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Tomato Surprise

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The resolution of a plot (usually, but not always, for a Speculative Fiction story) with the sudden revelation of some important detail which has been deliberately hidden from the viewer. Unlike most twists, however, this detail is (usually) known to all, or most, characters and is often something that they would consider an obvious and mundane detail. Often, had this detail been made known at the beginning of the story, much of the dramatic tension would have been missing.

Withholding important details from the audience is not, in itself, anything special: think of all the murder mysteries that don't immediately reveal the very important detail of who did the murder, or all the surprising twists and turns where characters learn shocking truths about themselves and their world. The Tomato Surprise, however, is only a surprise due to the narration withholding important information that the reader might reasonably have expected to have been told up-front, like "the story is not, as you probably assumed, set on Earth" or "the protagonist is not, as you probably assumed, a human being".

The Reveal in a Tomato Surprise tends to be different from other types of twist. Since it is revealing to the audience something the characters already know, it is not tied to any dramatic development in the story, and simply consists of the camera showing us something that was previously obscured, or the narrator "casually" naming a character or setting that was previously not identified. The trope is a bit harder to pull off in visual media since savvy viewers will have their suspicions the more they notice that characters' faces are being deliberately hidden. However, it can still be done depending on the medium- for example, Dating Sim and Raising Sim visual novels typically lack a sprite or face for the protagonist so that the player can project themselves onto said protagonist, and this accepted genre convention can be used to disguise the fact that the protagonist is not who the player assumes they are.

If done well, a Tomato Surprise can make for a stunning ending with a powerful impact. Unfortunately, if done poorly, it will almost always come off as a cheat or an Ass Pull.

While this trope is often used for dramatic effect, it can also be used — especially in Science Fiction — to illustrate a moral or ethical situation in such a way as to invoke a different set of prejudices. Once the viewer has fully understood the dilemma as it applies in their assumed environment, the author reveals that the assumption is false and that the circumstances are different, leaving the viewer to reconcile new conclusions with old prejudices. For example, a story might describe the protagonist's difficulties in society before finally revealing that the character belongs to a marginalised ethnic minority, thus hopefully forcing a bigot who sympathized with the character to reconsider their position. Another popular tactic in this vein, focused on gender rather than ethnicity, is to reveal that Samus Is a Girl after telling a story of seemingly masculine exploits from Samus's own perspective — as was the case with that trope's namer Samus Aran in the first Metroid game.

The trope name comes from a set of writer's guidelines distributed circa 1980 by Asimov's Science Fiction magazine, written by its then-editor, George Scithers. The guidelines named the trope and gave as one of the examples hiding the fact that the hero is, in fact, a tomato.

This trope can be considered a form of Unreliable Narrator, though generally, the narration doesn't actually lie, merely strategically omits key details.

See Earth All Along, The All-Concealing "I", Narrator All Along, and The Ending Changes Everything. Related to Karmic Twist Ending and Cruel Twist Ending. The opposite of this trope is Dramatic Irony when the audience knows something that the characters don't. Also contrast with Internal Reveal, when something only the audience and one or a few character(s) already know is revealed to another character(s) in-universe.

If the twist comes as a surprise to any characters, it is not an example of this trope. Contrast with Tomato in the Mirror, in which the protagonist (rather than just the audience) learns a surprising fact that causes everything that came before to be reevaluated. If the twist comes as a surprise to the protagonists, it is probably a Tomato in the Mirror rather than a Tomato Surprise.

This is a Plot Twist trope, and as such will contain major unmarked spoilers. From the viewer's point of view, of course.


Other examples:

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  • A commercial for Mercury showed a man driving a new Montego down the same street three times. Each time, subtitles reveal that the weatherman predicted a different weather pattern than what actually happens. (First, rain instead of sun. Then, sun instead of rain. Finally, snow instead of record highs.) The subtitles reveal that fortunately, he has all-wheel drive. Unfortunately, he's the weatherman.
  • A UK advert for Robinsons' Juice has two boys playing together outside, teasing each other about girls, drinking the orange juice and watching a film together at home. The first boy falls asleep on the couch, and the second boy takes off his shoes for him, carries him upstairs and puts him into bed. As the second boy walks out, he pauses at the door and the first boy sleepily says "Night, Dad." We see the 'second boy' at the door again, now grown-up as his Dad. As the text says at the end "It's Good To Be A Dad, It's Better To Be A Friend."
  • A commercial for Subaru ("The Date") shows a man and a woman driving around the countryside in their car, apparently on a date or a husband and wife outing. They stop for lunch and have some fun at a roadside market. In the end, the man drops off the woman at the side of the road next to a pickup truck. She then takes a gas can out of the trunk revealing she was just a stranded motorist he stopped to help.
  • An advertisement shows an apparent Jerkass and his random acts of anti-social behavior toward strangers—pulling up a woman's dress, ruffling another woman's hairdo, throwing sand in a child's face, flipping an elderly man's umbrella inside out. Although it's obvious to the viewer, the man seems oblivious to why nobody likes him. The Ending Changes Everything when it is revealed that the man is actually a personification of the wind. What's being advertised is the idea of harnessing the wind for power.
  • A commercial for coffee shows a man drinking coffee with his adult daughter while discussing the wedding taking place the following day. The daughter is worried that she'll mess up, but her father gets her confidence up. After a shot of the coffee package, we cut to the wedding. The daughter is the justice of the peace, not the bride.

  • Comedian Emo Philips is fond of these:
    • He says that he loves to watch the schoolkids running and yelling and screaming at recess...and then says they don't know he's just firing blanks.
    • He tells a long story about how he went to the library to look up, attempt to check out, and finally end up photocopying the instructions for the "Heimlich Anti-Choking Maneuver," ending with him saying "So I went back out to the car, and by this time my sister was almost purple from the chicken bone..."
    • His "cellar door" joke usually goes something like this:
      When I was small, my mother warned me every day never to open the cellar door. She said that horrible, unspeakable things would happen to me if I ever opened the cellar door. I was frightened, but I still so desperately wanted to know what was behind the cellar door. So one day when my mother was away, I summoned up all my courage and opened the cellar door...and you'll never believe the things I saw! Flowers! Trees! Other children!
  • In British Humour, this trope is also known as "and then I got off the bus", the humour coming from a set-up that led the audience to think the teller was at home, probably including nudity.

    Comic Books 
  • The Warhammer 40,000 comic Damnation Crusade tells the story of three different Black Templar Space Marines: A neophyte, a battle brother, and a Dreadnought. In the very end, it is revealed that all three were in fact the same person, during different stages of his life.
  • In Enigma, a story about a superhuman who patterns his life after a comic book superhero in an attempt to give his life meaning, the hilarious yet bitterly sardonic narrator is revealed in the end to be a lizard whom Enigma grants sentience to, trying to explain the whole story to a bunch of ordinary lizards. Enigma was making a point about how he felt, living as a superhuman in a world of ordinary humans.
  • EC Comics
    • A famous fight over censorship erupted around Judgment Day, a story in EC's Weird Science title. In the story, an astronaut from Earth visits an alien planet populated by robots to judge whether it was ready to be accepted into the wonders and greatness of Earth. He rejects this the world when he realizes that the Orange robots live in a place of comfort and superiority, while Blue Robots live in inferior conditions, are basically kept as slave labor, and have no rights, though they supposedly 'are equal'. The astronaut promises to return when the robots learn to abolish this method. In the final panel, the astronaut removes his helmet for the first time, with the shocking reveal that he was black.
    • Another Weird Science example was a story about a man who worked as a dishwasher in some rundown desert diner. The man recounts how he always wanted to be an astronaut, venturing into space and living on another planet, but things like marriage and providing for his family came first and now he was too old to live such an exciting life. Turns out the whole story took place on Mars, where he was born and lived his entire life. The grass is always greener indeed.
  • An Alan Moore story in 2000 AD was based around a series of shock confrontations between a human and a hideous alien, with first-person narrative captions of a person telling a psychiatrist that he keeps seeing horrible monsters wherever he goes. As the reader will suspect, the final panel revealed that both the patient and the psychiatrist were aliens.
  • In The Tomb of Dracula #25, we first meet private investigator Hannibal King. King is hired to investigate a murder which he asserts is the work of a vampire and asks his doubting client to trust him. Sure enough, the case involves an appearance by Dracula. And King holds his own quite well against Dracula and his vampire flunkies. We are not told until the end that Hannibal King is also a vampire.
  • In the first Druuna album, Morbus Gravis, Druuna seems to be living in some sort of post-apocalyptic city, but at the end, this is revealed to be a massive spaceship that left Earth centuries ago.

    Fan Works 
  • The Touhou fan comic "The End of the Maiden's Illusion" concerns Reimu's death (of old age) and then segues into a reflective, long and sad conversation between her and Komachi. But scroll down the last strip and BAM! Turns out the entire thing was an Oscar Bait screenplay by Nitori.
  • A Sonic The Hedgehog fanfic, Blast to the Past makes this interesting. Taken as a reference from the Fleetway comics, Sonic and Eggman were once friends. But then a terrible accident happens to one of then-benevolent Eggman's machines. Sonic tried to stop it but clumsily pulled out the plug by tripping, and things got worse from there. The good doctor tried to see if his young ward was alright, but trips on his foot and crashes into the machine, causing a devastating explosion. When the flames subsided, the now evil Mad Scientist we all love to hate was born and immediately blamed Sonic for his transformation. Sonic also blames himself for his friend's Face–Heel Turn, say that it was his fault that Eggman is trying to rule the world. But as the story progressed, it turns out that the real culprit was Princess Elise, along with Silver and Blaze, who had gone back in time to turn Eggman evil on purpose. It's Not What It Looks Like, though...
  • The Fan Vid Haloid, featuring a certain pair of armored badasses (Samus and Master Chief) taking on both the Covenant and each other, with plenty of sexual tension to go around, only to reveal at the very end that The Spartan-II wasn't Master Chief, but rather Nicole, the guest fighter from Dead or Alive 4. This, of course, mirrors the more well-known Tomato Surprise that Samus Is a Girl. This does not defuse the sexual tension. Quite the opposite.
  • The Lyrical Nanoha fanfic Another Way (an Alternate Universe Spin-Off of Game Theory) ends with the reveal that the Takamachi and Testarossa in the story are actually Momoko and Alicia. The prologue of Power Games appears to be Hayate awakening to the first manifestation of the Wolkenritter. Except that it's actually from Ixpellia's perspective.
  • The Calvin & Hobbes: The Series episode "Lightning Man" has one concerning the titular villain, though Calvin and company play Audience Surrogate - the titular villain is related to the Brainstorm family.
  • The crossover Crack Fic Kasumi's Epic Quest!!! is listed as a My Little Pony and Minecraft crossover, and the reason for this serves as one of these; Kasumi is the daughter of Discord. This is only vaguely hinted once before the reveal in the final chapter.
  • In Long Time No See, set fifteen years after the canon events, Shinji and Asuka meet each other in a Nerv's reunion party. As catching up with each other, Shinji mentions he is married, and Asuka might know his wife. Asuka also mentions her husband has gone to his old company's party. Eventually it is revealed that their mysterious spouses are each other. Asuka was joking when she said it had been a while, and Shinji decided to play along with her.
  • Monstrous Compendium Online: Of the twenty thousand players trapped in SAO, two thousand are youkai from Eberron. Their avatars were human on Opening Day, and then they transformed back into youkai at the first opportunity.
  • Medicated has a chapter where Wartwood is flooded with "poisonous" water. It's built up as something extremely dangerous, but eventually it turns out it's actually salt, which is toxic to frogs, but not humans. This fact is kept from the audience to make it as much a surprise to them as it is to the characters that Anne is immune in her human form.

  • For most of My Beloved Mother, the Raised by Robots protagonist Sinbell often wonders where his real, biological mother is, to the point of running away from home to find his true parent while rejecting his robot mother. It's not until the final chapter's revelation where it turns out back when Sinbell was 4, his biological mother, Aya, performs a Heroic Sacrifice to save Sinbell from a gas explosion, and her Dying Wish is for her mind to be reprogrammed into a robot body so she can continue raising her son.

    Visual Novels 
  • In Ever17, Takeshi's real face isn't shown during the first playthrough (except for one scene, where it's just barely onscreen that a sharp-eyed person can realize they're being misguided before the reveal), to conceal the fact that the two Takeshis presented are different persons. This turns out to be a big part of a plan by one of the characters to save his father and friend from a deadly virus. This varies based on the order one plays the routes in. If one approaches the final route from Kid's perspective, he also gets tomatoed in the same manner.
  • Zero Escape:
    • In the True End of Virtue's Last Reward, several facts obvious to much of the cast are revealed to the player, such as the fact that most of the game has taken place on the moon, 45 years after the player thought it was. Not all of the characters knew this, however. There are also some interesting revelations about the protagonist.
    • Zero Time Dilemma continues this trend by hiding an entire character just out of sight from the audience that is completely known in-universe and just very rarely referenced. All of the characters know that "Q" is really an old man in a wheelchair and that the Q players know is really named Sean, but the player never learns this until near the end of the game.
  • Danganronpa V3: Killing Harmony: The ending of the first chapter/murder case, in which it's revealed that the killer is Kaede Akamatsu, the Player Character. Since Monokuma was going to kill everyone if a murder was not committed within the time limit, Kaede decided to try to kill the mastermind of the killing game, but when her trap seemingly resulted in the death of Rantaro instead, she decided not to take Monokuma up on his offer (which allowed the first person to commit a murder to get off scot-free and leave without a trial) so she could try to catch the mastermind during the trial. Sadly, it fails, and the player switches to controlling Kaede's best friend Shuichi Saihara as the new Player Character once it becomes clear that she must be convicted. Notably, while quite a bit of her inner monologue and dialogue with other characters will stand out on a second playthrough (like how she goes on and on about catching the mastermind, but never about figuring out the killer), the way it's worded is vague enough to successfully hide it from the player on the first go-round. Chapter 6 then turns that reveal on its head when it turns out she didn't do it; she was framed by the mastermind, who managed to successfully trick Kaede into thinking the aforementioned trap worked; in reality, Rantaro died a different way to a similar murder weapon.
  • After finishing up Natsumi's route in Sharin no Kuni, there's a brief kinda-actiony sequence followed by Isono finally admitting he knew who Kenichi was the whole time. What was much more subtly built up was when he started talking to Kenichi's sister Ririko, who has been standing right behind him the whole time, forbidden from interacting with anyone else or being recognized. Apparently specifically so it doesn't look like an asspull, the story immediately starts a flashback sequence where this reveal had been hinted at. It's a lot more obvious in hindsight, especially when considering the Maximum Penalty badge that had shown up on the title page since the beginning, yet no one in the story bore it.
  • Umineko: When They Cry: One possible interpretation of the story is that the majority of the events might just be written fiction revolving around the actual tragedy of Rokkenjima. Of course, this wouldn't explain the blatantly supernatural stuff that happened after The Reveal.
  • In Where Ages Go, the protagonist is a Heroic Mime who meets a cute boy in a park and gets closer to him over time until they eventually move in with him. In other words, just like your typical Romance Game... until the ending image reveals that the reason the protagonist is never shown speaking dialogue is that they're actually a dog.
  • Hatoful Boyfriend has the player romance birds and only birds, and we never see any humans in the game. Why? An avian disease wipes almost everyone out of course! It becomes rather obvious in hindsight when you realize one of cgs seen is a ruined city...

  • The 70-Seas side story, Lost and Found, when a man in a stolen Toby Terrier convinces the Toby Town security guards that have surrounded him that he was a lost child who grew up in the park's lost and found, only to reveal that it was actually the park guards who had been raised in the lost and found and suppressed their memories of it.
  • During a previous storyline of Axe Cop, Sockarang completes a mad rampage where he assaults and kidnaps his supposed allies. Once they're all safely under lock and key, he removes his reveal that he's actually Dr. Stinky Head, who had disguised himself as Sockarang to trick Axe Cop and his friends. Just then, Dr. Stinky Head shows up and divests himself of his own mask, to reveal that he's actually Sockarang, who had the exact same idea as Dr. Stinky Head.
  • Brawl in the Family pulled this off when they did the Cocoon Academy arc, about Dedede and "Pinky"'s days in school. Pinky is a very familiar-looking pink puffball with good sucking abilities. It turns out that he's actually Meta Knight, who got corrupted into a blue color while defending the academy, whereas soon after he got his mask. Kirby was likely not even born at the time of the arc. In addition, "Headmaster Hand" is actually Crazy Hand, only he isn't.
  • In Homestuck, Jane and Jake live in Maple Valley, Washington and a small island in the Pacific respectively, just like John and Jade. Roxy and Dirk live in Rainbow Falls, New York and Houston, Texas. However, what was kept hidden from readers was that Dirk and Roxy live in the future where the Troll Empress has taken charge of Earth and flooded it. Roxy's house is part of a chessboard-esque hub and Dirk's apartment is the only thing remaining above water.
  • Guilded Age: The beginning of chapter 9 let us know that none of the adventures are "real"—it's an extremely advanced experiment in virtual simulation for the online Game "Kingdoms of Arkerra", with the main ad)venturing party having forgotten their original identities entirely. HR's comments pose a philosophical question of "what is real?" when he implies Arkerra is indeed a real place, one that he 'found' through the game. He likened it to a sculptor, revealing a statue that was always in the block of marble. It turns out Arkerra is a copy of another, pre-existing world, altered by HR through magic until that world fit what he'd need both to open Kingdoms of Arkerra and access the Realm of Being, which would make him as powerful as a god.
  • In Romantically Apocalyptic, the Moon Arc heavily implies Zee Captain is some form of ANNET, the A.I. who (inadvertently) helped cause the apocalypse and served as the Big Bad for a large chunk of the comic's run.
  • In the episode Killing Zone of Silent Horror, the protagonist is killing zombies with a katana from first-person view. Then it is revealed that it all was just a VR-game. In another, non-tomato twist, he actually killed his coworkers. Then there's a third twist...

  • Lateral-thinking puzzles often involve a Tomato Surprise; the point of the riddle is to get the listener to challenge their default assumptions. (Some find this infuriating since the riddles' solutions are often extremely far-fetched and difficult to reach; a common complaint is that there are often solutions that require fewer assumptions than the "official" answer. This is somewhat lessened when the listener is able to ask yes-and-no questions of the riddlemaster.) Some examples:
    • A wet, naked body lies in a puddle of water surrounded by shards of glass near an overturned table. There are no marks on the body. How did the victim die? A goldfish died from asphyxiation after its bowl fell down and broke.
    • A man takes the elevator in his building on rainy days and the stairs on sunny days. Why? He has dwarfism, and the only way he can reach the elevator buttons is with his umbrella, which he only has with him on rainy days.
    • A car is traveling along a road with no street-lights, the headlights of the car are not on either. A pedestrian in black clothes quickly walks out in front of the car. Yet the driver of the car is able to stop in good time and there is no incident. It's daytime.
    • A man walks into a restaurant and orders a bowl of albatross soup. He takes a spoonful, pays, leaves, and walks into an alley to shoot himself. Why? (you can watch a brilliantly animated yes-or-no question version here) He was once a castaway with his ship's crew, and their chef kept the survivors alive with his "albatross soup". When the man noticed that the real soup tasted different, he confirmed his suspicion that the chef cooked the bodies of the deceased victims, and he killed himself because he'd unwittingly committed cannibalism.
    • When the music stopped, the lady died. The lady was a blind tightrope walker, the end of the song was her cue for when to step off the tightrope onto the platform, and—oops!—someone turned off the music too early! Alternatively, she was the ballerina figurine in a music box. Or alternatively, she was a ladybug who flew onto a chair during a game of Musical Chairs and was squashed when people rushed to sit down in the chairs after the music stopped.
    • A man lies dead in a forest. How did he die? He was a swimmer or diver, accidentally picked up by a helicopter getting water from a lake to put out a forest fire.
    • A man lies dead next to a green rock...How did he die? He's Superman, the rock is Kryptonite.
    • A man lies dead in the desert surrounded by 53 bicycles. They were playing cards. He was cheating and got murdered. ('Bicycle' is a common brand of playing cards, so 53 suggests that one was a duplicate.)
    • A man pushes his car in front of a hotel, and as soon as he did, he realized that he was broke. He was playing Monopoly.
    • A boy and his father are in a car. It gets into a terrible accident. The father is killed outright. The boy is critically injured and rushed to the hospital. In the operating room, the doctor looks down and says "My God! This is my son!" How is this possible? Either the boy has two daddies or the doctor is his mother.
    • There's a cabin in the woods. Everybody in it is dead. How did they die? It's a plane cabin— they crashed.
    • A woman sees a house and the windows are closed. She calls the police and many people are arrested. What happened? She saw the windows closed on the picture of the White House on the back of a $20 bill, and realized it was counterfeit.
    • A man was found dead with a hole in his suit. What happened? He was an astronaut on a mission and his spacesuit got punctured.
    • A man lies dead and alone in a desolate field with an unopened package. How did he die? Hint: The closer he got to his destination, the surer he was that he was going to die. His parachute didn't open; as he neared to the ground, the man was sure he was going to die.
    • Two chess grandmasters play five games and end up with the same win-loss records. No game ended in a draw. How? They didn't play against each other.
    • A woman shoots her husband, holds him underwater for over five minutes, then hangs him. A few minutes later, however, they go out for dinner and a movie. She's a photographer. She shoots a picture of him using old-school film, places the film in a chemical bath to develop it, then hangs the developed photo to dry.
    • The prisoner was held in a cell with high, thick concrete walls and no windows or door. So how did he escape? Through the hole in the wall where the door should have been.
    • A horse has a five-foot rope tied to it. A bale of hay is 10 feet away, yet the horse can still eat it. How is this possible? The other end of the rope isn't tied to anything. Alternatively, the other end rope is tied to something and the horse simply moved back and forth.
    • A baby falls out of a twenty-story building and survives. How? He fell out of a first-story window.
  • One Internet meme (inspired by South Park) involves telling a very long story in which, at the end, one of the characters turns out to be the Loch Ness Monster and asks for "tree fiddy" (three dollars and fifty cents). A similar meme reveals at the end that the whole story was how the narrator ended up living with his aunty and uncle in Bel-Air.
  • Joan Cornellà's surreal visual strips are a haven for this trope. In one example, a man is looking at the mirror in a bathroom, when he perceives another man killing a third one behind him. Understandably freaked out, he looks at his back, but he's relieved as the final panel reveals there weren't two men, but two homunculi growing out of his own back.


Video Example(s):


Two Names

One home invasion becomes two and two characters become one as the protagonist's full name is revealed.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (6 votes)

Example of:

Main / TwoAliasesOneCharacter

Media sources: