A character enters a competition and wins — but not the prize they were hoping for. Usually, they are either hoping for the first prize and get second, or vice versa. May be used as anything from a throwaway gag to the entire premise of an episode.
Super-Trope of Second Place Is for Losers, when a character sees as meaningless anything other than placing first in a competition. Compare Second Place Is for Winners, when not placing first in a competition ends up producing a better outcome. Contrast Undesirable Prize, when a reward is purposefully designed to be unwanted by the participants.
Anime & Manga
- Crush Gear Turbo: In the manga, Kouya technically loses to Manganji during the Asia Cup finals. However, as Manganji is too injured to continue, Kouya is selected to enter the World Cup instead.
- Pokémon: The Series: In "Friends to the End", Sayuri defeats Ritchie in the Indigo Pokémon League Competition. A silhouette that looks a lot like her is visible in the second-place position during the awards ceremony.
- Sgt. Frog: In the 18th episode, Keroro enters a Kansai-style comedy contest in order to win a rare Gundam-knockoff model kit. He wins mainly through underhandedness and alien technology; he learns too late that the model is only the participation prize and first place gets a fridge, but he's too much of a show-off to throw the contest.
- Archie Comics: Zig-Zagged during a storyline about athletic competitions against other schools. Riverdale's star athlete Reggie is felled with a sprained ankle. Archie is sent to take Reggie's place and, in every event, the former is eating everyone's dust, placing second and third place. However, Dilton Doiley points out that the tournament is based on a points system for which is highly beneficial to place consistently. As a result, Archie's scores add up to an eventual victory for Riverdale.
- My Little Pony: FIENDship Is Magic: Pinkie Pie once won a prize for participation in a 3rd-grade Science Fair with her homemade "Cherry Surprise Volcano".
Films — Live-Action
- Children of Heaven: Ali wants to get another pair of shoes for his little sister Zahra because they currently share a pair of shoes. So, he enters a track and field competition for which the third-place's reward is a pair of shoes. Unfortunately, Ali ends up being the first, ruining his current shoes in the process. Good thing that the kids' dad is shown buying two new pairs of shoes.
- Love and Death: Conversed in a backhanded insult.
Soldier: He was from my village —He was the village idiot.
Boris: Yeah, what did you do, place?
- Encyclopedia Brown: In "The Case of the Hard-luck Boy", Encyclopedia must prove that a contest participant deliberately lost on the last question to get the second place because they'd accidentally broken the grand prize.
- Have Space Suit – Will Travel, by Robert A. Heinlein: Cliff Russell enters a contest where the first prize is a trip to the moon. He wins one of the consolation prizes: a used space suit.
- Milly Molly Mandy: Milly-Molly-Mandy has her heart set on a toy rabbit that is one of the prizes in a competition. She tries so hard that she wins —then discovers that the rabbit was the booby prize. She gets the rabbit in the end by swapping her prize with the loser.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Subverted for comic effect in "Homecoming". Cordelia and Buffy compete for the title of Homecoming Queen. As expected, the two descend into vicious (albeit hilarious) rivalry, find themselves in danger, pull together, etc. The writers save the high school cliché through outright parody: CORDELIA: "You know, after everything we've been through, this whole question of who gets to be homecoming queen seems..." BUFFY: "Pretty damn important!" CORDELIA: "Right!" In the end, Sunnydale High awards the prize equally to two people in its first-ever tie. Luckily for us viewers, those two people aren't Buffy and Cordelia, but the two other girls who were competing against them. Buffy and Cordelia leave the auditorium in disgust.
- Chef! (1993): Subverted. Gareth begins bemoaning the unfairness of it as he places second in the hors d'oeuvres section. This is compounded when he places second in the entree section. He is barely able to suppress his rage when he receives third place in the dessert section. He then discovers he was the only contestant to place in more than one category, and has won the overall first place.
- Debra!: When Debra and Preston only get 2nd prize in the radio contest in "Lung Trumpet" which turn to be a meal at a restaurant, Knuckle Dusters, wherein Preston's parents went to after leaving the concert disappointed and had their actual first date there.
- Gilmore Girls: April Nardini —Luke's long lost daughter— is introduced preparing her experiment for her school's fair science in which she places second.
- Mama's Family: In "Mama on Jeopardy", Thelma scrapes by with a second-place finish. She's overjoyed when Johnny Gilbert announces that she had won a trip for four to Hawaii. The Harpers spend the next two episodes on Maui.
- Monk: A man deliberately gives up the first place because he wants the runner-up prize of pie, which he thinks contains evidence from when he murdered his wife.
- Secret Garden: Stuntwoman Gil Ra Im is aging pop star Oska's most ardent fan, and there's a department store contest to win a weekend with him. But Ra Im ends up with the third prize, a big clunky vacuum cleaner—which, for complicated reasons having to do with the department store president's crush on her, she brings back and practically throws in the president's face. However, the first and second prize winners are a hugely pregnant woman and a blank-faced old man who's never heard of the singer ("Os...ka?"), so third-place winner Ra Im gets the trip with Oska anyway.
- The Vicar of Dibley: Geraldine tries to win second place in a chocolate contest. She fails. Not that she isn't very happy with first prize, though.
- Monopoly: "You have won second prize in a beauty contest. Collect $10."
- Glengarry Glen Ross: First place gets a new car, second place gets a set of steak knives, third place is "you're fired". Blake uses this as an attempt at motivation for the salesmen. At the very least, it gets their attention long enough to listen to Blake's speech.
Blake: As you all know, first prize is a Cadillac Eldorado. Anybody want to see second prize? Second prize is a set of steak knives. Third prize is you're fired.
- Final Fantasy: The "don't get the prize you wanted" version appears in Final Fantasy X and Final Fantasy X-2 with the Blitzball minigame. In both cases, you'll often want the 2nd or 3rd prize instead of the first as the better moves and skills for the minigame are rarely the first prize's reward. This essentially forces you to lose games to achieve this.
- Leisure Suit Larry 6: Shape Up or Slip Out!: Larry is recruited as a contestant on a rigged game show. He ends up winning the second prize, two weeks at a health spa and resort, which is where the game is set.
- Achievement Hunter Minecraft Series: In "Episode 183 - Black Friday", Geoff hosts a bonus round to win the inaugural (but slightly less coveted) Block of Pimps.
- Family Guy: In "Let's Go to the Hop", after reminiscing about a girl he used to crush on in high school, Peter refers to his wife Lois as his "silver medal." Ouch.
- King of the Hill: In "Dances with Dogs", Bobby gets second in the dog dancing tournament, which he and Peggy are both proud of. Hank ultimately doesn't place, much to his disappointment.