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Inanimate Competitor

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"So, a round of applause for: this inanimate carbon rod!"

I can't believe it. My purebred, which cost me $1,700... lost to a rock.
Squidward Tentacles, "The Great Snail Race", SpongeBob SquarePants
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Alice and Bob are about to face off in the event of their lives. But, what's this? A new challenger approaches! Alice and Bob have a new competitor, and that new competitor is...

...a rock. Just a rock.

This trope is what happens when a competition has one or more competitors who are inanimate. This trope also applies in cases where the competitor is a corpse, but not out of the running. Usually found in comedic works, to give otherwise tense competitions an air of absurdity. Bonus points if the inanimate competitor actually manages to win the contest against the far superior competitors even without doing anything at all. Usually a case of Nothing Is Funnier, particularly if we are shown the result but not how it happened.

Compare Animal Athlete Loophole, where the competitor is animate, but not human.

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Examples:

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    Anime & Manga 
  • Carnival Phantasm: In a parody where the Holy Grail War is changed into a game show, the seventh contestant Assassin is only present as a cardboard cutout. This is the case because Assassin is bound to remain near a single gate.

    Films — Animation 
  • Teen Titans Go! To the Movies: The thing that really rubs in how little respect the general public has for Robin and the Titans is an announcement that there's going to be a movie about "Batman's greatest ally and best friend" — his utility belt.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Eddie Murphy's 1992 Film The Distinguished Gentleman plays with this trope. Floridian Con Artist Thomas Jefferson Johnson, played by Murphy, shares part of his name with a local congressman named Jeff Johnson. The plot of the film properly kicks off when the congressman dies of a heart attack and Johnson takes the opportunity to run a campaign for the Congressional seat solely based on the idea that voters will just vote for the name they're familiar with, even though the actual congressman is dead. And it works.
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    Literature 

    Live-Action TV 
  • Have I Got News for You once had a Tub of Lard appearing as Paul Merton's team-mate, after politician Roy Hattersley offered to make a guest appearance on the show but backed out at the last minute (for the third time since the show began). Angus Deayton, the host, joked that the lard was "imbued with similar qualities and liable to give much the same performance". And Paul's team won.
  • Monty Python's Flying Circus:
    • Partway through the 127th Annual Upper-Class Twit of the Year Show, crowd favorite Oliver St. John-Mollusc somehow manages to run himself over with his own car. This does not automatically disqualify him. However, it does put him at the disadvantage of coming last.
      Commentator: Oh! There's Oliver, he's dead, though he's not necessarily out of it!
    • The "Face the Press" sketch is a debate between the Minister for Home Affairs and a small patch of brown liquid "which could be creosote or some extract used in industrial varnishing."
    • The "Is There?" sketch is a discussion about the question of life after death, in which everyone but the host is dead.
  • Night Court: Dan Fielding once took part in a local election, and his competitor died. Despite this, Dan still lost the election.
  • Sesame Street:
    • In one skit, they have a "Whose Pet is Best?" competition and one contestant is Rocco the rock.
    • One "Bert and Ernie's Great Adventures" skit has a bird competition. Bert enters Bernice, who's one of his pigeons, but Ernie enters his rubber duck.
  • A minor subplot at the beginning of the fourth season of The West Wing is about a California congressional race between an entrenched Republican incumbent and a relatively strong Democratic challenger. Who then dies before the election. The deceased's campaign manager, Will Bailey, keeps the campaign going despite pressure from the White House to concede because he's trying to prove a point.
    Will: Sixty percent is 6 of 10 in a focus group. You change one mind, it's a dead heat. You change two, it's a landslide. This campaign's a mechanism of persuasion. We're not asking for a show of hands.
  • Inverted by the MTV Movie Awards in 1992. Before going to commercial, there was a joke category called "Best Performance By an Inanimate Object". One of the nominees: Vanilla Ice in Cool as Ice.

    Pro Wrestling 

    Video Games 
  • Day of the Tentacle: One puzzle in the future section requires the player to enter Cousin Ted Edison (a mummy) in a beauty contest. Once the player has dolled up Ted and had another contestant eliminated, Ted wins.
  • Subverted in Prop Hunt, where the objective is to either find all the players disguised as props or remain undetected by hunters until either time is up or they all kill themselves by shooting too many things that aren't players. The prop players are not strictly inanimate, although the aim is to make the hunters think that they are.

    Web Animation 
  • Inanimate Insanity is a game show full of Animate Inanimate Objects, but season 2 introduces Box, the only contestant that is truly inanimate. The other contestants frequently complain about its attitude.
  • Red vs. Blue: In season four, Sarge holds a competition to choose his new second in command. Since Simmons defected to the blue Team, Lopez is out of commission and Grif is, well, Grif, Donut assumes that the position is his by default, until Sarge adds two new competitors: a wrench and a mysterious skull of unknown origin. Despite some genuine competition, Donut wins anyway.
  • Strong Bad Email
    • In "Montage," One of Strong Bad's montages is about a wagon full of pancakes training for the "championship" against Homestar Runner. The wagon full of pancakes manages to beat Homestar in one hit.
    • In "Pet Show", Strong Bad enters The Cheat in... well, guess. The other competitors include Marzipan, who has entered the Ambiguously Human Homestar Runner, Pom Pom, who has entered his dog-shaped cookie jar Trivia Time, and the King of Town, who has entered a low-fat grill. The final scores are as follows: Pom Pom and Trivia Time: 3.5. King of Town and Low-Fat Grill: Not supposed to be here! Marzipan and Homestar: 8.5. Strong Bad and The Cheat: Disqualified for "flagrant use of relish-foot".
  • In the Weebl & Bob episode "Awards", the Academy Awards-esque trophy for Bob's Best Friend goes to a small twig, to Bob's tearful joy and Weebl's disbelief. Subverted when the twig turns out to be Kevin the French stripper in disguise.

    Web Original 
  • There are several Facebook groups in the vein of "Can This Pickle Get More Fans Than Nickelback?" Oddly enough, these pages can and do get more fans than the thing they are competing against.
  • GameFAQs annual character battle was won by the L block from Tetris in 2007.
  • The most-liked Instagram post in history (by almost three times Kylie Jenner's second-place post, is a perfectly normal egg.
  • SCP Foundation: SCP-1370, an insane but ultimately harmless robot which constantly attempts (and utterly fails) to battle any sapient being it encounters, was once tricked by Foundation staff into trying to fight a potted plant. The plant won.

    Web Videos 
  • In The Mark Remark review of the 2015 "WWE Fastlane" special, one wrestler compares another to a glass of milk. Martin then turned a glass of milk into his personal favorite wrestler. This got to the point where Martin asked his fans who they think should win a match, John Cena or Seth Rollins, and they chose the glass of milk.

    Western Animation 
  • Dilbert: During a company-wide charity drive, the company chooses its three most worthless employees to go around the building and compete to see who can raise the most money. The three competitors are Wally, a dead guy who was found in the stairwell, and the dead guy's chair, which is given the name "Ronald".
  • In The Fairly Oddparents episode "Most Wanted Wish", Timmy was annoyed for once again being Picked Last in gym class. When he's the last one left, the team captain chooses a rock laying next to Timmy to join his team. Later in science class when the kids have to pick partners, the last two kids without partners are Timmy and Trixie. Mr. Crocker ends up pairing Trixie with the same rock from before which she was happy to accept.
  • In The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy:
    • In "Irwin Gets a Clue", Hoss Delgado explains to Irwin that when he was in high school, he was always getting upstaged by a traffic cone named Kyle until one day he had enough and transformed into the muscle-bound monster exterminator that he currently is. After hearing the story, Irwin asks what happened to Kyle, with Hoss saying that Kyle is "no longer a problem". Kyle is then shown chained to a radiator in a dimly-lit basement.
    • At one point, Principal Goodvibes administers an IQ test to Billy, who scores a -5. Grim sees nothing wrong with this. Principal Goodvibes then clarifies that they also gave this test to a shovel and two candy bracelets, who each scored +17.
  • Johnny Bravo: When Johnny runs for public office in "Hail to the Chump", he's dead last in the polls, with 99% of people preferring Carl and the remaining 1% (one person) saying "I like pie". Said pie later appears at the debate, and concedes the race afterward.
  • In an episode of Peppa Pig, the kids have a pet show and one girl enters her toy monkey.
  • An episode of Phineas and Ferb saw Doofenshmirtz use Planty the Potted Plant as a stand-in for Perry the Platypus after Perry didn't show up (Perry was actually working to stop a rogue bunny agent who had infiltrated the Flynn-Fletchers' home). Unlike other examples, this particular encounter is shown in some detail. Doof shoves Planty, hanging by a rope tied to the ceiling, and is whacked by Planty's swinging multiple times. After a cut to the episode's A-plot and musical number, it cuts back to show Doof with multiple bruises and his entire lab wrecked, with Doof calling him a worthy adversary and calling it a draw before his plan inevitably fails. Planty is awarded a medal by OWCA and welcomed to the agency, and thereafter makes frequent background cameos in future episodes.
  • In The Simpsons episode "Deep Space Homer", Homer is sure he's going to get Employee of the Month because he's the only person in the power plant who hasn't received the honor at least once already, but instead it's given to an inanimate carbon rod.
  • In one episode of Ruby Gloom, Poe is seen fencing against someone who's just offscreen, their swords clashing together. His opponent turns out to be Mr. Buns, the stuffed rabbit. The second Mr. Buns is onscreen, the sword he was apparently wielding clatters to the floor as he just sits there, by all appearances an inanimate toy.
  • SpongeBob SquarePants: In "The Great Snail Race", Patrick enters a rock named Rocky into the titular race. Gary ends up crashing and Squidward's snail abandons the race to help him. While everyone was looking at those two, Rocky had somehow crossed the finish line. Squidward's reaction provides the page quote.

    Real Life 

 
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