He just kept coming.
His putt-putt motor
kept right on humming.
And while Green waited
for his stuff,
Red putted on past.
The fast-food store
wasn't fast enough.
We've all heard of Aesop's Fables. Although very little is known about the man himself, hundreds of his stories still survive after millennia. Arguably the best known of these stories is The Tortoise and the Hare.
In case you're one of the very very few people who've somehow avoided reading or being told this story, it goes as follows: A tortoise and a hare decide to have a race, and for obvious reasons the hare thinks he is certain to win. The hare has such a strong belief in this scenario that when he is halfway finished the race (or almost finished, or right at the start, depending on which version you know), he decides to have a nap, during which the tortoise passes him and wins. The, well, aesop? "Slow and steady wins the race."
Because of the story's fame, it's no wonder it is so influential. Many modern-day works (typically for young children) have similar storylines, sometimes with more than one "hare", but almost always with only one "tortoise", usually the protagonist. The hare(s) will beat the tortoise for most of The Big Race, but then something will happen that causes the tortoise to win. The hare(s) will often be a Last-Second Showoff, and the tortoise will invariably be a Determinator. The tortoise will likely be the blue oni to the hare's red.
It's also worth mentioning that the original story has been subject to much Alternate Aesop Interpretation, the other aesop being "don't get too cocky".
As the trope name spoils how the race will turn out, all spoilers are unmarked.
- A 1960s commercial for Burger King uses the Tortoise and the Hare story as its springboard. Knowing that each would stop for lunch during the race, the tortoise goes into a Burger King and comes out virtually immediately with his order. The hare stops at a roadside diner where prompt service was not a priority. It's when the cook offers him a bowl of turtle soup that the hare forgets he's in a race and takes off, but too late—the turtle had won.
- Played for Horror in The Hunt (2020), in a moment where Crystal Creasy (the Anti-Hero and a Shell-Shocked Veteran) narrates a version of The Tortoise and the Hare in which, as usual, this method lets the tortoise win the race... and then, much to the surpise of the fellow hunted she's talking to (who thought that she was telling him that's how they were going to play the game), she follows it with saying that the hare arrived that same night to the tortoise's home and got even by killing the tortoise and his entire family. The man is visibly nervous when Crystal finishes her tale.
- Other cultures have developed similar stories independently of Aesop. For example, the Native Americans told a tale about a crane and a hummingbird.
- The Berenstain Bears and the Big Road Race sees Brother Bear enter a car race in a small, slow, red car. There are four other cars, all of them large and fast: one orange, one yellow, one green, and one blue. The drivers of the large cars make fun of Brother because his car is so slow. At first, the yellow car is in first, and its driver boasts about how he will win and fails to see a pothole, which destroys the car. Then the orange car takes the lead and its driver brags about how he will win, not realizing that he is driving his car off a cliff. The driver of the green car assumes it is now between him and the blue car, so he pours tacks onto the road, puncturing the blue car's tires. When he's almost at the finish line, he sees a fast-food restaurant and decides to have a burger. In waiting for his burger, he unknowingly gives Brother enough time to pass him and win the race.
- Subverted in a story within Daniel Pinkwater's Borgel, which got some unwanted publicity after it was used (and the aesop misinterpreted) in a standardized test. In the story "The Rabbit and the Eggplant", a rabbit and an eggplant decide to race each other. The townspeople all bet on the eggplant, since they figure that slow and steady wins the race, and the eggplant must have some trick up its sleeve. Unsurprisingly, the rabbit wins, and the villagers eat the eggplant after being proven wrong.
- Disney storybook "Goofy's Big Race" had Donald challenge Goofy to a race. While Donald has a spiffy sports car, he wastes his time doing other things as he thinks Goofy's old jalopy won't catch up. However Goofy ends up winning because he kept his focus on the race despite being the slow one.
- Played with in Lightning Fred: Digby is not a fast runner, so he loses a race. He has a second race and wins, but he's no longer slow— he got temporarily powered up from touching a lightning-struck tortoise.
- Parodied in The Stinky Cheese Man with the story "The Tortoise and the Hair". The rabbit bets that he can grow one of his hairs faster than the tortoise can run. They both go so slow, the story ends before the race does.
Tortoise is still running. Rabbit is still growing his hair. (Not) The End
- "The Hare and the Pineapple" builds up the expectation that the pineapple will find a way to beat the hare, with the animals even discussing how the hare will likely make a mistake out of arrogance. The pineapple doesn't even move, and the hare wins.
- In the "Tales from a Galaxy Far, Far Away Volume 1: Aliens" story "The Crimson Corsair and the Lost Treasure of Count Dooku" this is humorously subverted by One Eye, who takes his time arriving to the Mêlée à Trois only to end up swallowed by a sandworm before any of the other combatants even realize he's there.
- The Witch of Knightcharm:
- This is LaTasha's strategy for surviving a lethal obstacle course at the evil Wizarding School she's stuck in. LaTasha doesn't think any of the rewards for coming in first are worth risking her life for, so she plans to just let the frontrunners in her heat slug it out ahead of her while she slowly and steadily works her way through the course. That way she'll increase her chances of reaching the end alive, which is what she actually cares about.
- Luban takes the trope to a much darker place, choosing instead of get into the front of her heat and then slow down to work on murdering everyone behind her. Heat winners automatically 'win' orientation no matter how slowly they go, so if she can take out the rest of her heat, then she can 'run' the rest of the course at a snail's pace and still get the victory she needs.
- As the Metagame has evolved on The Amazing Race, this has become a popular strategy with teams. Nowadays most of the teams would rather pace themselves throughout the season and not wrack up the leg wins. The only time people want to win is if the leg prize is specifically something to be used in the game. note All that matters is staying consistent enough to get in the final three and winning the final leg. Sisters Kisha & Jen and partners Colin & Christie who won returnee seasons both say that this is the lesson they learned. They both were cognizant about not burning themselves out. Teams who’ve won the show without winning a leg before include dating couple (who weren’t actually a couple) Eric & Danielle (10), the aforementioned sisters Kisha & Jen (18), partners Josh & Brent (21), friends Amy & Maya (25), and dating couple Kelsey & Joey (27).
- In Linkara's History of Power Rangers review of Power Rangers Operation Overdrive, he cites that Flurious, one of the four villain groups of the series, took this approach by not getting too involved in the fighting and letting the others factions duke it out amongst themselves. Indeed in the end the Fearcats and Kamdor were destroyed by the Rangers, Miratrix was sealed away in the jewel Kamdor was originally stuck in (by Kamdor's own hand no less) and Moltor was majorly weakened in his fight with Mack. When he tried to go to to Flurious for help, Flurious destroyed Moltor outright and takes the crown before acquiring the remaining jewels, allowing him to go to achieve his full-powered form, thus making him the last villain to be stopped.
- The Noddy Shop had a musical retelling of The Tortise and the Hare in the episode "The Big Race" called "Slow and Steady" that was all about this trope.
- Magolor says this word-for-word in Kirby's Return to Dream Land.
- At least two The Backyardigans episodes have this plot:
- "Race Around the World" has Austin, Pablo, Tyrone, and Uniqua in a multisport race that involves hurdles, snowboarding, and rowing. Pablo is great at hurdles, Tyrone at snowboarding, and Uniqua at rowing, but Austin is terrible at each one. At the end of the race, the tape is too strong for Pablo, Tyrone, or Uniqua to break, but Austin cuts it with a pair of scissors, thereby winning the race.
- "Horsing Around" has Uniqua, Pablo, and Tyrone as jockeys in a horse race. Pablo and Uniqua both insist that they have the best horse this side of the Mississippi, but Tyrone's tiny donkey is the definition of The Alleged Steed. However, Pablo and Uniqua are often so busy arguing about who is better than the other, they forget about the race until Tyrone passes them, resulting in Tyrone winning by a nose.
- Looney Tunes: Averted with Cecil the Turtle, who in the three shorts that he raced Bugs Bunny was slower and more consistent, but the reason he always won was because he was a much better trickster than Bugs.
- Bugs did win the race in the third outing ("Rabbit Transit") but he loses the cartoon as he's arrested for speeding.
- My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic
- Zigzagged in Fall Weather Friends: the ponies are having a race called "The Running of the Leaves" to help the autumn leaves fall. Rainbow Dash and Applejack are mad at each other and are on a vicious cycle of cheating due to thinking the other cheated, so they end up being tied for last place. Twilight starts off slow but then runs to prevent herself getting puffed out, and she wins a prize... but it's not first place either.
- Played with in May The Best Pet Win!, with a literal turtlenote : Rainbow Dash is holding a competition between various animals to see which one is worthy of becoming her pet. Given that this is Rainbow Dash, this incldes a race through a gorge. Rainbow Dash specifies that "whoever crosses the line with me" wins. As it so happens, an avalanche occurs, half-burying her. All animals speed past and fail to notice her, except the turtlenote , which rescues her and carries the injured pony over the finish line, thus winning the race.
- Ninjago: The episode "Ninjaball Run" is basically this with a prize of $5000 which the ninja need to win to help to pay a friend's rent but since there are no rules in the race where there's bound to cheating in the competition. Metaphorically, the ninja are the "tortoise" since they don't perform so well at the beginning of the race and Lloyd, another ninja who entered separately to improve chances of winning, was disqualified in the middle of the race. Garmadon and his mooks are the "hare" metaphorically, "cheating" to try to win for himself. The ninja and Garmadon cross the finish line at the same exact time, The ninja actually wins due to a vehicle accessory that was added on by Jay on the hood and since there are no rules about that.
- In the Pocoyo episode "The Great Race", Pocoyo, Elly and Sleepy Bird participate in a race. The former two keep competing with each other during it and ultimately break their vehicles on accident by doing so. They then combine the parts of those vehicles so as to finish the race together, but when they get to the finish, it is revealed that the slow and steady Sleepy Bird has already won.
- Deconstructed for a gag in the The Simpsons episode "Bart the Mother": Marge takes the family to the Family Fun Center, where one of the activities they do is go-kart racing. Marge is going a steady, sensible pace, while out of fun, Lisa gives her a taunt. She replies back with the trope name word-for-word. All of the other racers, including Homer, Bart, and Milhouse, all lap her... twice. Even though she's far behind, she tries to force herself to not be tempted to go faster:
Marge: Easy, easy... Stick with the plan...
- Parodied in one SpongeBob SquarePants episode about a snail race. While SpongeBob and Squidward bring normal snail pets, Patrick brings a rock. It predictably doesn't move while the other snails race forward, but Gary (SpongeBob's snail) went berserk and runs out of the race line and injures himself in the end, while Squidward's snail (who's close to winning) runs to Gary instead to help him. While everyone (including the spectators) is distracted with the 2 snails, it then cuts to Patrick's rock somehow crossing the finish line.
- The Thomas & Friends episode, "Edward the Great" has the engines challenge Spencer, the Duke and Duchess of Boxford's private engine to a race to the Duke and Duchess' summer house. When Edward is assigned to deliver a set of furniture to the summer house, Gordon and James are worried that Edward will lose the race, since Spencer is a sleek and fast express engine who managed to beat even Gordon's record, but Thomas and Percy believe in Edward, due to Edward's kind personality. Thanks in part to Spencer having to make several stops, such as the Duke and Duchess buying tea and cakes from Wellsworth Station and taking photographs of the countryside (Spencer also falls asleep during the latter), Edward manages to overtake Spencer and win the race.
- The Wow! Wow! Wubbzy! episode "Rush Hour" has the title character learning an important lesson in patience when he enters a Floaty Boats contest where he builds his boat too quickly and it falls apart.
- Much like Cecil Turtle, the tortoise of a 50s Terrytoons short of the fable wins through chicanery. As the Hare races to the finish line, a police officer stops him and cites him for speeding. The Hare is held up long enough for the tortoise to cross first. As it turns out, the cop was a couple of the tortoise's accomplices in disguise.
- The trope is heavily associated with the Japanese warlord-turned-shogun Tokugawa Ieyasu. He had been around since the era of Oda Nobunaga but played the long game, making himself the sidekick or vassal to either Nobunaga or his direct successor Toyotomi Hideyoshi, conceding several losses when he could've made big but temporary wins, making a slow but steady progress to amass power that when the two died (with their own big problems intact: Nobunaga made an enemy out of a majority of Japan with his brutality, Hideyoshi ended up being more attuned to his megalomania and invaded Korea once he was done unifying the land, with disastrous results), he was in the top position to claim Japan as his own. With a few strokes of luck, he eventually did so, creating two centuries of peace for the nation with his dynasty at the helm because he never really rushed in a bullheaded manner in the race to claim Japan.
- This trope is also what let Steven Bradbury claim Australia's first ever Winter Olympics gold medal. As the second-oldest competitor in the speed skating events (and having had more than his share of near-fatal encounters, including having his thigh sliced open by another skater and breaking his neck less than two years ago), he knew that directly challenging the other competitors would only end in failure, especially with four races on the same night. He also knew that the favourites to win (already aggressive skaters themelves) would be under more pressure and take more risks as a consequence, increasing their chances of crashing. Thus, from the semi-finals onwards, Bradbury hung back, keeping his distance from the pack. Sure enough, it worked: during the semi-finals, three of the other skaters crashed (letting him take first and advance to the finals), and during the finals, all of the other skaters crashed out while jostling for gold during the final lap, letting Bradbury skate past them for the win.