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Friendship-Straining Competition

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Chris Pine: I've accidentally started dating the same woman as you. […]
Tom Hardy: Okay, we'll both do our best to woo her, and we'll let her decide who she wants to continue seeing. But we won't let it affect our friendship.
Chris Pine: Of course not. (hands Tom a ticking birthday present) Don't open this until I've left the building.
The Editing Room's abridged script for This Means War (2012)

People enjoy competition—even competition against their True Companions. Sometimes this competition is healthy and a good experience for both. Then there are times when their friendly conflict turns into a nasty battle for victory.

Perhaps in their attempts to best each-other, they go from good friends to bitter rivals. Maybe their other friends are taking things far more seriously and dragging them into the conflict despite their best efforts. Or, maybe the prize is just so important, both of them are willing to do anything to get it. In darker works, the competition may have been designed specifically to drive a wedge between the friends.

Whatever the reason, this little competition threatens to ruin a solid friendship. It typically starts slowly, building throughout the story until they both take things too far in the climax. In lighter works, this is usually where they learn that friendship is more important than winning, though healthy competition is perfectly fine. In darker works, however, this friendship struggle may go on for much longer, with both characters being too upset to work things out. At worst, one of them may become a Rival Turned Evil.

The nature of the competition itself doesn't matter; it can be a self-imposed competition with the only reward being "victory," it may be a simple game that the characters take too seriously, or it may be an actual competition for a very real prize, such as a monetary reward or important school council position. Whatever the case, all that matters is that this competition causes the friends to at least end up struggling as they get too interested in winning at the expense of all else.

Compare Nice Job Breaking It, Rivals!, where the competition instead results in something tangible suffering, often leading to the same Aesop, and occasionally overlapping during the story.

See also We Used to Be Friends, if this occurs as a backstory element that permanently hurt the relationship, and Defeat Means Friendship, where a relationship is forged after the competition rather than threatened by it.

Compare and Contrast Friendly Rival. Contrast Go-Karting with Bowser, where the competition is friendly and between enemies. If this competition involves a gender clash, see also Girls vs. Boys Plot.

Subtrope to Feud Episode and Game Night Fight.

Can be Truth in Television to some extent, though examples are often too personal and subjective to post here.


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    Films— Animated 
  • In Mickey's Twice Upon a Christmas, one segment involves Minnie and Daisy fighting during an ice-skating show, starting with Daisy getting jealous over the attention Minnie's getting and trying to upstage her.

    Films— Live-Action 
  • Frenemies has a segment that boils down to this. Friends Avalon and Halley, who run a web-magazine, are given the chance to turn it into a reality— however, the publication company only wants one of them. This forces them to compete for the position, turning from best friends to bitter enemies and playing cruel tricks on each other as sabotage, until they finally talk it out and realize they're better together than apart.
  • Unfriended: When the ghost of Laura Barns decides to force the friends to play "Never Have I Ever", with the loser dying, she asks questions designed to sever their friendships. These questions expose how everyone in the group had betrayed another friend at some point, leading to arguing, tears, and Adam becoming furious enough to start asking questions himself to make Blaire put down more fingers.
  • Bride Wars: When friends Liv and Emma are accidentally scheduled to have their weddings on the same day, time, and place, they both expect the other to back down and change their date. When nobody does, things slowly escalate into complete hostility as the girls play nasty pranks on each other to ensure their wedding day is superior.

  • In Divergent, the new members of each faction must compete for both a place in the community and a high rank. During the competition in Dauntless, Tris made friends with a boy named Al, who in turn had a crush on her. However, her skill in training made her a threat, and he was at the bottom of the list. The need to rise in the ranks led him to join Peter in attempting to murder her. When he tried to apologize, she furiously refused to accept it. His guilt for hurting her over the competition led him to commit suicide, and led her to question if her refusal to forgive him was right.
  • In Raymond Feist's The Riftwar Cycle this is back story for Duke Borric and Duke Guy du bas Tyra. They were steadfast friends until they competed for the hand of the same woman. It destroyed the friendship.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Zoey 101:
    • The made-for-TV special "Spring Break-Up" involves the cast being put in a gender-battle game created by Logan's father. It starts out friendly. However, when Chase accidentally sends Zoey a text that reveals his feelings for her, he tries to steal her PDA to delete the text. This ends up costing the girls a scavenger hunt as Zoey could not be contacted; when they realized Chase stole it, it was assumed he did it as sabotage, and the conflict got much uglier. It didn't calm down until he was willing to throw the final game for the girls, and could tell Zoey what really happened.
    • "Election", being the Election Day Episode, features Zoey and Chase competing for the title of class president. They make a pact to not let things affect their friendship. However, Logan starts to use various dirty tactics to help Chase win, against Chase's wishes or knowledge. When Chase tries to set things right by slandering himself in an ad made for Zoey, Zoey gets the blame and their friendship gets strained further. In the end, both of them ended up dropping out to keep their friendship in tact, allowing Mark Del Figgalo to win as the only remaining candidate.
    • "Miss PCA" has Zoey and Lola compete in a school beauty contest for the chance to be on the cover of Buzz Magazine. Things between them quickly get competitive as they begin to resort to sabotage in order to win. A wrestling match between them in a pit of mud releases their anger, and they end up laughing and making up.
  • The Community episode "Intro to Political Science" has Jeff and Annie run against each other in an election for class president. After Jeff attacks Annie's idealism at several turns, she retaliates by showing everyone an embarrassing video Jeff made a long time ago. He drops out of the election as a result and she follows suit out of guilt. They patch things up afterwards.
  • In the The Drew Carey Show episode "Atomic Cat Fight", Drew accidentally promises Lisa and Kate the same job, and then finds out that Mimi has also been nominated for the position, leading to him arranging a contest between all three women and straining his relationships with them.
  • Big Time Rush: When the boys are allowed to write a new song of their own, two sides are drawn over which idea use; James and Carlos against Kendall and Logan. Their argument escalates into a war that destroys the studio. Kelly eventually shows up, stops the fighting, and convinces them to put their songs together.
  • The Zack Files: In "Looking for Zack Greenburg", Zack gets a physics tutorial downloaded into his brain and becomes a genius. He is entered into the city physics championship and competes against Spence, putting their friendship at risk.

    Puppet Shows 
  • Wembley from Fraggle Rock thinks this is the case when he beats his best friend and roommate Gobo in a race and Gobo claims Wembley got lucky, accepting Red's offer of a rematch. (Wembley even imagines that Gobo is so traumatized over losing that he moves out.) Wembley intentionally loses the next race, but when Gobo finds out, he demands another rematch, telling him he'd better play it fair or their friendship is over.

    Visual Novels 
  • Averted in Double Homework. Although the protagonist and Rachel are competing for the same spot in the Olympics, they remain on strictly good terms (except after their breakup, for unrelated reasons). In Rachel’s epilogue, the protagonist even coaches Rachel in preparation for the big competition.

    Web Original 
  • Played for Laughs on may occasions when the Game Grumps are playing against each other. When the competition starts to heat up, someone tends to suggest that the friendship is over or that the game is a friendship-ender. One specific example is in the fifth episode of Puyo Puyo Tetris, where Arin suggests they won't be the same kind of friends once the game is over.

    Western Animation 
  • SpongeBob SquarePants:
    • In "Fry Cook Games", Spongebob - representing Krusty Krab - goes face to face with his friend Patrick, who got recruited by Mr. Krabs' nemesis, Plankton. Both Krabs and Plankton sway Bob & Pat respectively so that they'll be more motivated to beat each other; the multiple sport matches always have Bob & Pat demeaning each other in various ways, culminating in a brutal wrestling match... Until their pants suddenly rip during their match, revealing that they wear underpants of each other's color. This causes them to cry, rekindle their friendship and walk away, forgetting about the match.
    • "Sandcastles In The Sand" involved Spongebob and Patrick getting into a sandcastle war. It takes an almost immediate turn into a bitter competition as they go from creating small sand castles to life-sized buildings, weapons, and even fighter jets (still made from sand). When they destroy the entire beach in their fighting, they're forced to make up and play a different game.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: "Fallweather Friends" has Rainbow Dash and Applejack, both known for being competitive and stubborn, try to prove their respective dominance with several competitions. Rainbow wins most of them when she cheats with her wings, so Applejack challenges her to one more competition, a race during the annual "running of the leaves". This race brings out the worst in them, as they exchange trash talk, assume the other was cheating, and then end up cheating themselves. All of this makes them end up tying...for last place, with even the nonathletic Twilight placing before them. They both admit they went too far and agree to not let their future competitions get in the way of their friendship again, ending the episode with another, much friendlier race around the track.