A common phenomenon in gym class.
Whenever two captains are elected from a group of kids to pick teammates from the remaining kids (be it for dodgeball, basketball, baseball or any other team sport), the ones who are the least talented, most nerdy or simply staggeringly unpopular are always the ones left to pick from last, but a special type of humiliation is always reserved for the very last kid remaining. "Picked Last" isn't even a fitting term for what this really entails as the kid isn't actually "picked" by a team but rather is forced to be taken by one because there's no one else left to pick from.
This almost always happens to any Geek characters when the story focuses on a recreational activity. If this is supposed to be observed as a comedic event, it may be the fate of a Ridiculously Average Guy who is somehow less preferable to the geek, or, even more humiliating, that bit of Fridge Logic in the above paragraph is disregarded with the captains choosing players that aren't even supposed to be choices when only one kid is left; this may include adults or inanimate objects.
Usually, this character may be The Woobie, especially if it's clear that he really likes the sport even though he may lack any real talent, effectively taking the fun out of the game for him when he's left to be Picked Last. In these cases, the character may be given a moment to shine in the spotlight by the end of the story by becoming a team captain for a day and getting to do the actual picking, by making a great play in the game, or even both. Sadly, this may be the one aspect of the trope's overall use in fiction that isn't Truth in Television.
- In the Avatar: The Last Airbender comic "Gym Time", the last two people to be picked are Mai and Zuko, and Azula chooses Mai. However, since all the teams are filled, Zuko becomes the ball.
- Spider-Man comics suggest this happened to Peter Parker a lot, unsurprisingly. The "Skin Deep" story shows one of the few cases where this didn't happen to him, because the class had an even more obvious target for once.
- The Twisted Toyfare Theatre version of the Secret Wars storyline had team captains Spider-Man and Dr. Doom select their teams from the heroes/villains/whatever the Beyonder brought to his island. Doom has the second-to-last pick, and the only ones left are a young paraplegic boy and his hated enemy Reed Richards. Naturally, Doom chooses the kid, leaving Richards angry and humiliated.
- In Calvin and Hobbes, during a particularly bad day Calvin was not only picked last but the two team captains fought over who was stuck with him.
- Little Giants: Not so much picked last but rather not being picked at all which kickstarts the plot. While for some of the characters it was understandable (Can't run very fast, can't catch the ball, afraid to take a hit, etc). One of the characters doesn't get picked simply because she's a girl despite the fact she's more than qualified to be on the team.
- While he attended Muggle primary school, Harry Potter was always picked last, but not because he wasn't any good. Nobody wanted Dudley's gang to think they liked him and end up getting beaten up for it. A bit ironic because had anyone had the guts to try picking him, it's very possible he would have been quite good, given how he ends up a natural at Quidditch.
- Referenced several times in Terry Pratchett's Unseen Academicals.
Ridcully: Now we all understand this! It's a boy thing! It's like little girls and the colour pink! You know how to do this! Pick the teams alternately so one of you ends up with the weird kid and the other with the fat kid. Some of the fastest mathematics of all time have been achieved by team captains trying not to end up with the weird kid - stay where you are, Rincewind!
- Also mentioned in Soul Music. Susan is always picked last despite her very patiently telling everyone what a great player she is and how much sense it would make for them to pick her (and actually being right). She can't quite figure out why they don't catch on.
- A non-sports example in Mort: At the hiring fair, Mort is still waiting to be apprenticed at midnight, long after the walleyed kid with the stoop has been chosen by the local begger.
- Raistlin from the Dragonlance series apparently had this happen to him (due to his frailness) whenever he tried to play physical games with his twin brother and his friends. He eventually just stopped playing with them.
- In A Drizzle Of Education, Drizzle is picked last in gym class back at her old school.
- The very last scene of Loser by Jerry Spinelli sees the main character, whose only defining attribute is the fact that he always loses, being picked last. Ironically, he isn't supposed to be picked at all, as the two teams are even, and the antagonist is actually taking pity on him by allowing him on the team.
- Referenced by Bartiameus in Ptolemy's Gate, the third book of The Bartimaeus Trilogy, when he states that the plotting magicians were the ones that if you picked sides for soccer would be "standing at the end, next to the fat kid and the one with the plaster cast."
- In the body of a Deinonychus and trying to blend with the pack, Will Reilly of Dinoverse sees that the pack leaders are picking "teams" to go out and find food. He's quite affronted to be one of the last picked - in his human life he was extremely popular.
- In The Fire Chronicle from The Books Of Beginning, Michael Wibberly is described as always having been picked last at sports, and then, "only if the other team took some handicap, like playing a turtle at first base."
- On The Big Bang Theory, after Penny and Leonard break up, Sheldon is asked whether he's on "Team Penny" or "Team Leonard." He answers, "Whichever team picks last," since that's how it happened when he was in high school (unless there was a kid in a wheelchair).
- Bill from Freaks and Geeks had a history of being picked last. This actually drove him to prank call his gym teacher! After his teacher finds out he was the one who made the call, Bill is awarded the opportunity to captain a team for a day.
- An early episode of The Wonder Years had the final two kids left to pick from being Paul Pfiefer and another student played by Dustin Diamond on numerous occasions. The episode's main focus was Paul's love for playing basketball and sheer lack of ability, which would make him one of the most undesirable players to have on a team. Kevin protests to Coach Cutlip about how unfair the captain system is have the adverse affect of getting himself named a team captain for a day. Kevin uses his position to pick all of the least talented kids for his team, which also lead to a kid with an great athletic build being the last pick, behind a runt who was half his size.
- In the final episode of each season of Hell's Kitchen, the two finalists get to pick who will cook for them during the final service from a selection of contestants that were eliminated previously. Expect whichever chef is picked last to require some serious soothing to their ego, if they just don't outright phone it in during the service, though there were exceptions to this. The prize for the final challenge is usually getting first pick of the returning chefs, meaning that you avoid getting the last pick as well. Though this doesn't guarantee 100% that the second-to-last pick isn't going to be bitter either.
- For example, in Season 9, Will won the challenge over Paul and got the priority picks. His final two options were Krupa and Carrie. Everyone, including Will, knew Krupa was the worst option out of the 8 available, but he picked her so Paul would be stuck with Carrie, who had been known to endlessly feud with Elise, who was on Paul's team. It backfired horribly for Will as not only did Krupa do a horrible job in the final service and overcook all of his fish, but Elise and Carrie didn't argue once for the entire service. Take a wild guess as to who won...
- In relation to a bitter second-to-last pick, in Season 5, Carol was quite bitter that she wasn't picked before Andrea or LA, even though both of them were more consistent than her. She ended up being Danny's final pick only because he didn't want to be stuck with Lacey for obvious reasons.
- This happens on Masterchef, where, for team challenges, the two team captains choose their cooks. The last person picked always gets a Confession Cam shot immediately after being picked with how they reacted to being picked last. Some shrug it off, some take it personally, and a couple get indignant and pissy, even if they performed the worst in the challenge to determine the team captains or have a record of poorly cooked dishes.
- On Hannah Montana, this happens to Miley in every gym class and is the setup for the episode "Cuffs Will Keep Us Together." As her alter-ego, Hannah Montana, she has the coordination to dance on stage (sometimes in high heels and usually while singing, no less), but when it comes to sports, she's unable to do things like catch a ball without using her face.
- Inverted on the second season of Worst Cooks in America, where the two hosts picked the teams for each other. Both were deliberately trying to saddle their rival with the worst of the worst. The last one chosen commented on this in a Confession Cam, saying they chose to take this as a compliment... while Lampshading the fact they were still apparently "the best of the worst".
- In the premiere of the third season, Rachel was embarrassed about being picked last, having flashbacks of dodgeball. This suggests, however, that she didn't really understand the elimination process, in which one-by-one Anne and Bobby each picked a chef they wanted for their team and foisted one they didn't want on the other team. Her being in this position, while not the best, certainly at least indicated that they felt she had some potential, compared to some of the others. Otherwise, one of them would have foisted her off on their opponent a lot sooner.
- In a casual basketball game in The Famous Jett Jackson, J.B. gave up and left when a kid with a broken arm was picked ahead of him.
- Happens to Rachel in the Friends episode "The One With the Football".
Ross: (after Monica passed her over Joey and Phoebe, and Ross himself picked Chandler) Sweetie, now I pick you.
Rachel: You don't "pick" me, you're stuck with me!
- Family Matters: In the Season 3 episode "Making the Team," Urkel is demoted from the last man on the bench of a basketball team ... to water boy. However, when — during a game — every available substitute is injured and the team is down to just four players (and Eddie, one of the last players standing, reminds the coach that if he forfeits, he could be fired), the coach is forced to turn to the nerd. Urkel — prepared for the moment — doffs his nerdy clothes to reveal his uniform, and displaying amazing athletic ability, engineers an amazing comeback to win the game. (Jaleel White's real-life passion for basketball was later written in to several episodes about Urkel's "mysterious" basketball ability.)
- Pair of Kings: Before any team captain would pick either of the titular Kings at school, they'd pick the girl walking on crutches and the janitor.
- Frasier was reminded of this when dating a PE teacher. It didn't end well.
- Taking to ridiculous lengths in a sketch on You're Skitting Me, where the team captains pick a teacher, a dog, a rubbish bin and a bush before one of them is forced to take the last kid.
- On Wings, after Helen marries Antonio to help him get a green card, she learns that she could potentially go to prison for doing so:
Helen: I could go to prison! Do you know what would happen to a little thing like me in prison?Fay: Ummm...you'd get picked last for the basketball team?
- Along with the page quote, 2 Skinnee J's song "Riot Nrrrd" is dedicated to "all you lonely kids who were the last picked in gym classes."
- The Peter, Paul, And Mary song "Right Field".
"We'd pick out the captains and we'd choose up the teams,
It was always a measure of my self esteem.
Cause the fastest, the strongest played shortstop and first,
The last ones they picked were the worst."
- From the Skee-Lo song "I Wish":
"Cause when it comes to playing basketball,
I'm always last to be picked,
And in some cases never picked at all."
- Mentioned in the "Weird Al" Yankovic song "That Boy Could Dance", whose title character is totally inept at everything in life except dancing.
- Janis Ian's song "At 17" includes the line,
"To those whose names were never called
When choosing sides for basketball."
- In Magical Diary, if you tell Ellen that she doesn't have to sign up for the Sports Club, she gets annoyed and mentions that people were never eager to pick her for their team, even when she was really good at the sport in question. However, it doesn't seem to have been quite as bad as "always last".
- How you start off in Tony Hawks Under Ground 2: before the World Destruction Tour starts, Tony and Bam Margera start picking their team members. Since you're the least experienced of the pros they got (Bam even calls you a noob), you're left as a last pick for Bam along with Paulie "Wheels of Fury" Ryan, a 10-year-old kid in a full-body cast riding a motor-powered wheelchair. As it turns out, Paulie is just the kind of bastard Bam needs, so Tony is forced to take you in and prove Bam wrong for passing you up.
- Referenced in Achewood:
Ray: Beef, why do I get a feelin' that our army's made up of ex-kids who were always picked last for kickball?
Roast Beef: Can you think of anyone who has a more gigantic and deep-seated fury at the world?
Ray: Huh. Good point.
- In this Looking for Group strip, Richard is picked after the crippled children with speech impediments.
- Elan in The Order of the Stick is picked last when the party splits. In fact, the strip ends with Roy still looking for another option.
- In a Red vs. Blue Special, where teams are picked new to match the new location, Sarge's first pick is Simmons who blurts out, in the most happy way imaginable, "First! I've never been picked first!"
- In the Homestar Runner cartoon Kick-A-Ball, Homestar points out that Pom Pom was picked last. However, Pom Pom was also picked first... and in fact, Pom Pom was the only person Homestar picked except for a double-sided mouth whisper draft of Strong Sad. The teams ended up being Homestar, Pom Pom, and Strong Sad against everybody else.
- The Dorkly Bits short, Chargin' Chuck Gets Picked Last, he doesn't even get picked at all.
- In Smosh's 2015 Summer and Winter games, Jovenshire is always picked last, to cement his status as the group's Butt-Monkey.
- On Fairly OddParents Timmy Turner was picked last for everything in Dimmsdale (even a rock was picked before him) to the point where he got Cosmo and Wanda to make him the most wanted kid in the world. Unfortunately, "most wanted" has another meaning...
- Sheldon from My Life as a Teenage Robot got picked last for everything as well.
- Captain Zed And The Zee Zone had a dream sequence where a kid always got picked last for sports. In the dream, out of three players, the captains picked the other two people, and then they picked the bushes and rocks (who grew legs and arms and started playing tennis with them).
- The Simpsons episode "King of the Hill" simultaneously plays this straight and subverts this in a few ways with Bart and Rod Flanders picking teammates for a game of Capture The Flag. Bart picks Nelson over his best friend Milhouse, who naively comments on how he must be "saving the best for last." Rod, on the other hand, chooses his brother Todd as his first pick.
- Another episode had Homer all excited for the Employee of the Week awards because, as he notes from the rulebook, every employee must win the Employee of the Week award at least once, and everyone else has won it, so it's his turn at last. He doesn't seem terribly upset about being last picked, but he is upset when the award goes to an inanimate carbon rod.
- Predictably, happened at least a couple times in Recess. Played with a bit, by having the second-to-last pick actually be the worst sports player (e.g. a random kid with a broken leg and crutches, or Gus), but the one picked last is being socially snubbed.
- In 101 Dalmations: The Series, Lt. Pug picks Lucky and Tripod as team leaders for cohesian drils in one episode. Spot is the last picked and Lucky even tries to pick a bucket instead because she is a chicken and the rest are dogs. She gets her own back later in the episode, though.
- In Megamind, Megamind was always picked last in school during the brief time that he tried to fit in as a normal kid.
- It's even exaggerated; we see him standing next to a cute girl who gets picked before him, then the camera pans out to show that the girl is on crutches.
- In one episode of King of the Hill, Hank and his friends find a kickball and decide to start playing. When their other family members and neighbors come to join the game, they split into teams. Dale is picked last, even after Connie, a 12-year old girl who wasn't the most athletic person to choose from. Team captain Bill is obviously disappointed at having Dale on his team.
- In an episode of Tiny Toon Adventures, Hamton complains about always getting picked last on the soccer team. At the end, the team apologizes, saying that it's not because they don't like him...
Plucky: It's because you're a lousy goalie.
- In an episode of Rocket Power, the class plays kickball during P.E., and Sam ends up getting picked last, with the other student picked before him being a boy on crutches. When it's revealed that Sam actually has talent at the sport, he ends up being picked first the next day and is eventually made one of the team captains.
- Happens to Eddy in one episode of Ed, Edd n Eddy, despite begging Rolf and Kevin to pick him for their basketball team. Even Plank (who is a plank of wood) got picked before him.
- In one episode of The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron has Jimmy getting picked last for basketball due to his short stature.
- The Mixels episode "Every Knight Has Its Day" plays for a variation of the idea. During the game of Murpball, Mixadel chooses all of his team members first. Naturally, he chooses all of the buff and imposing students, leaving the smaller and wimpier ones for Camillot's team, including one that's so tiny the ball is bigger than him.
- In The Critic, a flashback to Jay Sherman's childhood shows him being skipped over in favor of a sickly kid wearing a large neck brace. When Phil was the last kid left on the playground, the team captains picked the lunch lady, and "Phil, the Undercover Narc" over him.
- The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy reveals that Hoss Delgado, as a child, was picked last over a traffic cone with a tag reading "Kyle" on it. This got so bad that it continued into adulthood, with "Kyle" even being preferred by women over him. The final straw came when Kyle somehow managed to get a huge commission on a door-to-door salesman job that Hoss had, and Hoss immediately sprouted a new, muscular look to showcase his change in personality.
- In the Mission Hill episode "Kevin Vs The SAT's", Kevin, George, and Toby try to pad their resumes with curricular activities, and pick volleyball as an option, thinking that since the teams consist almost entirely of women, it will be easy. They're quickly proven wrong as the players are just as vicious and competitive as the men. When picking out teams, the three are passed over in favor of a girl who is missing an arm and another girl who is pregnant. Finally, one of the team captains says she doesn't want any more players and tells the other she can have "the homos". George is relegated to holding the captain's cigarette while she plays while Kevin and Toby are put in the back of the field and make an embarrassing showing of themselves.
- Physical education teachers — most often at the elementary school level — often will take steps to discourage favoritism and eliminate the stigma that sometimes comes with an athletically untalented student being Picked Last. These range from "numbering off" students ("1," "2," "1," "2," "1," "2" ...) to arbitrarily determine teams, to having the perpetual "end of the bench kid" have his/her turn at choosing members of a team. As stated in the introduction, strange things have happened ... with the "untalented" kid sometimes making the game-winning play (or playing a key role therein), and the teacher pointing it out to teach a lesson.
- Played with when it comes to professional sports drafts, as they end after a set number of picks, instead of after everyone who enters the draft is taken. Those not chosen can sign with whatever team they want to (or whatever team will have them).
- Senegalese Association Football player El Hadji Diouf, while with Liverpool FC during the 2002/03 (following his appearance in the 2002 World Cup) and 2003/04 seasons, became so unpopular due to both his attitude and a lack of goals scored in competitive fixtures (which is exceptionally poor for someone intended to play in a striker's position) that teammate Jamie Carragher attested to Diouf always being the last one picked during training and team practice.