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Status Quo Game Show

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She owes Trebek money.

"No, of course not. The posh kids always win."
Bambi, The Young Ones

When a show's main characters participate in a game show, you can expect them to come home defeated. Because Status Quo Is God, winning the grand prize or a large windfall would change the characters' situation and alter the course of the plot. This also applies to non-televised contests. Inversions may happen when significant prizes are not at stake.

If they do win, expect them to be quickly hit by financial trouble that their winnings will be just enough to cover.

More heroic characters will often sacrifice the win for Friend-or-Idol Decision. More selfish characters are usually done in by their own greed.

See also Crack Defeat. Compare Failure Is the Only Option and Game Show Goofballs.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • One episode of Sailor Moon S had Usagi and Mamoru enter a couples contest alongside Usagi's old friends Naru and Umino and newcomers Michiru and Haruka. Usagi and Mamoru blow it and Michiru and Haruka blaze through it, but they opt to pull out in the end. Naru and Umino end up winning it in the end.
    • The early episode of Sailor Moon would have contests being revealed almost all the time, but they ended up being fronts for Jadite and gathering energy from Queen Metalla.
  • An episode of Tenchi Universe has the girls, minus Sasami, enter a Beauty Contest at a resort planet. It seems that Kiyone would end up winning it for them, due to the fact that the people find her farmer's tan sexy. However, bounty hunter Nagi shows up and one ups everyone, winning the contest. On the other hand, despite Nagi winning the contest, Ryoko ends up stealing the money anyway.
  • One episode of Suite Pretty Cure ♪ had the girls (which now added Ellen to the team) participate in a sand sculpturing contest, with Hibiki and Kanade entering for different reasons (the prize was a year's worth of sweets from a shop she frequents and one of the judges was a crush, respectively). Despite a comedy of errors (Ellen accidentally saying their sculpture was of Hummy, Ellen klutzing out and destroying the first sculpture, and the Quirky Mini Boss Squad showing up to cause trouble, they end up entering... and losing out to a random team. However, they consider it a win - they got Ellen to have fun, at least.
  • One episode of Dinosaur King has the heroes appear as contestants on a game show, whose theme for that week just so happens to be dinosaurs. Hilariously, their opponents are the Alpha Gang, in Paper Thin Disguises. The heroes lose and the Alpha Gang actually wins (purely by accident, as a matter of fact) ...only for the Alpha Gang to lose the money before they can give it to Dr. Z, so, in the end, nobody wins.

    Comic Books 
  • One Archie Comics story had Dilton answer every question on a game show right... except the final one, "How many innings are in a baseball game," which was accidentally easy. He got a consolation prize of a lifetime supply of sporting equipment.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In The Suite Life of Zack & Cody, the twins would have done extremely well had Cody not decided to be greedy and 'Risk It All!' Guess what the lesson of the story was...
  • 227: Mary and Sandra on Wheel of Fortune.
    • And later the whole family on Family Feud, where Sandra does horrible in the first section of Fast Money, and Lester nearly wins it all on his own, except for switching his final answer from the one that would've won them the big money.
  • The Honeymooners: In "Ralph's $99,000 Answer", Ralph goes on a game show and selects "Music" as his topic, despite not knowing anything about music. So he has Norton play some songs on the piano, but every time he warms up, he plays the opening notes of "Swanee River", much to Ralph's chagrin. Of course, when Ralph goes on the show, the very first question is "Who composed 'Swanee River'?" and Ralph incorrectly guesses, "Ed Norton?".
  • The Odd Couple: Felix and Oscar appear on Password, where they lose (and Felix has to be forcibly ejected), and Let's Make a Deal, where they win but their winnings are immediately confiscated.
  • Smart Guy: Teenage girl wants car. Has to sit in one as long as possible to win. Shoves out what seems to be her one remaining rival. As she's celebrating, though, it turns out someone who'd been in the trunk is the winner.
  • Cheers: Cliff Clavin breezes through an entire game of Jeopardy!, ending with a ton of money in the bank and a huge lead ... and then bets the whole thing on Final Jeopardy. His answer is not merely wrong, but positively bizarre. The failure was so spectacular and so well-known that even Alex Trebek refers to blowing a guaranteed win by betting it all in the final as "pulling a Clavin."
  • The Carol Burnett Show: Carol's recurring character Eunice sings "Feelings" on The Gong Show. Despite her conviction that she doesn't need lessons because she's "a natural" she gets gonged, and her despair is shown by a Fade to Black.
  • Roseanne had an apparent exception, with the family winning the lottery and living it up. However, it was then revealed that they hadn't won the lottery, that almost a whole season had been All Just a Dream, and things were actually worse off than before.
  • I Love Lucy: Lucy wins a $300 prize when one of her dollar bills matches a bill's serial number announced on the radio, but she loses the bill and her subsequent attempts to get it back end up costing $299. In another episode, Lucy schemes to win a Hawaiian vacation on a game show, but Ricky shows up as a guest on the same program and deliberately sabotages her in the most humiliating manner possible. In yet another episode, Lucy goes on a prank show where she'll get $500 dollars if she can convince Ricky long enough that an actor is her first husband, after a misunderstanding with a hobo, the actor finally shows up, and after everything is explained, he gives Lucy the $500, which Ricky uses to settle her debts, and gives her back some change in the form of a $1 bill.
  • Cosby and Caroline in the City both had characters win large sums of money in contests sponsored by sports teams, only to learn afterwards that they had relatives who worked for the team and were thus ineligible for the contest.
  • Married... with Children absolutely loved this trope:
    • In one episode, Kelly went on a sports trivia game show (after Al taught her all he knows about sports) and almost won the grand prize, only to fail the final question, which was about Al's "four touchdowns in one game".
    • Peggy once won $10,000 in a bingo contest, only to have to spend it all on taxis to arrive safely back home (after Al forgot to pick her up).
    • Subverted in an early episode when Al and Peg cheat their way onto a game show for newlyweds, and Peg's efforts (at torturing Al) win them a new sports car. It's never seen or referred to, even in episodes involving Al's broken down Dodge, until an episode years later. (Typically handwaved as being due to insurance and/or tax issues.)
  • Boy Meets World, the episode is appropriately titled "The Eskimo". Mr. Feeny assigns Shawn to get him Super Bowl tickets, so Shawn enters a radio contest in which he must be the last person to leave the radio's billboard in the January chill. His final competition is, yes, an ice cream cone-eating fellow in Eskimo garb (Phenotype Stereotype). Shawn gives up the contest, but still makes it to the Super Bowl himself.
  • The Young Ones appeared on University Challenge, against a team of upper class twits.
    • ACHTUNG!
    • Although there's no prize (other than a trophy) for winning, so it wouldn't have mattered even if they had won.
  • In an episode of Fame, Leroy won a lot of prizes on a TV game show, and then he got hit by the tax bill. In order to pay it, he had to sell everything he'd won, and since the tax bill was based on the manufacturers' suggested retail prices, and he couldn't sell any of the stuff he'd won for anything near that, he wound up breaking even.
  • While this wasn't technically a game show, one episode of The Greatest American Hero had Ralph become a baseball player. One plot element plot had him cheated out of his salary by being given a contract which disguised insurance as income. This had no relation to the rest of the episode, and seemed to be there only to avoid the change in status quo that would be caused by making Ralph a millionaire.
  • In an episode of the Life Lesson/Inspirational show McGee and Me, the main character, Nick, ends up on a Double Dare-esque gameshow. Most of the leadup consists of Nick getting increasingly arrogant about it, up to and including when he discovers his opponent is a girl. He's promptly creamed (literally) and learns a valuable lesson in humility.
  • No one in Saturday Night Live's "Celebrity Jeopardy!" sketches ever wins. And this includes Trebek, believe it or not.
  • In one My Family episode, Michael arranges for all the main characters to appear on The Weakest Link together because he believes that as the smartest member of the family he's sure to win the prize money. He's beaten in the last round by Alfie.
  • In one episode of Clarissa Explains It All, Ferguson gets himself on a game show believing he's the smartest kid in the world, wanting to use the prize money to build a theme park dedicated to himself. Clarissa can't let that happen, so she joins him on the show. After the two get teamed up against another brother-sister duo, Ferguson gets outraged when he answers incorrectly on a question about pi (which he thought was referring to pie), and he then interrupts Clarissa on the last question with more complaining and stops her from answering correctly, sabotaging himself in the process.
  • In one episode of Kenan & Kel, the title characters enter a wedded couple game show which has a house as the prize (as Kenan wants to live on his own to have privacy), with Kel dressed as a girl named Kelly. They lose because, apparently, Kel and "Kelly" have different Trademark Favorite Drinks.
    Kenan: Her favorite drink, can I reiterate one more 'gain, is ORAAANGE SODA!
    Host: Ok. Alright. Kelly, what you say?
    [Kel holds up a sign that has the answer "Root Beer"]
    Host: Oh, I'm sorry, Kenan. Root beer!
  • Again, not exactly a game show, but in the BBC series Crime Travellernote  Jeff (the detective) decides to arrange a lottery win for himself, against the strong advice of Holly (the scientist). The junior cop he passes the note of the winning numbers to reads it upside-down, losing him the jackpot but nevertheless winning a few thousand pounds... just enough to replace the time machine components wrecked by his attempt to break causality.
  • In Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers, Kimberly is on a game show called Trick or Treat against Skull with the grand prize being a brand new car. Unfortunately, Rita Repulsa's Monster of the Week picks that time to attack, so Kimberly feigns fainting on stage and throws the game so she and the others can go fight the monster. Thusly, Skull wins by default. This, however, ends up being a Status Quo Game Show for him as well, since it was discovered that Skull was cheating (by Bulk sitting in the audience feeding him questions), so the car was taken back by the station.
  • In The Golden Girls, the ladies go through great expense and Comedic Sociopathy to get to California to play on a fictional game show called Grab That Dough. When they get there, they decide to split up to increase their chances of winning (allegedly, in reality, glory hound Blanche wanted to cut the "dead weight" of Sophia and Rose.) In the end, Sophia and Rose's team lost, only receiving $100 each, while Dorothy and Blanche's team won and got to go to the bonus round, where they picked a prize from behind a curtain, Let's Make a Deal-style. They pick Window 3, and after seeing the first two prizes (a brand new living room set and a new car,) their prize is revealed to be... an electric skillet and a lifetime supply of soup.
    Producer: We're a TV show, we give the people someone they can look up to and someone to root for. We don't believe anybody would root for you.
  • On Mama's Family, Mama winds up on Jeopardy. At first she does horribly, but some lucky answers get her to the final round with a decent amount of cash. In a subversion, she wins second place, a trip to Hawaii - thereby setting up a story arc.
    • There's a straighter example in an earlier episode where the family goes on Family Feud. They almost win, but Mama blows it at the end with one mind-bogglingly stupid answer.
  • All That actually had a sketch which was a game show called "You Can't Win." This was insured by sneaky things such as, in a challenge to eat 400 meatballs in 10 seconds, putting into the giant bowl 403 meatballs, 3 too many.
  • Late Night with Jimmy Fallon had a sketch called "Wheel of Game Shows", a Spin-Off of the equally-bizarre Wheel of Carpet Samples where contestants have to play bizarre minigames that are either poorly explained or impossible to win. If you land on the picture of Steve Guttenberg, you lose and owe the show $75. When everyone loses, Fallon announces a tiebreaker game such as "Brownie Points", which he assumes the contestants know how to play (apparently you're supposed to stack the brownies, not eat them). Inevitably no one actually wins, so they all receive consolation prizes instead. The segment has included such exciting games as "Find the Red Tissue" (hint, it's not in the box), "Remember That Episode Of Full House?", "iCarly Trivia vs. The Roots", "Tarantula Bonanza", and "You Can't Possibly Win!"
  • In Laverne & Shirley, the titular characters are out grocery shopping and become the store's millionth customer. The prize is a free 3-minute shopping spree. But they manage to royally screw it up: for they can only win what they get past the finish line within those 3 minutes. The two of them load the shopping cart with so much junk that it won't budge, and stuff their clothes with so much heavy stuff that they're reduced to crawling. In the end, all they win is exactly one box of Scooter Pies and a box of fish sticks.
  • Dinosaurs: The family is on a game show with the subject being about TV... but their TV was destroyed by a meteor weeks ago, and Earl entered them on the show to win a new one.
  • Bones: Intern and recovering addict Nigel-Murray goes on a winning streak on Jeopardy! only to fall Off the Wagon and spend it on Hookers and Blow. By the next season, he's spent the last of his winning on rehab.
  • Miami Vice: Detective Switek appears on a game show in the opening of the episode "Phil the Shill," but the crooked host (Phil Collins, of all people) prevents him from winning.
  • Victorious: Happens in the episode "Brain Squeezers". While Tori's team does win the titular game show, Tori must escape from under a wrestler in ten seconds in order to collect the prize money, effectively making victory impossible. To make matters worse, Brain Squeezers was a full on Sadistic Game Show, where people get items dropped on them for getting questions wrong.
  • Gimmie A Break: Nell and Addy appear together on Wheel of Fortune. Nell picks up a new car and a good amount of cash, but blows it when she gets cocky, answering "Give Me Liberty Or Give Me Death" as "Give Me Liberty or Give Me A Car!" Neither gets to the bonus round, but Addy answering the previous puzzle correctly nets her a trip to New York City. (Which she and Nell take on a future two-part episode).
  • Odd Squad: In "Villains Always Win", Olympia is chosen to appear on the eponymous game show. The catch is that, well, villains always win. Game Show Gary, the host, invites Olympia onto the show so she could lose horribly and embarrass herself. However, Olympia continuously fails to grasp that the game has no set rules, the scoring is arbitrary, and it favors the villains more than the heroes, even when she ends up sitting at zero points while The Landscaper and the Utensiler, her opponents, have over 230,000 points each — she just thinks of it as a regular old fun, but unfair, game show. While she plays, Oona and Otis go undercover as the former's numerous older cousins in order to steal back the Super-Strength-inator gadget (which serves as the grand prize), but eventually get caught by Hank, Gary's assistant, before they can do so and are forced to watch Olympia compete in the final round. In a double-subversion, Olympia does end up winning, but when she's offered to either walk away with the Super-Strength-inator or keep on playing for more prizes and risk losing the gadget, she decides to keep playing (much to Otis and Oona's chagrins) and the episode ends, leaving it ambiguous as to whether she keeps the gadget or not.
  • In the It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia episode "The Gang Goes On Family Fight", the gang makes it to the final round in a Family Feud-like game show. Frank dominates the Fast Money section of the game, and Dennis just needs to get 5 point to take the game for the team. Dennis, who had already been spectacularly failing the game with terrible answers, manages to make sensible answers this time, except they were all taken by Frank and has a mental breakdown from the wrong answer buzzer sound too many times.
  • A variation in The Righteous Gemstones in that it's not the contestants that have to fail, but the host. Baby Billy spends all of Season 3 trying to get the family to fund his game show, a Biblical-themed take on Family Feud called "Baby Billy's Bible Bonkers". In the season finale, we see him filming the first episode, with the Gemstone kids and their cousins competing (and losing) against their rivals, the Simkins, when a swarm of locusts comes down on the studio, completely destroying the set and leaving Baby Billy with yet another failed grab for glory.

  • A political cartoon around 1988 had then-President Ronald Reagan on Wheel of Fortune facing the yet-to-be-solved game board which read "GET TO THE _OTTOM OF THE IRAN-CONTRA AFFAIR." Reagan: " there a 'Q'?"

  • Parodied in an early Bob & Ray Show:
    Ray: ...Only employees of this station and their relatives are eligible to enter. The rest of you people [listeners], you're not eligible, so don't bother.
    Bob: Yeah, so if you're related to us, get started on your postcard now...
    Ray: For instance, if you're my brother, you have an excellent chance of winning.
    Bob: Right. So if you're Ray's brother, get busy and fill out that postcard, and we'll send you this great prize.

    Western Animation 
  • In the Gravity Falls episode "Boss Mabel", Grunkle Stan goes on the Wheel of Fortune parody "Cash Wheel". While he wins around 300,000 dollars, he ends up betting his entire sum on a word he didn't know: "Please".
  • The Simpsons:
    • Marge in the red on Jeopardy! Trebek actually confronts her after the taping, demanding all the money she lost.
    • And again: Lisa delivers an essay on corrupt politicians in Washington, but loses to a Vietnamese immigrant talking about running a tire balancing shop.
      • However, the politician Lisa fingered in her essay was arrested for his corruption, so Lisa did get some satisfaction. Also, the winning child commended Lisa for the "vigilance is the price of freedom" lesson her essay gave them.
    • Inverted when the Simpsons win a Japanese game show...because the prize is a plane ticket back to the U.S., without which they'd be stranded in Japan.
    • In the episode "Dog of Death," Homer enters a $130 million state lottery 50 times and still loses to Springfield news anchor Kent Brockman, who already makes $500,000 a year.
  • The Weekenders: Lor has to make 3 straight free throws for $10,000. She chokes on the third throw, but ends up winning the consolation prize, tickets to a newly opened water slide at Tesla Park she and the others wanted to go on.
  • In an early episode of Rugrats, Chaz wins the lottery, and proceeds to make his life as fancy as possible, which ends up extending to his son. Drew comes to him with a new product to invest in, and the product, an amazing ear cleaner, turns out to produce even more ear waste, bombing, and losing all the money Chaz invested in it, that being enough to thrust him back into his own life.
    • He did use what's left of his lottery winnings to fix his leaking roof, and he did save a glass elephant, which Stu promptly broke.
    • A second episode had Stu and Lou Pickles dress Tommy up as a girl and enter him in a Little Miss Beauty contest to win a Kingfisher 9000 boat. And he actually won, out beating Angelica. They were disqualified, however, when Didi showed up and the dads were unable to pull Tommy out before his name was announced. When Didi found out, whoo-boy...
    Didi: Does THIS look like a "Tonya" to you?!
    • Subverted when Angelica wins the contest, and Drew, who has no use for the boat, gives it to Lou.
  • South Park had Stan's dad lose $30,000 on Wheel of Fortune when he gave the incorrect answer to "people who annoy you". The correct answer was "naggers."
    • In another episode the townspeople put all of their savings onto a single roulette bet — and win a ridiculous amount of money as much as they needed to return to the status quo and then a little bit extra left over. But then they let it ride and lose it all on the next spin.
  • One episode of Dexter's Laboratory has Dexter and Dee Dee partake in a game somewhat similar to Double Dare called Sibling Rivalry. Dexter wanted to win the telescope and Dee Dee wanted the pony. Inverted in that Deedee wins, but chooses the prize Dexter wanted... which, of course, she uses to spy on him.
  • In one episode of Animaniacs, Pinky and the Brain go on a game show ("Gyp-Parody") in order to win money so they can buy what they need to pull off their latest plan. The Brain, being a genius, answers everything correctly - until the last round, of course, because the question was about the TV show Pinky had been watching at the beginning of the segment until The Brain made him turn it off.
  • Tiny Toon Adventures had a more literal Gyp-Parody example. Buster Bunny hosted; Calamity Coyote, Dizzy Devil, and Elmyra Duff were the contestants. None were able to win anything: Calamity because his buzzer didn't work, Dizzy because he was too busy eating his podium, and Elmyra because, well, she's a moron. The game ends with Elmyra's repeated blunders driving Buster completely nuts and Babs quietly wheeling him off.
  • Arthur: In "Arthur and the Big Riddle", Arthur loses on a game show called Riddle Quest (hosted by a character voiced by Alex Trebek), but only because he threw the match. Why? Because during the last question, he imagines a scenario where he's still on the show as an old man. What, did he think he'd be forced to live in the studio if he kept winning? And, more importantly, since when do kids think like this?
  • Garfield and Friends:
    • Once, Garfield won the lottery after Jon opted to toss away what turns out to be the winning ticket. However, during an interview on a Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous-type show, Garfield was revealed to be underage (about 12-13 when the episode was produced) and the judge of the lottery suddenly appeared to void the winning. The new winner? The host of that very show where Garfield was just outed in!
    • In the short "The Binky Show," Garfield appears as a contestant on the game show "Name That Fish," which turns out to be a stupidly insipid game (hosted by Binky the Clown) with no strategy or rhyme or reason for existing other than to humiliate the contestants and disgust the audience. The prizes turn out to be stupid as well (useless household junk to a car made of spaghetti and a trip to a run-down hotel "where you'll spend three glorious days and 16 miserable nights"). Luckily, it turns out to be All Just a Dream.
    • In a U.S. Acres segment, Roy Rooster was the host of a game show that was actually called "You Can't Win," in which the questions were designed to be impossible to answer and everyone went home with a lovely consolation prize consisting of a rock.
    • Another U.S. Acres segment had Roy find the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, which turned out to be a Let's Make a Deal style game show run by leprechauns. He wins a dirty sock but is given the option to trade it for what's behind Door Number One... which turns out to be a new car, which he can trade for what's behind Door Number Two... which is fame and fortune, which he can trade fore what's behind Door Number Three... which turns out to be a dirty sock. As he walks off with his new sock, the leprechaun host winks and says that he hasn't had to give out a single car or fortune out, but he's gotten rid of a huge amount of old laundry.
  • The Family Guy episode "Big Man on Hippocampus" had the Griffins on Family Feud and in the Fast Money round, Lois blazes through with 199 of the 200 points needed to win the $5,000 prize. However, Peter is chosen as the second contestant and he blows it big-time, demanding to be credited for the answer "chair" (an answer that Lois had already given) and then forgetting how to pass a question when he is unable to give another answer.
  • A Ren & Stimpy cartoon had Stimpy enter a contest that allowed him to win $47 million and a chance to meet his idol, Muddy Mudskipper. Stimpy ends up winning and goes to Hollywood, leaving Ren, who had thought the whole thing was a scam, behind. However, Stimpy gets majorly homesick and decides to quit and return to Ren. What makes it this trope? When he returns home, Ren asks about the money and Stimpy gleefully says he gave it all away.
    Ren: You gave away... 47... Million... Dollars?! Yoooouuuu...!
  • In King of the Hill, Hank won an Alamo Beer contest for a chance to win $1,000,000 if he throws a football through a one-foot hole in a giant Alamo Beer can or let former quarterback Don Meredith throw the ball instead for $100,000 during a New Orleans game. Hank made many successful practice throws, but his tough choice made Meredith (who had a Winter coat on) throw the ball instead... and misses, costing a possible college fund for Bobby.
  • In the Chowder episode "Hands on a Big Mixer" Chower, Mung, and a bunch of other people enter a contest where they have to keep their hand on a giant mixer and whoever is the last one to let go will win it. In the end, Chowder supposedly wins and lets go, only for it to turn out there was another contestant with their hand still on it: Chestnut, who is so tiny that nobody saw him until the reveal.
  • In Futurama, Fry participates in the quiz show, "Who Dares to Be a Millionaire?" hosted by Morbo. Stupid as Fry is, he quickly left after failing the $1 question thinking that the tool to use to hammer a nail is another nail which he will actually do later in the episode.
  • In the Sonic Boom episode "Bro-Down Showdown", Sonic and Knuckles go on the titular show to win a new couch for Amy, since their antics ruined her old one. Eggman shows up in an attempt to destroy Sonic, but seeing the banter between the two makes the producer pair them up for the show. Knuckles also gets on the show with a different partner. However, Knuckles is eliminated after the first round, and Sonic is disqualified when he stops one of Eggman's robots from destroying the town. They don't win the replacement couch, but luckily, an Eggman missile knocked away earlier ends up destroying the old couch, covering up the mess Sonic and Knuckles made of it.
  • In one segment of the "Adventures of Cliff Hanger" of Between the Lions, Quentin Quigley arrives in a blimp putting the title character in his popular quiz program "Off This Cliff!". His quick question is "True or False: Are you getting off the cliff today?" Cliff answers "true", but then loses the game because Quentin Quigley told him that the correct answer is "false", hence missing his chance to get off the cliff.
  • There‚Äôs a The Jetsons episode where George went on a show with Astro after a concoction made Astro super smart. George wins the first few rounds but loses it all in the end when the stuff wears off and Astro returns to normal.

    Real Life 
  • UK writer and TV personality Danny Wallace once bought a £50,000 winning scratchcard, but accidentally voided it after winning by scratching off too many "windows".
  • Similar to the top example, there's a tale (probably apocryphal, but it fits the trope) of a man winning a fortune on the football pools, the guy turning up to deliver the cheque and the man announcing the cheque's arrival as "a great way to celebrate his 18th birthday" - at which point the cheque was promptly torn up, because he was under age for gambling...
    • It certainly has happened with the National Lottery, where they refuse to pay out to under age winners.
  • You can't win is pretty much the premise of thermodynamics. The laws of thermodynamics are sometimes written as such:
    You can't win; you can only break even.
    You can only break even at absolute zero.
    You can't reach absolute zero.
  • The second episode of the Alex Trebek version of Jeopardy! ended in a three-way tie for $0, thanks to all three contestants wagering everything and getting Final Jeopardy! wrong.
    • And then happened again during the 2013 Teen Tournament semifinals because none of the three contestants involved seemed to realize they weren't playing for money. As a result, Leonard Cooper was rescued from a second-place performance that would have otherwise eliminated him and ended up winning the tournament in grand fashion. note 
      • Averted on Celebrity Jeopardy!, as all three celebrity players still win a certain amount for their charities.
  • Press Your Luck also had several three-way ties for $0. At least one of them resulted from two contestants having hit four Whammys (which locked them out of the game), followed by the remaining contestant hitting another on her last spin.
    • Subverted in some cases: if all players ended up with $0, anyone with less than four Whammys got to come back and try again. Notably, this very scenario ended up first happening a mere twenty episodes into the show's run.
  • In Street Smarts, if both players ended with $0, they both walked away with nothing. Of course, this game doesn't have a minimum prize, so it was possible for the winning player to only have $1 or some other low value.
    • Like Jeopardy! above, this is averted on shows with celebrity contestants, as both would win $500 for their respective charities in the event of a double zero tie.
  • In Friend or Foe?, it was possible for one or both players to walk away with nothing if one or both of them picked Foe.
  • Cutthroat Kitchen involves bidding money to get sabotages, with the winner keeping however much money they have left. At least one episode involved a chef winning, but without any money left.


    Anime and Manga 
  • A partial exception exists in the original Yu-Gi-Oh! manga. Jounouchi enters a video game show in order to win a million yen and get his family out of poverty. While the producers try to cheat him out of the prize on the chance-based final roulette, Yami Yugi manages to put a stop to that with a Shadow Game that drenches the control panel with red paint, making them unable to tell which button is the red one that makes him a loser. Jounouchi wins, but the station goes bankrupt and he gets nothing.
    • Because Yami Yugi's "Penalty Game" for the producer after the whole paint thing has him barge in on the cameras and demand money from the people watching (He puts his Mind On The Air, see), so they subsequently lose their offended viewers and sponsors. Nice job, Yami Yugi.
  • The "Ferrous Chef" storyline from the No Need for Tenchi! did this. Sasami is chosen to participate in an Iron Chef contest and her main rival is a young boy whose father is attempting to pass his shop down to him, but only if the boy wins three matches in a row - and this would be his third. The assistant to the boy's father confronts Sasami and begs her to throw the match, but she decides otherwise, not being able to live with herself if she didn't give her all. Despite another rival causing her to damage her knife (Ryoko fixes it) and the boy's father attempting to sabotage Sasami's attempts with an MSG-tainted carrot (Ryo-Ohki caught it and Washu calls out the man privately), Sasami does win. However, the boy's inspired by Sasami's cheerfulness and decides to try again, much to his father's delight.
  • In Gundam Build Fighters Try, Shimon's teammates try to persuade Sekai, Fumina and Yuuma into letting Shimon and his team win because of his sick little brother. Fumina and Yuuma waver in their goal, but Sekai refuses to bow down, especially after he meets the brothers personally.
  • In Gundam Build Divers, many of the female Divers participate in the first annual Nadeshiko-athlon with the prize being a GBN Image Girl. Thanks to A Glitch in the Matrix, the vehicles needed to complete the race is destroyed. Rose of team Hyakki thinks that this is actually a test and everyone summons their Gunpla then help newbie Nanami in making her own vehicle. The Divers all cross the finish line first, meaning they're all winners. However, they are initially disqualified because they weren't using the specified vehicles. Then, the announcers reveal that, because of the earlier incident and the chairman of company Sazameth's recommendation, they are all reinstated as winners, becoming poster girls for a special ad for the game.

    Comic Books 
  • One story in Archie Comics has Reggie on a thinly veiled parody of Love Connection. He says he has a good time, but his date calls him a stuck-up, self-centered dick. His consolation prize is a board-game version of the show, and he's noticeably choking slightly as he accepts it. The last panel is everyone in the main cast, even his longtime rival Archie, feeling sorry for him for being humiliated on national TV. Even the reader is sorry for him.
  • Another Archie Story has Jughead wander onto the set of a Game Show called "The Really Big Deal," a parody of Let's Make a Deal. He correctly answers a question for $500, but trades it for what's behind Door #1, which is revealed to be a camcorder set worth more than $2000.

  • Since most movies aren't slaves to the status quo, they're usually exceptions to this trope. A notable example is Rosie Perez's character Gloria becoming a five-day champ on Jeopardy! in White Men Can't Jump.
  • Despite being rather cynical and quite depressing at times, in Slumdog Millionaire, Jamal ultimately wins it all.
  • If certain people didn't step in, the heroes of Dodge Ball A True Underdog Story would have actually lost the final dodgeball match with the villains, but would have recouped through a player hitting the jackpot.
  • National Lampoon's European Vacation opens with the Griswolds on a game show called "Pig In A Poke." They win by accident and the prize is a trip to Europe, setting up the movie's plot.

  • Harry Potter: The perpetually poor Weasley family wins a sweepstakes at the beginning of The Prisoner of Azkaban. They promptly blow the prize on a trip to Egypt, but the winner's photo published in the paper becomes a major Chekhov's Gun. Totally averted at the end of The Goblet of Fire, when Harry gives his Tri-Wizard winnings to the Weasley twins: They use the money to start up their own business and are notably wealthier for the remainder of the series.
    • Well, they'd bought everything they needed, they couldn't normally afford holidays, and their son worked on another continent — of course they'd go see him. Besides, the prize wasn't exactly huge.
    • Canon also implies they didn't spend it all immediately, either; Ron's parents buy him a brand-new broom in The Order of the Phoenix, with the only reaction being at the thought that Ron might want a top-of-the-range broom (Ron asked for a cheaper, though still just released broom) while in The Chamber of Secrets, they worry about being able to afford everyone's supplies. The difference in supplies isn't that much less (figure about $160 difference, or about 32 galleons). A broom is likely something around 500-1000 galleons, if not more. Ergo, they have more money from somewhere. They don't take charity, so it can't be from Dumbledore. The twins hadn't set up Weasley's Wizard Wheezies yet, so the money couldn't have come from there, either (also, at about $5 to the galleon, they won around $50k. A trip to Egypt from the UK would be roughly 1K at most). Ergo, most of the winnings were probably saved.

    Live Action TV 
  • Spin City, where Paul that show won the grand prize on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?.
  • Del Boy from Only Fools and Horses went on Goldrush (a thinly disguised Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?) and lost in the final round. Then the producers realized that, wait a minute, his answer was actually right. So they called him up to apologize and offer him the prize money. But he assumed it was a prank call and told them to give the money to charity.
  • In one episode of Frasier, Niles won an SUV when he had to make a half-court throw at a basketball game. He planned to use it to go antiquing but, because Status Quo Is God, he instead ended up donating it to a policeman's charity.
  • My Name Is Earl used the "last one touching the car wins" contest. Catalina wins over Randy, but when prompted for her Social Security number, she bolts, and Randy wins by default. The car is later gambled away by Joy's mother.
  • A Double Subversion in Family Matters, when Urkel makes a shot for a huge cash prize, he hurls the basketball in celebration... the prize money was just enough to cover the repairs of the scoreboard he broke doing so.
  • Al and Peg on Married... with Children win a sports car in a game show (technically, Peg won it by willing to zap Al the hardest in an electric chair - plus, they cheated to get on the show in the first place). It doesn't appear again for years, even during episodes that revolve around Al's lousy-running Dodge (handwave: they couldn't afford the insurance needed to drive it, a situation that was the key plot point of an episode, in fact). When it finally does pop up, it's abandoned on the freeway in a holiday traffic jam.
  • An interesting zig-zag: One episode of The Nanny had Fran getting on Jeopardy! and winning in a Dark Horse Victory with a final score of $200. She loses her second game, and the status quo remains.
  • On an episode of The Honeymooners, Ralph and Alice compete on Beat the Clock, but have to come back for a second taping to finish. Unfortunately, Alice has family obligations at the time, and Ralph finally comes to the decision to inform the show that they can't compete. Oddly enough, host Bud Collyer permits Ed to fill in for Alice, and they end up winning.
  • A B plot on an episode of Las Vegas featured a girl celebrating her 21st birthday in the casino and pulling the handle on the slot machine at the stroke of midnight and hitting the jackpot. Unfortunately, the clock inside the machine still said 23:59, invalidating her win. At the end of the episode, she is offered a check for that same amount to do a commercial for the casino reminding people to wait until they are 21 to gamble.
    • This one actually makes perfect sense. If word got out that a customer was robbed of a jackpot for the flimsiest excuse imaginable (and she wasn't even at fault!), it would be ruinous for the casino, and possibly other casinos in the neighborhood as well.
    • Truth in Television: Quite a few people come to Vegas to party and gamble on their 21st birthday and start the party right at midnight. Unfortunate for those who live in states where your driver license always expires on your 21st birthday and most casinos won't (and aren't obligated to) accept expired IDs. (They are obligated, however, to accept a valid passport, and those don't expire when you turn 21; remember that!)
    • The situation was invented for drama. There's no bright red clock inside a slot machine and the only verification done is that the chip is functioning correctly. Assuming you weren't gambling before you hit (as in you weren't sitting there for an hour and it really was a matter of a few seconds due to clocks being out of sync), the casino would probably pay it after consulting with a Gaming Control Board agent.
      • In general, everything you've ever seen about Las Vegas is pretty much 100% bunk.
  • On How I Met Your Mother, Barney goes on The Price Is Right and, not only does he win, but he guesses the cost of every item exactly right down to the dollar.
    • Of course, it doesn't matter anyway, since Barney's character at many seperate occasions is stated to be absurdly rich already - for instance, having a wall-covering flatscreen tv that was brought in from Japan by a boat that could carry Godzilla. The money won on The Price Is Right undoubtly was a pittance for him, His reasons to go on the show were meeting Bob Barker (whom Barney believed to be his father) and getting Marshall and Lily some really nice wedding presents.
  • Power Rangers S.P.D.: Dumpster-dwelling alien informant Piggy wins zillions in the lottery... and it sticks. He opens a restaurant, and from then on, the Rangers visit him there instead of the dumpster (which we never see again, except in one episode of the chronologically-earlier Power Rangers Mystic Force.)
  • Real Life game shows, of course. Though with some, only the winner gets to go home with real prizes instead of "lovely parting gifts."
  • Bassie & Adriaan: During the last series, "de reis vol verassingen", Bassie winning a quiz show is what sets in motion the main storyline. The prize was a trip for two to America.
  • The IT Crowd: Moss wins at least 8 episodes of Countdown, for which the prize (in real life) is a teapot. Winning 8 episodes does qualify him for the series championship; we never find out how he fared. (He could've won a 21-volume set of the Oxford English Dictionary.)
  • Just Roll With It: "Family Squabbles" ends with the Bennett-Blatts losing the titular game show to their rivals because the children felt bad for their father losing his job and decided to throw the game for his sake. Until it turns out they were tricked into letting them win.
  • One episode of Martial Law opened with Sammo making an appearance on The Price Is Right and winning a jet ski. Several episodes later, another character asked him about it and he sheepishly admitted that he still had it but he'd been so busy working that he hadn't had a chance to try it out.
    • He also won, in the first episode, all his house furniture.

    Video Games 
  • In the Sam & Max: Freelance Police game Situation: Comedy, the duo take a shot at a game show called "Who's Never Going to be a Millionaire". Initially, the trope is played straight (They're given a extremely hard question and all the replies are in the manner of "Huh?"). Switching the questions with a stack of song lyrics makes things infinitely easier, and they win. The prize, however, is a million dollars... in food stamps. Instead, they fork it over to Bosko for his invention of the episode. In a talent show, Sam also wins a recording contract, which turns out to be useful much, much later.

  • In Pv P, Robbie wins the lottery and quits the magazine. Cole expects everything to Snap Back and is surprised when it doesn't. Later strips involving Robbie show him still living as a millionaire.
    • In a storyline when people speculated status quo would be restored, Word of God flat out said, "Robbie won't be losing his wealth anytime soon."

    Western Animation 
  • In the Looney Tunes short "The Ducksters", Porky Pig is a contestant on "Truth or AAAAAAGH!", a quiz show hosted by Daffy Duck. The sole purpose of the game seems to be humiliating the contestants, giving them obscure questions to answer (Daffy appears shocked when Porky actually gets one right), impossible challenges, and pain-inducing "penalties". In the end, Porky only wins the prize money because he threatens Daffy with bodily harm, and then uses it to buy the studio and turn the tables on Daffy.
  • Hey Arnold!: Arnold, his grandparents and two boarders use Team Spirit to beat another family on a game show called "Fighting Families" (similar to the old Nick game show Double Dare).
  • The Family Guy episode "I Take Thee Quagmire" began with Peter on Wheel of Fortune, where he somehow wins the bonus round with no letters showing (after picking Z, 4, Q, Q, Q, and the Batman symbol as his letters). One of the prizes he won from shopping was a week of maid service — which sets up the plot for the rest of the episode.
  • The Jetsons once competed against the family of George's boss, Mr. Spacely, on what was essentially a futuristic version of Family Feud. The Jetsons end up winning the contest, and a furious Mr. Spacely threatens to fire George on the spot if he takes the grand prize, instead of what's behind a special force field. George decides to trade the grand prize for whatever's behind the force field, and his family is upset until they find out it's a new food-making machine, which they've been needing since their old one had broken down. Mr. Spacely, meanwhile, won the grand prize...a lifetime supply of Cogswell Cogs, the goods of his arch-rival. Needless to say, Mr. Spacely isn't too happy with his prize.
  • In one episode of Rugrats, Didi participates in a Jeopardy!-type game show, the Title Drop "Super Stumpers", and finds herself horribly outclassed by a snooty super genius. Even she realizes that she can't win. However, fortune smiles on her when Tommy, Phil and Lil raid the control room of the studio in an attempt to find the sun (she had mentioned earlier she wanted to "find her place in the sun"). She wins big time, but chooses a gold-plated dalmatian statue instead. Tommy, however, probably figured things out much quickly — she found her place in the sun.
  • One episode of A Pup Named Scooby-Doo had Scooby and Shaggy competing against a super-smart brother/sister duo in a game spoofing The $1,000,000 Chance of a Lifetime. Things are one-sided until the ghost of the episode appears and stops the show. Once the mystery's solved, the show resumes, and Scooby and Shaggy win when their opponents can't figure out what kind of phrase involves two 'z's in the middle of the word. Their prize? A lifetime supply of pizza, comic books and Scooby Snacks — which is fine by them.
  • An episode of Cow and Chicken had the titular characters and their parents enter a Canadian version of America's Funniest Home Videos. They win, but it turns out that the Canadian Dollars to American Dollars conversion rate was horrible - something along the lines of $10,000 Canadian = $.05 American.
  • The Flintstones has Barney take Fred's place on a prehistoric version of the Cullen-era edition of The Price Is Right, and win a new boat, which (various hijinks later) sinks to the bottom of the sea.
    • Hanna-Barbera would send up Price again in 1993 on 2 Stupid Dogs. The dogs appear on "Let's Make A Right Price," where Little Dog just wants the doggie treats but he and Big Dog keep winning the big prizes instead.
  • An episode of Inspector Gadget featured a local game show that was a MAD front. At the beginning of the episode, Gadget destroyed his old toaster, prompting him to go on the game show to win a new one. Guess what? He succeeded!
  • The beginning of The Simpsons episode featured Moe in a Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? parody game show facing a nuclear-related question for $500,000. He calls Homer because he works at the nuclear power plant, however, Lisa gave Moe the answer. Moe decides to stay for half rather than risking for a million. The episode proceeds to the actual plot about Krusty's ratings being stolen.
  • One of the more awesome examples goes to The Real Ghostbusters episode "The Devil to Pay." The boys end up on a game show hosted by a minor demon, lured with the promise of a vacation to Tahiti. They win, of course, but the demon tries to renege. Peter successfully strongarms him into keeping his part of the bargain, and they get their vacation.

Alternative Title(s): You Cant Win