulting in a firestorm in the press that eventually caused Leadsom to drop out, leaving May as winner by default.
    • 2019: Finally averted. May was forced to resign as PM due to her failure to get her Brexit deal through Parliament. Boris Johnson, long considered a frontrunner to replace May, easily won the leadership election, leading on every MPs' ballot and beating Jeremy Hunt (who had succeeded him as Foreign Secretary in a cabinet shuffle the year before, funnily enough) in the membership vote by a nearly two-to-one margin. Given the history of Conservative leadership contests, though, some might have considered him an underdog in a roundabout kind of way.
    • 2022: With Johnson having been forced to resign in the wake of various scandals, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace was the initial favourite to succeed him, being seen as a unity candidate well-suited to bringing the party together. Wallace surprisingly chose not to run, however, and the favourite then became the previous Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak, who had been considered Johnson's heir apparent until earlier in the year; however, Sunak's credibility had been damaged by the same scandals, and he was resented by Johnson supporters for being one of the first ministers to resign at the beginning of the crisis, but he benefitted from the fact that Johnson's downfall was so rapid that no-one else other than Wallace had emerged as an obvious successor. Penny Mordaunt, the Minister of State for Trade Policy, was favoured to come to the last two, being seen as a socially liberal Brexit supporter. Foreign Secretary Liz Truss had been thought of as a future Prime Minister during the Johnson Ministry, but was dismissed by a lot of people due to her poor public image and her perception as being foolish. Her economic plans outlined during the contest were considered wildly impractical by a lot of economic experts, leading to the feel she would not continue. However, Liz Truss squeaked ahead of Mordaunt in the last round of MP-only voting, appealing to the more radical members of the Party. While Sunak topped all the rounds of the MPs' vote, he lost 57%–43% in the members' vote to Truss, who benefitted from an "anyone but Sunak" attitude among the party grassroots, most of whom still supported Johnson and resented Sunak's role in his downfall — and the ones who didn't support Johnson also had trouble supporting Sunak, seeing how he was implicated in the same scandals. However, when Truss resigned as Prime Minister only 45 days later, largely due to her mini-budget crashing the UK economy at startling speed, Sunak ended up being elected as leader unopposed after Johnson explored but ultimately opted against a return bid and Mordaunt withdrew from consideration.
  • It's happened a number of times in Labour Party leadership elections too:
    • 1980: After James Callaghan was replaced in No. 10 by Margaret Thatcher and Labour in overall government by the Conservative Party in 1979, he stayed on for a while as Labour leader, hoping that it would ensure a smooth transition to his preferred successor, the former chancellor of the Exchequer and Defence secretary Denis Healey. He couldn't have been more wrong. Tony Benn, former member of the cabinet and the standard-bearer of the party's left wing, oversaw the passage of some key internal reforms at the 1980 party conference. However, Benn, who many had thought would be the left's candidate for the leadership, declined to stand. Instead it was Michael Foot, another former cabinet minister (and deputy leader of Labour), who defeated Healey (albeit narrowly) and became the new leader of the Labour Party. Labour subsequently suffered from more infighting—and drifted further to the left—and the "Gang of Four" MPs on the Labour right formed the Social Democratic Party, which formed an electoral alliance with the Liberal Party (and merged with them as today's Liberal Democrats in 1988).
    • 2010: Labour lost power after failing to form a coalition with the Liberal Democrats. David Miliband was widely predicted to replace Gordon Brown, especially considering that many of the other major contenders, such as Alan Johnson and Harriet Harman, chose not to run (Harman was deputy leader and served her first of two stints as acting leader during this leadership election). As it turned out, after seeing off three other competitors, his younger brother Ed pipped him to the leadership. It should be noted that during Ed Miliband's leadership, Labour changed its rules for leadership contests from an electoral college to a pure one-member-one-vote setup, which would have a seismic repercussion at the next leadership election...
    • 2015: Ed Miliband resigned after an election that Labour was expected to win (if not necessarily with a majority) instead resulted in the party's most humiliating defeat since its infamously awful performance in 1983.note  After early favourites Dan Jarvis and Chuka Umunna declined to run, the two frontrunners were seen as Andy Burnham and Yvette Cooper, both veterans of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown's governments, with Liz Kendall also in the running but not really considered a serious contender. However, outsider candidate Jeremy Corbyn annihilated all three of them, winning on the first ballot with nearly three-fifths of the vote and just over triple the share of runner-up Burnham. While many tried to attribute this to Conservative supporters signing up as Labour members on a £3 "supporter's membership" in a Springtime for Hitler gambit,note  analysis of the votes showed that not only did this make no real difference to the outcome, Corbyn would have won by a huge margin in every conceivable scenario short of an MPs-only vote.
    • 2016: While the actual winner (the incumbent Jeremy Corbyn) wasn't a great surprise, the person who ended up being his challenger was the relatively unknown Owen Smith. The better-known, more experienced Angela Eagle had stepped aside so that he could have a one-on-one contest with Corbyn.
    • 2020: After Corbyn's leadership, despite unexpectedly gaining votes and seats in the 2017 general election, ended with the party winning its fewest seats since 1935 at the 2019 general election, some people saw it as a Foregone Conclusion that Rebecca Long-Bailey, long considered Corbyn's heir apparent, would be elected thanks to the same members who had delivered Corbyn his two landslide wins. However, Long-Bailey was badly undermined by a lacklustre campaign, along with the magnitude of the previous year's election defeat leaving members questioning whether the party was on the right track, and the pro-Corbyn group Momentum (whose votes she was relying on) unwittingly alienating much of its membership by holding a ballot on which of the leadership candidates to endorse ... on which the only options were either Long-Bailey or "none of the above" (for perspective, there were four other candidates still in the race at that point). The end result was a crushing 56.2%–27.6% victory for the soft-left candidate Keir Starmer (the remaining 16.2% was won by Lisa Nandy, who initially had some support before Starmer attracted the moderate vote), with Long-Bailey actually doing even worse than Owen Smith had against Corbyn.note 
  • The Liberal Democrats have had this happen a couple of times as well:
    • 2007: After Sir Menzies Campbell stepped down following a short, undistinguished spell as leader (he and a lot of other people saw him as a caretaker after Charles Kennedy was retired), the initial favourites to succeed him were Vince Cable, interim leader and party veteran, and Chris Huhne, an experienced MP and former member of the European Parliament who had narrowly lost out to Campbell in the previous year's membership election. Cable refused to contest the leadership, however, and Huhne ended up being one of only two nominees alongside Nick Clegg, a former MEP and relative political newcomer. While he initially remained the favourite, Huhne's campaign was damaged early on when it released a document derisively nicknaming his opponent "Calamity Clegg" and attacking his political track record, something that (at the time, at least) was seen as below the belt for a leadership contest. Huhne's campaign never recovered from this, and he ended up losing to Clegg by just 500 votes.
    • 2015: With the party having been almost totally annihilated at that year's general election (falling from 57 MPs in 2010 to eight this year), Nick Clegg was forced to stand down as leader. Without many candidates to choose from, the contest came down to Norman Lamb, one of the most experienced of the few surviving Liberal Democrat MPs, and the relatively obscure Tim Farron. In the end, Lamb was hurt by having been relatively high-up in the previous coalition government, while Farron had much less baggage, allowing him to secure victory.
    • 2017: Tim Farron stepped down as leader, in part due to only being able to produce a mild improvement at the general election to twelve MPs, but more so because his personal beliefs came under attack for being opposed to most of the party's policies. It was initially treated as a Foregone Conclusion by most that Jo Swinson, who had just returned to Parliament after losing her seat in 2015, would succeed Farron and become the party's first female leader. However, she declined to contest the position and opted to become deputy leader instead. Norman Lamb was then tipped to make a second shot, but he instead nominated veteran MP and former interim leader Vince Cable, who had also just returned to Parliament, as leader. Cable ended up being elected unopposed. This instance later turned out to be a subversion, as it transpired that Swinson was pregnant when Farron stood down and didn't want to take on the party leadership at such a critical time, leading to suspicions that Cable had just agreed to act as effectively an interim leader. Said suspicions were borne out two years later when Cable stood down, and this time Swinson ran for the leadership and easily thrashed Sir Ed Davey — only to end up lasting barely six months as party leader, and being forced out after she lost her seat at the 2019 general election, leading to another leadership race which Davey won this time.
  • In by-elections:
    • Crosby in 1981. Held in a Conservative safe seat in Merseyside, it resulted with Shirley Williams (from the SDP-Liberal Alliance) winning the seat with nearly half the vote. In 1979, the predecessor Liberal Party had finished in third place in Crosby with 15% of the vote (while the Tory incumbent got 57%).
    • Bermondsey in 1983. In 1979 the Liberals came in third place with less than 10% of the vote in a constituency where Labour won 60%; in a by-election weeks before the 1983 general, Liberal candidate Simon Hughes took the seat with 57% of the vote. Tragically, though, one of the reasons for Labour's loss was that their candidate Peter Tatchell (besides his radical left views) was openly gay, and later became famous as a gay activist. The Liberal campaign had a hint of homophobic scare stories behind it, but in 2006 Hughes revealed that he was bisexual.
    • Bradford West in 2012. The seat had been Labour for many years and the by-election garnered little media attention as most expected a routine Labour hold. Instead, the outspoken George Galloway won the seat with a five-figure majority for the Respect Party, his main electoral vehicle at the time.
    • The 2021 North Shropshire by-election, despite the fact the incumbent had resigned in a high-profile sleaze scandal, was expected to be a routine Conservative hold due to the extremely safe nature of the seat. It was quite comfortably won by the Liberal Democrats (who hadn't even finished second at the last general election), which has been attributed — at least in part — to the string of stories regarding several Christmas parties held by government departments the previous year, when such gatherings were illegal under Covid restrictions (as well as the government's denials that such parties had happened at all, which were widely seen as unconvincing even before video and photographic evidence of them came to light).
  • Paul Nuttall was a relatively well-known UKIP politician for some time, but his becoming leader in 2016 might count. It all began in the summer, when Nigel Farage announced his intention to quit. Steven Woolfe became the frontrunner to succeed him ... until he failed to submit his nomination papers on time. Diane James subsequently won September leadership election ... and then announced her resignation just a couple of weeks later. Another leadership election was scheduled for November, with Steven Woolfe once again the favourite ... until he withdrew his name from consideration following an incident of violence during a meeting. Finally, Nuttall entered and easily won the contest.
    • The following year, Nuttall resigned after the party's vote collapsed at the general election. Several party veterans such as Peter Whittle, Jane Collins, and John Rees-Evans entered the race, but with the vote split seven ways it quickly appeared as though there would be a dark horse victor in the shape of Anne-Marie Waters, a far-right activist who ran on the express goal of reforming UKIP into an anti-Islam party, and whose supporters had reportedly joined the party en masse. The result was even more of a shock, as Waters finished second behind Henry Bolton, a previously obscure party member who won out largely thanks to having the important endorsement of Nigel Farage and much less baggage than the other candidates. Or so it seemed...
    • After only five months, Bolton was ousted as leader after it turned out that, contrary to the "family man" image he put across in the leadership contest, he had left his wife shortly after becoming leader to date a model with views almost as far-right as Waters'. In the aftermath, potential candidates were David Kurten, who was the only contender aside from Bolton who didn't massively under-perform in the previous leadership election and/or quit the party afterwards, and Bill Etheridge, a two-time leadership contender, with some even predicting that Nigel Farage would make his long-tipped comeback. Instead, the party eschewed a formal leadership election and named acting leader Gerard Batten as permanent leader, widely thought to be because they couldn't afford another leadership election.
  • The 1992 general election had an interesting example in the "first constituency to declare a result" race. In every general election between 1970 and 1987, the first constituency to declare had been either Guildford or Torbay, and they were ranked by bookmakers as the two most likely to declare first in 1992. The BBC had cameras and live reporters at both venues in preparation for the first result, but just as Kate Adie was reporting from Torbay that the candidates, the Mayor, and the acting returning officer were taking the stage to announce the result, a red ticker appeared on the bottom of the screen reading "Lab hold Sunderland South" — a constituency to which the BBC had not even sent a camera crew.note  ITN did have a camera crew in Sunderland and aired the declaration live, although they had earlier acknowledged that Guildford and Torbay were the two favourites to declare first. This began a streak of being the first constituency to declare a result for Sunderland South and its successor constituency, Houghton and Sunderland South, that ended in 2017 (when it was beaten by Newcastle-upon-Tyne Central).
    • Newcastle declaring first in 2017 probably counts as an example in itself. The BBC were expecting that Sunderland, as usual, would declare the first result of the night ... and then David Dimbleby suddenly announced that Newcastle had beaten them.

    Canadian Politics 
  • Following his government's defeat at the 1926 election, Arthur Meighen resigned as Conservative Party leader, only to announce a few months later that he would run to be re-elected to the post (accounts vary as to whether this was his intention all along, or if he came to regret resigning), and was heavily favored to win. Premier of Ontario Howard Ferguson was seen as the other front-runner, but decided he preferred to remain in provincial politics, and manoeuvred Meighen into taking a stand on Quebec that ruined any chance of a comeback. Hugh Guthrie, who had been acting as leader since Meighen's resignation, then became the favorite, only to destroy his own chances with a horribly-received speech (in which he, among other gaffes, got the party's name wrong) at the leadership convention. The convention therefore ended up being won by Meighen's former finance minister, R.B. Bennett, who would steer the party back into government in 1930.
  • The 1976 Progressive Conservative leadership election was split between frontrunners Flora Macdonald on the left and Claude Wagner on the right, with Brian Mulroney also mounting a more centrist and very well-funded campaign. The eventual winner wasn't any of these three, but rather little-known 36-year-old Joseph Clark by 65 votes over Wagner, leading to the next-day memorable headline "Joe Who?" In his first federal election in 1979, he led the PCs to an unexpected victory of their own and served as Prime Minister... for nine months.
  • In the New Democratic Party's leadership election in 1995, the two front-runners were Lorne Nystrom, a veteran former MP (until he lost his seat in the 1993 election, which saw the party lose all but 8 of its MPs) who had the support of the party establishment, and Svend Robinson, who had significant grassroots support and had made the headlines for being the first openly gay MP in the country's history. The third candidate, Alexa McDonough, was generally seen as an outsider. To the surprise of everyone, the first ballot at the convention was practically a three-way tie, with Robinson having a small lead, and McDonough making it to the second ballot by the narrowest of margins over Nystrom. Robinson then surprisingly withdrew his candidacy, leading to McDonough being elected unopposed.
  • In 2006, Stéphane Dion won the Liberal Party leadership instead of frontrunners Bob Rae and Michael Ignatieff. In '08, the party suffered its worst election in years, which was mostly blamed on Dion and he was replaced a few months later by Ignatieff... who in turn lead the party to its worst-ever election result in 2011.
  • At the beginning of the 2015 election, the hype from Justin Trudeau's election as Liberal Party leader had worn off, and he was in third place in the polls behind the incumbent Conservatives led by Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the social democratic NDP led by Thomas Mulcair. The length of the campaign (78 days, which is very long by Canadian standards), however, worked against the two frontrunners by allowing more time for screw-ups and scrutiny of their platforms, while simultaneously allowing Trudeau to build up his credibility (which the Conservatives attacked repeatedly) and show off his platform. As a result, on election night, the Liberals were catapulted from third place with 36 seats to win 184 of the 338 seats in the House of Commons, allowing them to form a majority government with Trudeau as prime minister.
  • The 2017 Conservative leadership election had Maxime Bernier, who ran mainly as an economic libertarian, lead on twelve ballots as twelve challengers were eliminated. On the thirteenth and last ballot, he lost to Andrew Scheer, who ran as a unity candidate. Bernier would leave the Conservatives in late 2018 to form a political party in his own image, which he called the People's Party of Canada; it didn't have much impact on its first federal election in 2019, with Bernier losing his own seat, no other PPC candidate winning, and the party collectively getting 1.6% of the vote across Canada. Scheer, meanwhile, led the Conservatives to an improved seat count and reduced the Liberals' government from majority status to minority, though he resigned less than two months later after an expenses scandal.

    Other Politics 
  • Older Than Feudalism example: In 63 BC, the Romans held an election for the highly prestigious post of Pontifex Maximus (essentially, the chief priest). Fashionable opinion during the campaign was that it boiled down to a contest between two very old, very influential ex-consuls, Quintus Lutatius Catulus and Publius Servilius Vatia Isauricus, both typical candidates for the job. However, the two were too keen on the position (which was for life) to pull out and let the other take it, and wound up splitting the conservative, patrician vote... allowing a very young and then-unknown senator to score a sensational example of this trope. Still, surely the largely ceremonial position couldn't lead to any major revolution in Roman life? Well, maybe if the young senator in question weren't a certain Julius Caesar.... (Over his career, Caesar would indeed frequently use his powers as Pontifex Maximus to great effect, manipulating the calendar to reward political allies and punish enemies, sidestep the efforts of his co-consul Bibulus to undermine his agenda, and ultimately give us the basic form of calendar we use today.)
  • Following the Liberal Party's defeat in the 2007 Australian election and John Howard's loss of his seat, Peter Costello was the favourite to take over the party leadership, with Malcolm Turnbull as a dark horse candidate. Costello announced he would not stand for leader, leaving Turnbull as the frontrunner. However, when the party voted on its new leader, Turnbull was defeated by Brendan Nelson.
    • It happened again in 2018, with Peter Dutton attempting to oust Turnbull as prime minister. After Turnbull lost a confidence vote and declined to run again, Dutton and Deputy Leader Julie Bishop ran for the leadership position, only for Scott Morrison to win as a compromise candidate.

  • The ultimate dark horse victory in sports has to be the 1980 USA men's hockey team coached by Herb Brooks. A group of college kids taking on all the best teams in the world, many with pros in their ranks, and winning the gold. Even the players for Team USA didn't think they had that great a chance, as team captain Mike Eruzione thought the team was only good enough to get bronze.
  • Australian Steven Bradbury won a short track speed skating gold medal at the 2002 Winter Olympic Games after all the other competitors - who had been expected to win gold (especially Apolo Anton Ohno, who'd won every other event so far) - crashed while jostling for first place during the final lap. The Australian broadcaster, since it was Australia's first ever Winter Olympics gold medal (and first gold for any country in the Southern Hemisphere), still went ahead and did those slow motion, glory replays. "Doing a Bradbury" has since become Australian slang for this trope. He may be Born Lucky; during his second heat, one racer was disqualified for interference, and in the semifinal, three of his opponents also crashed.
  • Eric Moussambani Malonga, from Equatorial Guinea, appeared at the 2000 Sydney Olympics as part of a wildcard draw that allowed developing countries in to the games without meeting the minimum requirements. In his heat for the 100 meter free-style (and the first time Malonga had ever swam in a full-length pool), Malonga swam the course in 1'57'', the worst time for the event in Olympic history. However, since his two competitors false-started, Malonga was determined to have won his heat, and became a minor celebrity afterward.
  • The 1992 Olympics provided the former Trope Namer in Robert Změlík of Czechoslovakia, who won the decathlon ... after American audiences had been treated to an ad campaign hyping Dan O'Brien and Dave Johnson in the buildup to the games (Dan failed to qualify for those games but later won the gold in '96, while Dave took the bronze).
  • The 1968 Olympics in Mexico City featured a number of firsts, the first Olympics in Latin America, a number of broken records for pole vault, long jump, triple jump, etc. But one thing that Mexicans are likely to remember is Felipe "el tibio" Muñoz Kapamas, the first, and so far, only Mexican athlete to ever win a gold medal in an Olympic swimming event. El Tibio, "The Timid One", got his nickname for his then-odd habit of refusing to swim in a nonheated pool and became famous for edging out both the Soviet and U.S. favorite and winning the 200m breaststroke.
  • Though she ultimately didn't win a medal, American gymnast Aly Raisman just getting into the individual all-around final at the 2012 Olympics over teammate Jordyn Wiebernote  was this. Going into the Olympics, Wieber and Gabby Douglas were seen by most fans as the all-arounders of the team, while Raisman, though she was set to compete all four events in the qualifying round, was known more for her standout events (particularly floor exercise) than for the all-around. To nearly everyone's surprise (including her own), in the qualification, Raisman outscored both of her teammates, qualifying to the final in second place right behind Russia's Viktoria Komova, causing Wieber (who was also outscored by Douglas) to be bumped out of the final.
  • The 2007 Formula One World Championship had the two McLaren drivers, double World Champion Fernando Alonso and hotshot rookie Lewis Hamilton, locked in a bitter rivalry for the title crown. The Championship went all the way to the final race, with Hamilton leading and Alonso second favourite. However, Hamilton made a mistake and Alonso was unable to catch up with the Ferraris. At the end of the day, it was their Ferrari rival Kimi Räikkönen who won the race and the title. Alonso and Hamilton were tied for second.
    • 1986 had much of the same. Williams teammates double World Champion Nelson Piquet and English hero Nigel Mansell spew at each other all season, while Alain Prost comes from behind to take it, winning the season finale.
    • 2010 had a similar outcome. A change in the points system and no dominant driver ensured a wide-open contest right to the end between no fewer than five drivers, including Alonso, Hamilton and Jenson Button who between them had won four of the past five titles. Coming to the final race, Fernando Alonso led from Australian Mark Webber, with Webber's teammate, German Sebastian Vettel third. Alonso had to come first or second to clinch the crown, whereas Webber needed to win with Alonso no higher than third, and a very much third-favourite Vettel needed to win and have Alonso come fifth or lower. In the event, Vettel won the race – and became champion when Alonso and Webber finished 7th and 8th. To make it even more this trope, despite the leadership of the drivers' championship changing many times over the course of the season, Vettel had not been leading it once all year until winning in the final race.
    • This trope got preemptively lampshaded by Vettel: when asked by a reporter if he thought he stood a chance of winning the title, Vettel noted that he was the first one to ask that, everyone else had just asked if he would help his teammate win the title away from Alonso.
  • Seems to happen often in racing themes; one inspiration could be the 1979 Daytona 500. Donnie Allison was leading Cale Yarborough in the last lap, Yarborough tried to pass, and they both wrecked, leaving down-by-half-a-lap Richard Petty to win. Yarborough and Allison ended up discussing the incident in the infield using eloquent punches to the face, with brother Bobby Allison also joining in on the fun.
  • An example from the world of football: in the 1993 Polish championship, frontrunners Legia Warsaw and ŁKS Łódź were accused of match-fixing so the title was awarded to third-placed Lech Poznań. Neither Legia nor ŁKS have forgiven Lech for this, but they never liked them much to begin with.
  • The Euro '92 international football European Championships. Due to the eruption of Civil War in Yugoslavia causing the country, a notable footballing power, to be removed from the tournament after they had qualified but before it could start, a replacement nation had to be drafted in at the last minute to make up the numbers. Denmark, runners-up to the Yugoslavs in qualifying, took their slot. In an evenly-matched group stage they managed a goalless draw against England before losing to local rivals Sweden. In the crucial last group game the unfancied Danes went up against big guns France for what turned out to be a straight fight for second place (behind the Swedes) and a spot in the semi-finals, and sneaked through 2-1 after a late winner. Denmark then encountered defending champions the Netherlands in the semis, and shockingly overturned them in a 5-4 penalty shootout victory. This pitted them against Germany in the final; the Germans remain one of the sport's perennial powerhouses and were the incumbent world champions, with Denmark winning. There was even a dark horse scorer, as in amongst an assembly of world-class striking talent it was Danish defensive midfielder John Jensen who netted their first goal in a 2-0 triumph – a man who otherwise managed just 3 international goals in nearly 80 matches across eight years, and who subsequent to this final would be signed by English giants Arsenal, where in 130-odd games he would famously score only once.
    • Twelve years later, Greece won the 2004 tournament over hosts Portugal, being carried by a Boring, but Practical game focused on defense (they scored only seven goals in six games, and their three wins in the knockout round were by 1-0).
    • Portugal in 2016 was a downplayed example. They were a strong team that had already landed in final before, but they ended up at the third place of their pool, behind Iceland and Hungary, and even then, they only ended up at the third place out of six among the teams who scored third place of their own poolnote . They eventually landed in the comparatively weaker half of the playoffs, and only won one match in total before the standard 90 minutes time limit, semi-finals against Wales (most infamously, they won no match in pool phase). Like Greece before (ironically, since they were their opponents back in 2004), they were also criticized for their Boring, but Practical style of play.
  • Nobody expected the Spanish national team, who are used to underperforming, to win a World Cup any time soon. Their weapons were fear and surprise and a ruthlessly efficient defense.
    • Just to prove Real Life is just as surreal as fiction, the only person who thought Spain would win was Paul the Psychic Octopus, clearly the Dark Horse of world cup pundits.
    • The Cheese-Eating Surrender Monkeys of 1998. France failed to make the World Cup in 90 and 94 and got into the 98 tournament only by hosting it. They shocked the world with one of the most dominating defenses ever (one non-PK goal for the entire tournament) and capped off their improbable win with a 3-0 win over supposedly invincible Brazil in the final.
    • For other continental soccer/football championships — we have Iraq winning the 2007 Asian Cup (not only during the War, but also overcoming multiple continental giants like newly admitted Australia, South Korea and Saudi Arabia) and Zambia taking home the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations after a long penalty shootout against the Ivory Coast and a victory against Ghana in the semifinals. The last of these doubles as a CMOH, seeing that the match was played just inland from the spot where the plane carrying the Zambia national team to a World Cup qualifier crashed in 1993, killing all on board.
  • In the 2011 FIFA Women's World Cup the 4 pre-seeded teams were USA (two-times winner and perennial favorite), Germany (host team which had won the previous two cups — in 2007, without conceding a single goal), Brazil (runner-up in the last cup and two Olympics, and team of the best player in the world, Marta) and Japan. Japan ended up emerging on top.
  • Denmark in the European handball championships 2012. Coming to the tournament, expected to be one of the fours team in the semi finals, they lose two matches in the preliminary round, going to the main round with 0 points, effectively making themselves underdogs. Denmark won the three matches on the main round, and with some other results going the right way (Macedonia beating Poland, Sweden having a draw against Poland, Poland beating Germany), the Danes ended up with 6 points, one ahead of Germany, Poland and Macedonia (who started the main round with 4, 2 and 1 point respectively — 2 points for a win). In the semi-final, the team that had played the best handball during the tournament were waiting, but Denmark had a one goal victory against Spain to go through to the final. In the final, home team Serbia were beaten.
    • In the following year, the Brazilian women's team won the World Championship over the host Serbians. The team had been a rising force, but couldn't actually translate to podiums (in the 2004 Olympics, nearly upset South Korea in the quarterfinals as a fourth seed but lost by two goals; in the 2011 World Championship as hosts, lost the quarterfinals to Spain by one goal; and in the 2012 Olympics, won their group but faced defending champions Norway who deliberately held their game back in Round 1 and eventually won by two goals).
    • The 2016 win of Germany also came rather unexpectedly. While Germany had once been a perennial powerhouse and is a bankable market for fans and TV, they had been so bad that only making new rules up on the spot could get them into the previous world cup. While they did qualify regularly for the European Championship 2016, few people expected them to survive the first round, let alone win it all.
  • For the past decade and half, the "Big Four" of men's tennisRoger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic, and Andy Murray — have been so overwhelmingly dominant at the Grand Slams that any outsider managing to win a single one qualifies for this trope:
    • Juan Martín del Potro's 2009 US Open win, which was the only time between 2006-13 that a Slam was not won by a Big Four member.
    • Stan Wawrinka's 2014 Australian Open win, after years of him being only a second-tier player with a record of inconsistent performances. He would go on to add two more Slam singles trophies to his collection.
    • Marin Čilić's 2014 US Open win. Raise your hand if you saw him — a player who had only one Slam semifinal on his resume way back in 2010 — straight-setting perennial top 10 player Tomas Berdych in the quarterfinals, Roger Federer in the semifinals (who he had never beaten before in 5 meetings), and Djokovic-slayer Kei Nishikori in the final to win the title. And then put your hand back down right away, because you are a lying liar.
  • Women's tennis:
    • Serena Williams was so dominant and good at returning to form quickly even after long injury layoffs that the biggest shocks at Grand Slams during her career came when she was upset by a player no one thought would be a threat to her or for the title:
      • The 2010 French Open was considered to be fairly wide open with predictions of the champion ranging from Serena Williams to Justine Henin to Jelena Janković. Even with this open field, however, almost no one predicted that Samantha Stosur would upset all three main contenders in her run to the final and literally no one on earth foresaw her final opponent, the little-known 17th seed Francesca Schiavone, turning in the performance of her life to become only the second non-top 10 female player in tennis history (the first one was in 1933) to win the French Open and the first-ever Italian woman to win a Grand Slam title.
      • At the 2013 Wimbledon championships, 99.99% of all tennis followers were waiting for Serena's foregone victory after she had spent the entire first half of the season curb-stomping nearly everyone she played. 0.01% thought that there might be the faintest smidgen of a chance that Victoria Azarenka or Maria Sharapova, the closest things Serena had to rivals, could win instead. 0.0000% saw Marion Bartoli, seeded at a distant 15th in the tournament, winning after nearly all of the top players were upset in the first week.
      • Serena came into the 2015 US Open going for a history-making calendar-year Grand Slam after winning the last 3 Slams. If you asked anyone beforehand if there was any player in the draw capable of upsetting her bid for the CYGS, exactly none of them would have answered, "Roberta Vinci, who's ranked a distant No. 43 and has a 0-4 head-to-head record against Serena, that's who!"... and yet, Vinci did upset Serena in the semifinals in easily one of the biggest sports upsets of all time. And the ultimate champion? 26th-ranked Flavia Pennetta, who had upset No. 2 Simona Halep in the other semifinal and went on to beat Vinci in the all-Italian final no one saw coming.
      • At the 2018 US Open, Serena wasn't the only favorite for the title, but after the then-World No. 1 Simona Halep was upset in the first round and many other top-ranked players fell by the wayside, it looked like the trophy was destined for Serena who mowed through her draw with the loss of only one set. Then Naomi Osaka — who had won the Indian Wells tournament earlier that year, but had been wildly inconsistent in all the tournaments after that — routed her in the final. It probably didn’t help that Serena received three crucial penalties. This was only a Dark Horse Victory in the moment, however, as Osaka would follow it up with a win in the 2019 Australian Open and then successfully defended both titles, establishing her as a new rising star and potential successor to Serena as the face of women's tennis.
    • Canada-born British player Emma Raducanu completed arguably one of the greatest ever sporting achievements by winning the 2021 US Open singles championship at the age of 18. It was only her second ever grand slam appearance after Wimbledon 2021 where she retired in the fourth round. To put this in context, no other woman had previously won a major in the Open era before appearing in at least four (Monica Seles, 1990 French Open and Bianca Andreescu, 2019 US Open). Even more remarkably, Raducanu began the tournament as a qualifier and won the championship without dropping a single set (10 matches in total, 20 sets). She became the first ever qualifier in tennis history to win a Grand slam, and the first British female to win a major since Virginia Wade at Wimbledon in 1977. If all that isn't remarkable enough, the tournament runner-up - Canadian Leylah Fernandez - was a surprise finalist herself, knocking out former winners Naomi Osaka and Angelique Kerber, as well as top ten seeds Elina Svitolina and Aryna Sabalenka. Before the US Open, Raducanu and Fernandez were ranked 150th and 73rd in the world respectively. They ended the year 2021 ranked 19th (Raducanu) and 24th (Fernandez) in the world.
    • Wimbledon in 2023 didn't start out this way, but ended up fitting perfectly. Going into the event, either then-current No. 1 Iga Świątek or Sabalenka could have claimed the top ranking. The early rounds went mostly according to form; for the first time in any women's Slam since the 2013 French Open, all four top seeds (Świątek, Sabalenka, defending champion Elena Rybakina, and Jessica Pegulanote ) made the quarterfinals. Then came the madness. Sabalenka was the only one of those four who won her quarterfinal match, and she went out in the semifinals (assuring Świątek of staying at No. 1). Svitolina, who had left the tour in 2022 to have her first child, had only returned to the tour in April 2023, and got into Wimbledon as a wild card, became the first woman to defeat four former Slam winners at the same Slam since 2005, taking down Venus Williams, Sofia Kenin, Victoria Azarenka, and Świątek. The finalists were 6 seed Ons Jabeur, a Tunisian who had lost to Rybakina in the 2022 Wimbledon final, and Markéta Vondroušová, an unseeded Czech who had taken out four seeded players in succession, including Pegula, before ending Svitolina's run. She was the first unseeded player to make the Wimbledon women's final since Billie Jean King in 1963... so long ago that the latter was still Billie Jean Moffitt. Vondroušová won in straight sets to become the first unseeded woman ever to win the Wimbledon singles.
  • The 2012 PGA Tour FedEx Cup championship. Entering the "playoffs" run, Tiger Woods was leading the race for the cup, but Rory McIlroy won the first two events to vault into the lead, setting up a "Tiger vs. Rory" narrative going into the final event, the Tour Championship. However, neither golfer played well in that event, allowing relative unknown Brandt Snedeker to take the FedEx Cup by winning the Tour Championship.
    • The 1991 PGA Championship. A complete unknown by the name of John Daly shocked the golfing world. The ninth alternate, he was only even allowed to participate after scores of other players were forced to withdraw for one reason or another. Come the end of the tournament, said complete unknown walked away the champion.
  • An even more out-of-nowhere story from golf was the 2020 Women's (British) Open Championship. Even though many top players were missing due to COVID-19 travel issues and health fears, there was still plenty of star power around. There was also late entry Sophia Popov, a German who entered the tournament with a world ranking of 304, without playing privileges on any top tour anywhere in the world, and who had nearly retired in 2019 due to her struggles at the top level.note  The month before, she had caddied for a friend at an LPGA Tour event in Toledo, Ohio. Popov took the lead early in Saturday's third round, and wasn't seriously threatened on her way to her first professional win. In a major, no less. A win that vaulted her into the world's top 25. Not to mention that she won five times as much in that one event as she had in six years on tour.
  • The Czech national ice hockey team is usually very solid and never a true underdog. They were, however, underdogs in Winter Olympics Games in Nagano in 1998. The NHL allowed for the first time to have a break for the Olympics. The national teams could — for the first time ever — send their very best players and build all-star teams. Both Canada and the United States were heavily favoured as they had previously faced off in the final of the 1996 World Cup of Ice Hockey. However, the Czechs defeated the USA in the quarterfinal match. Canada lost to them in the semifinal match in the nerve-biting shootouts. The Czechs won the gold medal, beating Russia in the final.
  • Foinavon pulled the Horse Racing equivalent of a Steve Bradbury when he cantered into the 1967 Grand National with odds of only 100/1 and ended up winning the race when all the other horses crashed at the 23rd fence and he was far enough behind them to avoid the pile-up.
  • In harness racing, one of the most anticipated races of all time was the 1988 March of Dimes Invitational Trot, featuring horses considered the best trotters in the world at the time—American horse Mack Lobell and French horse Ourasi. Mack went to the lead, and held it until Ourasi pulled slightly ahead at the top of the stretch. The two then battled down the stretch, and were eye-to-eye on the lead with 20 yards left. The winner... Sugarcane Hanover.
  • In 1986, Australian Rules Football's highest individual honor, the Brownlow Medal, was won by Robert DiPierdomenico. In his acceptance speech, he said, "I gave myself no chance and only came along for the food".
  • Amusingly, the Brazilian term for this is also on the equines, "Zebra" — due to an animal-themed lotto where the striped horse is not one of the 25 options, so if the result was zebra...
  • The 2014 Ohio State football team had 10/1 Vegas odds of winning the National Championship. Then after they lost their starting quarterback, who was a Heisman candidate and 2-time conference player of the year, they became a 40/1 shot at winning the title. They had to start an untested freshman at quarterback. After their loss to Virginia Tech, the country basically buried any hopes of Ohio State making the playoffs. What happened? That 2nd-string quarterback broke all sorts of passing records and led the Buckeyes to an upset of a top 10 Michigan State team on the road. To make the run even more improbable, the 2nd-string quarterback got injured in the final game of the season. The 3rd-string quarterback had to step up and make his first start in the Conference Title Game! He promptly led the Buckeyes to a 59-0 victory over Wisconsin. Then they made the playoffs and beat the #1 ranked team in the country, Alabama, 42-35 and capped it off by demolishing the #2 ranked team in the country, Oregon, in the National Championship, 42-20! All with a guy who was behind two other guys for the starting position when the season started.
  • One of the longest races in the world is the 566-mile (875 kilometer) Westfield Sydney to Melbourne Ultra Marathon. Amongst the contestants in 1983 was a potato farmer by the name of Cliff Young who—despite his name—was 61 years old at the time. When the starter gun went off, the other racers tore off while the old man shuffled along in his rainboots. Thing was, in a real-life version of The Tortoise And The Hare, the hares all bunked down to sleep—as was expected. Cliff Young did not; he simply kept going for nearly six days straight, setting an all-time record for best time. Trainers studied the "Young Shuffle" and realized that while the pace was slow, it was efficient, letting someone run for much longer periods of time. Three other racers used his running style to win the Ultra Marathon.
  • In the 2015 IndyCar season, Juan Pablo Montoya was basically champion apparent for most of it, having a commanding lead and the Indy 500 under his belt. Then a few blunders on his part and rallying on Graham Rahal's part saw Rahal be a serious challenger for that title. So who won it? Scott Dixon. He won the final race of the season, which, thanks to it being worth double the points, gave him enough points to tie Montoya-and his three wins to Montoya's two gave him the win. This victory, predictably, was not without its controversy, with Montoya angry that Dixon only tied because of the double points (ignoring that he himself got double points for winning Indy).
  • In the NFL Playoffs, the Wild Card teams have the toughest route to the Super Bowl, ever since the Wild Card round with 5 teams per conference was added in 1978 (expanded to 6 teams in 1990 and 7 teams in 2020). The main difficulty comes from having to win three playoff games on the road note , and as of 2021, only 7 of the 43 Super Bowls since the round's inception have been won by a wild card team. Special mention goes to the 2005 Pittsburgh Steelers (who had to win their last four games just to make the playoffs with an 11-5 record), the 2007 New York Giants (who famously upset the previously-undefeated New England Patriots), and the 2010 Green Bay Packers, the only three teams to win all four playoff rounds away from home; the other four wild cards had the benefit of either hosting another wild card or playing the Super Bowl at home.
  • The final game in the NFL's first-ever "Super Wild Card" weekend in 2020/21note  was an upset for the ages. On one side, you had the Pittsburgh Steelers, a perennial playoff contender who had been to three Super Bowls in the past fifteen years, winning two of them, playing at home; on the other side, you had the Cleveland Browns, the long-time Butt-Monkey team of the NFL, who hadn't even played in a playoff game in 18 years, hadn't won one since 1994note , hadn't won a road playoff since the 1960s, and hadn't beaten the Steelers in Pittsburgh in over a decade, and just to cap it all off, the Browns' head coach (along with a handful of other major coaches and players) wasn't even able to attend the game due to testing positive for COVID-19. The Steelers came in as 10-point favorites and everyone thought the game was a Foregone Conclusion... that is, until the Browns proceeded to run absolutely roughshod over the Steelers, jumping out to a 28-0 lead before Pittsburgh finally got on the board late in the second quarter and ultimately coming away with a 48-37 victory (that 11-point deficit being the smallest deficit Pittsburgh had had since early in the first quarter). The Browns ultimately fell in the divisional round, narrowly losing to the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs, but their victory over the Steelers is probably one of the biggest upsets in NFL playoff history.
  • The 2015–16 season of the English Premier League. Since 2000 the league has normally been dominated by the most popular and best-funded teams: Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester United and more recently Manchester City. The league itself is the 3rd richest sports league of any kind in the world and it's only getting richer. Meanwhile, Leicester City had returned to the Premier League in 2014 for the first time in ten years. Their entire first team cost £22 million, the going rate for a top class winger/striker. They spent most of the 2014-15 season battling against relegation, eventually finishing 14th out of 20 due to a Miracle Rally in the last two months when they won 7 of their last 9 matches. In the 2015-16 season, they won the league. At the start of the season, the odds of this happening were 5,000-1, the same as those given for finding Elvis Presley alive. What's particularly astounding is that while most dark horse victories in sports happen in the space of a single match, to win a league requires a strong sustained performance. This endeavor was aided by the fact that the 'bigger' teams all had an atypically bad season in general, allowing underdogs Leicester to get an early lead in the run up to Christmas, and then keeping that momentum for the rest of the season. Leicester only lost three league games all season, once against Liverpool on Boxing Day, which temporarily dethroned them from the summit for the week, and twice against eventual runners-up Arsenal. Defending champions Chelsea meanwhile had a horrific season, ending up mid-table instead of the top four.
    • An even bigger DHV would have been a bet on not only Leicester winning the 2016 league, but that Donald Trump would win the 2016 US Presidency and that the UK would vote 'Leave' on the 2016 EU Referendum, with the bet being placed in August 2015. By itself, the Title would be 5000-1, but combining it with those other outcomes would push it to over 30000-1. According to news outlets, the expected return on a £10 wager would be in the eight-figure region, with some claiming as high as £30 million for the lucky bet.
  • Individual honor example: As the 1991 National Football League season came to a close; it was widely expected that the league rushing title would go to either Buffalo Bills running back Thurman Thomas or Detroit Lions running back Barry Sandersnote , with the rushing championship expected to be settled in the regular-season finale pitting Thomas' Bills and Sanders' Lions. Instead, Buffalo (having clinched the AFC East division, a first-round bye and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs) elected to rest their starters; thus Thurman didn't play at all in the game, while Sanders finished with 108 yards and a touchdown as the Lions defeated Buffalo 17-14 in overtimenote . The winner of the rushing crown? Dallas Cowboys running back Emmitt Smith, who raced for 160 yards and 2 touchdowns as the Cowboys defeated Atlanta 31-27; giving Smith a 15-yard advantage over Sanders with 1563 yards to Sanders' 1548 in what marked the first of four rushing titles in a five-year span for Emmitt; while Thurman came in a distant third with 1407 yards.
  • The 1961–62 NBA Most Valuable Player race. The MVP was expected to be one of two players having still-historic seasons: Wilt Chamberlain of the Philadelphia Warriors, with his historic 50 points a game scoring and Oscar Robertson of the Cincinnati Royals, who averaged a "Triple Double" — 30.8 points, 12.5 rebounds and 11.4 assists — for the season (a feat not matched until Oklahoma City's Russell Westbrook, 55 years later). The MVP winner? Bill Russell of the Boston Celtics, whose personal stats were inferior to Chamberlain's and Robertson's, but was the best player on the league's best team.
  • This happened twice in the IAAF World Championshipsnote  London 2017. First was the 100m sprint, where everyone was expecting Usain Bolt to win by a country mile. He didn't. Instead, he came third overall with the US' Justin Gatlin and Christian Coleman taking the gold and silver medal respectively, making it his first bronze medal since the World Athletics Final in 2006. However, the real surprise then came later at the 4x100 Metres Relay. In that race, not only was Usain Bolt running for Jamaica, but his US rivals were on the US team as well. But in a shock turn of events, not only did Great Britain win gold overall (the first time they'd done so in their entire history), but Usain Bolt outright failed to finish the race, falling victim to an injury just as his leg of the race began. As a result, it was literally the first time Bolt had ever not gotten a medal in a race, and perhaps the most unfortunate end to an athlete's career in history.
  • The famous 1990 boxing match between Mike Tyson and challenger James "Buster" Douglas. At the time, Tyson was the undisputed and undefeated champ. Coming into the bout with 3 titles. Douglas was a veritable unknown, seen as little more than a snack for a returning Tyson. The odds agreed, with the fight famously showing the odds of victory at 42-1. The boxing world was suitably shocked when the challenger not only beat Tyson, he beat him by knockout.
  • Derrike Cope's first career NASCAR victory in the 1990 Daytona 500 proved to be this, as Dale Earnhardt had led most of that race and held the lead going into the final lap only for Earnhardt's car to run over a piece of bell housing from the blown engine of Rick Wilson's car — resulting in Earnhardt (seeking his first Daytona 500 victory) finishing the race with a cut tire while Cope passed him en route to Victory Lane.
  • The 2019 St. Louis Blues: at the beginning of the year they were dead last in the points standings, but after a rally (that started with a coach change and the calling up of goaltender Jordan Binnington) that got them to the playoffs, they rode that all the way to the Stanley Cup Final, getting their first win ever.
  • The four semi-finalists of the 2011/12 UEFA Champions League were Real Madrid, the most successful team in the competition's history, Barcelona, the reigning Champions, Bayern Munich, who had reached the final two years previously and had a core of young German talent, and Chelsea, who were suffering their worst domestic season in ten years. Chelsea ended up winning the competition thanks to a defensive masterclass against Barcelona in the semi finals and Bayern Munich in the final. Other noteworthy examples are 1997 edition winners Borussia Dortmund, who beat Ferguson's Manchester United in the semifinals and a star-studded Juventus - who were widely regarded as the favorites to win it all - in the final in Munich, and 2004 edition winners FC Porto, who doubled down on their UEFA Cup success the previous year under the guidance of a certain José Mourinho.
  • Dateline: August 2021.The Atlanta Braves had been sputtering throughout the season and lost two key players to injury and one to a domestic violence charge. They were six games under .500 languishing in fourth place in the National League East when suddenly, the teams ahead (Philadelphia, the Mets and Washington) started running on fumes while the Braves had acquired a can of spinach between them. They clinched a postseason berth then won the East pennant where they had the lowest win-loss record of such a team since 2006 and thus had less than a 15% chance of going to the World Series much less winning it. They obviously didn't get the memo, as the Braves went on to beat Milwaukee in the divisional series, the Dodgers in the league championship, and finally Houston in the World Series giving the Braves their first world title since 1995.
  • The 1994 Winter Olympics figure skating ladies' singles event was widely seen beforehand as a showdown between Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan, both of the USA, not least because of the scandal when it turned out that Harding's ex-husband had orchestrated a physical attack on Kerrigan in an attempt to put her out of the competition. (The subject of the film I, Tonya.) However, the dramatic story was slightly spoiled when the competition was won by Oksana Baiul of Ukraine. Kerrigan took silver, Harding placed eighth. To give you a perspective of how "dark horse" it really was: this was the very first Olympics for Ukraine competing as an independent nation on its own, and the organizers weren't even able to immediately find a record of the Ukrainian anthem to play for the awards ceremony. And that was the only gold medal won by Ukraine at those Olympics - or any other Winter Olympics until twenty years later.
  • In the 1877 Leipzig chess tournament, the surprising winner was Louis Paulsen, an aging master who came out ahead of both Adolf Anderssen and Johannes Zukertort, considered to be the favorites.
  • The 2022 Kentucky Derby was one of the greatest examples of this ever as Rich Strike had literally only been entered the morning of the race after Ethereal Road was scratched. That added to its 84-1 odds of victory. In a shocking upset, Rich Strike overcame the more experienced field to win the Derby.
  • The 2015 Takarazuka Kinen was host to what became known as the "12 billion yen incident". The odds-on favorite to win was Gold Ship, who had won the previous two Takarazuka Kinen races. But at the very start of the race, Gold Ship suddenly reared up in his stall (by some accounts due to being startled by the horse next to him), ultimately coming in 15th; 12 billion yen worth of bets on him were suddenly scrap paper. The winner of the race was Lovely Day, a horse that had only won three races in his entire career up to that point.
  • The gold medal in Greco-Roman wrestling at the 2000 Olympics. On one side was Aleksandr "The Russian Bear" Karelin, 3 time defending gold medalist at the Olympics and undefeated for 13 straight years in competition. On the other was Rulon Gardner, the homegrown farm-boy from the middle of nowhere Wyoming. As you can guess from the trope title, Gardner pulled the upset of the games with a narrow victory of Karelin to walk away with the gold.

  • This actually occurred with a test. The question was, "Who was the longest-lived English Ruler?", allowing a choice of four British monarchs. The actual answer wasn't even on the test: Richard Cromwell (son of Oliver), who died less than four months short of his 86th birthday, even though he ruled England for only nine months. (He also technically wasn't a monarch, which perhaps explains why he was left off the list — though it doesn't excuse it. He's since been surpassed by Elizabeth II, who lived to 96.)
  • Pope John XXIII ascended to the papacy in 1958 as a distinct long-shot — so much so that he had already purchased his train ticket home before entering the conclave. The two front-runners consistently deadlocked through the conclave, so it was eventually determined that a compromise candidate was needed to move the process forward. After garnering no better than 17% of the votes through nine ballots, John XXIII became Pope two ballots later with 76% of the votes.
  • Few names conjure as much fear in Battlebots as Tombstone. A sturdy force of destruction who came into the revival's 1st season on Discovery as both reigning champ, #1 seed and 4-0. On the opposite end was Bombshell. Who had been tossed around all season, lost every match and only managed to squeak into the tourney in a desperado tournament. Suffice to say fans, drivers and even the announcers were shocked when Bombshell took out Tombstone's weapon chain. Leaving the champ with no weapon, and sending Bombshell onward.
  • Adidas and Puma had long dominated the athletic clothing sector since they were founded by the Dassler brothers (separately) after World War II. However, the old family rivalry continued to be the focus even among the brothers' descendants, which occasionally ran contrary to doing what was best for the business. For a while this drove the competition and only ensured the companies' dominance. But eventually they got bogged down by the rivalry, which allowed a relatively small American company called Nike to come in and overtake them. Nike is still number one.
  • The "Bone Wars" of the late 1800s were the result of a feud between two of the top names of American paleontology at the time, Othniel Marsh and Edward Cope, over who could find and describe the most new dinosaur species, with the added goal of getting the more famous and well known species on the map. While this did lead to the discovery of most of the dinosaur species we all know and love, both missed out on the crown jewel of American dinosaur research: Tyrannosaurus rex, which was described by Henry Fairfield Osbornnote .

Examples of the "Hey, at least the other guy didn't win" variation

  • This essay on variations of the Kingmaker Scenario calls this "The Vendetta" — whatever the reason, Alice has adopted an attitude of "I'm going to do everything in my power to make sure Bob doesn't win". Alice no longer cares about winning the game — she just wants revenge on Bob.
  • This trope formed the basis of a Doonesbury storyline in the 1970s. A congressional race is going on between Ginny Slade, Lacey Davenport, and a corrupt incumbent. Ginny has the support of most of the cast, as well as a song written about her by rock star Jimmy Thudpucker. However, people are torn between her and Lacey, leaving the incumbent with the full support of his party and coming out ahead. In the end Ginny realizes that Lacey is really the more qualified candidate and withdraws from the race to support her rather than let the incumbent take the race. Lacey wins and serves in congress for many years in the strip.
  • The film The Ringer makes "the other guy didn't win" a plot point.
  • Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends, "Hiccy Burp", sees Bloo and another imaginary friend named Blake Superior have a showdown with hiccups and burps (and yes, it's every bit as disgusting as it sounds) in a pageant. After some armpit noise making friend wins, The Tag shows him hiccuping while expressing how glad he is that Blake lost.
  • Hey Arnold!, "Grand Prix": Arnold, Sid, Stinky, and Eugene's go-kart (with Eugene behind the wheel) finishes second in a race. He's content with this, Sid and Stinky are mad they didn't win, while Arnold is glad that they at least beat Edmund and Wolfgang.
  • CatDog, "Climb Every CatDog": Cat is determined to beat his rival Mindy Wonderful at climbing Mt. Nearburg so that it will be renamed after him. Cat manages to beat Mindy, but it turns out that Dunglap was waiting at the top for him to give him his gear he forgot at the store. Dog takes it in stride, but Cat doesn't and breaks down crying.
    Dog: Cat, look at the bright side. Mindy isn't better than you anymore...Dunglap is.
  • Happens in The Fairly Oddparents when Mr. Turner wins the Miss. Dimmsdale pageant. Timmy is weirded out, but is relieved that Vicky did not win.
  • The Curse of the Blue Figurine: Discussed during an ongoing competition in the sequel The Hand of the Necromancer. Professor Childermass is a die-hard fan of the Boston Red Sox, and has a burning hatred of the New York Yankees. At the end of the book, during a game between the two, Professor Childermass surprises everyone by congratulating one of the Yankees on a good play... but then loudly points out that the Yankees are still six and a half games behind the Cleveland Indians, earning chuckles out of his friends and the other Red Sox fans nearby.
  • Kim Possible:"Hidden Talent": Bonnie and Kim (perennial rivals, of course) compete at a talent show, Bonnie performing ballet and Kim singing. Ron becomes a "last minute entry" just to stall for time so that Kim wouldn't be disqualified as a no-show (having been stuck in an elaborate death trap by Drakken). To get as much time as possible, he improvises a long series of different actsIncluding . Ron ends up winning, in Barkin's words "Proving that quantity is indeed better than quality." Kim isn't upset and is happy, rubbing Ron's victory in Bonnie's face.

  • Yes, the Tampa Bay Rays beat the Boston Red Sox in the 2008 ALCS, but the mere fact that they were both there means the New York Yankees finally missed the playoffs! Victory for Red Sox Nation! No, seriously.
  • The Dodgers and the Giants ARE this trope. Over the course of a bitter, hundred-plus year rivalry (which has seen them both move from New York to California), fans of both teams take nearly as much joy in playing spoiler for whichever one of the teams is in position to win the division or make the playoffs as they do winning for themselves. The Giants beat the Dodgers 2 out of 3 games to end the season and cost the Dodgers the NL West title in '91, only for the Dodgers to return the favor in '93. And both times, the eventual division winner were the Braves. And that's only one example out of many.
  • The 1973 World Series featured the New York Mets with an 82-79 win-loss record and a .509 winning percentage barely squeaking past the other NL East division teams with a series of wins in September, upsetting the NL West champion Cincinnati Reds with a 99-63 record and .611 winning percentage 3 games to 2 in the NLCS, only to lose to the Oakland Athletics in the '73 World Series, 4 games to 3.
  • San Jose Sharks fans did not mind missing the 2014–15 NHL Playoffs, as their mortal enemies, the Los Angeles Kings, missed the playoffs as well. Vice versa for Kings fans.
  • Arsenal fans cheered when Leicester City won the Premier League in 2016, as this prevented the hated Spurs from winning the league that year.
  • Barcelona player Gerard Piqué rooted for Juventus in the 2014–15 UEFA Champions League semifinal, despite facing (and defeating) them later in the subsequent final, as Juve faced none other than Real Madrid. It's safe to say that Piqué will cheer for any team that beats Real in any competition, even if the same team beats Barça or is above them in the league.
  • The aforementioned 2007 Formula One World Championship with the two McLaren drivers, double World Champion Fernando Alonso and hotshot rookie Lewis Hamilton, locked in a bitter rivalry for the title crown and ultimately losing to their Ferrari rival Kimi Räikkönen. In the final race in Brazil Alonso, despite ending second, appeared surprisingly happy on the podium to the point of smiling. He knew that Hamilton, with whom the relationship critically deteriorated, utterly failed.


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): Zmelik, Unexpected Third Party Win, Lucky Third Party


24/7 Championship Belt

The 24/7 Championship is one of the most interesting Championships of the WWE. The only rules are that anyone can win it by pinning the current champion... even a WWE corporate employee that has never stepped in a ring.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (3 votes)

Example of:

Main / DarkHorseVictory

Media sources: