In competition-based Reality TV, certain contestants establish themselves as the front-runners very early in the season. They exude so much of the required skill needed to win, they've been the overwhelming favorite to win for a long time. It also helps that they're usually very likable. In fact, their victory is more or less a Foregone Conclusion.
And then, they're eliminated.
Often in a measly fourth place.
Expect a huge outcry on message boards claiming the show is rigged or stupid or something along those lines. Expect the cameras to pan over to the other contestants with their jaws scraping the floor. Expect the powerless judges to look utterly miffed.
This trope is, of course, less surprising on shows where the contestants themselves vote. Putting a voting alliance together to knock out apparently strong competitors is an expected aspect, and one can expect the nail that stands out to be hammered flat, so to speak.
Sometimes, the shockingly eliminated contestants will prove that they shouldn't have been eliminated with a very successful post-show career. Other times, they will try to make it big outside the show, but only prove that their elimination, as premature as it was, was ultimately justified.
Usually, a Shocking Elimination is linked to an Elimination Houdini, as the latter probably wouldn't exist without the former.
Sometimes may overlap with Non-Gameplay Elimination. Sometimes, an early favorite is actually eliminated because of factors out of their control. (Commonplace in shows such as Survivor where people often get hurt and are eliminated as a result of their injuries or ailment, or The Amazing Race where bad cabs often are a huge factor.) While the circumstances that leads to a Non-Gameplay Elimination can be shocking, it may just be the situation.
Compare Crack Defeat.
- Almost every Elimination Houdini from American Idol got his or her status from outlasting at least one favorite to make the final two, if not win. These favorites include:
- Tamyra Gray and Christina Christian (season 1, the latter getting help from the contestant being absent during her elimination). On Television Without Pity, "Tamyra'd" is the name of this trope for American Idol.
- Frenchie Davis (season 2, due to disqualification)
- Jennifer Hudson and Latoya London (season 3)
- Constantine Maroulis (season 4)
- Mandisa and Chris Daughtry (season 5. Daughtry outdid the three who beat him in record sales, afterwards)
- Melinda Doolittle (season 6)
- Michael Johns and Carly Smithson (season 7)
- Siobhan Magnus (season 9, with the week after her elimination having the lowest amount of viewers in American Idol history.)
- Pia Toscano and James Durbin (season 10).
- Colton Dixon and Skylar Laine (season 11).
- Averted with Jessica Sanchez (season 12), who was saved immediately after she was about to be eliminated. She ultimately made it to the runner-up spot.
- Olivia Rox (season 15).
- Elimination Houdini Wendy Pepper made it to Fashion Week on the first season of Project Runway... over fan-favorite Austin Scarlett.
- Going into Fashion Week on the third season, Mychael Knight was the overwhelming favorite. Instead, he was the first one eliminated.
- More recently, Terri Stevens, who had never before been in danger, was eliminated, thanks to a double elimination episode.
- Viktor Luna placing third in Season 9.
- Rami Kashou, who came in second in season 4 and was heavily favored in All Stars, didn't make it close to the finale.
- Tre Wilcox won three elimination challenges on Top Chef: Miami, more than anyone else. Yet he finished 8th, thanks to one bad dessert.
- Kenny Gilbert was eliminated in very similar circumstances (taking the fall as Executive Chef in Restaurant Wars) in season 7, after being a prominent rival of front-runner Angelo throughout the season.
- On season 2 of Shear Genius, Glenn placed in the top 3 on three elimination challenges and never appeared in the bottom three. Predictably, the other designers were shocked when she left in 7th place over Elimination Houdini Nekisa.
- Sabrina Bryan on Season 5 of Dancing with the Stars was pegged to be a finalist even by host Tom Bergeron. She was eliminated about halfway through in 6th, before the two individual dance part of the competition. She got the axe again in the All-Star edition, finishing eighth despite placing in the top two in judge's votes.
- Simone Biles in Season 24 getting knocked out in the semifinals, despite getting a perfect 80 points from her dances that night. The other contestant in the final two was former Cubs catcher David Ross, who scored the lowest in his dances that night, but may well have the most fan support in the history of the show.
- Strictly Come Dancing has at least one of these every season, especially with the onslaught of older contestants with two left feet in recent series. The latest (and possibly most shocking) example of this was the elimination of Jimi Mistry in week 6 of series 8. Whilst not the best dancer, he had gotten his best score of the series in that week and was easily one of the more enthusiastic contestants. However,he lost out to Michelle Williams who had been in the bottom two 3 times previously.
- Aston Merrygold in the 2017 series. He's a young boy and member of a boyband who once was a judge on a dance show and was a preshow favourite. One poorly marked dance later and he's booted in tenth place.
- The elimination of Maria Lawson from The X Factor 2 and Laura White from The X Factor 5 was Serious Business.
- And on the American version, the double elimination of Drew and Astro, as well as Rachel Crow in the following week was a huge shock to fans. Death threats were sent to Nicole Scherzinger and Paula Abdul after Drew was voted off. Made worse by the fact that Elimination Houdini Marcus Canty was chosen twice; first over Drew by the judges and then over Rachel by the public vote.
- Rachel's elimination was even worse than just being eliminated in favor of Marcus. Nicole Scherzinger, following in the footsteps of Paula Abdul who'd tried to abstain from a vote earlier in the season, voted to keep Marcus because she "didn't want to hurt his feelings". This sent it to deadlock and to the public vote.
- Ella Henderson's elimination from The X Factor 9 also qualifies. From her first audition, Ella was considered THE favorite to win. In the final 6, she was up against: James Arthur, a highly talented singer/ guitarist and the second favorite, Jhamene Douglas, a handsome young singer with a strong voice and mass appeal, Union J, a One-Direction type boyband who gave a bad performance on the night, Rylan Clark, a camp joke act, and Christopher Maloney, a mediocre-at-best singer unpopular with the judges, but kept in by a legion of older fans. Most viewers expected that Ella would be safe against her mostly weak oppostion, but she ended up in the bottom 2 along with James. All four judges, and viewers everywhere, were horrified by this result, and the judges vote went to deadlock, with Ella going home. James went on to win.
- In the UK charity version of The Weakest Link starring various Doctor Who actors, the first person eliminated, to most viewers' surprise, was Robot Buddy K-9.
- Jeff in Big Brother 11. There was a large outcry when he was eliminated.
- Mike in Big Brother 5, on a smaller scale, mostly because he actually could have been quite the powerful player, but was evicted first. The same goes for Brian in 10, who several fans thought "Yeah, he and Dan are gonna win" only for him to be put up on the block as a replacement for Jessie in week one.
- This actually happened a bit with All Stars, in which some of the fans' favorites had been eliminated early, such as Nakomis, Jase, Diane, and Kaysar.
- Nikki Grahame getting eliminated from Big Brother 7 was a huge shock considering all the housemates had to face the public vote as punishment for Jayne Kitt's rule breaking (Jayne herself was exempt from eviction that week or else it might have been her who was eliminated). Aisleyne and Susie were the favorites to be evicted that week. Even more surprising was that when previously evicted housemates were given a shot to re-enter the house and have one last shot at the final, Nikki received the majority of the public vote. Then she finished in fifth place.
- Will in Big Brother All-Stars basically dominated the whole season with his best friend Mike "Boogie", and everyone expected him to win. Then, in the final 4, the girls they were shomancing caught on to their lies and he was sent packing.
- Nick in Big Brother 15 was a very savvy player, forming and all-male alliance, pointing out they had over a 25% chance of winning MVP, and even targeted the only physical threat outside of their alliance. Unfortunately, Candice & Helen figured out there was probably an all-guy alliance, and he ended up being the second one out the door.
- Happens almost every season to a very strong competitor on So You Think You Can Dance, usually around the final 6 contestants. Danny in Season 3, Will Wingfield in Season 4, and most recently Janette in Season 5. The presenter, Cat Deeley, has sometimes been noticeably shocked when she reads the results. When Janette was eliminated, one of the judges even said that he had thought she'd win the whole thing.
- And going way back, Allison in season 2. Watch the video. Mary's teary eyed, most of the other contestants are in shock (especially her former partner Ivan) and Travis is literally bawling.
- Season 6' elimination of all three tap dancers. It's shocking because this was dubbed by the producers and judges as "Year Of The Tapper" and it came about because during the first two weeks of the show the audience wasn't even allowed to vote like they normally would have.
- Sara Van Gillern getting eliminated in the top 8 of Season three over Elimination Houdini Lauren Gottleib. This was only the last of Lauren's antics with the season. Early favorite Jessi was eliminated to raucous response after not being able to dance the previous night over Lauren,who the judges even called out on actually dancing for only half the time she was given to dance for her life.
- Chance's elimination on I Love Money. Who knew Pumpkin would actually have the guts to do something big besides trash talking?
- On The Mole, being eliminated was referred to as "execution." In Celebrity Mole: Yucatan, the promos repeatedly promised a "shocking execution." Later, in the second season of The Joe Schmo Show, the promo at the end of each episode promised "the most shocking elimination yet." This may have been an intentional bit of a good-natured fun-poking at The Mole, as both programs were made by the same production company, Stone Stanley Entertainment. These promos continued for several episodes until finally they said "the most shocking elimination yet... and this time, we mean it," then finally dropped the gag.
- The Finale of Tough Enough 2 had the two male performers, Jake and Kenny Layne, surprisingly lose to the female competitors Jackie and Linda, despite advertising that there would be one male and one female winner each.
- Despite losing Tough Enough, Kenny has become fairly well known on the independent circuit as Kenny King.
- The first season of WWE NXT (completely scripted) pulled a Shocking Swerve and eliminated Daniel Bryan on the first elimination (along with two others) when he had been the favorite to win the season. He ended up being kept on the show for his own storyline.
- A more shocking elimination was AJ from season 3 where the fans voted for who they wanted on the show. At the time AJ was arguably the most popular rookie that season. Even wrestling critics were calling her elimination a miscarriage of justice. AJ would eventually return to the main roster as the tag partner of season 3's winner, Kaitlyn. The other shocking elimination of the season, runner up Naomi, would eventually resurface, but as one of Brodus Clay's backup dancers.
- A less shocking example, but still an example, was Derrick Bateman from Season 4. He was generally considered to be the best in ring technician of that season's rookies, his over the top personality, and having the backing of the best wrestler of his generation made him the most consistently over. However, it's less of an example because he actually managed to make it to the final three, and the other two, Johnny Curtis and Brodus Clay, were considered to be fairly good as well, but many thought Bateman would last until the end.
- Bateman, fully recovered from the injury that caused his elimination, was reinstated in the competition during season 5. As that season's gone off the rails, it's impossible to know if he'll win.
- In the revival of WWE Tough Enough, early on, Mickael was in the bottom three alongside his hated rival, Ryan (whose biggest challenge for the show was overcoming the Embarrassing Nickname "Skidmark" given to him by, ironically, Bill Demott). In order to decide who was leaving, "Stone Cold" Steve Austin made them cut promos on one another. Mickael choked, and Ryan buried him. Everyone was stunned, but whether it was Mickael's failing or Ryan stepping up to the plate depends on who you ask.
- On the 2015 show, there was Patrick Clark. Not a particularly well known figure in wrestling but still one of the more experienced competitors, he and Tag Team partner Lio Rush being the first graduates out of Maryland Championship Wrestling's academy and quickly gaining the attention of CZW, Ring of Honor and of course "Tough Enough". Though only Clark was chosen for the show(no surprises there) he consistently placed among the top rankings week after week...and then was eliminated for failing to learn the value of humility. No less than Mick Foley and Booker T argued that it proved the contest was based more on popularity than any other merits.
- In the 2015 season, The Miz was brought in as a new judge to replace the disgraced Hulk Hogan. The final three for his first episode consisted of the out-of-shape fan favourite ZZ, generic blonde Amanda and then Mada, who was possibly the most well-rounded of the remaining competitors and who had real potential for a future in the wrestling business. Miz made the bizarre decision to use his once-per-season save on Amanda "because she's hot", leaving ZZ to win the public vote and thereby eliminated Mada.
- From Canada's Worst Driver:
- Season Two: Colin's expulsion was truly shocking, not only for the audience but for the other contestants.
- Scott's expulsion in Season Six was a surprise as well, considering it happened so fast.
- This happens in both seasons of Top Shot. JJ Racaza was favored to win throughout the whole competition, but places third after missing a shot against a target with a pistol that he chose. Season 2 has Jermaine and Daryl, current and former marines, respectively, eliminated by Jay Lim, a golf instructor and amateur shooter.
- Ayako Miyake failed on the third stage during her fourth entry in Kunoichi. Given that Kunoichi is just as hard as its male counterpart, what makes this shocking? On her first three tries, she won the final stage.
- The Glee Project has done this twice already in its first season.
- In week six, Ryan eliminated Marissa (whom many people agreed on as one of the strongest singers and most likable competitors).
- In week eight, he eliminated Hannah, whom he'd just praised as a great actress, likable, and "the show" in a nutshell. Both girls had also won the challenges for that specific week, and both competed against people who did much worse in the video shoot or in the "last chance performance" than they did.
- It's happened again in season 2; Ryan just eliminated Shanna, who had reached the final 6 without ever being in the bottom 3 until the week of her ouster.
- MasterChef has many of them. Keep in mind that a lot of factors contributed to the argument of why one's elimination is shocking to fans.
- Monti from MasterChef US Season 3 was one of the most solid competitors, consistantly turning out dishes that seemed far beyond her experience level. However, on her first time up for elimination, she was removed from the show in favor of Josh who had been kicked off previously, made his way back onto the show, and been a fair-to-middling competitor since then. Moreover, he won an advantage earlier in the episode after winning mystery box challenge but squandered it.
- Season 5 had a few:
- Kira; in the donut challenge, she was eliminated over a problem with her dough that made her donuts a bit tough, and for not having enough filling, but her donuts were still edible. By contrast, Courtney ran out of yeast after messing up her first dough and found herself begging for more, and though a contestant kindly gave her more, she proceeded to completely wreck her donuts by confusing her ingredients, using salt instead of sugar, a basic yet enormous mistake that turned her donuts into an inedible salt bomb, but the judges still chose to keep her.
- Francis B.; despite being considered one of the early frontrunners by both the judges and contestants, he was eliminated in episode 7 after failing to produce an acceptable plate of spring rolls. His were overly greasy and inconsistent, but Cutter, who had already been in danger of elimination twice, served spring rolls that seemed to be just as bad, due to being soft, overly sweet, and having virtually no dipping sauce (which the judges stressed as being important). Since Courtney was spared over Kira in episode 4 seemingly due to having shown more potential, some felt that the same should have happened for Francis B.
- Christine; many chefs felt that Ahran's Red Team should have won the challenge anyways, and then that Christine showed far more potential and leadership capabilities than Leslie, a controversial homecook int hat season; Christine was eliminated due to her truffles looking perfect but being too bitter, while Leslie — who had been in the pressure test four times — had truffles that looked disgusting but apparently tasted decent. If anything, Christine seems to have been the victim of extremely bad luck, given that out of the six people who took part in that pressure test, she was the only one who produced truffles that actually tasted bad (nearly everyone else produced truffles that looked mediocre-to-bad but tasted decent, while Cutter of all people nailed both the taste and appearance).
- Season 8 also had some:
- Newton; Yachecia made all the components of her Champagne Poached Oyster dish, but the pasta was overcooked and badly kneaded. Newton made both his oysters and pasta perfect, but he couldn't open his caviar jar. Many argue that he should have stayed over Yachecia for nailing the most important ingredients and the caviar was the only component they didn't have to make from scratch. In a later interview, Newton revealed that he was weakened by his previous stroke (weakness he tried to cover during the competition), which ended up affecting him in the last moments.
- Daniel. While he did make several technical errors on his truffles, a lot of fans argued that he should have stayed over Jeff and Yachecia as he's proven to be more consistent than the two. While Jeff's case is still case of a very vocal Broken Base, it's added to the argument that Yachecia narrowly avoided elimination despite having an incomplete box (previously Brien was eliminated for having only four out of six cannolis, while Newton did better components but couldn't add the caviar in the last minute).
- Gabriel. It's a similar case with Daniel above. His cannelloni had a lot of technical errors, but he's proven to be a bit more consistent than Yachecia who was on her second time in the bottom twice in a row, and Ramsay called her chicken and pork tortellini to be a terrible combination and her tortellini was too thick.
- Coupled with Elimination Houdini, many viewers of 2014's My Kitchen Rules were surprised and outraged to discover that the surfer dad team Paul & Blair lost the semi-finals to the token Alpha Bitches Chloe & Kelly. To a lesser extent, Greek twins Helena & Vikki were more favoured to win the second semi-finals than the proud mums Bree & Jessica.
- In season 6, there is the Texan father & daughter, Robert & Lynzey Murphey. The two had been fan favourites from the very start of the show, and the two achieved the highest score in their first instant restaurant by a very large margin. Unfortunately, the fared rather poorly in their next challenges, and were sent to Sudden Death in their second People's Choice Challenge, where they were eventually eliminated for losing the Cook-off against Queenslanders Rob & Dave.
- Ru Pauls Drag Race:
- Ongina from season 1 was eliminated after winning two challenges and placing high in the other two she competed in. This elimination was so hard that RuPaul had to actually step off set to think it through.
- Jessica Wild from season 2, who placed consistently high and won the previous challenge. Even Tatianna, who had just won the lipsync, was shocked that Jessica was eliminated. Pandora Boxx's elimination shocked many as well since she had become a fan favorite.
- Willam's elimination in Season 4 was arguably the most shocking, as she is the only person to be disqualified for breaking the rules, even though she consistently did very well through the season and actually won the challenge in the episode where she was eliminated.
- Vivienne Pinay and Honey Mahogany's double elimination in Season 5, as it was the first in the show's history.
- Laila Mc Queen and Dax ExclamationPoint's double elimination in season 8 as well.
- BenDeLaCreme, a fan favorite and the first queen in Season 6 to win two challenges, being eliminated by Darienne Lake who had already lipsynced three times.
- Max and Katya in season 7. Max was the first queen to win two challenges in Season 7, but lost due to one slip up during the Snatch Game. Katya had won or been high 6 of the 7 previous episodes and was a fan favorite to win.
- From season 8, Acid Betty was eliminated after Snatch Game like Max, even though she had been high the first three weeks and safe week 4. Thorgy Thor had been high or safe every episode and was a fan favorite but was eliminated when she didn't even do poorly, she just didn't do as well as the other remaining queens. Derrick Berry's elimination wasn't shocking per se, but she was expected by many to make the Top 3 due to her fame as a Britney Spears impersonator, but unlike celebrity impersonators from previous seasons, Derrick was unable to break out of her "Britney box," which led to a shockingly mediocre showing.
- This trope was inverted by Naomi Smalls and Chi Chi DeVayne, also from Season 8. In the preseason promos, both queens gave the impression that they'd be "filler queens" and many viewers expected them to be eliminated early. Instead, they both won a challenge each and placed higher than the three queens mentioned above, with Chi Chi reaching 4th place and Naomi making the Top 3. This is lampshaded by judge Michelle Visage, who admitted that she was not expecting the two of them to make it to the penultimate episode. Bob the Drag Queen and Kim Chi were always considered shoo-ins for the Top 3, but either Derrick, Thorgy, or Betty were expected to join them rather than Naomi.
- Valentina in Season 9. Up until her elimination episode, she had never lip synced, had a distinctive personality, and was respected by fans for her looks. She was a favorite to win. Then, after a "film a pilot" challenge where she and co-challenger Nina Bo'bina Brown pretty much sleepwalked through prep and turned in a (very clearly) improv'd pilot, both were up for elimination, with Valentina lip syncing for the first time ever against Nina, who'd lip synced before. And then Valentina refused to take off her mask from her runway look during the sync, which clearly netted scorn from RuPaul - and when she did, it became clear she hadn't learned the words to the song. And that's how she left the show.
- BenDeLaCreme, yet again, in All Stars 3. A slight subversion in that her elimination was only shocking to everyone else - including the judge panel - as she self-eliminated (according to the rules) as she felt that the competition had become too dramatic and confrontational and that another queen deserved a chance for the top spot. This promptly earned her the Fan Nickname of "BenDeLaChrist".
- In the 2014 World Cup, Spain was eliminated in the first round, despite having one of the stronger teams and being the winner of the previous World Cup. Likewise in the 2002 World Cup France were eliminated without so much as scoring a goal, despite being defending champions at the time.
- The ultimate Shocking Elimination in the NCAA Men's basketball tournament finally happened in the first round in 2018 when 16 seed University of Maryland-Baltimore County defeated Virginia, the overall #1 seed, by 20 points, 74-54. Up to that point, 16 seeds had been 0-135 against 1 seeds since the tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985.