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The Runner-Up Takes It All

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You've never even heard of the first place guy.

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.


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.


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.


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  • 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 wasn't the last time this would happen to Jim - in 1979, "The Rainbow Connection" from The Muppet Movie lost its Oscar to "It Goes Like It Goes" from Norma Rae. The winning song, while decent, 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.
  • 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.

  • 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.
    • 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.
    • 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.
  • 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.
    • 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 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.
  • These days Search for a Star 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?"
    • 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 '80s version of The Twilight Zone... 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, 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.
    • 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 to Eleven, 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 Måns Zelmerlöw — 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.
    • 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.
  • 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 she returned in the fourth season, and was promoted to series regular in season five. Not to mention Alex starring in the revival of Once On This Island on Broadway and continuing to do television work. 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.
  • 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.
      • James Arthur seems to have averted the trope for now with a 2nd place song and album, and a tour of Europe. However, his war with Matt Cardle puts James in a very volatile situation, and has turned him into someone many love to hate, even given for his good music. It reached tipping point when James was in a rap battle with the rapper Micky Worthless, and both used put downs viewed as homophobic. When James got criticized for it by a gay contestant from his series of the X Factor (Lucy Spraggan), he responded to her in an offensive manner, and a fan demanded a refund of his debut album on iTunes, and a petition was set up trying to boycott a performance he did on his return to the XF. This detracted from the success enjoyed by his winners single across Europe, and the good chart positions of his album, though fortunately, he apologised for his behaviour and made a Career Resurrection with his single "Say You Won't Let Go" in 2016. His runner up Jahmene Douglas had his album of covers reach number 1, but none of the covers have charted well. Ella Henderson, on the other hand, has debuted at #1 with her first single and album, though having her second album put on ice despite supporting her XF conqueror, Take that, and Rudimental in tours. However, whilst songs she released on her own in late 2019 had limited success, she sang vocals on two succesful EDM/House songs, having previously done so in 2015.
    • 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.
    • On the American version, 3rd placer Chris Rene has to this point had those most success, due to his uber-catchy single "Young Homie." The second series saw the 3rd and 4th place girl group and boyband, 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, the new Beyoncé or JLo, 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.
  • 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 erratic and out of control as a VJ. Dave looked a little boring compared to the very unique Jesse, but also came across as more professional around the big-name talent MTV was pulling in at the time, 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.
  • 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. 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.
  • 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 (Rory Lee Feek and his wife, Joey Martin Feek) recorded eight albums and amassed a sizable fanbase with almost no help from country radio, helped in no small part by Rory's name recognition as a songwriter and producer. 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 Chris Young has released six albums and had eight #1 country hits (although his first album bombed).
    • 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 Country Rap artist 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.
  • 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.
  • Several singers were rejected by American Idol such as Colbie Caillat, Lady Antebellum singer Hilary Scott, and R and 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 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.
  • 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 pageant: 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.

  • 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.
  • Anyone remember Little Boots? She was the singer who won 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. While it remains to be seen how much success he will have, fourth placer Slowthai and unranked Ella Mai both did better chart and popularity-wise in 2019 than Octavian did.
  • The Billboard Year-End charts rank the most popular songs of each year for the pop, R&B, and country charts. On three 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, and "Hanging by a Moment" by Lifehouse in 2001. All three songs only got to #2 on the weekly charts.
  • This is also true of the Year-End charts for the Country Music format, which have presented a few oddities:
    • In 1973, Don Williams' single "Amanda" peaked at No. 33 during its original chart run, yet ranked as the fifth-biggest single of the entire year. This may be in part due to a much-longer chart run when paired with its double A-sided flip side "Come Early Morning," which peaked at No. 12. The two-sided hit had a 19-week chart run that spanned from late April to early September, and it was likely that the song, while hugely popular, never peaked in popularity at the same time everywhere, but the big picture showed a one of the year's most popular songs, and by a then-newcomer.
    • In 1975, two songs that peaked in the top 3 during their original chart runs ranked among the top 5 country hits of the entire year, both coming in August: "Love In the Hot Afternoon" by Gene Watson, which ranked at No. 4 for the year despite a No. 3 chart peak; and "Reconsider Me" by Narvel Felts, which matched its original No. 2 chart peak with being the runner-up song of the year.
    • During the 1978-1989 Bob Kingsley era of American Country Countdown, only once as a song failing to reach No. 1 ever been one of the top 10 songs of the year. That came in 1982, when Hank Williams Jr.'s iconic "A Country Boy Can Survive" was that year's No. 8 song, thanks largely to its three-week run at No. 2. note  The 1978 year-end countdown, in contrast, did have two songs that peaked in the top 5 make the year-end top 20, which was increasingly rare by that time: "Middle-Aged Crazy" by Jerry Lee Lewis (a No. 4 hit that was the 20th-ranked song of the year) and "Hearts On Fire" by Eddie Rabbitt (which spent three weeks at No. 2 and was the 18th-ranked song of the year).
      • In contrast, the official Billboard year-end publication was kinder to several songs during the 1980s than the ACC-compiled year-end countdown. The most notable non-No. 1 songs featured in a year-end's top 10 during the decade included two from 1982: Williams' "A Country Boy Can Survive" (at No. 9 for the year per the official survey) and then-newcomer George Strait's "If You're Thinking You Want a Stranger (There's One Coming Home)," at No. 8 for the year after peaking at No. 3 in mid-spring. note  From 1985, a pair of summertime hits: Janie Fricke's "She's Single Again" (No. 2 during its run, No. 6 for the year) and "Falling In Love" by Sylvia (No. 3 originally, No. 9 for the year). In 1987, T.G. Sheppard's "Half Past Forever ('Till I'm Blue In the Heart)" peaked at No. 2 and was listed as the runner-up song of the year. In 1989, Conway Twitty had the third-ranked song of the year, "She's Got a Single Thing In Mind," which during its original chart run peaked at No. 2 that July.
    • "Friends in Low Places" by Garth Brooks only ranked at #28 for the year, with the top hit of 1990 being the largely-forgotten "Nobody's Home" by Clint Black.
    • Surely the biggest country hit of 1992 was Billy Ray Cyrus's inescapable "Achy Breaky Heart", right? Nope, according to Billboard it was "I Saw the Light" by Wynonna Judd; Billy Ray ranked #2 for the year. Of course, he had the biggest country hit on the Hot 100 that year.
    • 2003 presents a real oddity. The year had multiple long-lasting #1 hits, including "19 Somethin'" by Mark Wills, "Have You Forgotten?" by Darryl Worley, "Beer for My Horses" by Toby Keith and Willie Nelson, and "It's Five O'Clock Somewhere" by Alan Jackson and Jimmy Buffett. So what was the biggest hit? "My Front Porch Looking In" by Lonestar, which barely squeaked in a single week at #1 after "Beer" did. Respectively, "19 Somethin'", "Have You Forgotten?", "Beer for My Horses", and "It's Five O'Clock Somewhere" ranked at #3, #12, #2, and #4.
    • 2010's biggest hit was "Love Like Crazy" by Lee Brice, which only got to #3, and became the first song ever to take the Billboard Year-End honor for country despite not peaking at #1 on the weekly charts. This is due mainly to "Love Like Crazy" having a then record-breaking chart run of 56 weeks.
    • 2012's biggest hit was "Time Is Love" by Josh Turner, which only got to #2 on the weekly charts, but also benefited from an abnormally long chart run.
    • Brice did it again in 2015 when "Drinking Class" was the top hit of the year despite also only peaking at #2 on the weekly charts, but also benefited from an abnormally long chart run.
  • 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.
    • 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. Considering that this was a debut album by a teenage girl from New Zealand and they were established superstars, that's impressive.
  • 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 captured lightning in a bottle on the way to a massive 2 million copies in the U.S. alone. Not bad, considering it was Smith's debut album.
  • 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.
    • 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.
    • Averted in 1965, which was won by The Beatles, who by the time of their win already achieved more than their competition ever would combined. Had someone else won and they would today be considered the How Green Was My Valley of the Grammys.
    • 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".
    • The Starland Vocal Band of 1977 were a very infamous winner, ended up a One-Hit WonderBoston definitely won in the long run.
    • 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. A two-hit wonder disco band beat out, amongst others, new wave legends The Cars and Elvis Costello and stadium rock icons Toto.
    • Rickie Lee Jones is a cult songwriter who won the award in 1980, but never really made it into the mainstream like the world-renowned Dire Straits — 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, who won in 1992, hasn't exactly aged as well as Boyz II Men or Seal.
    • 1998's winner Paula Cole ended up being a two-hit wonder, while nominee Fiona Apple saw a more successful and influential career.
    • 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.
    • Everyone was shocked when Adele, a little known British singer, came out on top over the heavily favored Jonas Brothers in 2009. Later she would go on to become one of the industry's biggest superstars of all time, and her win today is about as contested as The Beatles' victory in 1965. The Jonas Brothers would later go on hiatus, but ended up having a Career Resurrection in 2019 with the success of the hit "Sucker".
    • Like in 2009, everybody was shocked when a little-known jazz bassist/singer by the name of Esperanza Spalding beat out rising stars Justin Bieber, Drake, Florence + the Machine and Mumford & Sons in 2011. Her victory led to her latest album Chamber Music Society cracking the Billboard 200 and a Top 10 album with Radio Music Society (which earned her two more Grammys) a year later, and many people were taking interest in Spalding and her music. Then, her career momentum crashed when she abandoned making music and went to work as a supporting musician for other artists, and her later albums, starting with her jazz-rock comeback album Emily's D+Evolution (2016), were released to little fanfare or success. All four of the artists she beat are much more successful compared to Spalding (who has retained a little bit of popularity in jazz circles), particularly Drake and Bieber, who would become two of the biggest stars in music soon after. Her win is still contested by fans of the four artists she beat.
    • 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).
  • Every year, Billboard publishes a year-end chart of the top songs on the Hot 100 and other genres.
  • The 1967 Grammy for Best Rock Song 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.
  • 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:
    • 1991 was won by the long forgotten Betty Boo. Compare her success to the likes of Happy Mondays and The Charlatans.
    • 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 was no Jamiroquai or Suede.
    • 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". One of the acts they beat, Coldplay, would go on to become one of the biggest bands of the new millennium.
    • Arctic Monkeys, who won in 2006, were initially overshadowed by James Blunt. However, they later turned it around and are far more respected than Blunt ever was, scoring two #1 singles in their native UK.
    • 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:
    • 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 another nominee, Daft Punk.
    • Probably the biggest example of this happened in 2000, when Macy Gray pipped both Britney Spears and Eminem to the award.
    • Whilst 2001 winner Kelis was relatively successful in the United Kingdom, she never had a number one single. One of the other nominees - Westlife - would have 15 number one singlesnote  and 8 number one albums.
  • 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 beat out Christina Aguilera, Papa Roach, P!nk, and Sisqo. Of those, only Sisqo was more quickly forgotten than Gray.
    • 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.

     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 becomes the WWE Champion and successfully defends the title at WrestleMania, while Morrison's career subsequently stalls in lower midcard hell.
    • Chris 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, 3rd-placer AJ Lee has been involved in many major storylines, as well as becoming the longest reigning Divas Champion at the time, holding it for 295 days.
    • 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 Lay-Cool (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:
    • 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.
    • 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 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, 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.
    • 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 runners-up Kurt Angle and Test.
    • The 2001 award went to El Hombre Sin Nombre from CMLL, who went on to live up to his name by being a no-name. In the vote, he managed to overcome names including Randy Orton, Brock Lesnar, The Prototype, and Dos Caras Jr..

  • At the 2008 Olympics 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.
  • Los Angeles gets this for the 2028 Summer Olympics instead of the 2024 Summer Olympics (which was given to Paris).
  • 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).

     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 
  • In a way, Gwen from Total Drama (the runner up of the first season) because she is better liked by the fanbase. The winner of Total Drama Island is decided by vote from the viewers, though, so the more popular one is generally the winner (which Owen was at the time, at least in Canada). In later seasons, Gwen has turned out to be much more liked than Owen, though.
    • It's not just Gwen either; quite a few people from this season alone—like Heather, Izzy, Lindsay, Bridgette, and Noah—are more popular than Owen too.
    • In season 2 (Action), Duncan won the season in a network-conducted vote with more than three times the votes than Beth (at 77-23 exactly). However, in later seasons, Duncan has became more controversial, considering the love triangle mess in season 3 and his arrest in season 5 (All-Stars). While Duncan is still more popular than Beth, she's not as controversial as he is and she's since won in more countries than Duncan.
      • Just like season one, Duncan wasn't just popular. There were more popular characters in the season like Harold, Lindsay, and Courtney.
    • Cameron was near unanimously voted as the winner of season 4, but in season 5 (All-Stars), his popularity took a nosedive, becoming a borderline scrappy. By contrast, the runner-up, Lightning was less popular in 4, but became one of the more popular characters in All-Stars, and today is all-around more popular than Cameron. However, Lightning isn't just more popular than Cameron nowadays. More TDROTI contestants include Scott, Jo, Anne Maria, Brick, Dawn, and B.
    • A very bizarre example in season 3 (World Tour), where the runner-up suffers quite a bit less than the winner depending on the ending.
      • In the ending where Heather wins, she loses the money and gets hit with a volcanic rock.
      • In the ending where Alejandro wins, he suffers a Humiliation Conga and only wins on a very cheap technicality, then is caught in a volcano eruption and is stuck in a robot for a year. (Granted, most of that happened in Heather's ending too)
    • Deconstructed in All-Stars (season 5) where the final two (Zoey and Mike) were not well-liked by the fans. There were some other worthy contestants that deserved to be in the final two more than Zoey and/or Mike. For example, you have Gwen (who would have been a two-time finalist), Courtney, Scott, et al.
    • While Sky (Canadian winner) and Shawn (U.S. winner) were well-liked by many, there were a handful of fans that believed that there were more popular contestants worthy of making the final two that year, including Jasmine, Scarlett, Ella, and Samey.
    • Zig-zagged in The Ridonculous Race with The Police Cadets (MacArthur and Sanders; Canadian winners) and The Surfers (Geoff and Brody; U.S. winners).
      • While the Surfers won in the U.S., the Cadets compensate for staying throughout the race given their feud with the Ice Dancers (Jacques and Josee).
      • The Surfers and the Cadets were not just the most well-liked contestants in the season. There were more teams worthy of being in the finals, such as The Sisters (Emma and Kitty), The Best Friends (Carrie and Devin), The Goths (Crimson and Ennui), Reality TV Pros (Noah and Owen, even though Owen already made the finals in the first season), and many others to name.

     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.

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