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You've never even heard of the first place guy.
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When the person who comes second or worse in a Reality Show gets more out of it than the winner, be it in post-show popularity, sales, endorsement cash, or simply not looking like as much of a jackass on national television.

For the talent-based shows, the reason can be described easily. When you win, you're hot, and the producers of the show want to capitalize on that. This leads to getting pushed too fast and too hard. With singers, it might involve churning out a sub-par album to capitalize on their star power. Hype Backlash sets in, and people tend to get a little sick of them. But for the contestants who finish lower in the ranks, they still have all the recognition—all of the same people watched the show, after all—but they're allowed to work at their own pace with far more creative control, and develop a high-quality body of work that people are more likely to enjoy.

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Also note that, almost by definition, many more people don't win than do (for every winner, there are multiple runners-up from the top Ten or Twelve contestants.) So even if any given winner is more likely to hit it big than any given runner-up, you still might see more runners-up who become stars than winners. Another reason is that the runner-ups simply decided that they weren't up to par in that field (they did lose, after all), but also discovered they had talent in a different field during their time on the show (acting is the most common such talents) and successfully pursued a career in that without attaining the trappings of the original competition's winner.

Also note that not all contests which are interesting for the public to watch are necessarily very good at discovering talent. They usually take place in highly isolated and contrived environments, which do not necessarily reflect the working environment of the industry the show is based on. They are also intended primarily as entertainment, meaning that the judges very likely take into account how a contestant appeals to the show's target audience. Often, the audience wants to see a quirky or avant-garde contestant win because they are passionate about the artistic pursuit in question. That tends to mean that they are jaded, and interested in innovation above all else. However, that person is unlikely to have much success in the industry because most industries are conservative by nature. They want to sell products, not win prizes. The runner-up who lost points for being "too conventional", is likely to do better when they get into the real world because they have a product the industry can actually sell to people who don't spend every waking moment thinking about that artistic pursuit.

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This trope is also common in awards shows such as the Oscars or the Grammys, where the winners can vanish almost as soon as they win, and then be completely overshadowed by at least one of the competitors they beat in a given category (the "Best New Artist" field is quite notorious for this).

Compare Second Place Is for Winners, Award Snub. Contrast Dark Horse Victory, which is often a cause of this trope.


Examples:

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    Anime and Manga 
  • Subverted in Great Teacher Onizuka. Tomoko was the true winner in the contest held in the anime, but only lost because all the postcards that were sent to vote for her had her name covered up. In the manga, it's played straight. She didn't win, but most of the attention was on her after her amazing acting and improv, more so than the actual winner.

    Film 
  • At the 1965 Academy Awards, the winner for Best Live-Action Short Subject was Claude Berri's Le Poulet, a 15-minute Deliberately Monochrome short about a family who buys a chicken. While it's a cute movie and there is a decent punchline in there, it's not exactly memorable, and Le Poulet faded into obscurity. One of the losers? Oh, only a cute little Jim Henson movie called Time Piece...
  • This is an in-universe plot point of Rocky II; Apollo Creed won the fight between him and Rocky in the first movie, but hates the fact that everyone can't stop talking about how impressive it was that Rocky nevertheless went the distance against him. He decides that the only way to restore his reputation is to provoke Rocky into a rematch so he can decisively beat him and prove it was a fluke.
  • The biggest new opening of the February 19-21, 1999 box office was October Sky, a film about the space race. Another, much more iconic film with the same initials was the week's second biggest new film — OfficeSpace.
  • Disney had absolutely no faith in The Lion King, getting lower-level animators to work on it while the more accomplished ones worked on Pocahontas. While the latter film is still popular today, it is one of the more divisive films in the Disney catalog, being criticized for historical inaccuracies at best and being considered the ending of their stellar period in the 90s at worst, along with receiving a "rotten" score on Rotten Tomatoes. The former, however, was the highest-grossing film of 1994 and sold over 32 million VHS tapes in North America alone (and 23 million internationally) in addition to billions of dollars of merchandise in 1994 alone, a Broadway musical that has been active since 1997, two TV series, and a remake that grossed over a billion dollars.
  • The Academy Award for Best Picture has had a few missteps over the years:
    • The 1941 Best Picture award went to a film known as How Green Was My Valley. It would have been forgotten outside of hardcore cinephile circles had it not been for the fact it had won the award instead of Citizen Kane, the perennial choice for the "greatest film of all time."
    • The 1956 Best Picture award went to Around the World in 80 Days (1956). Today, few people wouldn't say Cecil B. DeMille's masterpiece The Ten Commandments (1956) should have won the award instead, while Around the World in 80 Days is mostly remembered either for it's title sequence by Saul Bass or for being one of the few English-language films done by legendary Mexican comedic actor Cantinflas.
    • Annie Hall won in 1977. While it's critically-acclaimed, was a huge commercial success at the time of it's release and proved to be influential for writers of comedy films and TV shows, it doesn't hold a candle to A New Hope, the film that kickstarted the Star Wars franchise, in terms of notoriety amongst the general public.
    • Kramer vs. Kramer won in 1979. While it was the highest-grossing film of 1979 in the United States and Canada and still maintains a cult following, it isn't as well-known today compared to Apocalypse Now, widely considered one of the greatest films ever made and with a coveted spot in the United States National Film Registry to boot.
    • Ordinary People, which won in 1980, remains a controversial pick to this day because it beat out Martin Scorsese's legendary Raging Bull.
    • Chariots of Fire in 1981 and Gandhi in 1982. While both are cult classics to this day, they don't hold a candle to Raiders of the Lost Ark or E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial in terms of overall fame.
    • 1991 winner Dances with Wolves, while a critical and commercial success at the time, isn't as well-known or well-regarded today as Goodfellas, widely considered to be Martin Scorsese's magnum opus.
    • The English Patient, which won in 1997, was a critical and commercial success at the time of it's win, but is a common target of mockery now. Two of the nominees were Fargo and Jerry Maguire, which are much better remembered — with Fargo in particular widely seen as the more deserving Best Picture winner today.
    • The 1998 Best Picture award is one of the more infamous examples - the award went to the comedy-drama Shakespeare in Love instead of the heavily-favored Saving Private Ryan. The latter is far better remembered today.
    • Crash beating Brokeback Mountain in 2005. The latter was heavily favored to win that year, and is much better remembered today.
    • In an example that covers multiple nominations, the 2008 Best Picture nominees (Slumdog Millionaire, The Reader, Frost/Nixon, Milk, and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) were all well-received in their day, but have largely fallen out of public memory due to other movies released that year, such as The Dark Knight, WALL•E, In Bruges, and Tropic Thunder, all of which have endured better and are more well-remembered than the Best Picture nominees of that year.
  • This is also true of the Academy Award for Best Original Song, which has also had a few missteps over the years:
    • 1937: You'll probably never hear the winning song "Sweet Leilani" (with its steel guitars) except on a Bing Crosby compilation album. Not only did Crosby's recording of the song have considerable Popularity Power going for it, the Academy was also probably shy of handing the award to "They Can't Take That Away From Me" because five of the nominations and two of the wins in the three previous years of the category's existence had gone to songs introduced by Fred Astaire in RKO Radio Pictures.
    • In 1979, "The Rainbow Connection" from The Muppet Movie lost to "It Goes Like It Goes" from Norma Rae. While Norma Rae is remembered enough to have been selected to be preserved in the National Film Registry in 2011, "It Goes Like It Goes" is barely remembered these days, while "Rainbow Connection" has become a modern standard, covered by everyone from the Carpenters to Johnny Mathis to Sarah McLachlan, and an anthem for both the Muppets franchise and its fanbase.
    • In 1984, the award went to Stevie Wonder's "I Just Called to Say I Love You" from The Woman in Red. While it's Wonder's most commercially successful single, it doesn't hold a candle to Kenny Loggins' "Footloose" and Deniece Williams' "Let's Hear It for the Boy" from Footloose or the title song of Ghostbusters in terms of overall fame.
    • Lionel Richie's "Say You, Say Me" from White Nights won the award in 1985, beating out Huey Lewis and the News' "The Power of Love" from Back to the Future, which is one of the most iconic 80s songs to this day and is certainly better remembered than "Say You, Say Me".
    • The 1999 award was won by Phil Collins' "You'll Be in My Heart" from Tarzan. Today, while the song is still modestly successful, it isn't quite as well liked as "Blame Canada" from South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut, "When She Loved Me" from Toy Story 2, or "Save Me" from Magnolia.
    • In 2014, the award was won by "Glory" from Selma, which, despite giving John Legend the coveted EGOT status, was eclipsed in mainstream recognition by "Everything is Awesome" from The LEGO Movie almost immediately.
  • At the 1988 Sundance Film Festival, the Grand Jury Prize Dramatic went to Heat and Sunlight, a Deliberately Monochrome film about a photojournalist who had worked in Biafra trying to patch up his relationship with his lover. It's not exactly memorable and has faded into obscurity. Among the films that it won against were Hairspray and The Brave Little Toaster, both of which earned cult followings and are much better known today. Toaster also received the Special Jury Recognition prize that year. According to Toaster's director Jerry Rees, the judges told him that they gave the award to Heat and Sunlight in part because, while they considered Toaster the best film, they were worried people would not take the festival seriously anymore if they gave out the award to an animated film.
  • Venom (2018) and A Star Is Born (2018) opened on the same weekend in October 2018, and Venom easily topped the North American box office with an $80 million opening, while A Star Is Born opened with $43 million (an impressive figure for a musical). In the long run though, A Star Is Born managed to gross more-$215 million compared to Venom's $213 million.

    Literature 
  • A fictional example in Discworld's Witch Trials. Since witches are almost all terrible losers, the winner can look forward to being vaguely resented for the rest of the year (which is fine because it's always Granny Weatherwax and she doesn't care). Nanny Ogg, as runner-up, gets told it was a good try, and she did really well, and would she like a drink? In "The Sea and Little Fishes", she's very afraid that without Granny entering, and no-one else having their head in the game, she might actually win.
    "She only just lost" was a much better compliment than "she only just won".

    Live-Action Television 
  • Gareth Gates from Pop Idol, at least to begin with. Not so much several years down the line when Will Young was still fairly successfully releasing material and Gareth was finishing fourth in Dancing On Ice.
  • American Idol
    • A lot of people actually forget that Clay Aiken was the runner-up on the second season, losing to Ruben Studdard. While both men went on to get number-one albums in the USA, Aiken has five more top-ten albums while Studdard didn't reach the top-ten ever again. If nothing else, Aiken is much more well-known that Studdard, since Aiken has appeared on multiple other TV shows like Celebrity Apprentice.
    • Fantasia Barrino of Season 3 ended up a Two-Hit Wonder – and her career is a blip on the radar compared to that of Oscar-winning, Super-Bowl-anthem-singing Jennifer Hudson, who finished seventh.
    • Season Five champion Taylor Hicks, while making big bucks in Las Vegas, has been outdone, mainstream success-wise, by fourth-placer Chris Daughtry as the frontman for the band Daughtry, who currently sits behind winners Kelly Clarkson and Carrie Underwood as the third-highest-selling Idol contestant. And again - fourth place, meaning that the collective American consciousness felt there were three better contestants than him.
      • Katharine McPhee also became more famous than him, even if she did so as an actress.
    • Adam Lambert, who finished second to Kris Allen, ended up getting a gold certified album while Kris ended up being the first American Idol winner to fail to get the same achievement. Lambert has continued to have a high profile since, while Allen has largely faded from the public eye.
    • Casey James is the most successful singer from Season 9, having a few songs on the country chart, but the most successful of the finalists is Katie Stevens, who finished 8th place, but emerged five years later as one of the stars of Faking It. Chances are no one remembers any of the other Top 24 contestants, including Casey.
      • The only other contestants from the season who get any attention are Todrick Hall, who didn't make the Top 12, but became a successful YouTube celebrity by appealing to the LGBT community, and Tori Kelly, who didn't even make it past Hollywood Week, but emerged in 2015 with the album "Unbreakable Smile", which led to her getting a supporting role in the film Sing a year later.
      • While he may not have been successful in the US, semi-finalist John Park also had a moderate career as a K-Pop star.
    • MacKenzie Bourg, who finished fourth on Season 15, may be on his way to becoming another example of this, which could be owed to both his surprising diligence and the efforts of his fiercely loyal fanbase that's been with him since his stint on Season 3 of The Voice. A mere two days after his elimination, MacKenzie went on to record his widely-praised original song "Roses", releasing it the night before the finale, which led to it skyrocketing up the iTunes charts in less than a day. Overall it sold 22,000 copies, enough for it to debut at #4 on the Rock Digital Songs chart, the best position for an Idol alum since Phillip Phillips' coronation single "Home".
  • Runners up in Australian Idol tend to go on to have a better career than the actual winner.
    • The initial success of Shannon Noll and Damien Leith compared to that of Guy Sebastian and Jessica Mauboy (both of whom represented Australia in the Eurovision Song Contest) led to the belief that winning Australian Idol was always a less desirable outcome than being runner up. Sebastian was hard to market because of his overt Christianity, while songwriters found it hard to find a niche for Mauboy, who was a country singer in her early teens, but didn't want to take that up again. However, those two winners went on to outsell their runners up, Sebastian becoming the most successful ''Australian Idol singer" and break records that don't include the "Idol singer" qualification.
    • Season 1 finalist Courtney Act moved to Los Angeles after the competition and became internationally famous as a Drag Queen, competing on the sixth season of RuPaul's Drag Race where they became a finalist and remain a fan-favorite to this day.
  • Colby Donaldson was the runner-up of Survivor: The Australian Outback came close. The winner, Tina Wesson, won $1,000,000. Colby won $100,000 and two cars, and also went on to a modest acting career (including razor ads, which was sad because he was gorgeous with stubble.) He also was asked back for the All-Stars and Heroes vs Villains seasons and was a finalist for All-Stars' "favorite survivor" poll, which would have earned him a million.
    • As of Jun 2010, he is the host of Top Shot, a competitive reality show on the History channel that features marksmen and shooting challenges.
    • Elizabeth Filarski (now Hasselbeck) came in fourth place on Outback, and went on to become a successful television presenter. She left a 10-year gig as co-host of the popular women's talk show The View to join Fox News Channel.note 
    • Rupert Boneham of Survivor: Pearl Islands, who, though only placing 8th in that season, then 4th in All-Stars, won the Favorite Survivor poll and the prize of a million dollars... in other words, the only person to win a million without even placing in the top three!
      • Compare: The first winner of Survivor: Richard Hatch who failed to pay taxes on his winnings and ended up in big trouble. (According to The Other Wiki, he served a 51 month sentence, which prevented him from competing in Survivor: Heroes vs. Villains).
    • "Boston" Rob Mariano from Survivor: Marquesas came back for All-Stars, but didn't get the million dollars... he got the million-dollar winner, marrying Amber Brkich (in addition to his own second-place winnings). The two then took the opportunities their Super Couple status offered them, including two stints on The Amazing Race, and Rob would make more repeat appearances on Survivor, ultimately winning the Redemption Island season.
      • Redemption Island itself produced another example in seventh-place finisher Matt Elrod, now better known by his stage name Wyatt Nash. He has had steady work as an actor, including recurring roles on Riverdale and Dear White People.
    • Quite a few people have a hard time remembering that Russell Hantz was the runner-up in Survivor: Samoa due to how astronomically well-known he is (not necessarily well-liked, but well-known). It doesn't help that he played the Heroes Vs Villains season while under the impression that he did win (as it was filmed before Samoa aired, and therefore before Samoa's live finale - he knew he made it to the finals, but it never occurred to him that he might have lost).
    • Aubry and Tai were the runner-ups of Kaoh Rong, but they are more well-known than the actual winner of the season, Michele (who was criticized for not being a very strategic winner). In fact, they both return for Game Changers where they went on to the last two jury members of that season.
  • Jade Goody of the UK version of Big Brother. In fact she only came fourth!
    • On the 2006 Celebrity Big Brother it was widely predicted that winner Chantelle Houghton (who in fact wasn't a celebrity at all, but an average 20-something planted by the producers) would enjoy her five minutes of fame and then disappear, while runner-up Michael Barrymore's career would recover from several years of scandal. Ultimately it was inverted, as Houghton did fairly well for herself afterwards, whereas Barrymore's career promptly died again, apparently for good.
  • Liberty X were the runners up on the UK version of Popstars and did much better than the actual winners - Hear'say. Although Hear'say's Myleene Klass went on to have a better solo career than either, and Kym Marsh has built herself a steady acting career on Coronation Street.
  • America's Next Top Model: Some blogs sound surprised when they talk about past winners actually getting modelling work, even though every contestant leaves the show with some extra experience of an industry they want to work in and a portfolio of pictures. The problem is that Tyra, despite her good intentions (or desire for good television), has a tendency to pick girls who will never get work in the real modeling world for one superficial reason or another: too "old" for being over 22, too "fat" for being over 115 pounds, too "short" for being under 5'7, etc. It wouldn't be surprising at all if none of the girls from Cycle 13 (where the gimmick was that all of them were under 5'7" tall) got work after the show wrapped for the season. Because of this, agencies are hesitant or outright refuse to hire past contestants. Even the girls who are conventionally modelesque have a hard time because agencies just don't like being told who the "next big thing" is. Those who do find work tend to change their names to avoid the stigma.
    • Elyse Sewell from Cycle 1, who has been very successful in Asia, is considered the most successful contestant to date, even though she came in 3rd.
    • Lio Tipton, who placed third on its eleventh cycle, has easily outshone the two contestants who finished above them.
    • Second place winner of cycle three Yaya DaCosta ended up with greater success than her cycle's winner. Also runners up Ann Markley and Toccara Jones were able to make names for themselves in modeling and television.
  • These days Search for a Star (1964) is only remembered because the runner-up was Wendy Padbury, who went on to play Zoë in Doctor Who.
  • Venezuelan TV fame-seeking reality Fama y Aplausos, provided us Hany Kauam and Mayré Martínez, two singers who were eliminated before the finale. About two years later, and nearly at the same time, Kawam released a pop album that went Gold, and Mayré become one of the favorites contestants in Latin American Idol, causing several journalist to say "those judges from Fama y Aplausos must be kicking themselves now". Then Mayré went to prove this trope right by winning LAI, and having her career stalled since then.
  • Finnish Idols has this too. First year, runner up Antti Tuisku became the iconic Idols star, third season, though the winner got a decent amount of fame, the runner-up Anna Abreu is generally the bigger star. This is also predicted to happen with the 2008 season, with Pete Parkkonen who came in third.
    • ALMA came 5th in season 7 (2013), and, from 2017, has became one of the most prominent singer-songwriters. Whilst she has only 1 UK top 20 song, she now writes songs for Miley Cyrus including her collaboration with Ariana Grande and Lana Del Rey called "Dont Call me Angel", produced by Max Martin.
  • Similarly, on the French Popstars, Chimene Badi ended up doing much better than the winners (a group of four).
  • Spain's Operación Triunfo.
    • In the first edition. The winner was Rosa López, who went to Eurovision Song Contest and is still active in the industry. But runners ups Chenoa and David Bisbal are way more successful than her, and are the only ones known at the other side of the pond. Just to compare, Rosa had two number one albums right after she won Operación Triunfo, while Bisbal has had eight number one albums in the span of two decades.
    • Similarly in the tenth edition, runner-up Aitana has fourt times more follower than the winner Amaia in social networks, and has released much more music and topped the charts way more often.
  • A similar situation happened in the first edition of its Mexican simile La Academia, where Yahir became the most successful singer despite ending up in fourth place. And in the fourth season, the winner Erasmo had his career after the series, but the runner up Yuridia managed to build a solid career.
  • Star Search has this reputation. The list of winners is no comparison to the list of those who DIDN'T end up winning at the end of the season: Aaliyah, Christina Aguilera, Drew Carey, Dave Chappelle, Destiny's Child, Alanis Morissette, Kevin James, Dennis Miller, Rosie O' Donnell, LeAnn Rimes, Jessica Simpson, Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake, and so on. This one, at least, is easy to understand. Star Search, for some completely inexplicable reason, uses a single elimination format, meaning that aside from skewed voting blocks and unpredictable judges, an unlucky seeding can knock out a strong contender early, especially comedians who tend to use their strongest material early on, leaving less for later rounds.
    • In one of his shows, Dave Chappelle talks on how it started his career, but each time he scored lower and lower until he eventually dropped out:
    "I got four stars on my first time out. Three and three quarter stars on my second time out. Three and a half stars my third time out. And I think that's when I got beaten. You know who beat me?"
    *Beat*
    • In a wonderful case of sweet revenge, Drew Carey ended up appearing on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson and, in only his first appearance, was given the rare honor of being invited to sit next to Johnny and have a chat with him after his set. During an interview for a PBS special about Carson, Drew said THAT moment was the moment where he knew he'd made it.
    • 1985 Jr. Female Vocalist runner-up Tiffany Renee dropped the "Renee" and became the first SS alum to land a #1 hit. Meanwhile, the girl who defeated her, Melissa Moultrie, had an appearance on The Twilight Zone (1985)... and that's pretty much it.
  • Eurovision Song Contest:
    • Gali Atari & Milk and Honey won in 1979, but outside of Israel and the Jewish community, where "Hallelujah"'s still really well-known, very few people know or remember who they are. One of the losers, however? Dschinghis Khan. Enough said, really.
    • It's not the only example from the Song Contest - Mocedades' "Eres Tu" from 1973 and Cliff Richards' "Congratulations" from 1968 both finished second, yet became far more massive hits than the winners. Julio Iglesias was also a runner up who became more successful than the winner. Olivia Newton John would have been viewed the same way if ABBA was not the act that beat her — she probably would count against any other winner other than Celine Dion (1988).
      • "Volare" (as "Nel blu dipinto di blu") finished third in 1958, yet went to #1 on Billboard; in 1959 it won two Grammys, for Record of the Year and Song of the Year - the only non-English song to achieve this honor (not to mention the only Eurovision song to date that has won a Grammy). It was also covered by far too many artists to mention, typically in translation. Interestingly, the most famous cover (Dean Martin's) was only partly translated, with about half the lyrics largely left in Modugno's original Italian—Dino wanted to assert pride in his Italian heritage at a time when Italian Americans were often looked down on.
      • "Eres Tu" was another rare Eurovision single that was successful in North America; it was on the Billboard Top 40 for a spell in 1973.
      • Gina G's "Ooh Aah...Just A Little Bit" finished in eighth place for the United Kingdom in the 1996 contest, but shortly thereafter became the biggest international hit of any of that year's entries. It was particularly successful in the United States, where it made the Top 20 on the Hot 100 and was nominated for a Grammy.
      • Ukraine's "Dancing Lasha Tumbai", the runner up song in 2007, outsold Serbia's winning song, "Molitva". By almost double. In the long-term, Serbia's entrant Marija Šerifović was more successful, but Russia's Serebro (3rd) had the most successful act that year. In the longer term, Verka appeared on the movie Spy, and returned to ESC in 2016 (as Ukraine's vote reader), 2017 (when Ukraine hosted, as entertainment in all 3 shows) and in 2019 (as part of a unique supergroup with reigning runner up Eleni Foureira - one of the most popular runners up ever, although in a year with a more successful winner relative to some other recent ones - which went TikTok viral, and was probably more successful in America - and with 10 years of experience behind her compared to her conqueror being a complete debutant - and two former winners, singing each other's songs, plus that of the latest winner Netta, before being joined by the earlier-mentioned Atari to replace Milk and Honey for a new version of Hallelujah) and elicited widespread acclaim (though it is worth noticing that Seferovic was part of a supergroup with the 4 subsequent winners (and 4 more recent at the time) in heat 2 in 2012, which was similar, but wasn't as popular).
    • In 2009, winner Alexander Rybak was successful enough to have his own movie, yet wasn't as popular in the long term as Azerbaijan's entrant Arash (3rd), who has collaborated with Sean Paul, or Turkish entrant Hadise (4th), who has judged X Factor and The Voice in both Turkey and her native Belgium.
      • He returned for Norway in 2018 with "That's How you write a song" and was selected again by a landslide, but had to settle for mid-table, never looking like out-competing Israel, Cyprus, Austria, Sweden or Germany, in either front (15th with Jury, 12th with public), despite having actually won his surprisingly weak heat from opening slot, a feat not achieved since 1984.
    • Subverted in 2011 - that year's winning song, "Running Scared" for Azerbaijan, wasn't too successful, yet triumphed among an unusually strong competition. If the song's composer Iain James had not worked on Emeli Sande and Little Mix's biggest songs soon afterwards, Ell and Nikki would have been completely forgotten outside the Middle East- although this is partially because Azerbaijan was found trying to use bribery for votes for the next two years, and hence haven’t fought for the title since, and hence sent chirpier, more upbeat entries, though less competitive, than in their dominant era, with just 1 in the top 10 out of 7, and even a failure to qualify.
    • In 2010, the Moldovan entry placed 22nd, yet is better known to many than the actual winner, almost solely because of the Epic Sax Guy. However, it was winner Lena from Germany who fared best in the long term. In 2017, the Sax man returned and came far closer to the title, 3rd clearly way beyond Moldova's expectations, which were just to return to the final for the first time in 4, having never placed above 10th since their debut in 2005.
    • 2013 had a bit of a zig-zagging in Italian singer Marco Mengoni. He placed 7th in the contest proper, yet won that year's Sanremo festival (and got to Malmo from there), broke sales records back in Italy, and had won the Italian X Factor before then. Mengoni also won an MTV EMA at the end of 2013.
      • In 2018, Israel won with an entry selected by virtue of its singer winning Rising Star, a show which had failed to crack foreign markets including USA and UK, and had been used as Israeli selection since 2015 as a result of this debacle. Whilst Spain and Ireland, among others, have used regular talent shows as a selection process, this was the most successful case.
    • This also applies to the Eurovision preselections. In 2013 Winny Puhh participated in the 2013 Estonian national final, the Eesti Laul. The band's spectacular performance, which took Lordi up a notch, placed third in Eesti Laul yet the YouTube video of their performance gained over a million views in just a month. On the other hand, the actual Estonian entrant Birgit Oigemeel (who ironically was an Estonian Idol winner in the past) barely scraped into the final, and finished 20th.
      • Agnes only placed a mere 8th in the 2009 Melodifestivalen with the song "Love Love Love", but her next single "Release Me" was globally successful whereas Sweden's actual entry in the 2009 ESC fared poorly and didn't do anything outside of Sweden. Ironically, when Agnes won Idol in 2006, one of the losing contestants that season was Mans Zelmerlow — the 2015 Eurovision winner.
    • Eurovision had an amusingly direct example of this trope in 2016. That year it was decided that jury and public votes would be tallied separately before choosing the winner. Thus, Dami Im (Australia) won the jury and Sergey Lazarev (Russia) won the televoting, but both artists scored significantly lower in the opposite category. Jamala (Ukraine), however, scored second place in both, and while losing to Australia and Russia in their winning categories by 109 and 38 points respectively, she beat them in the opposite categories by 132 and 81, thus giving her enough overall points to win the contest (although her victory was largely seen as politically rigged to show the rest of Europe's hostility towards Russia and Vladimir Putin).
    • This would happen again in 2019, when North Macedonia’s entry won the jury vote but got little love with the public, who placed it 12th. The public vote was won by Norway, but was unpopular with the juries, who only placed it 18th. The Netherlands, however, was popular with both camps, finishing runner-up with the public and third with the jury, allowing it to finish top of the scoreboard and win the Contest.
    • In 2022, there was a lot of zig-zagging, particularly - but not just due to - Ukraine winning with Kalush Orchestra's "Stefania" which celebrated its national culture at the time of Russia's violent war on them, which made over 20 charts, and its main title contenders being from longtime underachievers The U.K. and Spain, whose acts had major chart success in their home countries due to their results and even performed for royals. However, six weeks after the contest, Armenian entry "Snap" by Rosa Linn, which placed 20th (the Eurasian country’s lowest place in the final) due to being bunched with more impactful songs in the running order, went viral on Tik Tok, and became more successful than all, or all-but-one, of the entries in the charts, and made wider impact in Asia and Latin America, and got a major US record deal.
    • Not even the junior contest is immune to this. Jack Garratt fared poorly in the 2005 UK preselection, but became a respected vocalist in adulthood during The New '10s and is well on his way to eclipsing all the other JESC stars in popularity.
      • A French entry in the JESC in 2019 called Bim Bam Toi went viral on TikTok despite placing only 5th. France would go on to win that level the next year with a new song written by the same people, one of whom was modern Chanson singer Barbara Pravi, who placed 2nd to Maneskin in the subsequent main contest.
  • The thirteenth season of The Bachelor had an interesting take on this trope. Jason selected Melissa Rycroft as the winner over Molly Malaney in the Finale. But during the "after show", he dumped winner Melissa in favor of Molly. Melissa ended up on Dancing with the Stars (and wound up winning the All-Stars season), while Molly ended up with the "not as rich as he says he is, and willing to humiliate Melissa on national television, so how great can he be" Jason.
  • Saira Khan and especially Ruth Badger from the first two seasons of the British version of The Apprentice. The winners of the first two seasons, Tim Campbell and Michelle Dewberry are still doing pretty well for themselves, but the runners-up from those years are definitely higher-profile in the media.
    • Also James Max from the first season, who only made it as far as the interview week, but often pops up as a guest presenter on TV shows and has his own radio show with a pretty decent audience. For a while this also applied to Raef Bjayou from the fourth season, although he seems to have faded into obscurity more recently.
    • Another example from the fourth season; Ian Stringer bombed out in the third week, and Sir Alan Sugar branded him "an absolute waste of space" and the worst candidate from that year's bunch. These days however he's a fairly well known sports reporter, and enjoys a higher profile than the vast majority of that year's candidates.
  • However, the most prominent example for The Apprentice had to be the Martha Stewart version. The winner? Dawna Stone, who faded into obscurity. The second-place finisher? Only a New York girl named Bethenny Frankel, who has since starred in multiple reality shows (including The Real Housewives Of New York City), released a line of vodkas, and now has her own daytime talk show.
  • You may not remember that, thanks to Hype Backlash, Susan Boyle actually came second in Britain's Got Talent 2009, what with more than 10 million copies of her debut album sold worldwide. To be fair, the winners of that season, dance troupe Diversity, have done pretty well for themselves, though... it's just that dance troupes don't really release albums or anything.
  • Ninet Tayeb won the first season of Israel's equivalent of American Idol. Her most significant career move since then was her role as an Expy of herself in Hashir Shelanu ("Our Song"), a Soap Opera about music school. Two-odd seasons of this later she finally got to releasing an album, then went on tour to thundering, embarassed silence whenever she tried to have the audience join in the singing, for lack of familiarity with the words. Meanwhile the runner-up Shiri Maimon released an album that went gold, placed fourth in the Eurovision Song Contest and won the MTV Europe Award for Best Israeli Act.
  • Heather Morris was eliminated just before the top 20 of So You Think You Can Dance. She went on to dance for Beyoncé in the Single Ladies tour and is best known for playing the famously brainless Brittany in Glee.
    • Likewise with fellow Gleester Amber Riley. She was rejected on American Idol (in fact, she didn't even get to appear on TV) and now she has probably gotten more fame and exposure than some Idol winners thanks to her role of Mercedes.
    • Several So You Think... alumni also went on to do bigger and better things even without having actually won. Many of the Latin Ballroom dancers went on to join the lineup of professional dancers on Dancing with the Stars (with Witney Carson going as far as to win Season 19 alongside Alfonso Ribeiro).
  • Speaking of Glee, they had their own case in the first season of The Glee Project. Of the four finalists, Damian McGinty and Samuel Larsen were awarded seven-episode arcs on the show while runner-ups Lindsay Pierce and Alex Newell received two-episode appearances. Alex's character Unique was so well-received that they returned in the fourth season, were promoted to series regular in season five, and even after the show starred in the revival of Once On This Island on Broadway and Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist on tv. The other three contestants have done well for themselves in their fields, but their roles on the show proper petered out after their initial appearances and they haven't reached the acclaim that Alex has.
    • That being said, after her brief stint on the show Lindsay returned to broadway for a variety of headline roles including Elphaba in Wicked.
    • Ironically, first-eliminated Bryce is also very successful on the R&B charts and is often cited as one of the contestants with the most success.
    • From season 2, Ali Stroker made history as the first wheelchair user to star on Broadway, and later won a Tony for Oklahoma!. Tyler Ford made a name for themselves as a writer and activist for transgender and nonbinary rights, and often rubs shoulders with the likes of Ariana Grande and Miley Cyrus.
  • In 1997 Japanese music producer Tsunku ran a competition to find a new rock vocalist; the winner was Heike Michiyo. He later decided to create an all-girl group made up of the five runners-up and challenged them to sell 50,000 copies of their first single with only five promotional events. They did in four, and Morning Musume went on to be incredibly successful.
    • A cross-group case: in 2011, Sakura Oda auditioned for a spot in S/mileage's 2nd generation, but lost. She was, however, added to Hello! Project Eggs (a trainee group) — and the next year, she ended up being the sole winner of Morning Musume's 11th gen audition.
  • Project Runway has had its fair share of runner-ups both breaking into the industry and generally being more well-known than the winners; the only winner, out of its eight-plus seasons, that has actually come through is Season 4's Christian Siriano (ironically, he's the youngest winner in the show's history). The most well-known players are probably Season 1's Austin Scarlett (fourth place) and Season 2's Santino Rice (third place); both had their own reality show airing on Lifetime and in Santino's case had a very memorable stint as a judge on RuPaul's Drag Race.
    • Let's not forget Chris March from Season 4, who lost his spot in the final three to Rami Kashou. Since then he's dressed Meryl Streep for the Academy Awards and Golden Globes, and has his own reality show.
  • Shear Genius, Season 1: Tabatha Coffey was eliminated mid-late in the show; she now has her own reality show and owns a very high-end salon.
  • The X Factor has played this trope straight. The runners up from the first series, the vocal group G4, were ultimately more successful than winner Steve Brookstein, whose coronation single was his only hit ever, although this was more to do with disputes with the label, who he has been INCREDIBLY critical of since. In the 2009 series, runner up Olly Murs seems to have become more successful than winner Joe McElderry (whose singing career looked to have been kind of a non-starter after very publicly losing the Christmas number one single spot to Rage Against the Machine - he released a cover of a Norwegian song that disappointed, his follow up singles went nowhere, and his appearance on another talent competition reality show, Popstar to Operastar, was mainly to build up whatever momentum he had left), as have memorable and visually distinctive duo Jedward, who appear to be getting into children's TV presenting and advertising and have twice carried the Irish baton at Eurovision successfully enough.
    • The X Factor is actually interesting because the trope is only really played straight when the winner is a solo male. The two Under-25 females and one Girl Group who have won thus far (Leona Lewis, Alexandra Burke and Little Mix) have enjoyed very successful careers so far, with each of their post-show debut singles (at least) reaching #1 on the UK Singles Chart.
    • The two overs to have won, Steve Brookstein and Samantha Bailey, both had their debut single and album top the charts, before both faded back into obscurity.
      • While Leona Lewis was the only contestant from her series to have any success, the act that finished behind Alexandra Burke, JLS, may be more successful than her, in the UK at least, although both acts ended up falling downhill after 5 years, with JLS spitting after their 4th album Evolution failed, with their farewell single failing to make the top 10, whilst Alexandra's second album also failed to do so, and she was dropped. The three acts that finished behind Little Mix have also had top 10 success in the UK. However, out of the top 4 that series, Amelia's popularity in Eastern Europe is the only semblance of overseas success from someone other than Little Mix (who broke a US chart record for a top 5 placing album there, after having a song featured on the season finale of Glee). Amelia (3rd) and Misha B (4th)would, however, struggle with their 3rd singles, and never get a true chance for an album. Marcus Collins, the runner up, released a questionable cover 2 months after the XF final, meaning his career was but done before another act from the series thought about a single. He is now an actor in Kinky Boots, but remains a BFF of Jade from LM.
      • Alexandra and Jade Thirlwall from Little Mix failed to make the live shows after succeeding their auditions, both 3 years before their respective wins. Alexandra lost the Judges' Houses in 2005, whilst Jade was ejected from bootcamp in 2008. In 2011, the Bowties Are Cool Geordie was initially rejected in Bootcamp, then put into a group named Orion, they were rejected, but she was then put into a new group called Rythmix- LM's then-appellation.
    • Shayne Ward has been the only male X Factor winner to more or less avert this trope so far, going on to enjoy a moderately successful career as a singer and musical theatre performer. The runner-up from that year, Andy Abraham also did quite well initially, but his career imploded spectacularly following his disastrous performance as the UK's Eurovision Song Contest contender in 2008.
    • Leon Jackson was also the most successful contestant from his season, but his career quickly faded.
    • Since 2013, this has had little effect. Fleur East being a one hit wonder, and serial runner up Saara Aalto being second from bottom rather than 2nd from top in the ESC final (even though it was her nation's first in 4 years, and resulted in the remarkable exit of serial troublemakers Azerbaijan)in 2018 were the only runners up to have notable moments, whilst few winners have been able to get new material quickly when still fresh and have became quickly forgotten.
    • Like a lot of other singing shows, the prize (a record deal with Simon Cowell's label) for coming first is more or less worthless, because almost everyone who gets into the finals will inevitably get the same deal if they get enough hype during the show, but without the massive pressure and expectations associated with coming first.
      • If anything, they stand a better chance. The actual contract you get when you win X Factor is somewhat notorious, so runners up actually have a shot at getting a better deal than the winner.
    • Series 7 provides what is probably the most egregious example of this trope. The first act to have an original hit single was neither winner Matt Cardle nor runner-up Rebecca Ferguson; it was fourth-placer Cher Lloyd with the number 1 "Swagger Jagger." She would also find success stateside with the catchy "Want U Back" a year later. Ferguson would manage to have modest success of her own, while Cardle faded into obscurity. Then there's One Direction, who finished third and are more commercially successful than everyone else from the show's history combined.
    • Actually, every winner has charted in the top 5 with their debut album, with only Leon not in the top 3, but only 4 contestants (Shane, Leona, Joe, Little Mix) had their second albums also in the top 5 out of the first 8 winners, and even then, Joe was dropped by Syco by this time and had to rebound on Popstar to Operastar.
    • The American version also counts: the 1st season's 3rd placer Chris Rene had the most success, due to his uber-catchy single "Young Homie", while winner Melanie Amaro's career died after one single from an album that was never released. The 2nd season saw the 3rd and 4th place girl group and boy band, Fifth Harmony and Emblem3 respectively, being more successful than winner Tate Stevens, but, whilst they are popular on social networks, they have struggled commercially in the US and are nowhere near as successful as their UK counterparts. But Emblem3 burnt out rather quickly (in large part due to the boy band scene being monopolized by the aforementioned One Direction) whereas Fifth Harmony were getting bigger and bigger every day until Camilla's untimely departure in Xmas 2016. She has since became even more successful, having had one of the biggest songs of late 2017 with "Havana". The rest of the group subsequently split, with Normani performing particularly well thanks to Khalid and Sam Smith, and herself has became an acclaimed singer-writer. Second-placer Carly Rose Sonenclair built up a huge momentum and dozens of YouTube views during her tenure on the show, but quickly dropped to a lower profile.
    • Lakoda Rayne themselves are a subversion. They finished ninth in season one of the American version, but only managed to release one single. But one member, Hayley Orrantia, left the group to become an actress. You may recognize her as Erica on The Goldbergs.
    • On the Italian version, the eleventh season has it played straight, as its winner Lorenzo Licitra had his debut album chart no higher than #24 on the album charts back home and his winner's single "In the Name of Love" reach #37. Second place? Måneskin, who would later rise to international performance upon their win in the 2021 edition of the Eurovision Song Contest.
  • You may have seen Dave Holmes as the co-host of the FX Network's "DVD on TV". He was also the runner-up in MTV's first "Wanna Be a VJ?" competition. The actual winner, Jesse Camp, pretty much disappeared shortly after his 15 minutes in the spotlight... and his debut album completely bombed.
    • Holmes was offered a job with MTV News after the competition. He worked there for four years and later hosted the channel's famed Alternative Rock showcase 120 Minutes and the very popular Say What? Karaoke competition show. Meanwhile, Camp was only given a single show, the noontime rock block Lunch with Jesse Camp, for one contractually-obligated year. It was fairly obvious, then and now, why Dave succeeded while Jesse failed; Jesse was the more interesting character and had a natural screen presence, which made him the type of person you want to vote for in a contest like that, but also made him seem erratic as a VJ. Dave looked a little boring compared to the very unique Jesse, but also came across as more professional around big-name talent. He made his name during the contest for being extremely knowledgeable about all kinds of music (Jesse seemed to only light up when talking to punk or metal bands), and was a much better interviewer. For these reasons, Dave continues to work in the media to this day while Jesse faded to obscurity.
  • Seemingly a reoccurring pattern among VH1's "Celebreality" dating shows as New York (real name Tiffany Pollard), runner up of Flavor of Love, would get her own dating show, where the runners up, "Real" and "Chance" would later get their own as well.
  • The same-gender episodes of the MTV dating show Next revealed the problem with applying the standard reality dating show formula to gays and bisexuals. At least once, the chosen contestant decided they'd rather date one of the other (losing) contestants instead of the designated bachelor. Ouch.
    • In a way it happened with straight girls as well; a few times they bonded with each other and decided the guy wasn't worth it
  • On the Irish Popstars, Nadine Coyle made it to the final but was disqualified for lying about her age. However, while the winners of that competition, "Six" had one dubious hit, Nadine went on to win another version of the program, Popstars: The Rivals, and garner more success as a member of Girls Aloud.
  • Averted for the most part by The Ultimate Fighter. Former TUF winners Forrest Griffin, Rashad Evans, and Matt Serra have all gone on to become UFC champions, while other winners like Diego Sanchez, Michael Bisping, and Nate Diaz have become legitimate contenders, at some point, in their weight classes. Not to say that non-winners haven't done well, considering the success that guys like Josh Koscheck and Kenny Florian have had. It's not that surprising given the show's format, where the contestants directly compete against each other, so it's all the more likely the stronger, more talented fighter would end up winning.
  • America's Got Talent incidents:
    • While Jackie Evancho came second on, she is the one performing with the big singers and orchestras, and she is the one with bestselling albums, while the first-place contestant is not remembered. It became cemented a year later when Michael Grimm, the guy who beat Jackie, performed in the results show of the Top 10 episode while Jackie performed in the finale special. It also may have been planned: AGT producers may have been leery of having an 10-year-old girl headlining a show in Las Vegas.
    • This pretty much happened to all the winners except for Terry Fator, who has his own Vegas show, and Grace VanderWaal. Acts like Nuttin' But Stringz, Recylced Percussion, and Fighting Gravity have done better than the winners of their seasons.
    • The judges on this same season told Lindsey Stirling she'd never sell as a "Hip Hop Violinist", that she needed a band to work with, and that she just wasn't good enough to fly through the air playing the violin. Shortly after she was eliminated from the show, she became a sensation on Youtube thanks to music videos that combined her playing and dancing with top-notch cinematography. She's since since become one of the most successful acts to ever come from the show, with two Gold-selling albums and sold-out tours...which pretty much debunked judge Sharon Osbourne's comment to her that "What you're doing is not enough to fill a theater in Vegas."
  • The winner of the Andrew Lloyd Webber talent search show 'I'd Do Anything', has virtually disappeared. The same can't be said for the runners-up...
    • Rachel Tucker, who finished fourth, went from strength to strength playing Meat in We Will Rock You, and played Elphaba in the West End production of Wicked for over two years. She ended her run as the West End's longest-running Elphaba and a fan favorite.
    • Samantha Barks finished third. She went on to play Eponine at the Queen's Theatre, sing the role at the 25th Anniversary Concert at the O2, and played the same in the 2012 film version. Not too shabby.
    • And fulfilling the trope to the letter, runner-up Jessie Buckley went to RADA, made quite the splash at the Royal Shakespeare Company and broke into television with glowing reviews for her role as Princess Marya Bolkonskaya in the BBC's 2016 adaptation of literary classic War and Peace. Her star would further rise in The New '20s with roles in I'm Thinking of Ending Things, The Courier, Men, and The Lost Daughter, the latter of which earned her an Oscar nomination.
  • This trope is older than Reality TV. In 1986, Halle Berry was Miss Ohio in the Miss USA pageant, but came in second place for the main title, which means she went on to represent the US in Miss World whereas the first-place winner was sent to Miss Universe. She came in sixth place at Miss World, but needless to say, she has since gone on to become an Oscar-winning actress.
  • On a similar note, the winner of the inaugural Elite Model Management Look of the Year contest in 1983 was a 15-year-old called Lisa Hollenbeck. Among the losers that year were Cindy Crawford and Stephanie Seymour, who've probably gotten over their disappointment by now.
  • CMT's Can You Duet (a two-season show that formed new musical duos) zig-zagged this trope:
    • Season 1 winners Caitlin & Will broke up after only one single, while third-placers Joey + Rory (Nashville songwriter Rory Feek and his wife, Joey) recorded eight albums and amassed a sizable fanbase with almost no help from country radio. They continued to record until Joey died of cervical cancer in March 2016. Even fourth-placers Kate & Kacey were more successful, releasing three albums and co-writing a George Strait album track.
    • Season 2 winners Steel Magnolia were One Hit Wonders with "Keep On Lovin' You" and had a semi-successful debut album, but they broke up in 2012. Fifth-place O'Shea already had a following and some awards in their native Australia. The Stellas went on to have a few hits in their native Canada, and their daughters Lennon and Maisy, in addition to being regulars on the show Nashville, have gotten something of a cult following in Switzerland after a song of theirs was used in a commercial.
  • Nashville Star (2003-08) zig-zagged this trope, with some seasons producing famous people only among the runners-up, and some seasons producing nobody of note at all, winning or losing:
    • Season 1 winner Buddy Jewell was a Two-Hit Wonder with the smashes "Help Pour Out the Rain" and "Sweet Southern Comfort", but his second album bombed and he was never heard from again. Third-placer Miranda Lambert went on to become easily one of the most popular female artists in country music in The New '10s, with six platinum albums and a parcel of Top 10 country smashes.
    • Season 2 was a wash, at least stateside: winner Brad Cotter's lead single "I Meant To" stalled out at #35 on the country charts and he was never heard from again. Runner-up George Canyon was equally unsuccessful stateside, but remains fairly popular in his native Canada.
    • Season 3: Also a wash, as winner Erika Jo's album went nowhere, and runner-up Jason Meadows's success with his lone single "18 Video Tapes" was limited to small-market stations at best. Fourth-placer Lance Miller has had some success as a songwriter, however.
    • Season 4 is the only aversion, as, despite a false start with his debut album flopping, winner Chris Young went on to have three platinum albums and eight #1 country hits.
    • Season 5: Perhaps the biggest example yet, as winner Angela Hacker never released anything other than an album of demos that she cut while she was still on the show, and a couple guest appearances on an album by Cowboy Troy. She's such a nobody that she doesn't even have a Wikipedia article. Meanwhile, fifth-placer Whitney Duncan managed to get a full album out (although she had an Early-Bird Cameo on a Kenny Rogers song back in 2004), and seventh-placer Kacey Musgraves has become a popular artist in The New '10s, winning the Grammy for Album of the Year in 2019.
    • Season 6: Also a wash. Winner Melissa Lawson only put out one single that never made it to an album; fourth-placer Coffey Anderson did a few independent Christian albums; and seventh-placer Justin Gaston switched to acting. (And even then he's still best known for his short relationship with Miley Cyrus)
  • For a while, Canadian Idol Season 5 winner Brian Melo had the best career of the singers that season, if only because his winner's single hit #11 on the Canadian Hot 100. A few of the winners such as Ryan Malcolm and Kalan Porter had number one hits on the old Canadian charts, but that chart used the outdated method of counting only single sales (for example, Elton John's "Candle in the Wind" remake stayed in the top 20 for over three years!). Four years later, third-placer Carly Rae Jepsen released the single "Call Me Maybe," which not only became the show's first top 10 hit, but also reached number-one. But that was only just the beginning. Shortly after the song reached the top, Justin Bieber tweeted that he was a fan of the song and made a video of it with his friends. With millions of people hearing about Carly for the first time ever, her song proceeded to top over ten other national charts including the Hot 100 in the United States, and become a full-fledged meme, especially after a Barack Obama-inspired parody was released. Then Jepsen's third album E•MO•TION turned her into a critical darling, and subsequently one of the most acclaimed pop acts of the 2010s.
    • Three years earlier, Jacob Hoggard places third behind Kalan Porter and Theresa Sokyrka. Jacob's band, Hedley, has since gone on to chart more singles and albums than any other acts associated with Canadian Idol. (In Canada, that is. As mentioned above, most non-Canadians have only heard of Jepsen.) They even cracked the US Modern Rock charts once.
    • According to That Other Wiki, both Melo and runner-up Jaydee Bixby have sold more albums than Jepsen in Canada, but it is a totally different story for singles success.
  • A downplayed example from Masterchef Australia. Season 7 winner Billie isn't doing bad, having earned herself a respectable career in the cooking industry as a new member of Heston Blumenthal's "The Fat Duck". But the one who got the most out of the show is probably 4th place Reynold. Hailed as the "Dessert King" of the show, he proved to be one of the most popular contestants the series has to offer; and after getting eliminated, he managed to open a successful dessert bar in Sydney. He was brought back in Season 8 to coordinate one of the Pressure Tests, an honour typically reserved for only the best cooks in the country.
  • None of the male winners of Golf Channel's The Big Break have made it to the PGA Tour since their appearance, but quite a few lower finishers have. Several older contestants had already played on the PGA Tour before Big Break; Jeff Mitchell (from BBVI) was for a while the only Big Break player to win a PGA Tour event... the 1980 Phoenix Open. (He was also a co-leader after the 1st round of The Masters that year.) Since then, Tommy Gainey, eliminated fifth in Big Break IV, and Matt Every, eliminated second in Big Break VIII, have won on the PGA Tour, with Tony Finau (second place in the twelfth season) since eclipsing their professional records.
  • Several singers were rejected by American Idol such as Colbie Caillat, Lady Antebellum singer Hilary Scott, and R&B singer Bobby Valentino.
  • It's hard to remember that Christina Grimmie didn't win Season 6 of The Voice considering that she was still popular on YouTube while the two singers that placed above her disappeared as fast as Adam's beard did. Dead Artists Are Better gives her even more of an edge now (or would have, had it not happened the same weekend as one of the worst terrorist attacks in American history). Of course the show has yet to see a truly successful winner; Cassadee Pope from Season 3 may be the leading success story, but she was already well known before she was ever on the show because of her stint as frontwoman for the pop punk band Hey Monday. Melanie Martinez from that same season has also achieved considerable success after her stint on the show.
    • Another example from Season 6 comes with Morgan Wallen, who failed to get past the playoffs that season, but re-emerged in 2018 as a successful country singer.
  • The UK series played the trope disastrously straight in its first season. Leanne Mitchell's 'winners' song didn't make the top 40, and her album, released a year later with almost no promotion, failed to even make the top 100. Runners up Bo Bruce and Tyler James never made it onto the wider stage, but at least their albums didn't fare this badly.
    • The second series both averted and played straight the trope. Mentor Will.I.am put everything on his protégée Leah McFall winning, but it was instead won by Andrea Begley. Begley was the first UK voice alum whose album charted in the top 10, but McFall has been better known, and Will has kept faith in her.
    • In fact, all of the winners of the British version have been flash-in-the-pan successes; the only contestant from the show that can be described as having a career is Becky Hill. She didn’t even make the Final when she was on the show.
  • It's generally accepted that had the judges of Rock Star: Supernova chosen runner-up Dilana instead of winner Lukas Rossi, the ensuing band would have done better and be better-remembered today. This even happened in real time — the only album Rossi's band put out failed, while most of Supernova played backup on Dilana's next album. When Supernova went on their first and only tour, Dilana, serving as the opening act, allegedly got more audience reactions than the headliners.
  • On Last Comic Standing, the only winners to have relatively successful career after the show were Josh Blue and Alonzo Bodden. Runners up Doug Benson, Ralphie May, Rich Vos, Kathleen Madigan, Gabriel Iglesias, and Amy Schumer are far more popular than the winners of their respective series (May and Vos were 2 and 3 behind season 1 winner Dat Phan. Madigan came in fifth in Season 2, where John Heffron won. Schumer came in fourth and Benson in sixth in Season 5 to Jon Reep. Last Comic Standing was not restricted to amateur comedians, which meant that established performers like Benson, Madigan and Iglesias could come into a season with some name recognition already built up, and would be the most successful comedians of the season by default.
  • On RuPaul's Drag Race, the first three seasons all featured runners-up that grew more popular than the winner: Nina Flowers in Season 1, Raven in 2note , and Manila Luzon in 3. This was one of the reasons Ru changed the format in Season 4 to let fans weigh in on social media before crowning the winner. It's not a direct vote—Ru will consider viewer input but still makes the final choice—but it ensures that the winning queen isn't The Scrappy like Season 2's Tyra Sanchez.
  • Big Brother Canada season 1 ended with Jillian winning and Gary Levi placing second. Gary has since gone on to be a huge social media personality, a spokesperson for being yourself across Canada, and co-hosts the second season after-show with Peter Brown (sixth place). Jillian, meanwhile, is rarely heard of and often thought of as the woman who stole Gary's first place prize (one of the jurors accidentally voted for the wrong person, and that one vote decided the game.)
  • Canadian reality competition The Next Star has produced these results at least twice. For example, the first season was won by a boy named Dunnery Bond who quickly faded to obscurity after the show. A few years later, sixth-place contestant Alyssa Reid would burst onto the scene with a hit remake of Heart's "Alone", which became an unlikely #2 hit in the U.K. A few years later, Diego Gomes would find himself outperformed by fellow teenage singer Victoria Duffield, who had a hit with "Shut Up and Dance". While neither Alyssa nor Victoria can really be called "superstars," they've certainly done better than the winners.
  • Brazil has had two Miss Universe winners. And yet, the country remembers mostly two that wound in second place in the Beauty Contest: Martha Rocha in 1954, who reportedly lost due to the winner having hips 2 inches smaller than Martha's and inspired even the name of a pastry; and Natalia Guimarães in 2007, as people barely believed the voluptuous, statuesque girl lost to a much less eye-catching Japanese.
  • Cara Mund of North Dakota was named Miss America 2018. Not too bad, right? But it was fourth placer Margana Wood of Texas who stole the show. Miss America adopted a political theme in its Q&A segment that year. Wood was asked to comment on Donald Trump's response to the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, earlier that year in which he blamed "both sides" for the violence. Wood sharply criticized his response, referring to the neo-Nazi car attack as a terrorist attack, stating the white supremacists were solely to blame, and saying Trump should have condemned them the day of the rally. Mund's question was about the withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement, which she disagreed with, but Wood’s got more attention for several reasons:
    1. The Charlottesville attack was very recent, happening less than a month before the pageant, whereas the Paris withdrawal decision was three months in the past at that point.
    2. For most people, the emerging white supremacist and alt-right movement is considered a much graver and more urgent issue than the Paris accords, as the withdrawal takes time to accomplish and can easily be halted, and addresses a more long term concern in climate changenote .
    3. A lot of people were actually expecting a pretty blonde white woman from Texas to back Trump up on the issue, so seeing her take the "left wing" position was shocking to them. But even if she was Republican, many of them openly disagreed with his response as well. Also, Wood is from Texas's anomalously liberal capital city of Austin, grew up in Houston (which is almost as liberal as Austin but isn't famous for it), and went to the University of Texas, making her more likely to have liberal leanings than someone from the state's rural interior.
  • Easily the most tragic example in reality TV history was Murder In Small Town X. The first place winner was Angel Juarbe Jr., a New York firefighter...who would go on to become a casualty in the 9/11 World Trade Center attack a week after the final episode aired.
  • Series 6 of kids' fantasy game show Raven has Melka aka Aimee Kelly. She placed third in her qualifying week but went on to star as the protagonist of Wolf Blood.
  • Hell's Kitchen:
    • Season 7 winner Holli was unable to take the job of head chef at the Savoy Grill in London due to visa issues, while runner-up Jay eventually returned to the series as the sous chef for the blue team.
    • Season 11 winner Ja'Nel did not receive the head chef position at Gordon Ramsay Pub & Grill in Caesars Palace, Las Vegas after failing a drugs test, while third place finisher Jon went on to become a sous chef at Gordon Ramsay Steak in Paris, Las Vegas under Season 10 winner and later red team sous chef Christina Wilson.
  • Jennifer Aniston was set to star in two shows in the 1994 pilot season: Muddling Through for CBS and Friends for NBC. CBS wanted her to stay on Muddling Through because no one believed Friends would do well except for NBC executive Warren Littlefield, who wanted her to leave Muddling, and guess which show became one of the most popular shows of all time?
  • The Masked Singer: In spite of placing second in season 3, Turtle/Jesse Mc Cartney is much more fondly remember then the season's winner, Night Angel/Kandi Burruss. To compare, Turtle managed to take fourth on a list of the top ten best performances in the show's history and would later return in season six to sing a duet with one of the contestants. By contrast, Night Angel is lucky if she gets to appear in a commercial for the show.
    • Happened in again in Season 5 where The Black Swan/JoJo lost to the Piglet/Nick Lachey. She ended up being nominated for a People's Choice award for the show while the Piglet got nothing.

    Music 
  • In September 2012, Matchbox Twenty finally scored their first #1 album on the Billboard 200 with North. Debuting one rung below it was Imagine Dragons' Night Visions. The former would go on to become the second lowest-selling #1 album of 2012, while the latter on the other hand would become one of the best selling albums of 2013, and one of a very small number of albums to sell 1 million copies in a declining sales climate. Additionally, North's debut week was the only one in its lifetime in which it sold more copies a week than Night Visions.
  • British singer Little Boots won The BBC's Sound of 2009 poll. She hasn't gone onto much success, but third-placed Florence + the Machine, sixth-placed Lady Gaga and ninth-placed Passion Pit all became much more successful.
    • Haim, who won in 2013, hasn't done too badly, but third-placed Chvrches and un-ranked nominee The Weeknd would ultimately eclipse them in popularity by 2015.
    • Sam Smith, the 2014 winner, has averted this so far, and is still far and away the most successful act to have been featured that year (although interestingly Chance The Rapper, who became the second best known artist shortlisted that year, didn't even make it to fifth place). This would happen again with 2015 winners Years And Years (although runner-up James Bay and third placer Stormzy have both done very well for themselves chart-wise).
    • The Sound of 2016 poll was won by Jack Garratt, who's obscure compared to both second placer Alessia Cara and unranked nominee Dua Lipa.
    • The Sound of 2017 poll was won by neo-soul singer Ray BLK, who was ultimately eclipsed by second-place Rag 'n' Bone Man almost immediately, and unranked nominees Maggie Rogers and Anderson .Paak have both had more successful careers than her.
    • The Sound of 2018 poll was won by Norwegian singer Sigrid, who went on to have one UK Top 10 hit later that year. Fourth placer Khalid, meanwhile, already had considerable buzz and a few hits in his native United States before the poll was even announced. By the end of 2018, Khalid and unranked nominee Billie Eilish had both become international successes, with also-unranked Lewis Capaldi becoming successful the following year, while Sigrid hasn't had any major hits outside of Europe.
    • The Sound of 2019 poll was won by French-born Ivorian-British rapper Octavian. Over the next few years, fourth placer Slowthai, fifth place Rosalía, and unranked Ella Mai and Dermot Kennedy both did better chart and popularity-wise, while Octavian's career came to a screeching halt after a sexual assault allegation against him.
  • The Billboard Year-End charts rank the most popular songs of each year for the pop, R&B, and country charts. On four occasions, the top song of the year has been one that did not reach #1 on the weekly charts: "Wooly Bully" by Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs in 1965, "Breathe" by Faith Hill in 2000, "Hanging by a Moment" by Lifehouse in 2001, and "Levitating" by Dua Lipa in 2021. All four songs only got to #2 on the weekly charts.
    • This is also true on the country music year-end charts Lee Brice pulled off this feat twice with "Love Like Crazy" and "Drinking Class" being named the top hits of 2010 and 2015 respectively despite only getting to #3 and #2 on their initial chart runs. In between, Josh Turner did the same in 2012 when "Time Is Love" was named the top country hit despite also peaking at #2.
  • The 1990 Juno Awards (Canada's Grammy equivalent) had Daniel Lanois win the award for Most Promising Male Vocalist. While he's been modestly successful, he didn't get much fame outside of Canada, and he's much better known now as a superstar producer for artists like U2 and Bob Dylan than he is as an artist. One of the losers just so happened to be a young Rufus Wainwright. Enough said, really.
    • The 1976 winner for Most Promising Group was folk duo Myles and Lenny, who dropped off the radar within a year. One of the artists they beat was the Canadian-American group Heart, who were already stars south of the border and would only get bigger after that.
    • The 1980 and 1981 awards were won by Walter Rossi and Graham Shaw. Even in Canada these names are very obscure today. But it just so happens that one of the losers both years was some guy named Bryan Adams.
    • In 1979 the award was won by Nick Gilder. Today, Gilder is recalled as a One-Hit Wonder for "Hot Child In The City", while one of the other nominees was future funk legend Rick James.
    • In 1987 the Most Promising Female award went to the late Rita MacNeil — and beat out an up-and-coming Quebecois vocalist named Céline Dion.
    • The 1996 winner was fiddler Ashley Macisaac, who is mostly considered a One-Hit Wonder for his song "Sleepy Maggie," combining traditional fiddling with electronic beats, and he has since faded into obscurity, whereas Lara Fabian, one of the other nominees, has sold over 30 million records worldwide and Amanda Marshall, another nominee, had a diamond-selling debut album (over a million copies) that spawned several huge hits.
    • In 2007, the award was won by Tomi Swick, who had a few minor hits on Canadian adult contemporary radio, but is not well-remembered, while nominee Patrick Watson has had several platinum-selling albums and critical acclaim.
    • Kiesza won in 2015. While she hasn't done too badly, one of the artists she beat out was Shawn Mendes, who has all but eclipsed her in popularity especially outside of Canada.
  • During October of 2013, Justin Timberlake's The 20/20 Experience - 2 of 2 debuted at #1 on the Billboard 200 with 350,000 copies sold. At #2 was Drake's Nothing Was the Same, which hit #1 the week prior with sales of 658,000 and second week sales of 148,000. Below both of them was Lorde's debut album Pure Heroine, which stalled at #3 with a debut of only 129,000. Eventually, Pure Heroine became a Sleeper Hit that outsold the former in the United States and both worldwide, reaching double platinum status in the U.S. alone and global sales of nearly three million.
  • Lana Del Rey taking #1 on the Billboard 200 in June 2014 with Ultraviolence was an impressive accomplishment in its own right, especially given that it ended the long-lasting #1 streak of Linkin Park. But the true Cinderella story of that week was the #2 album, Sam Smith's In The Lonely Hour. In the long run, it took three years for Linkin Park to get certified platinum (Del Rey only went gold), while Smith sold 2 million copies in the U.S. alone.
  • Many times, the Grammy for Best New Artist is won by an artist who hasn't done too well in comparison to the runners-up. This has gotten to the point where it's considered winning the award is a curse, with Taffy Danoff of past Best New Artist winners the Starland Vocal Band calling it "the kiss of death".
    • Famed Broadway star Robert Goulet won the 1963 award. While Goulet had a respectable career, Peter, Paul, and Mary and the Four Seasons have held up better.
    • Bobbie Gentry won the 1968 award; today, she is only remembered for her sole #1 hit "Ode to Billie Joe" while Jefferson Airplane has had a much longer-lasting influence.
    • José Feliciano, a Puerto Rican rock singer, won the award in 1969. Today, few people would say the award should have gone to anyone other than Cream, while Feliciano is mostly known today for the Christmas classic "Feliz Navidad". Interestingly, Cream had already broken up three months prior to the 1969 Grammy ceremony.
    • The Starland Vocal Band won in 1977. Today, few people wouldn't say Boston should have nabbed the award instead, while the Starland Vocal Band are remembered as a One-Hit Wonder for "Afternoon Delight".
    • Debby Boone of 1978 was another one-hit wonder who failed to have the same legacy as, say, Foreigner.
    • A Taste of Honey won in 1979. Today, they are only remembered for their sole #1 hit "Boogie Oogie Oogie" (while they're a Two-Hit Wonder, having had a hit with a English-language cover of "Sukiyaki" a few years later, "Boogie Oogie Oogie" is the better remembered of the two), while The Cars, Elvis Costello and Toto have had longer-lasting legacys.
    • Rickie Lee Jones is a cult songwriter who won the award in 1980 after the Top 5 success of her debut single "Chuck E.'s in Love", but she never really made a lasting impact in pop culture like the world-renowned Dire Straits or the legendary music/comedy act The Blues Brothers — and even then, they don't compare to the impact that a young comedian named Robin Williams made outside the music world.
    • Milli Vanilli's win in 1990 wasn't completely unprecedented at the time due to the success they had the previous year. However, the lip-synching controversy surrounding the group was spreading fast by the time of the ceremony, and would only grow from there. The Grammys revoked their award in November 1990, the only time to date that has happened. The award wasn't given to another of that year's nominees, which is unfortunate given that Indigo Girls, Soul II Soul, and Neneh Cherry all went on to have long and/or influential careers.
    • Marc Cohn won in 1992 after the Top 40 success of his song "Walking in Memphis", but he soon became a One-Hit Wonder and never really had the same legacy as Boyz II Men or Seal.
    • Arrested Development took home the award in 1993 after a huge year for their Conscious Hip Hop that included three Top 10 hits on both the Hot 100 and the rap charts (one of which was a #1 rap chart hit) and a quadruple-platinum debut album. However, they were severe victims of the Sophomore Slump, with a more experimental second album that bombed, killed their momentum and caused them to fade into obscurity. Meanwhile, nominee Billy Ray Cyrus went on to become a Country Music legend (he also holds the honor of being featured on one of the longest-running #1 hits in history, Lil Nas X's "Old Town Road"), and is the father of the even-more-successful Miley Cyrus.
    • Zig-zagged in 1998: Winner Paula Cole ended up being a Two-Hit Wonder, while nominee Fiona Apple saw a more successful and influential career and fellow nominees Hanson have a dedicated cult following that endures to this day. But Sean "Puff Daddy/P. Diddy/Diddy" Combs would have them all beat in terms of commercial success.
    • At the time, Lauryn Hill's win in 1999 seemed well deserved off the back of her much-acclaimed debut album. But then she vanished from the music industry about a year later, while fellow nominees the Backstreet Boys, Dixie Chicks and Andrea Bocelli all went on to have long, successful careers.
    • Shelby Lynne, the 2001 champion (despite recording since 1989), faded into nearly complete obscurity after the ceremony, while Brad Paisley, Papa Roach and Jill Scott have all done better than her in the long run. Even Sisqo, the other nominee, was more successful overall despite being a fellow flash-in-the-pan.
    • Norah Jones was a phenomenon in the early-to-mid-2000s, and her win in 2003 seemed well deserved off the back of her hugely successful debut album Come Away with Me, which swept the Grammys that year and became one of the best-selling albums of all time. By the end of the 2000s, that album proved to be her only album of note to mainstream audiences, while Avril Lavigne and John Mayer went on to more successful careers.
    • Esperanza Spalding was one of the most buzzed-about artists of the late 2000s/early 2010s, and her win in 2011 seemed well-deserved thanks to her huge popularity within jazz and indie rock circles. After releasing Radio Music Society, the follow-up to Chamber Music Society, the album that won her the award, she took a break from making albums and went to work as a supporting musician for other artists, and by the time of her jazz rock-influenced comeback album Emily's D+Evolution (2016), her career momentum had dried up completely. The artists she beat? Justin Bieber, Drake, Florence + the Machine and Mumford & Sons, all of them rising stars at the time and of whom have been much more successful compared to Spalding, particularly Drake and Bieber, who would become two of the biggest stars in music soon after.
    • 2013 winner fun. recieved the award after a huge year for them that included a #1 single, a top 5 followup and a best-selling album. However, they pretty much broke up right after the ceremony and disappeared into an "indefinite hiatus". Instead, Frank Ocean, who was the critics' favorite out of the nominees, wound up having the more impactful career in the long run.
    • 2014 winner Macklemore, at the time of his win, was easily the biggest of the five nominees that year. Then and now, there was much controversy over his win against the critically acclaimed and highly popular Kendrick Lamar. Macklemore's popularity has waned considerably since (though he still maintains a cult following), while Lamar and fellow nominee Ed Sheeran have become superstars.
    • 2016 winner Meghan Trainor won following her 2015 breakthrough that included four top 20 hits and a triple platinum album. In the years following, her popularity waned considerably, and her third album was released in 2020 following a two-year delay to little fanfare or success. Two other nominees that year - country singer Sam Hunt and indie rock guitarist Courtney Barnett - have gone on to have longer-lasting success than Trainor wound up having.
    • 2018 winner Alessia Cara (who technically broke through years earlier with her Top 5 hit "Here") ended up with the award following the Top 10 success of "Scars to Your Beautiful" and "Stay" (her collaboration with Zedd) the previous year... only for her popularity to crash not long afterwards. In contrast, fellow nominees SZA, Lil Uzi Vert, and Khalid would see far more success in the coming years.
    • Just about everyone listed on Cracked's 7 Most Unforgivable Grammy Snubs fit this trope, including the previously-mentioned A Taste Of Honey (although only in relation to Costello's snub).
  • The 1967 Grammy for Best Contemporary (Rock & Roll) Recording had not one but five all-time classic songs on their list: "Eleanor Rigby" by The Beatles, "Last Train to Clarksville" by The Monkees, "Cherish" by The Association, "Monday Monday" by The Mamas & the Papas, and "Good Vibrations" by The Beach Boys. A sixth nominee, "Winchester Cathedral" by the New Vaudeville Band didn't even sound like a rock song (it was more of a Retrauxy 20's swing song) and it still came out on top, though its win seems to be for naught.
    • The 1992 Grammy Award for Best Rock Song went to Sting's "The Soul Cages". Today, Metallica's "Enter Sandman", Jane's Addiction's "Been Caught Stealing", Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers' "Learning to Fly" and Queensrÿche's "Silent Lucidity" are far more iconic and have become staples of rock radio.
    • The 1993 Grammy Award for Best Rock Song went to Eric Clapton's "unplugged" version of "Layla", beating out Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit", which kickstarted the grunge revolution and remains a staple of rock radio to this day, as well as Pearl Jam's "Jeremy". Both songs are far more iconic than that version of "Layla" today.
    • The 1995 Grammy Award for Best Rock Song was won by Bruce Springsteen's "Streets of Philadelphia". While still a classic, it’s not as known as Springsteen’s earlier songs, and isn’t comparable to Soundgarden’s "Black Hole Sun".
    • Springsteen would go on to win the category three times in the 2000s, with "The Rising" in 2003, "Radio Nowhere" in 2008, and "Girls in their Summer Clothes" in 2009. Aside from "The Rising" due to being a post-9/11 patriotic anthem, these songs are pretty obscure today, and all are lesser known than songs that lost to them, like "When I'm Gone", "All My Life", or "Hero" in 2003, "It's Not Over", "The Pretender", and "Icky Thump" in 2008, and "Violet Hill", "I Will Possess Your Heart", and "Sex on Fire" in 2009.
    • The 1997 Grammy Award for Best Rock Song went to "Give Me One Reason" by Tracy Chapman. While it was the biggest hit of the bunch and is remembered enough to not be obscure, it’s not quite as iconic as her other major hit "Fast Car". Meanwhile, one of the runner-ups is Oasis’s "Wonderwall", easily one of the most iconic songs of the decade.
    • Alanis Morissette won the 1999 Grammy Award for Best Rock Song with "Uninvited". It’s today one of her lesser known songs, and can’t quite compare on the level of two of the decade's most memorable one-hit wonders: "Closing Time" by Semisonic and "Bitter Sweet Symphony" by The Verve.
    • "Angry World" by Neil Young was the 2011 winner, and it's a very obscure song compared to the likes of The Black Keys' "Tighten Up", Kings of Leon's "Radioactive", Mumford & Sons' "Little Lion Man", and Muse's "Resistance".
  • On several occasions in the race for the Christmas Number One position on the British charts, the Christmas Number Two song has a longer shelf life among listeners. Two notable cases are John Lennon's "(Just Like) Starting Over" and Mariah Carey's "All I Want For Christmas Is You", which are still heard today but lost the Christmas slot to St. Winnifred's School Choir's "There's No One Quite Like Grandma" and East 17's "Stay Another Day" respectively. More here.
  • The BRIT award for British Breakthrough act:
    • 1984 winner Paul Young had a decent career, but one of the acts he beat was none other than George Michael and Wham!
    • 1991 winner Betty Boo only saw brief success in the mainstream, though she has been more successful as a songwriter. Meanwhile, Happy Mondays and The Charlatans went on to much bigger success.
    • 1992 winner Beverly Craven. She's essentially a one hit wonder, and hardly anything compared to Seal.
    • 1993 may be the most infamous example in British history. It was won by Tasmin Archer, a singer who faded into almost complete obscurity after her hit "Sleeping Satellite". One of the acts she beat? Take That, who went on to become one of the most popular British musical acts of the 1990s.
    • 1994 winner Gabrielle has had a decently successful career, but two of the acts she beat were Jamiroquai and Suede, who went on to eclipse her in popularity.
    • 1997's winner was Kula Shaker, a Indian music-flavored psychedelic rock band riding on the heels of the post-Britpop scene and a string of top 10 hits including "Tattva", "Govinda", and their cover of Billy Joe Royal's "Hush". Then their career momentum crashed and critics began seeing them as a "joke band". As for the Spice Girls, the artists they beat? They became one of the biggest girl groups of all time.
    • 2001 was won by boy band A1, now mostly known outside of Norway (where member Christian Ingebrigtsen hails from) and Asia for their cover of A Ha's "Take On Me" and to a lesser extent for their original single "Caught in the Middle". One of the acts they beat, Coldplay, would go on to become one of the biggest bands of the new millennium.
    • 2002 was won by Blue, a moderately popular boy band mostly known outside the UK for the fact that one of its members downplayed the 9/11 attacks in an interview. In doing so, they beat the hugely iconic Gorillaz, arguably the most successful virtual band of all time.
    • 2004 winner Busted took home the award after a huge year for them that included four UK number-one singles and a best-selling album. However, they broke up the year after the ceremony, with all three members pursuing solo projects. Instead, runner-ups The Darkness and Dizzee Rascal wound up having the more impactful careers.
    • The Fratellis (2007) haven't done too badly, but Lily Allen is more known than they are. Unless you're a fan of the Chicago Blackhawks.note 
    • Adele lost to Duffy in 2009. She would later eclipse her in popularity.
    • Although JLS, who won in 2010, were very popular at the time of their victory, they faded into complete obscurity only a few years later and Florence + the Machine won in the long run.
    • Tinie Tempah won in 2011 — today he is all but forgotten even in the U.K. while Ellie Goulding, Mumford & Sons and The xx were the big winners career-wise.
    • The 2013 award was won by Ben Howard, who never returned to the Top 40 after winning and whose career has largely petered out, while Alt-J, Jake Bugg and Rita Ora have all done much better than him.
    • The 2016 award was won by rock group Catfish and the Bottlemen, whose only real success afterwards came across the pond in the United States, where they've had a couple Top 10 alt-rock radio hits. Jess Glynne, meanwhile, became a superstar in the UK, appearing on 7 #1 hits.
  • They also used to do an international version of it as well:
    • The inaugural award in 1988 went to Terence Trent D'Arby, a pop artist who only ever had two hits to his name. Amongst the runner-ups were two of the most legendary acts in hip-hop music — the Beastie Boys and LL Cool J — as well as a name hugely successful outside the world of music — Bruce Willis.
    • 1990 winner Neneh Cherry proved to be another flash-in-the-pan artist. Amongst the names she beat are two of the most well-known names in late-'80s pop, Paula Abdul and Bobby Brown, who are nowadays better known as general celebrities than for their music. But by far the most recognizable name on the ballot was hard rock legends Guns N' Roses.
    • 1991 was won by MC Hammer, who was hugely popular for a brief period of time but faded away quickly. Mariah Carey, meanwhile, became arguably the biggest musical star of the entire decade. Technically Hammmer still kind of won in a way, since you could argue his signature hit "U Can't Touch This" is more iconic and recognizable than any individual Carey hit, with the possible exception of "All I Want For Christmas Is You".
    • 1995's winner was Lisa Loeb, who was a one-hit wonder in the UK and only had a few more hits in her native US. She beat Counting Crows and Warren G, both of whom had longer lasting success in both countries.
    • 1998's winner was the Eels, an American alt-rock band who had a strong cult following in the UK, but whose success was ultimately dwarfed by two other nominees, No Doubt and Daft Punk.
    • Probably the biggest example of this happened in 2000, when Macy Gray pipped future icons Britney Spears, Jennifer Lopez and Eminem to the award.
    • Whilst 2001 winner Kelis is hugely popular in the United Kingdom, even to this day (to the point where her current label, Ninja Tune, is based in London), she never had a number one single. One of the other nominees - Westlife - would have 15 number one singlesnote  and 8 number one albums. Worldwide, however, the biggest name of the bunch is without a doubt P!nk, one of the biggest female pop stars of the 2000s and 2010s.
    • 2003 winner Norah Jones was a One-Hit Wonder on both sides of the pond, and her debut album soon proved to be her only work of note in the mainstream. Meanwhile Nickelback, Shakira, Avril Lavigne and The White Stripes went on to have longer lasting success.
    • 2006 winner Jack Johnson qualifies when looking at his career in the UK, where this award originates. He is very popular in his native United States and has notched 11 adult alternative number ones, but he only had two UK Top 40 hits. His mainstream impact in the UK is nowhere near that of Indie Pop legends Arcade Fire, pop icons The Pussycat Dolls and R&B icon John Legend.
    • Subverted with Taylor Swift in 2010 and Bruno Mars in 2011, who only fail to qualify because the artists who beat them were Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber, respectively.
  • MTV Video Music Award for Best New Artist
    • 'Til Tuesday won in 1985 with "Voices Carry". Lead singer Aimee Mann became an Oscar-nominated singer-songwriter, but solo or not her commercial success is barely a blip compared to Sade, whose "Smooth Operator" was also nominated that year.
    • Living Colour beat out Paula Abdul in 1989, although their winning song "Cult of Personality" is probably the best remembered song.
    • 1990 winner Michael Penn didn't have a very long career, choosing to marry the lead singer of '85 winners 'Til Tuesday, and largely faded into the shadows of fellow nominees The Black Crowes and Lenny Kravitz.
    • Jesus Jones won in 1991. Seal was the only one who is remembered as anything more than a one-hit wonder (although Deee-Lite was the only actual one-hit wonder there).
    • Macy Gray won the award in 2000. Despite attempts by her management to make her a star by way of Wolverine Publicity, she never matched the success of her debut album. She beat out Christina Aguilera, Papa Roach, P!nk, and Sisqo, the first three of which went on to eclipse her in popularity.
    • Avenged Sevenfold, who won in 2006, are household names to metal fans. But to the general public, they aren't nearly as well-known as Panic! at the Disco, Chris Brown, or especially Rihanna.
    • Gym Class Heroes, 2007's winners, have had their fair share of success, but they're barely a blip compared to female icons Carrie Underwood and Amy Winehouse.
    • Miley Cyrus, Katy Perry, Taylor Swift, and Jordin Sparks were beat in 2008 by the German emo-pop-rock group Tokio Hotel. The band won due to their huge at-the-time fanbase, despite not having a hit single in America. 2008 was one of the first years where voting was open to the public, and their fans stuffed the ballot full of votes in their favor. However, Tokio faded into obscurity pretty much right away, while the former three became pop megastars, and while Sparks has since fallen off the radar come 2010, she at least got to enjoy a successful rest of 2008 and all of 2009.
    • Austin Mahone, who won in 2013, was a fairly popular teen idol, but his career was held back by the continued popularity of One Direction. Thus, his career quickly fizzled out, and he himself faded into obscurity. His opponents included Iggy Azalea, Twenty One Pilots, The Weeknd, and Zedd, all of whom had considerably more success than him (although aside from Zedd they didn't immediately blow up — Azalea took off in 2014, the Weeknd in 2015, and Twenty One Pilots in 2016).
  • "Shop Around" by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles is remembered as the hit that put Motown Records on the map and continues to be an all-time classic today. However, it only peaked at #2, only to be beaten by accordionist and bandleader Lawrence Welk's "Calcutta." Robinson has gone on to be an iconic voice of not just Motown and R&B, but music in general, while Welk is perhaps only remembered for his TV show, which is often the butt of jokes today.
  • A 1997 Grammy showcase award for Best Unsigned Band was won by SoCal Ska Punk band Save Ferris. Save Ferris saw some attention at first, with their song "The World Is New" being used in multiple TV shows and film trailers (most notably, a trailer for Thomas and the Magic Railroad), but then they vanished into obscurity as soon as their 15 minutes of fame were up. As for the runner-ups, Saliva? They became a popular act of the Nu Metal genre, scoring hits such as the #15 Mainstream Rock hit "Click Click Boom" and the #3 Mainstream Rock hit "Your Disease".
  • In 1999, MTV held a contest called "Under the Radar: Flying Indie" which showcased several unsigned and independent artists, the winner of which would have their video added to the channel's rotation for a limited time. Among the entries for the contest were soon-to-be well known acts like Chevelle and Fear Factory. The winner of the contest, however, turned out to be L.A. alt rockers Belle Academe with their song "Christine's White Noise". That band vanished after their 15 minutes of fame were over and broke up after one album, and their video is now so obscure that it isn't even uploaded to Youtube. Out of all the entries, Chevelle wound up having the longest lasting success and their videos would be all over MTV a few years later.
  • Once in a while, the Grammy Award for Album of the Year falls victim to this:
    • Impressionist Vaughn Meader won in 1963 with his comedy album The First Family, which featured impressions of John F. Kennedy and his family. The First Family ended up aging poorly due to Kennedy's assassination the following year. One of the nominees was Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music by Ray Charles, often considered a landmark recording in American music.
    • Any album that beat out The Beatles in the category definitely qualify. Help! and Revolver were defeated by Frank Sinatra in back-to-back years. Magical Mystery Tour was snubbed in favor of Glen Campbell's By the Time I Get to Phoenix. And Abbey Road lost to the the self titled debut album of jazz-rock group Blood, Sweat, & Tears.
    • The 1981 ceremony is one of the more controversial examples: Christopher Cross was a phenomenon in the early '80s, and his self-titled debut album won in 1981 as he was sweeping the "big four" categories. One of the albums it beat? The Wall. The general consensus is that both albums are excellent, but Pink Floyd's masterpiece was more worthy of the award considering its huge influence among musicians and in pop culture. And Cross is far less iconic than Billie Eilish, who did the same thing four decades later.
    • Lionel Richie's 1985 winning album Can't Slow Down, while a huge hit at the time, isn't exactly a household name today the way Prince's Purple Rain, Bruce Springsteen's Born in the U.S.A., Cyndi Lauper's She's So Unusual, or Tina Turner's Private Dancer are.
    • Bonnie Raitt's Nick of Time, which won in 1990, was largely credited with turning the cult blues-rock icon into a mainstream name. It's still a highly critically acclaimed album, but Tom Petty's Full Moon Fever and the Fine Young Cannibals' The Raw and the Cooked have completely eclipsed it in the public eye.
    • Natalie Cole (ironically, a past Best New Artist winner) took home the award in 1992 with her album Unforgettable...With Love, a cover album of songs originally performed by her famous father, Nat King Cole, which became a smash hit and topped the Billboard 200 after the Top 40 success of a "virtual duet" version of "Unforgettable". Cole quickly returned to obscurity, and Unforgettable...With Love is all but forgotten today compared to R.E.M.'s alternative-rock classic Out of Time.
    • Although Eric Clapton's 1993 winner Unplugged was massive with critics and audiences at the time, it hasn't had the same legacy as U2's Achtung Baby, which is widely considered as one of the greatest albums of the '90s.
    • 1997's winner Céline Dion's Falling into You, while easily the biggest in terms of commercial success of all of the nominations, isn't nearly as popular nowadays compared to Smashing Pumpkins' Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, The Fugees' The Score, or Beck's Odelay.
    • Bob Dylan's 1998 winner Time out of Mind was widely seen as both a Consolation Award, and a recognition of Dylan's critical and commercial comeback with that album, which was considered to be the definitive end of a not well-regarded period of his career. Today it's seen as just another Dylan album, albeit still regarded as one of his best after 1980, while Radiohead's OK Computer has often been ranked as one of the greatest albums of all time. The same can be said with the surprise Steely Dan victory in 2001 beating both Kid A and Eminem's The Marshall Mathers LP.
    • Again, Lauryn Hill's win in 1999 for The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill seemed well deserved thanks to its critical & commercial success, but then she vanished from the music industry about a year later. While her album is still highly respected by music critics, it isn't nearly as popular with the general public compared to Shania Twain's Come On Over, Madonna's Ray of Light and Garbage's Version 2.0.
    • The 2002 award went to the soundtrack album for O Brother, Where Art Thou?. While that film's soundtrack retains a cult following among bluegrass enthusiasts, U2's All That You Can't Leave Behind and OutKast's Stankonia are far more recognizable in the mainstream and are considered to be among the quintessential albums of the 2000s.
    • Ray Charles' Genius Loves Company in 2005 was also considered more of a posthumous Consolation Award, beating out albums like Green Day's American Idiot, Kanye West's The College Dropout, Usher's Confessions, and Alicia Keys' The Diary Of Alicia Keys. The four runners-up all to this day are considered to be among the quintessential albums of the 2000s.
    • The Dixie Chicks' win in 2007 for Taking the Long Way was seen as an attempt to appeal to the Chicks' large liberal following that sprung up after the "Shut up and sing!" controversy wherein Natalie Maines made anti-George W. Bush remarks. Today, Taking the Long Way is seen as just another 2000s country album, while Justin Timberlake's FutureSex/LoveSounds, one of the nominees that year, is seen as one of the greatest albums of the 2000s, and harbored several hits, including the massively memetic "SexyBack".
    • Herbie Hancock denied Amy Winehouse a clean sweep of the big four categories in 2008 thanks to Rivers: The Joni Letters' surprise victory over Back to Black. The former is all but forgotten today while the latter is considered one of the most important albums of the decade, especially after Winehouse’s shocking death in 2011. Not helping matters was the fact that popular albums by Kanye West (Graduation) and the Foo Fighters (Echoes, Silence, Patience, Grace) were also snubbed that year.
    • The Robert Plant/Alison Krauss collaboration album Raising Sand, which won in 2009, was seen as a Consolation Award for both artists, as Plant was the lead singer of one of the most legendary rock bands of all time, and they had never won a Grammy up to this point, while Krauss had been relegated to genre-specific categories (though was prominently featured on the O Brother soundtrack). It isn't exactly a household name today the way Coldplay's Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends, Radiohead's In Rainbows or Lil Wayne's Tha Carter III are seen.
    • Beck took home the award with Morning Phase in 2015. Again, it was largely seen as a Consolation Award, given that Beck had been nominated for the Album of the Year two times prior and lost both times. Today, Morning Phase is seen as just another Beck album, while the heavily favored nominee, Beyoncé's self titled album, is the more iconic album, being ranked 81st in Rolling Stone's 2020 update of their 500 Greatest Albums of All Time list. This wasn't lost on Kanye West, who nearly interrupted Beck's acceptance speech in protest of the decision before deciding to sit back down. Not helping matters was that Beck had also beat out popular albums from Sam Smith and Ed Sheeran.
  • A twist on the usual format for the trope: In 2008, at the height of Amy Winehouse's personal controversies, British magazine NME, at their "award" ceremony that year, gave her the "Villain of the Year" award, while giving Pete Doherty the award of "Hero of the Year". Winehouse was Vindicated by History following her tragic death and her album Back to Black is regarded as one of the most important albums of the decade, while Doherty is a walking punchline outside of UK indie rock circles for his very publicized drug abuse and personal scandals.
  • The Grammy Award for Best Pop Vocal Album has had this happen a few times in the past:
    • In 1995 (the first year of the award, as "Best Pop Album"), it was won by Bonnie Raitt's Longing in Their Hearts. It's been eclipsed in the public eye by the runner-up, the first U.S. album by a Swedish Europop group by the name of Ace of Base, who had scored several hits the previous year, including their Signature Song "The Sign".
    • Brand New Day by Sting is mostly forgotten outside of the track "Desert Rose". Meanwhile, you had the quintessential late '90s boy band album in Backstreet Boys' Millennium and the quintessential late '90s Latin pop album in Ricky Martin's self-titled record.
    • Steely Dan took home the award in 2001 with Two Against Nature. Today, Two Against Nature is seen as just another Steely Dan album, while *NSYNC's No Strings Attached and Britney Spears' Oops!... I Did It Again are the more iconic nominees.
    • Continuum by John Mayer is the singer-songwriter's most successful album, but it's nowhere near as iconic as Justin Timberlake's FutureSex/LoveSounds.
  • The MTV Video Music Award for Video of the Year has had this happen in the past:
    • The inaugural 1984 award was won by The Cars' video for "You Might Think". While it was a pioneering video when it came to using CGI in music videos, today the video is only remembered by the band's fans and CGI enthusiasts. One of the losers? Michael Jackson's iconic video for "Thriller". Two other iconic songs that lost that year were Cyndi Lauper's "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" and The Police's "Every Breath You Take".
    • In 1986, a-ha's "Take on Me" won eight awards but lost Video of the Year to the Dire Straits' 'Money for Nothing". While both are landmark Animated Music Videos for iconic songs, "Take on Me" remains the most remembered video.
    • In 1989, the award was won by Neil Young's video for "This Note's for You", a satire of the trend of pop stars appearing in television commercials, with Michael Jackson as it's main target. Its win was particularly noteworthy because MTV had banned the video after Jackson complanied, but the network reversed that decision after it made the news. Today, "This Note's for You" is barely remembered and the video itself is seen as Harsher in Hindsight at best and completely tasteless at worst, while the videos for the Fine Young Cannibals' "She Drives Me Crazy", Jackson's "Leave Me Alone" and Madonna's "Like a Prayer" have become iconic in pop culture and have completely eclipsed it in the public eye. Not helping matters was that the album "This Note's for You" serves as the title track of is seen as part of Young's Dork Age by many, and it's mostly overshadowed by Young's much more iconic 1989 hit "Rockin' in the Free World" and it's associated album Freedom, which fully won Young back his critical respect in comparision to This Note's for You.
    • In 1992, "Right Now" by Van Halen won. The video is popular enough to name a trope here, but the song, while a fan favorite, is not as popular with the general public as the band's other memorable hits, and beat out two of the most iconic songs of all time: Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" and the Red Hot Chili Peppers' "Under the Bridge".
    • In 1996, the award went to "Tonight, Tonight" by The Smashing Pumpkins. Again it's an impressive video, but the song is generally not as well known as other Pumpkins hits of the era, like "1979", "Today", and "Bullet with Butterfly Wings", and is nowhere near as legendary as Alanis Morissette's signature song "Ironic".
    • In 1999, the award went to "Doo Wop (That Thing)" by Lauryn Hill. The song is still popular to this day, but the video is generally less remembered than those of the Backstreet Boys' "I Want it That Way", Ricky Martin's "Livin' la Vida Loca", or Korn's "Freak on a Leash".
    • 2003 winner "Work It" by Missy Elliott. Not obscure, but certainly not as legendary as "Lose Yourself" or "In da Club" are. Even video-wise, as presenter Snoop Dogg thought Johnny Cash would win with the gut-wrenching one for his cover of "Hurt", which also got some staying power.
    • "Havana" by Camila Cabello winning in 2018. While you can argue it's the most iconic song that was nominated that year (the main rival being Drake's "God's Plan"), the video in particular hasn't come close to making the same impact that Childish Gambino's "This Is America" did.
    • In 2019, the award went to "You Need To Calm Down" by Taylor Swift. It's not an obscure song, but compared to the likes of "Old Town Road", "Bad Guy", and "thank u, next" it may very well be.
  • On a few occasions, the Village Voice Pazz & Jop singles poll has seen some missteps.
    • In 1985, it was topped by the anti-apartheid Charity Motivation Song "Sun City" by Artists United Against Apartheid, which it won by a landslide with 101 list mentions, close to twice what the second place song received. While it was critically-acclaimed at the time, and it's fusion of rock, rap and R&B pre-dated the mainstream popularity of Rap Rock and Nu Metal, it's not exactly memorable, and has faded into obscurity. Among the songs it beat to the top? Dire Straits' "Money for Nothing", Tears for Fears' "Everybody Wants to Rule the World", Kate Bush's "Running Up That Hill", and The Smiths' "How Soon is Now?", all of which are considered among the most iconic songs of the '80s.
    • In 1992, the poll was topped by Arrested Development's "Tennessee" with 100 list mentions. It's still respected by critics, but hasn't had quite the same legacy as House of Pain's "Jump Around", Nirvana's "Lithium", the Red Hot Chili Peppers' "Under the Bridge", The Cure's "Friday I'm in Love" or Sir Mix-a-Lot's "Baby Got Back".
  • In 1987, Rolling Stone held a poll for Best Video of the Year. It was won by Run–D.M.C.'s video for their Special Olympics-benefiting Christmas novelty track "Christmas in Hollis", beating out Michael Jackson's much-acclaimed and iconic video for "Bad", which has remained a staple of pop culture to this day. While "Christmas In Hollis" remains a Christmas favorite among hip-hop fans, the fact a music video was made for it tends to be forgotten.
  • Much like the Grammy for Best New Artist, the American Music Award for New Artist of the Year (previously called the Favorite Breakthrough Artist award and then the Breakthrough Artist award) has seen a few examples of this:
    • While Gretchen Wilson was hugely popular at the time of her 2004 win, Kanye West and Maroon 5 have had far more enduring careers.
    • Sugarland were hugely popular when they won in 2005, but their popularity took a nosedive due to an accident at the 2011 Indiana State Fair that they were blamed for. The Killers, meanwhile remain amongst the most respected names in alternative rock.
    • Gloriana took home the award in 2009. A One-Hit Wonder country music band beat out pop icon Lady Gaga and alternative hip-hop superstar Kid Cudi, who went on to have more impactful careers.
    • Hot Chelle Rae took home the award in 2011 after a huge year for them that included two Top 40 hits. Their long-term success was blunted when member Ian Keaggy quit the band, after which they went on hiatus. Meanwhile, nominee Wiz Khalifa wound up having the more impactful career in the long run.
    • 5 Seconds of Summer's victory in 2014 was largely also due to success in the public ballot, and Sam Smith was arguably the artist who ultimately had the most commercial success over.
    • Two former One Direction members, Zayn in 2016 and Niall Horan in 2017, both won the awards thanks to public voting. Neither of them had nearly as much success as solo artists as they did with the group, and the most successful artists to come out of their year's nominees were Shawn Mendes in 2016 and Post Malone in 2017.
    • Camila Cabello won in 2018, but failed to obtain the massive level success of Cardi B and Dua Lipa, the consistency of Khalid, or, thankfully, the Posthumous Popularity Potential of XXXTentacion.
  • The Grammy Award for Song of the Year, much like the Album of the Year category, has seen a few missteps in the past:
    • In 1966, The Beatles' senimal "Yesterday", often cited as the most covered song of all time, lost to crooner Tony Bennett's considerably lesser known "The Shadow of Your Smile".
    • In 1969, the award went to O.C. Smith's soul music version of "Little Green Apples", written by Bobby Russell. This win is notable in that Smith's version was one of three different versions of the song that charted (the other two being a country version by Roger Miller (which won Best Country Song the same year) and a traditional pop version by Patti Page). While all three versions were huge hits at the time, the song is rather obscure today, with Smith's version being mostly remembered only by classic soul fans. Two of the songs that lost to Smith's version of the song were The Beatles' "Hey Jude" and Simon & Garfunkel's "Mrs. Robinson", which are among the most iconic songs of all time.
    • The other two songs that beat out the Beatles in the category, Louis Armstrong's "Hello Dolly!" which beat "A Hard Day's Night", and Simon & Garfunkel's "Bridge over Troubled Water" which won over "Let It Be", aren't quite as overshadowed as the aforementioned two, but because it's the Beatles, they are bound to overshadow everyone else in their categories somewhat.
    • Roberta Flack took home the award in 1973 with "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face", written and originally recorded by Ewan MacColl. While Flack's version is still highly respected by music critics, it's not as popular as her version of "Killing Me Softly with His Song" (which did win the following year's Song of the Year Grammy). One of the songs it beat was Don McLean's "American Pie", which became one of the most iconic songs of all time.
    • 1978 was the only tie in the category, between Debby Boone's "You Light Up My Life" and Barbra Streisand's "Evergreen". This trope is zig-zagged for this — while "You Light Up My Life" is still remembered enough to not be obscure, "Evergreen", on the other hand, is generally less remembered than the former and The Eagles' "Hotel California".
    • While Willie Nelson's version of "Always on My Mind", the 1983 winner, is hardly forgotten, Survivor's legendary "Eye of the Tiger" completely eclipses it.
    • "That's What Friends are For", the massive Dionne Warwick collaboration that won in 1987, is generally less remembered than the other four nominees, which were Peter Gabriel's "Sledgehammer", Robert Palmer's "Addicted to Love", Steve Winwood's "Higher Love" and Paul Simon's "Graceland".
    • Bette Midler's cover of "Wind Beneath My Wings", which won in 1990, is a common target of mockery now. It beat out one of the most iconic, and oft-parodied, songs of all time in Billy Joel's "We Didn't Start The Fire".
    • The Natalie Cole and Nat "King" Cole "virtual duet" version of "Unforgettable" is forgotten compared to Nat "King" Cole's iconic original version, and has been largely eclipsed by Bryan Adams' "Everything I Do (I Do it For You)" and R.E.M.'s "Losing My Religion".
    • Shawn Colvin won in 1998 with "Sunny Came Home". While Colvin has had a long and influential career as a folk singer, it was her only visit to the Top 40 and the song isn't as memorable today as No Doubt's "Don't Speak".
    • Norah Jones won in 2003 with "Don't Know Why", written by Jesse Harris. It's still respected by music critics and remains recognizable enough to not be obscure, but Avril Lavigne's "Complicated" and Vanessa Carlton's "A Thousand Miles" completely eclipse it in popularity.
    • "Dance With My Father" by Luther Vandross won in 2004 after it's massive success as a radio request, a somewhat rare way to gain a Top 40 hit by the early-to-mid-2000s. It's still a respected song in R&B circles, but it hasn't made the cultural impact of Christina Aguilera's "Beautiful", Avril Lavigne's "I'm With You", or especially Eminem's "Lose Yourself".
  • The Grammy Award for Record of the Year also has seen a few missteps in the past:
    • The "virtual duet" version of "Unforgettable" by Natalie Cole and her late father Nat King Cole, which won in 1992, is barely remembered these days, while R.E.M.'s "Losing My Religion", Amy Grant's "Baby Baby" and Bryan Adams' "(Everything I Do) I Do It for You" have become iconic classics.
    • Shawn Colvin's "Sunny Came Home", the 1998 winner, was the cult adult-alternative singer-songwriter's only visit to the Top 40, and isn't as popular in the mainstream today as No Doubt's "Don't Speak" or Hanson's "MMMBop".
  • In 2007, The Eagles scored their sixth number-one album in the US with Long Road Out of Eden. Held off the top spot by that album was a far more iconic album — Britney Spears' Blackout. In fact, Blackout would have debuted at the top had it not been for a last-minute rule-change that allowed albums sold through special promotional deals like Eden (which was sold exclusively at Walmart at the time) to be eligible for the chart. To say her fans were furious would be an understatement.

    Professional Wrestling 
  • WWE's Tough Enough reality show created a minor lower-midcard star for a couple of years in the form of Maven. Much more success was found by fourth season runner-up The Miz and third season co-winner John Morrison (a lone exception), who were later hired and ended up the top tag team in the company in early 2009.
    • Morrison did pretty well as a singles wrestler too, picking up various midcard titles including the (theoretically World Title-level) ECW strap, and groomed to be one of the top stars on SmackDown.
    • In 2011, Miz became the WWE Champion and successfully defended the title at WrestleMania, while Morrison's career subsequently stalled in lower midcard hell thanks to snubbing Trish Stratus during the road to said Mania. Morrison later got released towards the end of the year, but ended up making a respectable career on the indies (especially in Mexico), so it's safe to say they're relatively equal in success (as Miz dropped to upper midcard after his first WWE Championship reign was over).
    • Christopher Nowinski came in second against Maven in the first TE, but eventually earned a WWE contract of his own. While his wrestling career was for the most part far less memorable than Maven's, and was cut short by a concussion, he drew on his experience to write Head Games: Football's Concussion Crisis, and became a noted expert on the subject, continuing his fame and recognition long after Maven vanished from the public eye.
    • Other successful TE runners-up include TNA's Kenny King and Matt Morgan.
    • Almost one year after the latest revival, winner Andy Leavine was fired whereas the very first person elimination, Ariane "Melina vs. Alicia Fox" Andrew, is on television weekly as Cameron, back-up dancer for Brodus Clay.
    • To bring everything full circle, the aforementioned Miz replaced Hulk Hogan as one of the judges of season six.
    • Also from season 6: the female winner, Sara Lee, was released from developmental after being impregnated by Wesley Blake, while the runner-up, Amanda Saccomanno (a.k.a. Mandy Rose), also got a developmental deal, appeared on a season of Total Divas and had started wrestling on NXT TV before being drafted onto Raw by Paige along with Sonya Deville (who, ironically enough, was also on Tough Enough under her birth name of Daria Berenato and placed eleventh).
  • WWE NXT either Double Subverts or plays this trope straight.
    • Season 1: Even before his appearance on NXT, Daniel Bryan had built a reputation as a highly respected indie wrestler, and was once known as one of the best performers to have never signed with the WWE. Although Bryan was abruptly voted off during the first elimination on the first season of NXT, he wound up becoming one the most popular wrestlers in WWE history, becoming a one-time World Heavyweight Champion and a three time WWE Champion. Season 1 winner Wade Barrett, on the other hand, hasn't had anything as big as his initial world title chase during the Nexus angle. It took a gimmick overhaul into a messenger of "bad news" to regain Barrett some of the popularity he had lost since then. The season's only other notable success story was sixth-placer Skip Sheffield, who became mega-face Ryback and soared to main event status only months after his re-debut. Like Barrett, his popularity waned very quickly afterwards.
    • Season 2: Runner up Michael McGillicutty has become a Tag Team champion and is now repackaged as Curtis Axel, winning the Intercontinental Title but quickly flatlined afterwards. The actual winner Kaval was more-or-less jobbed out up until his release. Alex Riley was associated with The Miz until he no showed a match that led to Miz losing his WWE Championship and his clumsiness cost him two shots at John Cena's WWE Championship. After his Heel–Face Turn, he scored a victory over his former employer and had some success until an incident where he botched Jack Swagger's gutwrench powerbomb got him demoted into a jobber. The most successful person from this season is fourth placer Husky Harris, who became Bray Wyatt of The Wyatt Family and out of all the stars in NXT's history is second only to Bryan in popularity. In 2017, Wyatt became the second NXT alumni to win a world title.
    • Season 3: Kaitlyn is an exception, having won the Divas Championship. However, both 2nd placer Naomi and 3rd-placer AJ Lee have won more championships than her; Naomi have been a two-time Women's champion and a Women's tag-team champion, while Lee been as a three-time Women's champion with her inaugural reign becoming the longest at the time, holding it for 295 days. Lee was involved in many major storylines.
    • Season 4: Johnny Curtis hasn't even appeared until recently (nor did he get his guaranteed tag title shot due to R-Truth's Face–Heel Turn), while runner up Brodus Clay appeared on SmackDown as Alberto Del Rio's bodyguard, then disappeared from TV when Del Rio was drafted to Raw. After his debut was delayed week after week, he took a dramatic Heel–Face Turn as the Funkasaurus. Curtis has recently returned as Fandango, a ballroom dancer who became a sensation after a hyperactive post-WrestleMania crowd sang his theme song, leading to the short lived "Fandangoing" craze.
    • Season 5: While the contest was effectively abandoned, Titus O'Neil and Darren Young ended up getting promoted with SmackDown contracts, leaving Derrick Bateman as the lone rookie and technically, the unofficial winner. Bateman never made it far in WWE, but found much more success in TNA as EC3.
  • The 2004 WWE Diva Search. Christy Hemme won the contest and got put on TV almost immediately. She then got pushed into a WrestleMania program with Trish Stratus (as a replacement for the injured Lita) that she was nowhere near ready for, and was bad enough she went around apologizing for her poor performance afterwards. She then wound up having to be the focus of the entire WWE Divas division (injuries, firings and departures left WWE with few veteran female wrestlers in 2005) before being released by WWE in December of that year. Meanwhile, Michelle McCool (who placed seventh) bided her time in some bad gimmicks before winning the WWE Women's Championship three times and being the first WWE Divas Champion as well as being 1/2 of the most hated female duos ever, Team LayCool (with 2006 DS winner Layla).
  • Pro Wrestling Illustrated magazine has been giving out a "Rookie of the Year" award since 1972, and while many of its recipients had long, illustrious careers, others were overshadowed by the runners-up:
    • 1981 winner David Sammartino is one of the biggest busts in wrestling history, whose name is brought up as a textbook example of failing to escape the shadow of a famous father. The third-place finisher that year, "Mr. Perfect" Curt Hennig, went on to a more successful career.
    • The 1983 award went to Angelo Mosca, Jr., whose father, a former Canadian football star, was one of the WWF's top heels at the time. Mosca, Jr. did not go on to have the career his father did, while second-placer King Kong Bundy and fourth placer Arn Anderson became wrestling icons.
    • Madusa, who won in 1988, was the first woman to win the award, was one of the biggest female stars of the era and went on to a decently successful career as a monster truck driver, but she's still probably not as famous (or infamous) as the runner-up that year: Chris Benoit.
    • In 1989, the winners were The Destruction Crew, the team of Mike Enos and Wayne Bloom, better known as the Beverly Brothers from early-90's WWF. Neither as as well known as either of the two runner ups, Dustin Rhodes and Scotty the Body, nowadays better known as Goldust and Raven, respectively.
    • Erik Watts won the award in 1992, although not without controversy: His father Bill was the WCW's booker at the time, and the push he received garnered accusations of nepotism. Readers of another wrestling mag, Wrestling Observer Newsletter, named Watts both their least favorite wrestler of the year and the most overrated. Ultimately, Watts did not wind up having an especially remarkable career, while Diamond Dallas Page, who came in second for the PWI award, went on to become one of the biggest stars in the WCW.
    • ECW's 911 won the award in 1994, followed by Bob Holly, Mikey Whipwreck and Abbudah Singh (later ECW's Balls Mahoney). While Whipwreck is the only one of the four to have been a World Heavyweight Champion (in 1995 ECW), Holly is easily the most famous of the four.
    • The Rock, then known as Rocky Maivia, finished in third place in 1996. Compared to the actual winner it's another downplayed example given that said winner was The Giant, now known as Big Show. Compared to the second-place finisher it's completely played straight, as that was none other than ex-NFL player Steve "Mongo" McMichael, considered one of the biggest busts in WCW history.
    • Monty Brown, who won in 2004, is definitely not on the level of John Morrison, who finished in third.
    • The 2005 winner was the Boogeyman. He has been a fan-favorite gimmick character in the WWE, but hasn't really had the same legacy as Cody Rhodes, who would soon become a figurehead in the creation of All Elite Wrestling.
    • The 2011 award was won by Ace Hawkins, a wrestler so obscure he doesn't have a Wikipedia page. The third place finisher Leakee would become Roman Reigns, a wrestler so famous that he literally has a Wikipedia page entirely dedicated to the poor reception of his run as a face.
  • The Wrestling Observer Newsletter Rookie of the Year awards aren't exactly perfect for avoiding this either:
    • 1985's award was given to Jack Victory, who found himself overtaken by runners-up Keiji Mutoh, Shawn Michaels, and Shinya Hashimoto.
    • 1986's winner Bam Bam Bigelow had a legendary career himself, but you'd be hard-pressed to believe that he won the award over Sting as well as two of the greatest in-ring technicians of all time (and two of the most controversial deaths in professional wrestling history), Owen Hart and Chris Benoit.
    • Gary Albright took home the 1988 award - whilst impressive, the most he achieved in-ring was the AJPW Tag Team Championship until his untimely death in 2000. He beat off big names including Kenta Kobashi, Scott Steiner, Cactus Jack, and Scotty the Body.
    • 1991 winner Marc Mero had a fairly decent career, but he wasn't quite as successful in the long run as second placer Lightning Kid, now better known as X-Pac.
    • Mikey Whipwreck won in 1994. Whilst he had a respectable career as ECW Champion, the second-placer was one Jean-Paul Levesque.
    • The 1999 award was claimed by Blitzkrieg, who actually retired during his rookie year to work as a computer technician. Much better known nowadays are the late fourth-placer Test, but by far the biggest name in the rankings was the third-place finalist: Kurt Angle. And, although he is less known as an actual wrestler than as an authority figure, you could also add second-place Shane McMahon to this list.
    • Sean O'Haire won the 2000 award. He had decent success in WCW (where he was a three-time World Tag Team Champion) and the WWE (where he had a brief, but notable run as the "Devil's Advocate"), but retired abruptly from wrestling in 2006. Upon his death in 2014, he was best remembered by fans as one of wrestling's great What Could Have Been stories. Much better known nowadays are long-time Ensemble Dark Horse Shelton Benjamin at #6 and Japanese wrestling superstar Kenta Kobayashi at #9. And even then, they probably aren't quite on the level as the only woman on that year's rankings: The #7-ranked Trish Stratus. And even she arguably isn't the biggest name on the rankings when honorable mentions are included: just missing the cut was a little-known independent star "American Dragon" Bryan Danielson.
    • The 2001 award went to El Hombre Sin Nombre from CMLL, who faded into obscurity almost immediately. Several of the runners-up went on to become some of the biggest names in wrestling, including Randy Orton, Brock Lesnar, John Cena (who went by the ring name of The Prototype at the time), and Alberto Del Rio (then known as Dos Caras Jr.)
    • Chris Sabin, who won in 2003, had a decent and long-lasting career in Impact Wrestling and the independent circuit, but in the long run the winner was the third-placed Japanese rookie named Shinsuke Nakamura.
    • Petey Williams, who won in 2004, has always been an Ensemble Dark Horse in TNA, and his Canadian Destroyer finisher was one of the most popular wrestling moves of his day, but the fifth place finishe would go on to become one of the biggest stars in the company's history: Austin Aries.
    • Shingo Takagi won in 2005, and while is very well-known in Japan, he never reached the global heights that Bobby Lashley (#5) and The Miz (#9) did.
    • The late Atsushi Aoki, who won in 2006, was never well-known outside Japan, and several years after his death in June 2009, the second-place finisher, Cody Rhodes, had gone on to launch All Elite Wrestling, a promotion that would become the biggest threat WWE had faced in a generation.
    • Erick Stevens, who won in 2007, had some modest success on the indie circuit, but he retired not long afterwards. Compare that to #4 La Sombra, nowadays better known as Andrade "Cien" Almas in WWE and Andrade el Idolo in AEW.
    • In 2008, All Japan Pro Wrestling's Kai was the winner. Even within Japan, he's pretty obscure nowadays, while in sixth and seventh places respectively, were Nick Jackson and Consequences Creed, who are today part of two of the most popular tag teams of all time.
    • Daichi Hashimoto succeded where his father couldn't by winning the 2011 Rookie of the Year award. That's where the success ended, and his career has largely floundered since. Compare that to Tommaso Ciampa, who was on the indie scene at the time and would go on to become one of the biggest stars in WWE NXT history.
    • Yohei Komatsu, winner in 2013, is nowhere near as big of a star as Charlotte Flair, sixth-place finisher in 2013, is.
    • Chad Gable defeated Jay White in 2015. While Gable is the more well-known of the two because he wrestles for WWE, he's mostly floundered in the midcard, and can't compete with a future leader of Bullet Club.

    Motor Racing 
  • Michael Schumacher was already considered the best Formula One pilot available in the championship while he ended as the runner-up for 4 season with the same team, because he managed to fight for victory even if his car was usually inferior to that of his rivals (particularly in 1996 and 1997 when the Williams-Renault was considered a missile with wheels whose drivers did too many mistakes). Of course, he also had already won 2 titles with Benetton previously, but he started to become a legend while playing a major role in returning Ferrari to competitiveness, and it was usually said that his true adversary in the 90s was Adrian Newey (the chief designer for Williams and Mclaren).
  • Alain Prost won the 1989 championship after a controversial move that ended in he and his rival and team-mate Ayrton Senna retiring. He had already decided to leave the team with which he had already won 2 other titles, Mclaren, to go to Ferrari, because he couldn't suffer anymore being in the same team with Senna. This proved more favourable to the latter, who won the following two championships with a Mclaren totally centered on him, and becoming one of the most popular drivers in the history of F1. Prost struggled with Ferrari and was ultimately sacked after comparing the car to a truck, and while he is generally considered to have been an excellent driver, his popularity is usually obscured by that of Senna.
  • James Hunt won the 1976 championship, but that is probably the most famous season of the runner-up Niki Lauda (who had already won in 1975 and would win again in 1977 and 1984), since he escaped a nearly-fatal terrifying crash at Nurburgring where he was engulfed in flames, still managed to recover in less than one month, and then lost by a single point because he made the resounding and controversial decision to renounce to drive the last race at Suzuka for what he deemed to be excessively bad weather. Today, James Hunt is mostly remembered in function of Niki Lauda.
  • Similarly, Jody Scheckter won the 1979 championship for Ferrari, but fans and Enzo Ferrari himself were growing more fond of his teammate and runner-up in the season, Gilles Villeneuve, because of the latter's brave, spectacular and flamboyant driving style.
  • Again in 1979, the duel between Gilles Villeneuve and René Arnoux during the French GP is one of the most famous actions in the history of F1, even if they ended 2nd and 3rd. Chances are that if you follow F1, you already know it because at some point it would have been mentioned or directly replayed. But, how many people know who won that race? Exactly. (if you don't want to Google it, the answer is Jean-Pierre Jabouille).
    • Do you also know that France 1979 was the first win for a turbo-charged car, achieved by a French pilot on a French car with French tyres and French fuel? No? Well, who speaks of that when the duel between Villeneuve and Arnoux is replayed somewhere?

    Sports 
  • At the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, the Women's judo 70g tournament was won by Masae Ueno. While most Americans won't recognize that name, they'll certainly know the athlete who finished in third: Ronda Rousey.
  • In a way, it happened when the IOC chose that out of the two candidates for the 2024 Summer Olympics, one would already be given the 2028 edition (it ended up with Los Angeles, as Paris got the other one).
  • The 2018 Japanese High School Baseball Championship has Kanaashi Nogyo. Despite losing 13-2 in the finals to traditional powerhouse Osaka Tōin, Kanaashi Nogyo was the more well-known and celebrated team that year, due to being a rural agricultural school ( the only public school to reach the final 8 against well-funded private schools), and the first team from Akita Prefecture and the entire Tohoku region to reach the finals in over 100 years (103 to be exact).
  • During the golden era of heavyweight boxing in the 90s, there was the epic three fight trilogy between top heavyweights Evander "Real Deal" Holyfield and Riddick "Big Daddy" Bowe. Bowe ultimately won the trilogy, but Holyfield would be the one celebrated far more by the fans of boxing in a losing effort, because of the heart and determination he showed in all three fights, to the point that his nickname was changed from "Real Deal", to "The Warrior". Many years later, Bowe's boxing career is still respected, but Holyfield is celebrated as one of the legends and all time great heavyweights because of his grit in the ring.
  • The Heisman Trophy, awarded to the most outstanding college football player, might be the sport's equivalent of the "Best New Artist" Grammy. Since 2000, around half of winners have gone on to have disappointing professional careers.
  • Between 1991 and 1998, Michael Jordan played six full seasons and only lost Most Valuable Player twice. And both times he smoked the winner in the Finals (Charles Barkley in 1993 and Karl Malone in 1997) to show he did not take lightly on being passed over.
  • The Golden Ball for the best player of The World Cup is chosen before the final. Which four times resulted in a title for the second place that won the Silver Ball, 1990 (Lothar Matthaus of Germany, while the Italy of top player and top scorer Salvatore Schillaci fell in the semifinal), 2002 (Ronaldo scored both goals over Oliver Kahn), 2006 (Fabio Cannavaro lifted the trophy after penalty shootouts, which Zinedine Zidane did not take part in after headbutting another player and getting expelled), and 2014 (Thomas Muller's Germany beat Lionel Messi's Argentina).

    Web Original 
  • When ScrewAttack sought to partner with a popular YouTube gaming channel, their first choice was Gamelife, one of YouTube's first video game channels. Gamelife's members refused, believing they were too large for the partnership with ScrewAttack to be worth it. Gamelife ended up crashing and burning after their frontman threatened to shoot up his ex-girlfriend's school, while ScrewAttack went with their second partnership pick: The Angry Video Game Nerd.
  • After an awesome and intense race in GTA 5, Zylus managed to get 2nd place. This marks the start of International Zylus Day on June 19th while who got 1st is mostly forgotten.

    Western Animation 
  • Total Drama is an animated reality show with fixed eliminations up until the finale. Per season, fans get to vote who they want to see win from two finalists. The finalist with the most votes in a given country wins in that country's final episode. This means there are both no and two canonical winners and finalists share the consequence of potentially having won: they're not going to win again and while fans still want to see them, the interest that comes from wanting to see a specific character win is gone for previous finalists.

    Real Life 
  • In the South Korean professional StarCraft scene, Hong Jin-Ho a.k.a. YellOw is known as the "King of Silver" for repeatedly placing 2nd in tournaments but never managing to win first place in a major tournament. But after retiring from professional StarCraft, he leveraged that reputation and popularity to become a TV star, re-purposing his quick wits as a frequent guest on SNL Korea as well as various game, panel, and variety shows.
  • Also with StarCraft, one tournament had a price structure where 5th-8th ranked players received 25 Bitcoins, valued at $41.75 at the time of the tournament. While the outcome is uncertain, any of the four players that held onto the reward would have riches beyond first place simply by the growth in value.
  • Can occasionally happen in by-elections where a new party or group establishes relevance...by narrowly losing. The SDP in the UK did this at the Warrington by-election in 1981: It was the party's first appearance in a by-election. They lost, but won over 40% of the vote and established themselves as a force in British politics. Or, as Roy Jenkins (their candidate) said at the time: "But in losing, it is by far the greatest victory in which I have participated."
  • This also happens when someone is narrowly beaten...but the winner proceeds to have a bad time afterwards. Ronald Reagan's 1976 Presidential campaign is a good example: He almost beat Gerald Ford for the nomination, but in failing to do so, it was Ford who lost the election (and it was Jimmy Carter who had to deal with the crises of the late 1970s), paving the way for Reagan to come roaring back in 1980.
    • Similar is JFK's close loss for the Democratic nomination for Vice President in 1956: By not being on the ticket, none of Adlai Stevenson's crushing defeat that year could be blamed on him, but he came close enough to winning to boost his chances in 1960.
  • Bernie Sanders has never gotten the Democratic nomination for President...but if you looked at the direction the party has taken since 2016 (when he gave Hillary Clinton a run for her money), you probably wouldn't guess that he'd lost two bids for President...
  • Another example would be Bill Clinton in the 1992 New Hampshire Primary: He didn't win (that honor went to Paul Tsongas, from neighboring Massachusetts), but Clinton did well enough that, when combined with his "Comeback Kid" spinning, he arguably got the bigger boost out of the two of them.
    • Then again, New Hampshire has done this a few times. Despite winning the primary in 1968, the fact that LBJ failed to win a majority (he got 49% to Eugene McCarthy's 42%) meant that he was seen as the "loser" and McCarthy as the "winner". Within two weeks, McCarthy had gone from trailing LBJ by 35-40 points to leading him, and a few days later LBJ was out of the race.
  • In a cross with this with No Such Thing as Bad Publicity, in 1989, the Rio de Janeiro Carnival had a float characterizing the Christ the Redeemer statue as a beggar, that wound up censored due to church protests. That samba school finished second. Decades later, it's still more remembered than the winner of that year - not helping how the song from first place became sort of a Breakaway Pop Hit.
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