Sometimes a hero faces an agonizing decision where the apparent two choices are terrible, such as a Friend-or-Idol Decision or a Sadistic Choice. Typically, the hero chooses the lesser of two evils.
However, sometimes the hero can respond with "I don't like those choices; I'm taking a third option!" It is usually something completely unorthodox or seemingly suicidal. Yet this typically turns out to be the best choice after all, Everybody Lives, and the day is saved completely.
In general, a Third Option has three basic requirements needed to seem plausible: time, resources, and knowledge. A Third Option is useless if you don't have time to implement it, don't have (usable) resources/power, or don't have knowledge of it. Depending on how well that rule is followed, the solution will usually either be incredibly awesome or incredibly stupid. Deciding which examples are which is an exercise left to the reader, although Foreshadowing possible answers can help win them over.
This can be the hidden solution to a Secret Test of Character. It's also one way to resolve a Debate and Switch or of turning a Morton's Fork to your advantage. Cutting the Knot is almost always an example. If done poorly, it may fall victim to the Golden Mean Fallacy. Sometimes it's triggered by Heads, Tails, Edge. When the options are different sides in a conflict, taking a third option may lead to becoming Omnicidal Neutral.
In most Power Trio scenarios, when The Spock advocates one course of action and The McCoy insists upon the other, The Kirk will be particularly fond of using this method as a solution to the problem of the week. This is also the best way to deal with a Xanatos Gambit. A true Magnificent Bastard will have anticipated that, though.
Taking another option (be it third or fourth or so on) can also be the basis for a hidden or secret ending, particularly in interactive mediums like video games. Usually the third option is more hidden or difficult to obtain, requiring some lateral thinking or dedication to achieve. These endings can range from silly joke endings to either the Golden Ending, but are rarely ever a Downer Ending just because the authors actually want to reward the audience for going to such lengths.
- False Dichotomy, when someone insists there are only 2 options to something when there actually are many others.
- Third-Option Adaptation, where an interactive work is adapted to another medium and the producers decide to Take a Third Option in order to avoid endorsing one of the original options over others.
- Making the Choice for You where someone is unable to decide and someone or something else decides for you, which is a different type of third option.
- Loophole Abuse and Steal the Surroundings, which can be used to utilize this trope.
- Third-Option Love Interest is when this trope applies to romance.
- Bread, Eggs, Breaded Eggs, when the third option is just a combination of the other two.
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- Real Life
- In an Eddie Izzard routine people is asked if they would like "Cake or death?" Everyone responds "Cake" and eventually the cake runs out. To which the next person replies "So my choices are... or death?? I'll take the chicken."
- Averted when he is visited by Phil, the Prince of Insufficient Light. Phil offers him two options as punishment for his sins, one where he will have a meaningless job, but will be paid highly, and one where he will have an important job, but be paid badly. You do not see which he chooses, but Dilbert is delighted, because both are better than his current position (where he is paid badly for meaningless work).
- In a one-off strip, Dogbert asks Dilbert: "Do you see 'time' as a sequence of discrete events or simply a line of perception through infinite possibilities?" Dilbert answers that he sees it as more of a magazine.
- Played for laughs in one Drabble strip. That week, Ralph had been harassed by the new water inspector trying to encourage him to use less water. One day, the inspector admonishes him for using a glass to get some water since it would take two more glasses to clean it. He tells him to use paper cups instead. Norman then points out that using paper cups would mean cutting down more trees to make more cups. Ralph's solution doesn't sit well with his wife.
Honeybunch: For goodness sakes, Ralph! Don't drink right from the faucet!
- It's really more of a sixth option, but in "The Five Sons" the titular group have rescued a princess, and each has an equal right to marry her. After much argument and rumination, the king decides to marry the princess off to their father, since he'd technically had the biggest role in her rescue (by fathering the kids and urging them to go find useful trades).
- A man stumbles into a big fight. He's questioned at gunpoint: "Are you <insert your local loons 1 here> or <insert your local loons 2 here>?" Unfortunately, it's not evident whether the gun belongs to 1 or 2, so his answer is: "I'm a tourist!"
- A variant of the joke, when even the options are only implicit: "What is your political opinion?" "Oh, as chance will, exactly the same as the gentleman over there with the tommy gun."
- One variant is set in Belfast during The Troubles. The man is asked "Are you Catholic or Protestant?" He replies, "Neither, I'm Jewish". The gunman grins and says, "Gee, I must be the luckiest Palestinian in all of Ireland!"
- The glass with water in half of it. Half full, or half empty? A joke says that an engineer will answer, "The glass is twice as large as it needs to be."
- It's just 100% margin of safety.
- Other people would just ponder why it should be glass, break the glass when they lay their feet on the table, or drink straight out of the bottle
- It's completely full. Half full with water and half full with air.
- It depends on whether you're drinking it or pouring it.
- It is neither half-full, nor half-empty; it is simply half a glass of water.
- Drink the water. Now it's empty.
- One person on Dear Blank Please Blank said that the glass was half full... of rat poison.
- Pee in the glass till it's full.
- "Dear optimist, pessimist and realist, while you were arguing about the water in the glass, I drank it." - The opportunist
- Mad Magazine had a gag where a man refreshes his alcoholic beverage after declaring it's "at the halfway point." One man mentions the "optimist/pessimist" dichotomy, and says since the guy said neither, what does it make him? The response? "A drunk."
- Physicists will say it is a superposition of the "full" and "empty" states.
- Why must judgement be passed? The glass is *this* full.
- A comic from The Far Side has people discussing a glass that has water in half of it. One says, "The glass is half full!" One says, "The glass is half empty!" One says, "Half full... no, wait, half empty... no, wait..." And the last guy is shouting, "Hey! I ordered a cheeseburger!"
- One FoxTrot strip had Paige asking Peter whether a glass of soda in front of her is half-full or half-empty. Peter simply takes the glass, drinks it, and says "empty."
- According to The Truth, the world belongs to the people who say "Is this my glass? I don't think so! My glass was full. And it was a bigger glass!"
- There are two The Hero of Three Faces strips in which the Doctor tries it on Lt. Data (before and after he gets his emotion chip), and Data comes up with a third option both times.
- The Red Dwarf spin off The Space Corps Survival Manual includes this question in the crew psychological tests. Not one of them answers with one of the two options.
- Yo momma is so stupid, she took the Pepsi Challenge and chose Jif. explanation
- In The Breaker, Chun-Woo Nine-dragons makes one, when the Alliance Chief takes Shi-Woon as a hostage in order to extort Nine-Dragon's "Black Heaven and Earth technique". Here he's presented the sadistic choices of either saving Shi-Woon by handing over the secret technique or either doing a Heroic Sacrifice, like his own master Unwol did for him in a similar situation and started his Roaring Rampage of Revenge. To avert this from happening to Shi-Woon too, he takes a third option of killing the Chief and destroying the ki-center of his apprentice in the process.
- In the story of "Alice's Restaurant", Arlo Guthrie, upon being summoned to the police station over a matter of a pile of trash, surmises that the police officer will either commend Arlo and his friends for their honesty (which even Arlo says is highly improbable) or verbally chew them out. Instead of either of those possibilities, they get arrested.
... but when we got to the police officer station, it turned out there was a third possibility that we hadn't even counted upon.
- Occurs in the story of "The Choice," by Ben Weiner. Or, parodied, rather. The two options are soup or salad, and the third option, eventually suggested by the impatient waiter, is soup and salad.
- Said lyric is taken from "The Choice Is Yours" by Black Sheep.
- "Weapon of Choice" by Fatboy Slim.
"You could go with this, or you could go with that... or you could go with us."
- "I'd Rather Miss You" by Little Texas:
And if I had to choose between living without you
And learning to love someone new
I'd rather miss you
- In "Luigi's Ballad" by Starbomb, Princess Peach is presented with choosing between the somewhat-risque Mario, or the more emotional Luigi. She ends up choosing Toad, because "his whole body is shaped like a dick", to which both Mario and Luigi concur.
- In Poets of the Fall's "Drama for Life," when battling with his Enemy Within, an out-of-control creative impulse compared to a rampaging bull, the singer elects to stop fighting a win-or-lose struggle and take a chance on riding it out, seeing where it takes him.
Just one chance to kill it dead
But I will embrace it
Into the darkness on we ride
To gamble is all
- In the folk ballad, "Thomas the Rhymer" the Queen of Elfland notes the road to Heaven is overgrown with briers and the road to Hell is broad and even. On the other hand there is the narrow, winding, and/or hidden (depending on the version of the ballad) that goes to fair Elfland .... which is where the Queen of Elfland takes Thomas.
- The lyric "who'd you rather be: The Beatles or The Rolling Stones?" from Metric's "Gimme Sympathy" is a question Lou Reed asked Emily Haines. Her response: The Velvet Underground.
- Steve Albini was asked which of the two he prefers in an online forum some years earlier. His response was The Stooges.
- Schweigt stille, plaudert nicht: Lieschen agrees to give up coffee in exchange for her father finding her a husband, but secretly pulls a Lysistrata Gambit to make sure whoever she eventually marries allows her to drink it.
- Rick and Morty has one mode where various shots on the playfield represent positive and negative choices made throughout a (virtual) person's life. However, there's also a hidden Rick option that (in addition to giving more points) leads said person to make insane but impressive decisions (culminating in making himself immortal if said choice is made at the final juncture).
- Interstitial: Actual Play: When having to choose between wielding her Keyblade and steering the Bugatti in a fight against Heartless, Roxanne instead jumps out of the car and into the car-heartless to take control of it instead.
- In The Adventure Zone: Balance's climax, there are two options presented, both disastrous— Davenport's plan to run from the Hunger and leave the world and most of their friends to die, or Lucretia's plan to put up a barrier to cut off the world from all other planes, and, thus, the Hunger, which would almost definitely doom it as well. They take a third option, to lure the Hunger to a separate plane and cut that one off, trapping it there forever. This, happily, saves the world, as well as reality as a whole.
- The Magnus Archives: If you work for the Archives, you will probably die a gruesome death at some point. If you try to quit, the Eye will torture you by making you terribly ill until you return. Melanie finds a way out of this by blinding herself; the Ceaseless Watcher has no use for people who can't see.
- At Herb Abrams' UWF's last chance at a supercard, UWF Blackjack Brawl I, September 23, 1994, there was a Lumberjack Matchnote between Cactus Jack and Jimmy Snuka. According to Mick Foley's autobiography Have a Nice Day: A Tale of Blood and Sweatsocks, Herb didn't want him to lose "and there was no way I was going to let Jimmy lie down for me." So, they did exactly what Lumberjack Matches are designed to prevent: They fought to a double-countout. When the other wrestlers said they couldn't do that, Cactus replied, "Hey, it's Herb's show, we can do anything."
- Adventures in Odyssey has an episode where Connie becomes the valedictorian. One of the things she has to do on stage however is say a prayer. So the principal of the high school and her tutor let her write a prayer, only to find it makes references to Jesus which offends other members of the faculty. So the principal says she should pray the high school's "acceptable" prayer. He adds that if she doesn't pray the "acceptable" prayer he'll stop her during her prayer and get her in more trouble. However, her tutor says if she wants to say her own prayer, she (and some other faculty members) will support her. On the day itself Connie makes the decision to...not pray at all!
- Cue the Slow Doxology.
- A much earlier episode has the parents of Odyssey banning Halloween because it's a Pagan holiday. Two kids are skeptical and go to Whit for help. After confirming that the adults are correct, the kids briefly are torn between going along with the non-Christian crowd but disappointing their parents or missing out on the fun parts of Halloween but ultimately they get the idea to host a Bible character dress up party in celebration of All Saints' Day at Whit's End, which Whit personally caters meaning that the menu features items from Whit's End including ice cream.
- I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue: At one point, Humphrey reads out the response to the "Mornington Crescent Survey", gauging how viewers rated their Mornington Crescent experience, with the choices of "good", "supremely good", "excellent" or "merely well above average". Somehow, Mrs. Trellis of North Wales has sent in the response of "neither good nor bad", as well as "poor", "supremely poor", "buttock-clenchingly poor" and "words begin to escape quite how poor". Mainly because she's accidentally sent in a response to Virgin Rail's customer survey instead.
- Ruby Quest: Late in the game, the players come across Jay, who's trapped in the water filtration system by hooks stuck in his body. Weaver expected that they'd either leave him or Mercy Kill him, but the players chose to save him and take him with them when they exit the facility.
- A meta example in Warhammer Fantasy Divided Loyalties during the expedition to Karag Dum, after the characters discover the Chaos God Slaanesh is using the power of the leylines to keep Karak Vlag suspended in the Aether. The QM, Boney, presented vote options that would have either scuttled the Karag Dum Expedition and gather tons of experts to try and save Vlag, or to abandon Vlag to its fate and continue to Dum. The players voted instead to the next waystone upstream on the layline and turn it off, resulting in Karak Vlag popping out of the Aether in a few days rather than the months the first option would have required.
- In the Warhammer 40,000 verse, the Soul Drinkers Astartes Chapter are this. Instead of working with a corrupt Imperium or serving the forces of Chaos, Sarpedon leads his chapter to do the all but unheard of and form their own side under nobody but the Emperor Himself. And it is not easy.
- In Deadlands, Dr. Darius Hellstrome is pretty adept at taking the third option. During the Great Rail Wars, all the good rail routes got taken around the Rocky Mountains, meaning he'd either have to fight one of the other Rail Barons for territory, or commit financial suicide by trying to build track through the Rocky Mountains. Instead, he takes a third option by creating an invention that allows him to dig underneath the Rocky Mountains, which had the added benefit of hiding his progress from his competitors.
- He did it again in The Last Sons Plot Point Campaign where he exploited a loophole where the Sioux forbid any outsiders from laying track on their lands. After all, they didn't say anything about laying track under their lands. Surprisingly, nobody suspected that he'd take the same third option he previously took.
- Realizing that his life would eventually end in one way or another, Hellstrome could either plan to take all his work with him to the grave or find a successor. Instead, he created an automated process that could indefinitely preserve his mind in the event that he died, thus allowing him to live well into the Hell on Earth era two centuries later.
- Averted in the Deadlands: Hell on Earth adventure Unity (which also was the intro to Deadlands: Lost Colony). At the end of the scenario, a mad computer controlling the starship forces the characters to choose one of them to voluntarily sacrifice themsleves, or it will kill everyone on board the ship. The authors of the scenario went to great lengths to assure that there is no third option. The only way to save everyone on board is to do as it commands and have someone sacrifice themselves for The Needs of the Many.
- In the Battletech universe, Clan Nova Cat decided to fight on the side of the Second Star League, since to them the entire point of the Clan Invasion was to rebuild the Star League in the first place. This was generally seen as treasonous by the other Clans, which told them in something called a Trial of Abjuration to get out of Clan space or be destroyed. This left them with no particularly good options: they could either effectively refuse the Abjuration, which would get it upgraded to a Trial of Annihilation (which is exactly what it sounds like) or they could go to the Inner Sphere and conquer a new homeland, where they would get absolutely destroyed by the Second Star League they had just effectively joined. The Draconis Combine actually offered them a third option in taking over the Irece Prefecture (and thus becoming an effective buffer state against the Clans), but just accepting this would be against Clan honor and Clan Nova Cat would lose all of its face and suffer internal revolt. The Nova Cats came up with a fourth option by goading the Combine into a series of Trials of Absorption that the Nova Cats rigged to lose.
- Notable examples include having a wire-thin Aerospace Pilot phenotype arm-wrestling the biggest infantryman the Combine could find, calling "Edge!" on a coin flip, a soccer match the Nova Cats lost 4-3 after penalties, an "aerospace simulator duel" that was actually who could get the highest score on shoot-'em-up arcade game, and a "contest of stamina" that saw another small Clan aerospace pilot hospitalized with severe alcohol poisoning.
- How this rules-lawyering still managed to be honorable as far as the Clans were concerned can be explained by the explanation given by the Clanner who called the previous coin-flip. His reasoning is along the lines of: "What if it had landed on its edge? Think of the glory." Meaning the glory of a win against such odds.
- A much more serious example involved the Red Corsair incident—an attempt by Crusader elements of Clan Wolf and Clan Jade Falcon to break the Truce of Tukayyid. Conal Ward, the architect of the plan, points out to his political rival Khan Phelan Kell that even in defeat, he wins, as his trial will either make the Warden leaders of the Wolves look weak, pushing to replacing them with Crusaders, or it will make the Truce look like a paper treaty, too weak to hold the Clans at bay with anything other than honor. Having already committed a variety of treasons and deceits, Conal knows full well there are elements in both Clans that would take advantage of the Inner Sphere's demonstrated weakness, honorable or not. Upon hearing of these outcomes, Phelan's solution is to prevent the treason trial from happening. Phelan is Khan of Clan Wolf, and has executive judicial authority over members of their army...emphasis on 'execute,' as Phelan shoots Conal to end his scheming once and for all.
- Fate puts this in the game's mechanics in the Fate Horror Tookit. The GM has the option of giving the players a "Climactic Dilemma" where they have to choose between two unpalatable options to resolve the horror. If the group attempts a third option to avoid both bad choices, the difficulty is automatically raised by three to four points and failure brings much greater consequences than normal.
- One Pathfinder module has you breaking into a warehouse in Riddle Port in order to question the the guards. After accomplishing this and taking out all of the guards you can then loot the warehouse and find several potions and weapons. Far more than you could ever carry. Upon leaving the warehouse a group of thugs will threaten to kill you if you don't give them what you stole. You can either fight them off or hand over the goods and they will leave you alone. OR you can simply point out to them that they could just rob the currently unguarded warehouse which would take less effort while being more profitable. They're pretty stupid though so it is actually possible to fail the diplomacy check.
- This keeps happening to Wager Master in Sentinels of the Multiverse lore.
- His first appearance had him confront Tachyon with a conundrum: she had to deal with some bombs that would go off if she reduced speed. If she went fast enough to get to the bombs in time, she'd be going too fast to disarm them. So she dumped them all in Wager Master's lap and set them off.
- Simultaneously, the Wraith was trapped in an ever-shifting rat maze in pursuit of a cheeseball. By setting off her smoke bombs, she caught a really big cheeseball...Wager Master himself, who went into the maze to find where she went and ended up in a chokehold.
- A subsequent encounter had him trap multiple heroes in a deck of cards and challenge the Southwest Sentinels to free them. When the Sentinels proved less than gifted at dealing with Wager Master's usual nonsense, they opted to get the deck off him by challenging him to a game of poker and cleaning him out instead.
- Guise once bested him in a challenge to locate certain items by pulling junk out of his Bag of Holding that technically met the requirements by Exact Words logic: an outdated subway token for a "rune of transportation", for example.
- Magic: The Gathering: At the end of the War of the Spark lore arc, Ugin tells Jace that killing Nicol Bolas would be futile - in the MTG universe, having a contingency to bring you back from your own death is fairly simple for even moderately-powerful wizards. What Bolas doesn't have is a contingency for being incarcerated alive in a Prison Dimension for the rest of his days.
- Dragon #200 had a debate over who was Dungeons & Dragons' greatest wizard: Elminster (argued for by Ed Greenwood) or Raistlin (argued for by Tracy Hickman). At the end of the article, it was revealed that the fight was being set up by Mordenkainen.
- One of the scenarios in the original HeroQuest starts with the heroes being led into a room with three doors by a treacherous guide who flees under the cover of darkness. Each of the three doors leads into a room with nothing but monsters, not even secret doors. The right way out of is to search for a secret door within the first room rather than opening any of the doors.
- In the Avenue Q song "It Sucks To Be Me"
Kate: Whose life sucks more, Brian's or mine?
Rod and Nicky: OURS!
- The Merchant of Venice: Launcelot has to decide between continuing to work for Shylock, whom he sees as "the devil", or running away...which would be committing a sin, thereby putting him in the service of the real devil. He gets out of the dilemma when his father shows up and helps him to lawfully switch jobs.
- A Midsummer Night's Dream is an interesting example. Hermia has to decide between marrying Demetrius or being put to death, with the "third option" of becoming a nun. She takes a fourth option, running off with Lysander to get away from the laws of Athens.
- When the titular character in Giselle is forced to choose between dancing Albrecht to death or definitely dying by Myrtha the Queen of the Willis, her decision is... dancing slowly enough for Albrecht to keep up and reviving him when he's exhausted and near death. That way, Albrecht survives and Giselle manages to free herself from the willis, passing on in peace.
- In Hamilton, Alexander takes the third option when Burr refuses to promise to keep his silence about Alexander's affair with Maria Reynolds. Instead of letting Burr hold it over him or letting himself fall to the treason accusations, Alexander instead decides to publically announce the affair, thus allowing himself to explain himself on his own terms. It ... doesn't go well.
- In Anyone Can Whistle, Hapgood, tasked with separating the sane townspeople from the inmates of the local Cookie Jar who have mingled indistinguishably among them, first goes about assigning each of them to one of two groups, labeled "Group A" and "Group One," based on their responses to often abstruse and philosophical questions. When everyone, onstage and off, is thoroughly confused but still demanding to know which is which, Hapgood takes a moment and points at the group he knows to be insane: the audience. No, really.
- Romeo and Juliet: In Act 3, Scene 1, the Prince of Verona listens to the Montagues and the Capulets after Romeo fatally stabs Tybalt. Lady Capulet demands that Romeo be executed because he committed cold-blooded murder. Lord Montague professes that Romeo should not be punished because Tybalt previously killed Mercuito. The prince's third option is subjecting Romeo to exile from Verona with the threat of a death penalty if he comes back.
- Danganronpa: Trigger Happy Havoc: Sakura Ogami took one. It's eventually revealed at the end of case 4's trial that the reason Monokuma was able to persuade Sakura to be The Mole was because Monokuma was holding the Ogami dojo hostage. Sakura either had to kill someone and thus lose her moral integrity, which would emotionally destroy her (and cause her to be bloodily executed if she can't get away with it), or lose her family's beloved dojo, which is the other important thing in her life... And what does she do? She kills herself, which simultaneously satisfies the dojo-saving requirement of killing someone (Monokuma never specified that she had to kill someone else), preserves Sakura's moral integrity by not actually killing any of the others, and atones for her being The Mole.
- Danganronpa 2: Goodbye Despair: Option A: Everyone leaves the Neo World Program simulation, including the Junko AI, who will take over the bodies of the students whose virtual selves died while in the program. Option B: Stay in the simulation indefinitely, which will both bring back their friends and trap Junko inside. Then Naegi, Kirigiri, and Togami come through in the clutch and propose Option C: Force the simulation to shut down, which will prevent the Junko's escape but the surviving students will both lose all their memories of their time in the simulation and regain the memories the simulation took away from them, meaning they will revert back to their previous Ultimate Despair selves, while the dead students' real bodies will remain comatose. Fortunately, even after choosing Option C, it seems the surviving students managed to keep their new memories in addition to their old ones, and did not revert back to Ultimate Despair. Danganronpa 3 later revealed that Hajime managed to revive the comatose students as well.
- Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony: After learning that the killing game is actually a reality TV show based on the Danganronpa franchise, where the students who willingly signed up to take part were subject to Enforced Method Acting by having their minds wiped and implanted with the personalities and memories of fictional characters, Shuichi decides not to side with hope or despair, figuring that if either one wins, the fans watching will be happy with that ending and the show will continue for more seasons. Instead, he talks everyone into committing suicide by abstaining from voting (which is against the rules and punished with death), in order to piss the fans off with an unsatisfying ending and make them give up watching the show forever, causing it to be cancelled.
- In Daughter for Dessert, when Heidi tells the protagonist that he has to choose between Kathy and herself, he can say he’s choosing someone completely different instead.
- The gameplay of Doki Doki Literature Club! doesn't usually allow this, but one scene has Yuri and Natsuki arguing over who's writing style is better, eventually asking the protagonist to settle the issue. The player can choose to side with one girl or the other, or they can ask Sayori for help.
- Subverted when the protagonist of Double Homework has to make a final decision on whether to choose Johanna and Tamara, or another girl in his former summer school class. He can ask the other girl to share him with Johanna and Tamara, but she ends up getting grossed out and breaking up with him instead, leaving him in his sisters’ arms.
- In Fate/stay night:
- After Saber nearly wipes her magical energy empty with the Excalibur, Shirou is initially faced with two options as to how to restore her energy: 1. transfer his energy to her, which is out of the question due to his poor magic skill. 2. Have her kill humans and steal their energy, which he doesn't want to do for obvious reasons. Later, however, Rin reveals that there is a third option: have sex with Saber. Too weak as a magus to transfer magic, and too moral to slaughter the lives of innocents, Shirou takes option three.
- Parodied in the fake 'dead-end', on Fate route, where Shirou tells Saber they will fast. Tiger and Illya turn him into a cyborg with gatling guns, and offer him a chance to 'join the Tigers willingly, or be brainwashed and turn into a machine.' His response? Turn on the gatling guns.
- Juniper's Knot: The demon girl is trapped within a magic circle. At least one life form must be inside the circle at all times, so someone has to take her place in order for her to escape from her prison. The boy has to either exchange places with her or leave her to her fate. He chooses to instead plant a tree within the circle, thereby substituting the life of the tree for hers. It works.
- To get to the secret Music Test in Radical Dreamers you have to choose an invisible third option at one point in the game.
- Taking one of these forms the crux of the True Ending of Steins;Gate. Okabe is faced with two equally awful timelines: the Alpha timeline, where Mayuri dies and SERN completes their time machine and turns the world into a dystopia, or the Beta timeline, where Kurisu is stabbed to death and her father plagiarizes her paper on time travel, sparking World War III. Obviously, Okabe doesn't want either of these timelines to come to pass. However, none other than his future self, driven by his failure to change the Beta timeline, provides the third option: the Steins;Gate timeline, where Okabe Tricked Out Time to save Kurisu and the time travel paper burns in a plane fire.
- In Zero Time Dilemma, Q ends up in a Mexican Stand Off with his two teammates and is forced to make a decision. Option A: Shoot Mira. Eric jumps in the way and sacrifices himself to save Mira, who murders Q for destroying Eric's heart and escapes alone. Option B: Shoot Eric. Mira rips out his heart and exposits on her backstory, then escapes with Q. Or, Option C: Put down your crossbow. Eric shoots Q and escapes with Mira, only for her to murder him a few days later. Or, Option D: Shoot Delta, who you the player should not know is there at the time. This leads to the other members of Q-Team staring dumbfounded at Q and Eric referring to him as Sean.
- Toho Kingdom Toons has one in one of their earlier cartoons, where Gabara offers Little Godzilla a potion that could kill him. You have the option of saying "YES" OR "NO", but regardless of which choice you pick you ultimately get the 3rd option of "He should resist this peddler of peculiar potions @ all costs!"
- DarkMatter2525: Discussed in Worse than the Wolf in relation to the "choice" between Heaven and Hell, which in this context is simply a glorified Morton's Fork.
The fish would be better off if never caught. The wheat would be better off if never harvested. And the sheep would be better off to escape from the Sheperd and take their chances with the wolf.
- Dreamscape: The flashback in "A Curse or a Blessing" reveals that Pita was actually a curse Melinda placed on Dylan in the past that would take on the form of a creature to try and kill him. Even if it is killed, it comes back as a stronger form the next day based on how Dylan feels before he falls asleep. After some close-calls with more of the curse's forms, Dylan decides if he can't beat the curse, then reasoning with it is the next best thing. Thus he thinks about it taking a form with enough sapience that he can convince it to pull a Heel–Face Turn, and it works. Present-day Melinda even notes that she never figured someone would discover that loophole.
- RWBY: Volume 8 has a trifecta of Third Options. Ironwood has turned against the heroes for refusing to sacrifice Mantle for Atlas's salvation, to the point of shooting down civilian ships evacuating Mantle citizens and threatening to blow up Mantle if Penny doesn't surrender herself to him so he can access the Staff of Creation. Meanwhile, Penny is afflicted with a virus that will force her to open the Vault and then self-destruct, prompting her to ask Ruby to kill her so that she can avoid this and pass the Maiden powers onto Ruby. Their third options? Use the recently-defected Emerald's illusion powers to deceive and disable Ironwood, allow Penny to open the Vault so they can use the Staff of Creation to create a new robot body to transfer Penny's infected components to, and then use the Staff of Creation to create a portal network to evacuate the citizens of both Atlas and Mantle from the doomed cities.
- Homestar Runner:
- The House That Gave Sucky Treats:
- You're given a fourth option variant for the Poopsmith and Pom Pom. Your normal choices are Mary Janes, a Chick-O-Stick and an Astropop. There is also a pumpkin on the doorstep which can be clicked. Giving that to the Poopsmith and Pom Pom unlocks Homsar.
- Every character is introduced via knocking or the doorbell ringing. Strong Bad does neither; he shouts "Open the freakin' door!"
- 3 Times Halloween Funjob revisits giving three possible treats for one scene. You can give Swedish Fish, Delicious "Bag" or Zagnut to Coach Z and Bubs. You could also give them neither, and they will leave. Stinkoman will then show up at your doorstep.
- The House That Gave Sucky Treats:
- Fatebane frequently chooses a bizarre out-of-box-thinking way of getting out of seemingly impossible situations in Associated Space, to the extent that his companion lampshades this tendency:
"What?" David looked doubtful. "There's a third option? Crazy and daring?"
- On the LiveJournal community Anthropomorphs Deserve Love Too!, Alienware does this to the Linux system.
- Uncyclopedia insists that in a dilemma of two options, there is always a third option... cake.
Always delicious. Never complicated. Just cake.
- In SF Debris:
- In the review of The Matrix, during the Red Pill/Blue Pill scene:
Neo: Do you have a green pill?
Morpheus: No. You must choose: Blue or red.
Morpheus: Let me explain the pills again.
Morpheus: Listen, you take-
Neo: Can I take both?
Neo: Uh... orange then,
Morpheus: Here's the orange one.
Neo: That looks red.
Morpheus: Uh, that's the Matrix trying to trick you, now swallow the damn thing!
- In a review of Star Trek: Voyager Neelix offers the advice that when facing a crossroads, sometimes you should take the third path. Chuck points out that following this metaphor, the third path would be back the way you came.
- In the review of The Matrix, during the Red Pill/Blue Pill scene:
- A Giant Sucking Sound: The premise of the story is Ross Perot winning the 1992 election. Unfortunately, he has trouble getting much of his agenda through Congress, so he forms the populist Freedom Party, made mostly of moderate Republicans, conservative Democrats, mavericks, political fringes, and forever dismantles the two party system.
- Accomplished by Jesse Cox of OMFGcata during a Let's Play of the DLC of Deus Ex: Human Revolution. Rather than give in to a Sadistic Choice of rescuing a crucial witness or several innocents, he successfully reasons out where the poison gas threatening them is and destroys it instead.
- The Nostalgia Critic:
- Played for Black Comedy by the Critic. When Spoony gives him the choice of watching the Reb Brown Captain America (1979) or blackmail pictures of roofie-induced crossdressing being posted everywhere, he decides to hang himself instead.
- Invoked again when Critic and Hyper Fangirl have a tie in their Old Vs. New debate on Disney's classic animated Cinderella vs. the 2015 live-action remake. When they ask Devil Boner and Benny the Assassin to break the tie as to which Cinderella movie is best, they both give the same answer: Ever After.
- In The Annoying Orange parody of The Matrix, there's a third green pill. It tastes like boogers, so he doesn't take it.
- In ScrewAttack's Top Ten List for greatest Space Marine, Stuttering Craig and Nick argue whether the #1 spot should belong to Luke Skywalker of Star Wars or Christopher Blair from Wing Commander. After arguing for a bit, they agree on Mark Hamill. (Mark played both roles.)
- In Paint's video "Hillary Clinton vs Donald Trump (feat. Ken Bone)", Ken Bone ends the video shocked by both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, and votes Third Party (and Gary Johnson appears, asking what Aleppo is).
- In Noob, Gaea ended up taking an option that turned out to be just as bad, if not worse than the other offered to her: pay her new guild's debts out of her own pocket despite being The Scrooge as Guild Master responsibility, have her incompetent guildmates come up with the money or be thrown in jail. She choose leaving the guild so she's no longer Guild Master, only to have her debtor basically reply "You know this keeps you from joining any of our faction's guilds until you pay up, right ?".
- Matthew Santoro:
- Discussed in Star Wars in 3-D!!!. Matt mentions iTunes as a third option to Blockbuster and Netflix.
- In Psychic Octopus & Oil Spills, Matt takes a third option between calling the octopus an octopus and calling the octopus an octopi:
Matt: This octopus — is it "octopus", or "octopi"? [Beat] This octo is named Paul, and he was born in England, but he lives in Germany.
- Video game reviewer Caddicarus has a system where he "slaughters" a bad game by shooting it, or "salvages" it by beaming it up with a transporter. In his review of Destruction Derby 2, he declares that the game isn't quite bad enough to slaughter since he got some enjoyment out of it, but not quite good enough to salvage. He instead opts to "slauvage" it by beaming it up halfway, then shooting it. A few games since have gotten the "slauvage" too.
- In JourneyQuest, Sir Glorian does this all the time. In the Temple of All Dooms (technically the Temple of Some Dooms, or as the Orcs call it, the Temple of Select Dooms), there's the classic puzzle with two gargoyles guard two doors. One can only speak the truth, the other can only lie. One of the doors is the correct way, the other leads to certain death. The normal solution to this dilemma is to ask the right questions and think before making a decision... Unless you're an Obliviously Evil Blood Knight with a love for fighting, in which case the solution is to kill one of the gargoyles, throw the other down one of the halls and if he survives, that must be the right way.
- A skit for MTV's website had Anthony Mackie and Paul Bettany both trying to convince Josh Horowitz to buy an action figure of the respective Avenger they portray in the movies (The Falcon for Mackie and The Vision for Bettany) for his nephew. After several minutes of both actors arguing and taking shots at each other's careers, Josh buys an Iron Man figure instead. This causes Mackie and Bettany to angrily yell "Downey!" in unison.
- In this instructional video on orbital mechanics, the creator faces a dilemma: Give distances in kilometers and alienate his American viewers, or give distances in miles and be a scientific Neanderthal. His solution? Give the distances in furlongs, thereby confusing everyone.