You gotta face it: no matter how happy you are to be on that awards stand, first place is still better than second. But sometimes a person takes this a bit too far. When somebody starts acting like second place is for losers, it doesn't matter if you've won a footrace with everyone on the planet and bested 6,999,999,998 people. All that matters is you didn't beat the one.
Some real-life athletes feel that way quite deeply, coming so close and yet missing the mark. For example, one scientific study analyzed photographs of the facial expressions of many Olympians as they learned how they had placed. Gold of course was almost always ecstatic, and Bronze medalists were happy to have placed at all, but a Silver winner usually showed disappointment or dejection at coming in second best, unless it was their first time competing. This is especially true in tournament-style sports where the bronze team had won their game but the silver medalists had lost the game for gold. And then the presentation ceremony takes place immediately upon conclusion of the last match, giving the runners-up no time to compose themselves and put on a sporting face.
In a narrative sense, this can be used to give An Aesop about sportsmanship, or at can be used to squeeze some extra angst from a character, especially if the second-placing character was hoping to use the competition to impress a "Well Done, Son!" Guy parent.
Please note that many leagues (especially youth leagues) consider this very bad sportsmanship.
This trope is the prime reason Underdogs Never Lose.
Note this trope is only about characters getting second place, or at least placing highly enough to get a medal/trophy/etc., and then focusing on the fact that they still didn't win first. It's NOT about:
- A genuinely mediocre-to-poor showing.
- When the character(s) entered the contest specifically to win the first-place prize, such as money to save their beloved school from closing, or there's some other consequence for not coming in first.
- When a video game requires you to win a competition to advance the story.
- When there really is no prize for second place.
Not to be confused with Tough Act to Follow.
- Nike famously misread their target market with their advertising campaign featuring Andre Agassi that ran during the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta with the tagline "You don't win silver, you lose gold." A huge backlash condemning the campaign for being against the Olympic spirit led to it being swiftly withdrawn and never mentioned again.
- An ad for NBC show Go On featured gymnast Shawn Johnson being brought to the support group and asked to talk about losing, having "lost" by getting three silver medals. Johnson herself is portrayed in the commercial as falling into this trope, insisting "I won" based only on her gold medal.
- Defied in a short campaign of Snapple ads from the '90s, where they claimed their stated goal was to be the number three soft drink in the country, because it's an easier title to keep. (It didn't go over well.)
- Happens in Paradise Kiss. While the other members take it better, winning the second prize in the School Festival contest is the catalyst that sends George into a life crisis, believing he can't connect with the public (and thus achieve success as a fashion designer) without compromising his personal artistic vision. Yukari also takes it rather dramatically. Angst ensues, they break up. It's not the only reason, but it sure creates a lot of drama.
- Yu-Gi-Oh!: This is Seto Kaiba's outlook on life. He lost his Duel Monsters Champion title to Yugi and he didn't manage to defeat Yugi in a fair duel in the Duelist Kingdom. He creates the Battle City tournament to gather all Egyptian God Cards and to defeat Yugi in his tournament. However, Kaiba loses to Yugi in the semi-finals, so after the end of the Battle City, Kaiba blows up Alcatraz and the whole island to kill Yugi with his friends, but they escape. After Battle City, Kaiba loses his goal of becoming number one in favor of focusing on his Kaiba Land project, but defeating Yugi still remains a symbolic goal in his eye, proven by the way he blows his top in the DOMA Arc (anime only) when he finds out his rival has lost to Rafael.
- Neon Genesis Evangelion takes this trope to the logical extreme. Initially, when Shinji first surpasses Asuka's synch ratio, she's just pissed at him. Later, after being curbstomped three times in a row with Shinji always scoring the kill instead of her, she becomes extremely distraught, due to her past: she always prided herself on being the best so that she won't need any kind of help from anyone. By not being the best anymore and her rival consistently having a stellar performance, she's afraid of being put to the sidelines and as a result, her synch ratio is plummeting; seeing this, she also becomes afraid that if she drops low enough, she will be relieved of her duties which to her would be equal to being publicly humiliated in the worst way possible for a human. And the best part in all of this? She knows what's wrong but her pride doesn't let her admit it to herself. Oh, it gets even better. Right after her third defeat (technically second since she couldn't attack Leliel, much less harm it), she's sent into battle again, knowing that this is the last chance the NERV leadership is giving for her: if she screws up this time, it's game over. Not only she doesn't get a single shot off at Arael, she undergoes the Trope Namer for Mind Rape instead. And she gets saved by the person she hates the most. Next time she's sent up against Armisael, she can't even get her Eva to move anymore and is withdrawn; as an indirect result, Rei-II is killed by the Angel despite Shinji's intervention ("you didn't send him out for me... am I really that worthless?"). What do NERV does in this situation? Do they try to solve Asuka's psychological problems and cheer her up? Noooo, they send her into early retirement and fetch a replacement instead - who just so happens to be the final Angel.
- Invoked in Eyeshield 21. It's made clear that many of the teams have players who are on their last chance to make it to the finals, and none of them are content with being 2nd.
- In Bakuman。 Mashiro and Takagi are crushed to learn that they got third place with "The World is All About Money And Intelligence," (losing to Eiji and someone else) even though it surpasses all their previous efforts, since it means they will not be able to submit it for serialization. Otherwise, this trope is largely averted with a few exceptions (mainly Iwase), as when the main characters are starting out and want to get up past ninth place, Miura tells them that rather than try desperate tactics to go up, they should maintain their ranking, as anything above 10th place will not come up for cancellation.
- Tiger & Bunny has Keith Goodman/Sky High struggling with this after Barnaby Brooks Jr. takes his place as the highest ranking superhero. However, being the Nice Guy to end all Nice Guys, he's not angry over no longer being the best so much as he's afraid that he can no longer live up to the expectations people have for him.
- Saber Tooth's guild master in Fairy Tail believes this to the point that the guild model is effectively "To be the strongest". To drive the point home, he expels anyone who loses during the Grand Magic Games in the most humiliating way possible.
- Ayaka, the protagonist of Ano Ko ni Kisu to Shirayuri wo, considers being second in the exams the ultimate dishonor and will work herself to death to repair this anomaly. Even when the n°1 is The Ace and almost had the maximum score minus 2 points. Yurine wishes nothing more than for Ayaka to best her though, and falls in love with her partly for this reason.
- In Dragon Ball Goku got second place at the 21st and the 22nd Martial Arts Tournaments. He was specifically told by Master Roshi not to expect to win since he was still inexperienced. Goku didn't care and went for the win and was visibly upset that he lost. The second time, he lost to Tien after having the bad luck of running into a truck as he was falling and hitting the ground first (it's a long story). When Krillin tried to congratulate him Goku says, "A loss is a loss."
- In fact, Goku's lost in the 21st Tournament was to Master Roshi himself (in the guise of Jackie Chun), specifically because he wanted to teach Goku and Krillin not to go through this trope since there's Always Someone Better''. As demonstrated above, it didn't take, but years later Goku responds to the idea of stronger opponents with child-like enthusiasm.
- In Tokyo Ghoul :Re, this trope is discussed almost to the letter.
Takizawa:"Being second is just a consolation for the loser. Yes, a consolation for them not to think that, as long as there is someone above them, they're nothing but a loser. The gap between a perfect 100 mark and a 99 is not just one point."
- In Assassination Classroom, the principal of the high school, Asano Sr, has this mentality despite preaching that "everyone has a chance to get better". However whenever E-Class starts pulling ahead, he goes to utterly ridiculous lengths just to smack them down. Hell, when his son even came in first on two separate occasions (during 1st semester finals and during a festival event), it's still not enough for him because it's not a complete victory due to E-Class coming close to beating him. When E-Class trounces A-Class in the second semester finals, he responds by trying to demolish the E-Class building.
- In Pokémon, Ash never makes it further than the Top 8 or maybe the Top 4 of a major League tournament, with the few times he actually being the tournament winner being on filler arcs. The one time (so far) that he became runner-up was even hyped up as his ultimate battle and victory In-Universe and out. Understandably, on more than one occasion he is visibly holding back tears in the aftermath.
- Scrooge McDuck's rival Flintheart Glomgold is the Second Richest Duck in the world, Scrooge being the richest. Given how rich Scrooge is, that's no easy feat. An Evil Counterpart of Scrooge, Flintheart is depicted as a miser, plutocrat, and tycoon, every negative quality associated with wealth, and despite having more money that most countries, is obsessed with surpassing his rival as the richest. He has been known to be willing to undertake any endeavor, no matter how dishonest, unethical, or illegal they are to meet this goal. How one man (or rather, one duck) could be so shallow is a mystery best left unexplored.
Don Rosa's epic The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck actually explores this and reveals Glomgold's origins. He was a petty thief from South Africa during the diamond rush in the late 19th century, and made a living through grifting, small theft and conjobs. That is, until he met Scrooge, whom he promptly betrayed and robbed. When Scrooge hunted him down and humiliated him in front of the entire town before having him tossed in jail, Glomgold became so infuriated that he dedicated his entire life to building a fortune just to get revenge on Scrooge. Scrooge doesn't even know that his arch-enemy was that random jerk he met some 40 years ago, since he never got his name, and likely doesn't even remember the incident. The only reason Glomgold gives a single shit about being the Richest Duck In the World is because he wants to humiliate Scrooge.
- An Archie Comics story in the 1970s had Reggie, Riverdale High's ace athlete suffering a sprained ankle just before a decathalon competition against Central High. Archie is recruited to replace Reggie with the result of Archie coming in second and third, time after time, event after event. But this competition is judged on the points system. Dilton Doiley points out that Archie's constant second and third place finishes add up which gives Riverdale High the victory. Reggie—on crutches—is livid as Archie is hoisted on the shoulders of the school faculty in victory.
- In Memoirs Of A Master, Oogway turned down Tai Lung as the Dragon Warrior, but he was planning to dub him Master of the Thousand Scrolls instead for his unprecedented feat mastering them. However, when Tai Lung began his rampage, it was obvious he would not have settled for that.
- In Nouvelle Soma, despite coming in second place overall in the Autumn Election, is shown privately kicking himself over his loss, partly motivated by the fact that he was determined to become the best out of all the first years. He also notes that strictly speaking it was partly as much a matter of luck in who was paired up with who in the matches that allowed him to go this far; had he been against Akira (who was the winner of the Autumn Election) right from the start he probably would have been "merely" fifth place alongside all the others who lost their first matches.
- Thoroughly subverted in Surf's Up. Big Z humorously calls Cody a "loser" because he didn't come in first, and Chicken Joe is shocked he won — he was just having fun and it isn't clear he even knew he was in a contest. During the entire film, all of the interviewed characters say that loser is as loser does, regardless of whether they come in first or not — save Tank of course.
Cody: [amused) Well, I lost.
Big Z: [amused] Yeah. Me, too. Come on, loser.
- In Wreck-It Ralph, all Vanellope has to do to be un-glitched is finish a race; it doesn't matter about her placement. Ralph acknowledges this, but she's insistent on winning, even though it puts her in more danger.
- Subverted in The Incredibles at the end, when Dash (who has Super Speed and could win extremely easily) deliberately takes second place in a race to maintain the masquerade.
- In Disney's Hercules, Phil's training song talks about wanting a more successful protege. "The kind who wins trophies, won't settle for low-phies, at least semi-pro-phies, but no! I get the greenhorn!" As he sings, Phil receives Amusing Injuries after polishing an old trophy a student won for 11th place.
- My Little Pony: Equestria Girls – Friendship Games: Crystal Prep has this mentality, with Cinch encouraging it to keep the school's spotless winning streak intact. After she realizes CHS has access to magic, she pressures Human Twilight into using the magic she collected to even the odds.
- In The Karate Kid Part II, the bully from the last film seemed to be okay with his 2nd place trophy, but his teacher wasn't. In fact, that teacher smashes the trophy and physically attacks his student so viciously that Mr. Miyagi has to step in and teach the sensei some manners.
- Mentioned in Top Gun, although it's a marginal case. On the one hand, only top-performing crews are selected to compete, so just going is an achievement in itself, making the line "There are no points for second place" ring a little hollow. But on the other, it is combat training, and second place in a real firefight means you're either hors de combat or dead – in which case, the aforementioned line is a simple statement of fact.
- Averted in the actual Top Gun school: Pilots are sent to the school to learn dissimilar combat training skills, which they return to their squadrons to teach to the other pilots in their squadron. There is no contest nor a trophy. In essence, Top Gun is a school to teach fighter pilots how to teach.
- Also subverted in Bring It On. After all the crazy stuff they went through, it was a miracle they did as well as they did.
- Famously subverted in Rocky, although the sequels tilt toward it.
- In Gattaca, this trope is the reason Jerome's in the wheelchair in the first place. He tried to kill himself by stepping out into traffic because he got second place in a professional swimming competition. It's implied that he couldn't deal with not coming in first because of the movie's society maintaining that those with superior genes (like Jerome's) are supposed to be perfect.
Vincent: [looking at a medal] That's very nice.
Jerome: Are you colorblind, too? It's silver. Jerome Morrow was never meant to be second place.
- Robert De Niro's character in Meet the Fockers reacts this way to Greg's parents keeping all of his awards even though he never placed very high, derisively saying that he doesn't want to encourage mediocrity in his own family.
- Played with in The Wild One: one of Johnny's gang steals the second-place trophy from a local motorcycle race and gives it to him; Johnny complains, "Why didn't you steal first?" "It was too big." Johnny displays the trophy prominently on his bike.
- Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby "If you ain't first, you're last." Ricky Bobby bases his entire life on this one phrase his father told him, and earnestly believes it to the point that he can't deal with the idea of someone being better than him. He has a nervous breakdown when he wrecks in his first race against Jean Girard and needs training just to know how to go fast again. Subverted later on in the movie when Ricky's Dad says "Oh hell, Son, I was high that day. That doesn't make any sense at all, you can be second, third, fourth... hell, you can even be fifth."
- The coach of the Hawks in the first Mighty Ducks movie gazes at the one second-place banner in a long-row of first-place banners and remarks, "I sure wish they'd take that one down." Apparently, being perceived as not even making the top 3 or 4 teams that year is better than getting second. It's easier to overlook a missing year than it is to overlook a lone yellow banner in a sea of black first-place finishes, especially as it is standard practice to place all banners next to each other in the rafters (meaning there wouldn't be a physical gap where 1973 would have been).
- Averted in Fired Up, in which a perpetually losing squad ends up nineteenth in a tournament, but the captain feels it's an accomplishment, because it's ten places better than the previous year.
- The Social Network has the race where the Winklevoss twins, as well as the rest of the Harvard rowing team, lose against the opposition and place 2nd. They are clearly displeased about it, and it becomes a Compliment Backfire when Prince Albert says repeatedly how he "never saw a race so close!"
- Dylan Chu's father in Akeelah and the Bee makes it clear that to him, getting 2nd for the 3rd time in this spelling bee will make him "2nd your whole life!"
- Glengarry Glen Ross, both the film and play, deal with a struggling real estate sales agency. The head office sends a big shot who flaunts his wealth and success while describing a change to the ongoing sales contest. First prize, as before, is a Cadillac. Second is a set of steak knives. Third is you're fired. By the way, there are four salesmen in the agency. It is well worth watching simply for its amazing cast.
- Miranda Frost in Die Another Day betrayed her country solely because she got a silver medal in the Olympics, and the villain of the movie offered to make it look like the gold winner cheated.
- This is the primary motivation for Eddie Felson throughout The Hustler — it's not enough that he's already a great pool player, he must defeat Minnesota Fats and have Fats acknowledge him as the best.
- First played straight, then gloriously subverted in Whip It. In Bliss' first game, the Lovable Loser Hurl Scouts celebrate with "We're Number Two!" after losing, but it's largely an ego defense against the fact that they haven't won a game in several years. In the championship game the celebration is more true-to-form (and true-to-derby) in that the Hurl Scouts played themselves from Oh-for-three-years losers to second place in the entire league (of six teams).
- Averted in Rush: James managed to fight his way to a high enough position to take the championship from Niki at the final race in Japan, but Niki (who suffered a massive crash that burned him alive midway through the season, and who later withdrew from the Japanese GP because he felt it was too dangerous) was just glad he was alive to try again next year, and tells his wife Marlene he has no regrets about withdrawing from Japan. For what it's worth, Niki was defending champion, and would later get two more titles in real life.
- In the Red Dwarf novel Better Than Life, a scene in Rimmer's childhood shows him nearly winning a race before another boy trips him up, and we're told his father's favourite phrase is "Winning isn't everything, but losing is nothing". But then we're shown Ace Rimmer in the same sports day, and he throws the race, because he realises another boy really needs to win it. While his mother stares in disbelief, he thinks "After all, losing is nothing."
- Nanny Ogg in the Discworld series is perfectly aware of this, and prefers to come in second, because if you come in first, people are constantly trying to beat you and you're under pressure to keep coming in first. She likes coming second, because it's the runner-up that people pat on the back and say "It was a good try" and buy drinks for.
- Subverted in the Kim Newman short story "The Germans Won", in which an alternative version of John Major lives life as a humble bus conductor.note During an argument about the World Cup, one of the characters brings up this trope in relation to Britain and how they always come second at everything and how that makes them losers. The normally shy Major finds himself moved to argue this point with surprising passion:
"You're wrong, Jeffrey. There's nothing wrong with losing in a final. Being Second Best In The World means something. There's nothing wrong with being top of League Division Two. There's nothing wrong with being honestly Second-rate."
"Show me a good loser, John, and I'll show you a loser."
"Results don't matter, Jeffrey," said John. "Playing the game does. Life isn't results. When you die, they don't calculate your goal average and judge whether you should be promoted or relegated. Life is the game, the process of the game, moment to moment. If you do your best, no one can blame you. If you play fair, no one can argue with you. Better a successful dustbinman than a wash-out field marshall."
- Subverted in Bill's New Frock by Anne Fine. During a race in gym class, all the other kids agree that they will let a disabled boy win, but because of this trope Bill can't bear to come second and so he speeds up and wins. However, the disabled boy is thrilled with second place because it's the best performance he has ever made in the class.
- "No Second Place Winner" by Bill Jordan, a Border Patrolman and Marine during World War II. The book covers that in gunfights, very often there is no second place, you win or die. The idea for the title comes from a man getting second place at a gun tournament, then being told that, in essence, "At least you got second". The response was, "I wouldn't wish second place on my worst enemy."
- In one The Amazing Days of Abby Hayes, Brianna gets the second-most-important role of Wendy in a school production of Peter Pan, but isn't satisfied because she didn't get the title role.
- Neal Shusterman's The Shadow Club takes and deconstructs the trope. Perennial second-place kids decide to play pranks on the first place kids to show them up, but soon things violently escalate. Its sequel, The Shadow Club Rising, has the kids suspected of doing it again to a new, popular boy.
- In Star Trek: Balance of Power, an auction is selling off a well-known inventor's works to the highest bidder. The coveted lot is a Wave Motion Gun, with the Federation, Klingon, Romulan, and Cardassian governments all bidding on it. The auctioneer invokes a rule that requires the second highest bid to pay up as well, without getting anything in return. This works to drive up the price of the item. Picard (representing the Federation) and Worf (representing the Klingons) agree to pool their latinum into a single high bid to overcome the Cardassian bid, resulting in the Cardassian representative being forced to fork over a lot of latinum for nothing. But then the photon pulse cannon turns out to be a dud. Luckily, they come up with a way to screw over the Cardassians yet again by having a Ferengi "steal" the plans for the cannon and sell it to the same Cardassian representative.
- The Gordon Korman book The D- Poems of Jeremy Bloom: A Collection of Poems About School, Homework, and Life (Sort Of) includes a subversion in the form of the poem "The Olympian", in which Jeremy claims he's in training to become the greatest athlete of all time (though also admitting he stinks at every sport). The subversion comes in that while stating that he'll come in first in nearly everything, he freely admits that he'll gladly accept a bronze medal in boxing, having been knocked out by a three-year-old during practice.
- It's a theme in the second season of Sports Night. An athlete sets a new world record during a long jump competition; five minutes later, another athlete breaks this new record and wins the gold. Dan tells his therapist that no one will ever remember the first guy because he lost.
- Several people who came in second for reality TV shows such as Survivor and the American Big Brother have acted like they lost the game because they didn't win.
- Notably averted on The Amazing Race, where second place teams rarely ever take it badly. Of course, there is the occasional racer like Boston Rob who accuses the producers of fixing the race against him. But then, considering what other reality show he finished second on...
- When Reality TV contestants go on a show after they get kicked off/voted out etc. (like doing an appearance on David Letterman or Today) they'll have all of the losing contestants...until the Grand Finale where the winner is announced. Then they'll only have the winner on, never mind the 2nd place (and possibly 3rd & 4th) who were established during the same show.
- In Survivor, Russell Hantz won second place in Samoa, then third in Heroes vs. Villains. After Samoa, he acted like he was slapped in the face and practically murdered when he came in second out of twenty people, then third out of twenty people, all of which were former players and several of which were considered the best. however when he won the Sprint player of the year award, he immediately begun the typical Victory dance in Heroes vs. Villains.
- Russell basically acted like a terrible sport in Heroes vs. Villains. Instead of congratulating Sandra in not angering potential votes, Russell began to attack the game itself saying that it was "Flawed" if someone who played differently than him could win, and immediately proposing an alternative rule(set) that would most definitely favour him. Basically, he came across as someone who played the game well and deserved more recognition from the fellow players...or a terrible sport who needs to learn that the game is not just played his way.
- Notably averted on The Amazing Race, where second place teams rarely ever take it badly. Of course, there is the occasional racer like Boston Rob who accuses the producers of fixing the race against him. But then, considering what other reality show he finished second on...
- Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers has its famous Green With Evil storyline that introduced the very first Sixth Ranger. It begins with Jason facing Tommy, a new kid in town, in a martial arts contest which ultimately ends in a tie. As Jason returns to his friends, the first words that come out of his mouth are "I didn't win." Granted, he doesn't dwell on it anymore after this one moment, but it's still an odd thing for a character like Jason to be concerned about.
- In the later series Power Rangers Ninja Steel, resident egotistical Jerk Jock Victor Vincent loses his title as the school's tennis champion in "Abrakadanger". Subverted in that it's his sidekick Monty who is dismayed that "You came in last", while Victor, though still annoyed at his loss (since winning would have earned him his fiftieth trophy), accepts the ribbon and reminds Monty that "It says second".
- Parodied in The Addams Family, where Morticia's sister rejects the second-richest man in the world because "mother always said never to settle for second best. (Later she hooks up with someone who's rich and thinks he's Napoleon.)
- Played with on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: Bashir was second in his class, and outwardly kicked himself for the simple blunder on the test that caused him to be such. However, he reveals shortly that's it's part of how he comes on to girls. Plus after the Retcon about his "enhancements," it may be that he deliberately made the mistake as to keep his cover.
- Even before the reveal, its lampshaded that a preganglionic fiber and a postganglionic nerve are nothing alike and a student of his caliber couldn't have mistaken them, suggesting some motive or psychology for throwing the test.
- On Dance Moms, Abby Lee Miller likes to remind the girls that "Second place is the first one to lose".
- On Glee, it's considered a failure if a show choir does not come in first place at Nationals. It doesn't matter how highly they did place, or that competition is not the focus of show choir; if they don't place at the very top, they might as well be at the bottom.
- Normally averted on RuPaul's Drag Race, where simply appearing on the show is enough to grant a Drag Queen superstar status in the gay community and nightclub circuit. However, Season 4 runner-up Chad Michaels did little to hide her disappointment at losing to Sharon Needles. When Chad reappeared on All Stars, she joked that Sharon was "borrowing" her crown and the other queens commented that she seemed to be still sore about losing. She would go on to win the All Stars season, but a Conspiracy Theory is that RuPaul only conceived of it in the first place as a Consolation Prize for Chad.
- This is Archer's attitude in an episode of Star Trek: Enterprise, where he's is remembering humanity's first Warp 3 flight. Archer is upset to be passed over for the test flight. When a bartender points out that he'll probably fly the next one, Archer asks her if she knows what Buzz Aldrin said after stepping on the Moon. She doesn't. Archer says that no one does, because Neil Armstrong was first. His attitude changes later, though. In fact, he ends up captaining Starfleet's first Warp 5-capable ship.
- The Law & Order: Special Victims Unit episode "Hothouse" features a school for genius that promotes this attitude. Harshly deconstructed, as it drives one student to kill her rival.
- In the Smallville episode "Hothead", football coach Walt Arnold has this mentality and cannot tolerate losing. When he gains Playing with Fire abilities, he demonstrates them to his team and threatens to kill them if they ever lose, until he gets stopped by Clark Kent.
- Lamented in Alabama's song "I'm In A Hurry (And Don't Know Why)" in the bridge:
Oh, I hear a voice...
That says I'm running behind; I better pick up my pace.
It's a race, and there ain't no room for someone in second place!
- The Top Gun line "No points for second best" is used in the Cheap Trick song "Mighty Wings." Which happens to be in the movie's soundtrack.
- David Glen Eisley says in his song "Sweet Victory", "You don't win no silver, you only lose the gold."
- Discussed in one of the callouts for No Fear: Dangerous Sports
Skull: "Second place is the First Loser!"
- Related to this: Katamari Damacy has Royal Second Cousin Miki, who always tries to at least make the top three but tends to end up around sixth place.
The King of All Cosmos: If We were doing it, it would be much, much bigger.
- Also featured in the story of We Love Katamari. As a child, The King of All Cosmos took second place in a boxing tournament - while walking home, his father pitches the silver trophy in the river to the King's dismay. Later, the King and his father get in a fight - when the King goes to apologize, he sees his father looking at the silver trophy, and realises that his father must have fished it out of the river. This may also explain the King's attitude towards the player if he turns in a small katamari.
The King of All Cosmos: Is this all you want out of life? Mediocrity?
- In one mission in Elite Beat Agents, you are trying to get a runner with a cold back to health in order to win the big race. Depending on how well you do, he reacts with roughly equal enthusiasm to winning Gold or Silver, but is very distraught to have only won 3rd, even if that is pretty good for someone who just got over a cold.
- In the Harvest Moon and Rune Factory series, winning a contest gets you high praise and affection from the other villagers. Don't win, even finishing in second, and everyone (even your spouse, if present) reacts in the same "You lost? You suck!" manner, whether it was second place or dead last.
- Battlefield 3 includes an achievement called "First Loser" for having the second highest point total in the match. Although this goes against a theme of the Battlefield series, which usually rewards teamwork and downplays individual skill. Also, get this achievement if you are the best player on the winning team but were bested by someone on the losers.
- In Tales of Graces, this is what prompted Hubert to grow from whiny crybaby to freaking general badass.
- In the racing minigames from Super Mario Galaxy and Super Mario Galaxy 2, Mario must beat all the NPCs in a race first to obtain the Power Star. If he falls in second or below, then he will lose a life.
- The Adventures of Willy Beamish actually averts this. The Tootsweet Frog Jump is considered a big deal where Horny must beat Turbofrog, but you can keep going in the game if you only make second place, as you still win enough money to enter the Nintari championship, plus the jet-ski you need to reach Humpford Manor.
- In R4: Ridge Racer Type 4, the first two races require a 3rd place finish or better, the next two require 2nd or better, and the final four require first-place finishes. In the races where you can qualify without getting first, doing so will result in some pretty upset comments from your crew. (Failing to qualify will just take you to a retry/quit screen with no commentary.)
- At the end of Pokémon Red and Blue, Professor Oak gives Blue a speech on how disappointed he is in him, and how he needs to learn to treat Pokémon well like Red does, almost completely ignoring how Blue's methods got him past all the gyms and the Elite Four, and he'd still be Kanto's champion if Red hadn't shown up. Given that Blue is a complete asshole who lost to Red every time they met, there's definitely something wrong with both his technique and him as a person.
- In The Fast And The Furious (PS2) you can only fight against other car. Since there is always only one other car you race against this means that ending second place will always be a failure.
- From Mario Kart: Double Dash!! until Mario Kart 7, it was absolutely necessary to win gold trophies in Grand Prix mode if one wanted to unlock new characters, karts, and cups (though since 7 forgoes pre-built karts for customizable karts, unlocking all but three parts comes down to collecting a certain amount of coins, a system that continues in Mario Kart 8). Mario Kart 8 averts this, though, as placing anywhere between 1st-3rd will unlock a random character, as well as unlocking cups and mirror mode (update 4.2, though, makes mirror mode a default engine class).
- The first LEGO Racers back in 2000s did the same, where finishing second only unlocks the next championship event instead of the character and bricksets, and finishing second in an event usually concluded with the player character being angry of, well, finishing second.
- In Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed, upon finishing a race, if your character takes 1st place, he or she (or it) will be happy and excited. Taking any other position, however, including 2nd, will have them look disappointed and depressed. Contrast this to the Mario Kart series, where characters are pleased as long as they didn't place in the bottom half of the positions.
- In RWBY, Qrow mentions that he heard about how Team RWBY nearly stopped the train, pointing out, though, they don't give medals for "almost". Ruby's reaction? "Yes, they do, and it's called 'silver'!"
- Eduardo from Eddsworld takes this philosophy to heart, though it’s eventually revealed that it’s due to constant bullying as a kid due to coming in second place in an art contest.
- According to Acts of Gord (an early 2000s website where a video game retailer posted stories of annoying or ignorant customers), he had a video game tournament for Tekken 2 where this was invoked:
And the winner of the tournament won the controllers that were opened for the tournament (worth $80), and $20 in cash. Second place was a can of coke and an autographed picture of Gord. Third place was $20.The Gord likes to remind people that second place is just the first loser.
- A Downfall parody video showing World of Warcraft guild SK Gaming reacting to their rival Nihilum getting the World First defeat of the Eredar Twins in Sunwell Plateau has Hitler/bds yelling "Shut up Mackelina you faggot! Second place is for fucking losers".
- Archer mocks Ray for winning bronze in Olympic Slalom, saying that he lost, while Ray argues that third in the world is hardly the same as losing. Then, when Archer walks away, he starts crying, admitting it was a huge disappointment.
- The Amazing World of Gumball shows Gumball's mother Nicole grew up to believe this trope was "first place for losers" by her overbearing and controlling parents, (besides telling her that being female is no excuse for getting an "F" in ''gender''). She is shown to shut off her parents' comments, though.
- King of the Hill:
- Subverted when Hank doesn't win a shooting competition, and his dad won a bet he wouldn't. Then Bobby walks up and says, "Wow, Dad. Second place in a real competition." It's worth noting that Hank was established throughout the episode as being a really crummy shot to begin with, and was only worried about letting his own son down.
- Happens in a later episode where Bobby takes to growing roses and fails in a florist competition. He's disappointed and depressed about it, but shocked when he sees Hank (who he actively hid his roses from in the beginning) planting his flowers in the garden. When Bobby asks why he'd do this even if he didn't win, Hank explains, "Well, the Cowboys don't win every game, but I still cheer them on year after year."
- Batman Beyond had an episode where, after scoring second highest on an exam, one character was told by his mother "that would make you the winning loser." Said boy then strikes a vendetta against the top scorer, who happens to be Batman's best friend. To point out how ridiculously high the standards of the guy's mom were, he got 2391 out of 2400. The only person above him got a perfect score.
Mom: Almost doesn't get you anywhere in life. Almost gets you almost.
- You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown shows Charlie Brown coming in second in the spelling bee and the rest of the kids giving him hell for it.
- In A Boy Named Charlie Brown, Charlie Brown is a competitor in the National Spelling Bee Championship and ends up second and feels like a miserable failure. However, this is Fridge Logic considering that while misspelling a relatively easy word like "beagle" is embarrassing (especially when his pet Snoopy is one), the fact remains that Charlie Brown beat out almost all the top contenders in the entire country and that surely should count for something.
- The Simpsons:
- Mocked when the Olympics commissioner reaffirms the purpose of the Games: "giving out medals of beautiful gold, so-so silver, and shameful bronze."
- Also in "Lisa's Rival" when she considers her predicament:
Lisa: Hey, I am above average! So what if Alison's ahead of me? There's no shame in being second.
Announcer: And now, Avis Rent-A-Car is proud to present the second best band in America. Will you welcome Garfunkel, Messina, Oates, and Lisa singing their number two hit, "Born to Runner-up".
Lisa: Why would they come to our concert just to boo us?
- Inverted in "I'm Spelling As Fast As I Can". Lisa gets second place in the Spellympics and is hailed as a winner in Springfield - after all, second place makes her "the biggest winner this town's ever produced". Heck, because she lost honorably instead of taking a bribe to take a dive, they fashion a sign that says: "2 good 2 be #1."
- Parodied in "Deep Space Homer". One of the astronauts coming along on the mission is Buzz Aldrin, who insists that "second comes right after first", leading to awkward glances between the other characters.
- An episode of Courage the Cowardly Dog had Katz attempting revenge on Muriel because he always came in second to her in Nowhere's cooking contests.
Katz: [Receiving 2nd place trophy] Sad, isn't it?
- Played with on The Weekenders. Tino got 3rd place in a horseshoes competition, during a weekend sports meet, which he was pretty proud of, considering he took up the sport that weekend. His friends didn't see what the big deal was, since he didn't win. Probably had to do with the fact that they all won their competitions.
- The Misfits from Jem were the number one band in America until Jem and the Holograms came along. Even then, they're just barely in second place. Despite this they absolutely hate being second and are frequently trying to dethrone Jem's band (usually by violence or other improper means). When it comes to their lead singer Pizzazz, this is related to her Freudian Excuse. Her mother abandoned her and her father when she was young and her father was very distant and preferred to throw presents at her rather than spend time with her. She came to crave attention and uses her fans as a substitute for it. Pizzazz wants to be the number one band and won't take second place. In one episode The Misfits lost a contest with the Holograms where the objective was to sell more records, losing by one sale. Stormer even reminded her two friends that they had managed to sell a million albums (the equivalent of a platinum) but Pizzazz was still furious.
- In an episode of Futurama, Bender enters Zoidberg in a pet show. When Zoidberg wins second place, Bender says the page quote — even though he cheated to get there.
- My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic:
- Applejack is rather devastated during "The Last Roundup" when she fails to bring home first place in the rodeo championship, and the prize money to help fix town hall. Not helped by the fact that she had won the Ponyville rodeo ten times in a row but couldn't succeed when she tried to compete in Canterlot.
Applejack: Don't you get it? There's every color of ribbon down there. Every color... but... blue.
- This is Rainbow Dash's general attitude, considering her cutie mark appeared when she was winning her first race.
- In "Wonderbolts Academy", Rainbow Dash meets a fellow pegasus who believes this even more than she does... leading to the episode casting her as the voice of reason by comparison.
- Outright subverted during the running of the leaves. Twilight is extremely proud of herself for coming in 5th place, which is highly respectable considering it's her first race ever. Even the competitive Applejack and Rainbow Dash don't berate her for it; they're too busy moping about tying... for dead last.
- Rarity was traumatized as a filly when the go-kart she designed for the Applewood Derby got second place for creative design, though the fact that she lost to Derpy's go-kart which looked like a bunch of planks nailed together probably didn't help. Years later as an adult mare the memory of her loss still drives her to bitter tears.
- Applejack is rather devastated during "The Last Roundup" when she fails to bring home first place in the rodeo championship, and the prize money to help fix town hall. Not helped by the fact that she had won the Ponyville rodeo ten times in a row but couldn't succeed when she tried to compete in Canterlot.
- American Dad!:
- American Dad shows Stan Smith as a living embodiment of the trope. Stan believes that when it comes to sports, you either win or you're just a pathetic loser. The episode "Every Which Way But Lose" has Stan constantly belittling his son, Steve, for not coming in 1st place in any sport. When Steve teams up with Roger and beats Stan's team in a football game, Stan takes the loss so badly that he almost commits suicide, believing he would rather die than to live life with a loss on his record.
- Also played with in an episode where Stan goes with Francine to her high school reunion, happy that he's married to the homecoming queen. Francine points out that she only won by one vote, and the runner-up had gone on to be fat, unattractive, and miserable since (she left the prom to eat at a Dunkin Donuts). But when the ballot box is shown, two uncounted votes for the runner-up are discovered. Francine happily gives her tiara to her, while Stan is unhappy to learn that he didn't marry the homecoming queen after all.
- The mother of Steve's Japanese friend Toshi, and his on-off-again romantic interest Akiko believes in this trope wholeheartedly, being a Tiger Mom Education Mama who relentlessly pressures her daughter to study and work on countless competitions. When Steve beats Akiko in a spelling bee, Steve ends up forfeiting the win to her when he sees her mother openly berate her and promising to be even stricter from now on. Strangely, this ONLY applies to Akiko, as the mother is never seen doing much parenting with Toshi.
- Camp Lazlo: Subverted. Lazlo's team finished in the middle of the pack, while Edward's got first place. However, their 2nd place trophy was bigger than Edward's 1st place trophy. Even Chip and Skip, who got last place, have a bigger trophy than Edward.
- Uncle Grandpa has Priscilla Jones, who got second-place in the science fair when she was a little girl because Uncle Grandpa accidentally chipped it, and instead of helping her fix it, took her on an adventure involving playing hackey-sack with Martians. Her reaction? She lost it and vowed to take Uncle Grandpa's job, taking on the alter ego "Aunt Grandma".
- In the Ultimate Spider-Man version of Contest of Champions, the Grandmaster taunts the Collector with "Second place means first loser!"
- American gymnast McKayla Maroney has been gracious in her public comments, saying that she is grateful and appreciative of her silver medal in the vault despite being an overwhelming favourite for gold. Still, her face is the picture for this trope, and it could sour fresh cream, as well as having launched a meme (which, to her credit, she's had fun with) – and, given that she would have won if she'd not sat down her second vault, it's difficult to blame her for kicking herself.
- When the US Women's gymnastics team made history at the 1996 Atlanta Games by winning the first team gold, the Russian and Romanian teams (the silver and bronze medal, respectively) were shown to be in tears, clearly feeling this way.
- Any NFL team that loses in the Super Bowl is more likely to be remembered as a team that choked on the biggest stage rather than being recognized for the success that got them to the game in the first place. See below for some egregious examples...
- The Buffalo Bills made it to the Super Bowl four straight years, only to lose all four times. Instead of being thought of as a team that dominated the AFC by winning it four straight times, they're thought of as chokers.
- The 2004 Philadelphia Eagles had one of the best seasons in the history of the franchise. They won 13 games in the regular season (a team record at the time), and had finally managed to win the NFC title game after losing it in the three consecutive years prior. Still, the most indelible memory of that magical season was team's horrible mismanagement of the clock and quarterback Donovan McNabb's apparent fatigue in Super Bowl XXXIX.
- The 2007 New England Patriots were undefeated in regular season play and were expected to win the championship. Analysts were calling them the greatest team of all time. Then they lost to the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLII and suddenly an 18–1 season just wasn't good enough to be the best.
- The 2013 Denver Broncos arguably had the most prolific offense of all time, with quarterback Peyton Manning throwing an NFL-record 55 touchdown passes. They won 13 games, secured home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, and beat Tom Brady and the Patriots in the AFC title game. The season is mostly remembered for a different kind of history, however. The Seattle Seahawks drubbed the Broncos 43-8 in Super Bowl XLVIII, one of the biggest blowouts in Super Bowl history.
- The 2015 Carolina Panthers were one of only seven NFL teams in history to win 15 games in a regular season. Little is remembered about that season today except for a sullen press conference by quarterback Cam Newton following a 24-10 loss to the Broncos in Super Bowl 50.
- To say nothing of the 2016 Atlanta Falcons, who had their best season since their last Super Bowl appearance 18 years ago and made it to Super Bowl LI against the Patriots, where they squandered a 25-point lead and the Patriots forced overtime for the first time in the history of the big game, and it wasn't long before that lead was entirely for naught.
- One of Liverpool FC's most famous and successful managers, Bill Shankly, who founded the 'Boot Room', a managing dynasty that led to Liverpool dominating the English game for the best part of twenty years after he left the club, once said, "If you are first, you are first. If you are second, you are nothing."
- Averted by the Croatian basketball team in 1992; they talked about how happy they were to be winning silver before the gold medal game was even played. They were going up against the Dream Team led by Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, and Larry Bird, and had no illusions about winning.
- The 1972 United States Olympic basketball team still has not accepted their silver medals, as they contend the officials in the gold-medal game against the Soviet Union robbed themnote ; the medals remain in a Swiss vault. They don't intend to do so any time soon: one player has even written into his will that his relatives and descendants are forbidden from accepting the medal on his behalf when he dies. note
- A great aversion is the 2008 Summer Olympics and the Men's 100m sprint in track and field, which was dominated by Usain Bolt (who got a world record at 9.69s effortlessly). But the silver medalist, Walter Dix of Trinidad and Tobago, acted like he won the gold after edging American bronze medalist Rudy Gay. Even Gay didn't look very heartbroken.
- Nancy Kerrigan clearly had this feeling after winning the silver medal at the 1994 Lillehammer Games, given her snarky to the point of cruelty comment regarding gold medalist Oksana Baiul's uncontrollable weeping as well as the clearly displeased expression that she wore throughout. It's slightly understandable given that (a) she lost the gold by a ridiculously slim margin (a mere tenth of a point gave Baiul the gold), (b) skated what is unanimously believed to be her best performance yet, and (c) a myriad of problems had to be overcome – succumbing to nerves, a polemic attack and subsequent physical injury, tremendous pressure to win. Still, petty and needless as Hell, and the skating fandom hasn't forgotten it.
- Similarly, although Japan's Midori Ito probably did not behave this way herself – she won silver at the 1992 Albertville Games after a disastrous week that left many wondering if she would win a medal at all – she knew her fellow countrymen would, especially since she had come into the games as the favorite. As such, she made a public apology for not winning the gold medal.
- After being edged out by Yuka Sato in the 1994 World Championships, French skater Surya Bonaly initially refused to come out for the medal ceremony, then refused to get onto the platform, then yanked off her silver medal, feeling that Sato, who was Japanese, had won solely because the competition was being held in Japan.
- Despite a magnificent career that concluded with her being the most decorated figure skater in US history—12 US Championship medals, nine of them gold, 9 World Championship medals, five of them gold, and two Olympic medals, a feat achieved by very few skaters, Michelle Kwan is remembered for the fact that she never won an Olympic gold medal, thanks to the uncharacteristically mediocre performances she turned in at both of her Olympic ventures in 1998 and 2002, where she'd been the projected favorite.
- Hilariously, after failing to defend his title and finishing second in the men's individual figure skating at the Vancouver Olympics, Evgeni Plushenko initially displayed a platinum medal on the splash page of his website, instead of the silver he won. When the media picked up on this, the page was quickly edited to show the silver medal.
- There was significant media controversy in Australia during the London Olympics centered around this attitude being incredibly prevalent towards the Australian swimming team, to the point where conflict around the long-standing tendency for this trope to be employed towards the team overshadowed the Olympics themselves for the first several days of competition, particularly Emily Seebohm all but bursting into tears in an interview after placing second in 100m backstroke because she thought she'd disappointed everyone, which many thought exposed just how much pressure the sporting culture places on athletes and how much backlash they really do have to fear if they take home anything other than gold. Todd Sampson summed it up on The Gruen Transfer: "We like to think we're a sport-mad nation. The truth is, we're a winning-mad nation."
- Chinese athletes at the Olympics are typically under such overwhelming pressure from their home nation to win gold that anything less than first place is a massive disappointment for them. One example of this is Qiu Bo being caught crying on camera after David Boudia unexpectedly beat him for gold in men's 10m platform diving at the 2012 London Olympics, in stark contrast to Great Britain's Tom Daley who was so ecstatic to win bronze that he did a victory dive into the pool.
- Canadian swimmer Elaine Tanner came into Mexico City 1968 as a heavy favorite, and returned home with 3 medals, 60% of the country's tally that edition. But given none were gold, she was deemed a disappointment, nobody received her back home, and led to depression and retirement at just 18 - and one hell of a Trauma Conga Line life, where she even considered suicide before meeting her current husband. Tanner later said to be relieved to see Canada celebrating silver medals in later Olympics, but cringed at seeing Nike promoting Atlanta 1996 with billboards saying: “You don’t win silver – you lose gold.”
- The Canadian Women's Hockey team was in tears with their heads hung low after losing to the United States in the gold medal game of the Pyeongchang 2018 Olympics, ending their 4-gold streak. When the medals were hung around the players' necks, one of the Canadian players took off her silver medal right away.
- The Brooklyn Dodgers were called "Dem Bums" in part because they would repeatedly win a league pennant before losing the World Series after, mostly against the Yankees. The Dodgers would finally win the World Series in 1955 before losing again in 1956 and moving to Los Angeles a few years later.
- Similar to the Yankees, if a Canadian national hockey team doesn't win a tournament they're playing in, it's deemed a failure. If enough of the various tournaments (IIHF Junior, Men's/Women's Olympic, World Cup) are lost in a row, a national discussion on whether we're "losing our game" ensues. The fact that on the NHL side of things the last Canadian team to win the Cup was the Montreal Canadiens in 1993 doesn't help; the national teams are suppose to bring redemption for the Canada's "NHL failures". Doesn't mean the wins aren't appreciated. The irony of this situation is that even now, when players come from all over the world to play hockey in the NHL, the league is still slightly over 50% Canadian. In short, even when American teams win in the NHL, Canada still technically wins because as often as not, more than half of the players on the winning team are Canadian.
- Dale Earnhardt was often quoted saying "Second place is just the first loser".
- A slogan which appears on various T-shirts, and may have been adapted for Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby.
- A popular saying among NASCAR fans is that "No one remembers who finished second in the Daytona 500". Which is ironic given that one of things Earnhardt is remembered for is finishing second in the Daytona 500 over and over and over...
- Cale Yarborough had said "If he crowded me on the track it would be ok but when they ran us down we lost it". Basically the racing driver's way of saying "I don't like being shoved out and crashing but I really hate being outrun and finishing second".
- For three seasons (2011, 2012, and 2013) NASCAR season, driver Martin Truex Jr. finished more closest to first than every other driver in NASCAR by coming in second in race after race after race after race. Rather than this consistent performance being rightly seen as a mark of a highly skilled driver, pretty much all of NASCAR (including Truex and his fans) consider him "underperforming".
- UCLA Bruins football coach Red Sanders and, more famously, Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi, are both known for saying that "Winning isn't everything; it's the only thing."
- In Liga MX, the top-level Mexican soccer league, the "Cruz Azul" club is infamous for almost always making it to the grand final but rarely winning the championship, the team got the nickname "regala campeonatos", it doesn't help that for some reason, the team (usually, though not always) performs poorly and well under the level they displayed on the rest of the championship.
- The Bayer Leverkusen squad which finished second in in all three of the Bundesliga, UEFA Champions League and the domestic German cup in the same season was nicknamed "Neverkusen" by the media, even though it was probably the best season in the whole history of the team.
- One of tennis star Serena Williams' more famous quotes; "At the end of the day, if you aren't first, you're last."
- The 2013 Indianapolis 500 was Carlos Munoz's first ever and his first time in an Indycar race (Indy Lights notwithstanding), yet he managed to finish second behind Tony Kanaan. Most people would have been thrilled with this result, but he was disappointed with himself for not winning.
- Buzz Aldrin was described by Michael Collins as letting his disappointment at not being first on the moon, to cause him not to appreciate being second. However, many people do remember him as being the man who was almost the first to walk on the moon, while the other 10 men on that ship generally feel lucky to have been on the moon at all.
- When Denmark lost the final of the 2011 handball world championships, the Danish star player Mikkel Hansen quickly took off his silver medal. The story goes that he tossed it into Øresundnote . He also took it off after the lost final in 2013, and put it under his tracksuit after the loss at the european championships in 2014. Hansen does not like silver medals.
- A common saying regarding not winning is "close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades". The former, because you win points for almost hitting the post, and the latter because the shrapnel ensures damage even without a direct hit.
- The almost eternal "curse" of the Chilean soccer club Universidad Católica, which finished fourty-four times as second place in diverse Chilean championships until they finally won in April 2016. From The Other Wiki:
"Since 2012, the club has always been in the fight for the championship, however, by one reason or the other, it has been unable to finish first, thus becoming the target of jokes by its rivals and adopting a reputation of a "2nd place team". The lack of titles and frustrating important match losses against bitter rivals and smaller clubs, has infuriated a demanding fan base that is now looking for changes at the top level. The hard core fans have been expressing their anger at the games by blaming the club's executives for keeping the club between the elite, not opening up the club to the masses, lack of investment in acquisition of players and poor decisions in the acquisition of a few foreign players that were not up to the club's standards."
- Presidential elections. Even if you have a distinguished political career and win a hard-fought primary to secure your party's nomination, you'll still be a loser in the eyes of history unless you win the general election.