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Bob: You want to do something for Dash? Then let him actually compete. Let him go out for sports!
Helen: I will not be made the enemy here! You know why we can't do that.
Bob: BECAUSE HE'D BE GREAT!

Everyone loves an underdog story, that's why Underdogs Never Lose is such a common trope. It's natural that we cheer for the one we don't expect to win. But when this leaks out of narrative contexts, or into unrelated narratives, you often get this rather bizarre mutation: the person who won is seen as unethical or even evil because they won — or just because they entered with the knowledge that they have an advantage, which sounds like cheating to some people. The advantage may be a result of Training from Hell or being the Privileged Rival, or perhaps a purely fictional origin such as being a cyborg or having superpowers.

In any case, the advantaged character is subject to angry complaints and people may demand that they get banned from the contest or have their prize revoked. Or they might not be allowed to enter the contest in the first place.

There is an element of Comes Great Responsibility in this kind of thinking: people who know they're obviously gonna win a contest should be responsible enough to know they shouldn't enter it and ruin everyone else's fun. Supposedly.

In real life, the most common case arises when a given opportunity is "open to everyone", yet the winner is someone who would arguably not have needed that opportunity to prove they're good at what they do. Such as a professional singer winning a karaoke competition at the local pub. Despite what Hollywood might tell you, a talented amateur is unlikely to be better than someone with a decade or more of experience under their belt, and the professional likely doesn't need to enter an amateur contest to prove their skill, making it easy to see them as a Jerkass doing it just to deny others their recognition. On the other side of the coin, this is a common problem for the precocious amateur or semiprofessional, who finds themself not good enough to compete at the top level yet the subject of angry complaints when they win against the general public.

This trope is one of The Perils of Being the Best. Compare Tall Poppy Syndrome, where the skilled person is brought down by active sabotage instead of just moralistic condemnation. The Resenter will often be the first person to consider someone else overqualified. Contrast Varying Competency Alibi.

For when a specific tactic or playable character in a game is hated for being too powerful compared to the rest, see High-Tier Scrappy.


Examples

    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 
  • Dragon Ball Z: After the Cell saga, the main characters try to pass for normal. When they enter the latest worldwide fighting tournament, they each give a light tap to the punch machine. Then Vegeta, being Vegeta, comes along and obliterates it.
  • In Outlaw Star, Aisha Clan Clan wants to enter the "Strongest Woman in the Universe" contest only to discover that her species, the Ctarl-Ctarl, are banned because they can transform, becoming superstrong and unstoppable, which a previous contestant used to disastrous effect. Aisha joins anyway by kidnapping a costumed competitor and assuming her identity, which turns into another disaster in the finals when her opponent turns out to be another kind of Ctarl-Ctarl (or a different alien with similar transformative powers). They wreck the entire place with their struggle, essentially proving the judges right.
  • It's mentioned in ViVid Strike! that Nove's body makes it illegal for her to compete in martial arts tournaments. While the meaning behind this isn't addressed in the season itself, anyone with knowledge of the rest of the Lyrical Nanoha franchise would know that it's referring to her being a combat cyborg.

    Comic Books 
  • Alpha Flight member Northstar was once an Olympic skier. His medals were taken and he was banned from the sport when it was discovered he is a mutant speedster and he couldn't honestly swear he had never subconsciously used superspeed to win.
  • One non-canon story in Archie Comics has Archie undergo reconstructive surgery after an accident and get turned into a The Six Million Dollar Man-esque cyborg. He joins the local football team and becomes an unstoppable juggernaut, until an opposing coach cites a rule that forbids fielding any "animal, monster, alien or cyborg." The story ends with Archie realizing that getting banned from football doesn't mean he can't join the cheerleading squad, and receiving acclaim for lifting the entire squad over his head at once.
  • Asterix shows it in two steps in the Olympic Games story. The Gauls tell the Romans that they have every intention of entering the Olympic Games (as Gallo-Romans) and winning with their magic potion which grants super-strength. Because of this the other athletes completely give up on training, until they learn such substances are banned at the Olympics, which gets them back into training while the Gauls decide Asterix will only participate in the footrace.
  • In the The Unbelievable Gwenpool holiday special, a Deadpool imitation contest is done for charity. Deadpool enters, but Squirrel Girl says he can't win an 'imitation' contest because he is Deadpool. She then awards him the "Minimum Effort" ribbon.
  • One Superman story has Superman play basketball against against a bunch of normal people. After promising not to use "flyin' or anything like that" because they consider that "just weak", he uses Super-Speed to win in a rare Smug Super moment.
  • The children's humour strip The Winners, featuring a Born Lucky family, often had them banned from various contests to make it fair. One Letters to the Editor response in Buster also said that they voluntarily avoid playing the lottery to "give everyone else a chance".
  • Cyborg of the Teen Titans is introduced as a former athlete who can no longer compete because of his cybernetics.

    Fan Fiction 
  • Pound the Table: Noa Schaefer's second major case as a lawyer involves her proving that the defendant, a professional tennis player named Jacques Canter, is not a mutant as he's been accused of being… by the man who lost to Canter in the U.S. Open. Noa is able to get plenty of video proof from dozens of amateur tennis players doing the "impossible shots" and "enhanced physical abilities" that the defendant insists in alleging could only be the result of mutation, and the snowballing Humiliation Conga only gets worse when the plaintiff's analysts that gave sworn statements of the same refuse to testify, which leads to the judge declaring the lawsuit frivolous and orders him and his sponsors to pay reparations to Canter.

    Films — Animation 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • In Sweet and Lowdown, professional guitar player Emmet enters a small-town talent contest while driving cross country. He effortlessly wins, being lauded as the second best guitarist after Django Reinhardt, and is run out of town when his identity is revealed.
  • Discussed by Spiderman in Captain America: Civil War when he says that he would love to play football, but since he couldn't compete with the athletes before getting his powers, it wouldn't be fair to do so after he got them.

    Jokes 
  • Yo Momma tried to enter an ugly contest, but they said "hey, no professionals!"

    Literature 
  • Witches in Discworld tend to be subjected to this trope:
    • In the short story "The Sea and Little Fishes", the Living Legend Granny Weatherwax enters and wins every annual contest of witchcraft. When a middle-rate busybody accuses her of being unfair, Granny's friend Nanny Ogg muses that people who expect witches to play nice have a thoroughly inadequate understanding of what it means to be a witch.
      Letice: Don't you think it's unfair to other people that you win every year?
      Granny: No. I'm better'n them.
    • Defied by Tiffany Aching, who doesn't participate in the annual cheese-making contests: even though she makes them like anyone else, people would assume that as a witch, she used magic to make them better.
  • Encyclopedia Brown:
    • Book 17 featured a case where a man who appears to be in the Navy enters an amateur painting contest. However, he gets numerous sailing terms wrong, calling into question his true identity. He turns out to be a professional painter and is disqualified. It's mentioned that local child artist Pablo Pizarro has to compete in the same speed painting competition because the child's division was dropped that year - no other kid was willing to go against him in it.
    • In book 18, Encyclopedia attends Tyrone Taylor's birthday party. Every year, they hold several games, including the "brain game", a test of knowledge. Encyclopedia has been banned from participating in that particular game since Tyrone was 5. He's not bitter about it though.
  • In InCryptid, Antimony's parents pulled her out of gymnastics and circus school as a kid, and wouldn't let her do college cheerleading after graduating high school, because she was so good she might attract the Covenant's attention. Annie is rather bitter about this, since they let her sister Verity dance on internationally-broadcast live TV and that's what actually let the Covenant find out they were still alive.
  • In the Star Trek Expanded Universe novel The Great Starship Race, the U.S.S. Enterprise participates in the title race. Because it's much faster than any of the other ships, it would automatically win the race. Instead of simply ordering the Enterprise to keep below some arbitrary speed limit (and check the log tapes to verify if there's a dispute), the race's organizers put restrictors on the Enterprise's engines to physically prevent it from going above a certain speed, even in the event of an emergency. Naturally this causes problems later in the story.
  • Sword Art Online:
    • Early in the Aincrad arc, beta testers like Kirito are seen as untrustworthy due to their higher stats and knowledge of the game world giving them a better chance of survival.
    • The Fairy Dance arc has similar angst with Kirito entering another VR-MMORPG in order to find his missing girlfriend... and it turns out that enough of its code was stolen from Sword Art Online that some of his previous avatar data is ported over like a type of Old Save Bonus. The problem is that as an SAO survivor he's been connected to the same kind of neural interface 24/7 for the last two years; as a result, his brain has adapted to it, letting him control his avatar with greater speed and fluidity than any normal player. Thus he angsts about how he'll probably be banned on sight from any kind of gameplay because he's pretty much the definition of "overpowered", and how this will hurt his chances of finding out where his girlfriend is.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Non-competition example: the Community episode "Beginner Pottery" has Jeff become jealous of a classmate in the titular class (Rich) who displays skill beyond that of an amateur. There's no competition, but Jeff still believes Rich took the class to impress the others. It's implied Jeff is right.
  • In an episode of Married... with Children, Al gets ID that labels him 65 and enters the local Senior Olympics. His only real competition is a man who wants to win so badly he once considered lying about his age. Al ends up winning and the narration notes that if you expected Al to let the old guy win, then you haven't been paying attention to the show the last several years.
  • Andrew from My Secret Identity once tried out for the school's track team despite his superpowers giving him an unfair advantage. He has a discussion with Dr. Jeffcoate who asks if he's the one winning the races or his alter ego. This causes Andrew to intentionally lose his next race.
  • The Facts of Life had an episode where Andy organizes the girls into a singing group for a contest to sing backup for El Debarge. They are one of the three finalists and then one of the two when one of their competitors breaks up acrimoniously. The other finalist has a member who knows El Debarge personally and turns out to be a professional. Andy cites this as reason to get them disqualified since the contest is open for amateurs only.
  • In Waiting for God, this is used as a punchline for a joke; the context is that Diana has gotten Harvey put in an institution, creating a kind of social vacuum. Tom tells Diana that we all need a bastard in our lives. Diana asks why she can't fill that role, to which Tom replies "Overqualified."

    Newspaper Comics 
  • Discussed in Doonesbury when Zonker goes into training for the Gerald Ford Biathlon: golf and tanning. Zonker hired Bernie as his personal coach, during which Bernie asked why a black man wouldn't outright clinch a tanning competition. Zonker points out that it's a matter of gradient: how dark you were at the start of the contest vs. how dark you get during the tanning. Bernie grouses that it's another form of institutionalized racism, to which Zonker replies "Man, don't spoil it for the rest of us."

    Programming 
  • Eurisko, an early computer program, won the RPG Traveller's space combat tournament twice in a row in the 1970s by exploiting loopholes in the rules to build unconventional but absurdly overpowered fleets of ships. This caused the organisers to threaten that if Eurisko won a third time, they'd abolish the tournament, leading the programmer to voluntarily withdraw it from all future competitions.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Edition encodes this in the mechanics for awarding Experience Points: defeating a challenge far below your Character Level grants no XP, on the grounds that the conflict was too unfairly lopsided for the winner to learn anything from it. This isn't true of other editions, however, as large groups of mooks can still pose a potential threat in some editions.
  • In Shadowrun's supplement Shadowbeat, all of the major sports allow cyberware to some extent, but they also absolutely forbid any use of magic (spells, aid from spirits, etc.) to enhance performance. The only exception is if the player is a physical adept, whose natural abilities are enhanced by innate magical ability. As a balancing factor, physical adepts are forbidden to have cyberware. Though few adepts are willing to do so anyway because cybernetic implants weaken their ability to use magic.
    • According to 5th edition's Chrome Flesh, Association Football bans all cyberware, bioware or use of magic (players are allowed to have datajacks or cybereyes because they're so ubiquitous in everyday life, but they cannot be used to enhance your play). Despite (or perhaps because of) this restriction, it remains the most popular sport globally as no-one can just buy their way to the top.

    Video Games 
  • Golden Sun: The Lost Age: If you use an Old Save Bonus where Isaac won Colosso in the first game, then there's an optional subevent where several of the other competitors track him down and accuse him of cheating by using his Psynergy, an advantage the other combatants didn't have. Isaac defends his actions by claiming there Ain't No Rule against using Psynergy (in fact, the tournament's sponsor deliberately slipped Isaac in to test his power, skipping the entrance event that involves lifting a massive pillar by main force) and that, as an innate ability, it fit with the Tournament's theme of relying on your own power rather than tools like weapons or armor.
    • The morality of this is somewhat undermined by the fact that during the tournament, your party members can use their Psynergy to remove several obstacles from the course, letting Isaac win the race and nab the superior equipment. Isaac didn't actually explicitly ask them to (and it's presented as a puzzle for the player to solve), but it's definitely an advantage the mundane competitors didn't have.
  • Simon the Sorcerer 3D features a carnival run by demons, who will not allow a dwarf to play the 'Test-your-strength' game... because he's a dwarf, and is naturally stronger than a human.
  • In the first chapter of Icewind Dale 2, a barbarian trader can be convinced to take on one of your party members to a Drinking Contest (using fermented boar's blood as the drink) over his enchanted talisman. He will, however, outright refuse any challenge from a dwarf characternote , noting that he's not about to race a dwarf to the tavern floor.
  • Dragon Quest VI: Leveling vocations is done by participating in a number of battles rather than experience points, but your characters' levels limit the amount of battles that count (i.e. Random Encounters in the area around the starting town only count towards characters under level 5). The earliest area with a limit of 99 is the Spiegelspire, letting it function as a Peninsula of Power Leveling of sorts.
  • Overwatch: Part of the Start of Darkness for Akande Ogundimu, a.k.a. Doomfist; he was a champion martial artist and Arrogant Kung-Fu Guy who lost his right arm in the Omnic Crisis. He got it replaced with a highly advanced prosthetic, but that made him ineligible to compete in professional martial arts. He soon turned to super-villainy as a way to channel his highly competitive, challenge-seeking nature.

    Web Animation 
  • This is why Yamcha got fired from his baseball team in Dragon ShortZ: after he hit 500 consecutive homeruns, people stopped buying tickets to his team's games because they already knew Yamcha would win. He does get paid a lot of money to sign a non-compete contract, because even though his team doesn't want him anymore, they sure don't want him to join a rival team either.
  • Homestar Runner: There's a Strong Sad impersonation contest. Coach Z dismisses what appears to be Strong Sad himself, saying he's not allowed to enter. It turns out to be a perfect disguise by Homsar.

    Western Animation 
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender: A flashback in "The Storm" shows that after Aang was publicly revealed to be the Avatar, the other airbender kids stopped playing competitive games with him because they felt he'd have an unfair advantage, even though his actual level of ability hadn't changed.
  • The Legend of Korra:
    • The Fire Ferrets unknowingly recruit the Avatar for their probending team. Subverted because Korra is not very good against trained opponents yet even with her Avatar powers, and outs herself by panicking and bending someone else's elements. Despite this, she's allowed to stay on if she sticks to waterbending.
    • When practicing her airbending against Tenzin's children, she briefly goes into the Avatar state to give herself a boost. When the kids complain, she just blows a raspberry at them. Nicely parodied here.
      Tenzin: Days, Korra. Days of pounding an appreciation for introspection, patience, and a reverence of spirituality into your head. And this is what it's amounted to. Using messiah steroids to beat my grade-school children in an air scooter race.
  • The Adventures of Jimmy Neutron, Boy Genius: In the episode "The Science Fair Affair", Principal Willoughby agrees to Cindy's decision to ban Jimmy Neutron from the school science fair, since he won the last three in a row, and all his scientific knowledge gives him an unfair advantage over the other students.
  • Camp Candy: When John and Rex compete against each other in an amateur dance contest, Rex tries to cheat by hiring a professional dancer to be his partner.
  • Hercules: The Animated Series: During an athletic competition between Athens and Sparta, Hercules's Super-Strength lets him win the first twenty events for Athens with absurd ease. Frustrated, Ares realizes the games are supposed to be about mortal competition, and so points out Hercules is a demigod (which is tested as an athlete would be tested for doping). Hercules is thus prohibited from future events, and his team loses half the points he won.
  • In the King of the Hill episode "The Redneck On Rainey Street", Funny Foreigner Kahn's daughter Connie is denied from a prestigious school for being yet another Asian and Nerdy applicant with perfect grades due to affirmative action quotas.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: When Applejack (Earth pony) and Rainbow Dash (Pegasus) hold an Iron Pony athletic competition, Applejack cries foul when Rainbow Dash uses her wings and flight to perform better in some of the challenges, despite being an inherent part of her physiology that Applejack was aware of from the start.
  • South Park's episode "Stanley's Cup" is an infamous deconstruction of Underdogs Never Lose, ending with Stanley's pee wee hockey team playing the Detroit Red Wings and, of course, losing horribly. However, the Red Wings take it much further than just trying to win, as they repeatedly injure the children, sometimes seriously, even though they could clearly win without doing so. And to rub salt in the wound, after they smash them all flat and they are being carried off by medics the scene continues to follow the Red Wings as they have a standard-issue sports-movie winning montage.
  • X-Men: Evolution:
    • In one episode, Spyke enters a skateboarding contest and performs well, but is pressured by the other contestants into forfeiting because of his mutant genes. Spyke insists his mutation doesn't affect his ability to skateboard, but leaves the contest anyway, feeling that when the judges find out he's a mutant, he's not going to stand a chance of winning anyway.
    • A later episode has Principal Kelly taking away all of the academic and sports achievements of the mutant students of Bayville High, starting with Jean Grey's soccer trophies, because he says that their powers were used for cheating (although there is absolutely no evidence for that. However, since Kelly is a hardcore anti-mutant bigot, this is presented as an expression of his Fantastic Racism rather than a policy due serious consideration).

    Real Life 
  • The concepts of tier lists and league divisions are meant to prevent this, by organizing participants into categories where they are expected to be about the same with everyone else. The distinction can be as simple as Varsity and Junior Varsity in highschool. This prevents the Purposely Overpowered and Game Breakers from ruining the inherent competitive value system of sports and games.
  • In Britain's Got Talent, 12-year-old musical singer Beau Dermott was accused of "cheating" in newspapers when it was revealed that she had been professionally coached in singing and won multiple Talent Shows before. BGT has no rules banning either of these.
  • The Great British Bake Off is supposed to be for amateur bakers. In Series 6, there were complaints about one contestant being a semiprofessional baker who had trained in patisserie in Paris. The BBC countered by saying the contestant in question had completed a one-week course in Paris over 10 years before entering the show, and had never worked professionally as a baker or chef.
  • When Wizards of the Coast ran an open submission contest for their new world for Dungeons & Dragons, the winner was Keith Baker's Eberron setting. This attracted accusations of the contest being rigged because Baker was a previously published professional author and had worked previously with one of the co-authors of the line. (All entries were anonymous to avoid preferential treatment, and WOTC had said at the outset that amateurs and professionals alike were permitted to compete.)
  • The Olympic Games were originally reserved for amateur athletes; professionals were barred from entry. So for instance a student or soldier who did sports on the side could complete, but a basketball player who got a paycheck for playing could not. There was even one notable case where a man (Jim Thorpe) had his medals revoked because he used to play professionally in a different sport. This restriction ended in 1986, due to a combination of professional athletics becoming more normalized, and Loophole Abuse by Soviet Bloc countries who would give their athletes zero-work government jobs that paid enough for them to spend all day training.
  • The Pony Club is banned from participating in (admittedly low-key) local riding shows and gymkhanas in the UK, as their skill level tends to be much higher than the average entrant. Unfortunately, since there's no way of proving one isn't a member, there have been cases where one or two have managed to sneak in anyway.
  • The NCAA still uses a similar amateurism rule, in their case specifically in order to prevent professional athletes from being brought in as "ringers". (In this case, it only applies to the sport in question, so, for example, a person who'd played professional baseball would still be eligible to play any sport in the NCAA except baseball, though in practice this rarely comes up.) A long-awaited rule update in the early 2020s narrowed the scope of the rule's exclusion to only apply to direct payment for participation in sports and not the use of their "name, image, and likeness" (in other words, sponsorship deals and similar), as prior to this update, any money made in relation to sports, even if it was just trading on their sports reputation without actually competing (e.g. being used as a big name in an ad campaign), would render them ineligible. For many athletes this wasn't a huge deal, as college is often a precursor to playing professionally in major sports leagues anyway, but it turned out to be a huge problem in the world of women's gymnastics, as many female gymnasts hit their peak years early and therefore would have to choose between accepting sponsorship deals or doing NCAA. While this particular conundrum is best known as the reason that some of the world's top gymnasts — names like Gabby Douglas, Aly Raisman, and Simone Biles — couldn't compete at the college level, the greatest impact was felt by those who made the same decision but didn't reach the same heights (Rebecca Bross is probably the most notable example) as those gymnasts forfeited their NCAA eligibility for sponsorship deals that came out to only a small fraction of the value of an athletic scholarship.
    • This was also a problem for students who had enough name recognition at the collegiate level to merit potential sponsorships, but weren't at a high enough level to make the jump to the professional leagues — meaning that their only window to make money was while they were competing in college, but they couldn't accept the money without losing their ability to do the thing that made them worthy of the sponsorship in the first place.
  • Gifted students often run into well-intentioned teachers, consciously or subconsciously, doing this. Things like "Does anyone besides X know?" during a show of hands or holding their work to different standards when deciding what is praiseworthy are common examples.
  • Having a doctoral degree can make it difficult to get a job outside of academia, as employers tend to assume advanced degree holders are overqualified and thus more expensive. (Unfortunately, it's also very difficult to get a job inside of academia as there just aren't that many to go around.)
  • With the increasing normalization of being transgender in some parts of the world, this has become a point of contention in athletics - whether a transgender woman, with the advantages of a male physique, should be allowed to compete in women's sports divisions. (It wasn't so long ago that such a question was played for laughs). Trans advocates are quick to point out that while on hormone therapy, a trans woman does not have a male physique (as testosterone blockers reduce muscle mass), while opponents to allowing them claim that testosterone inhibitors only reduce the size of muscle fibers, not the numbernote , so they still have a noticeable advantage. There are various other yes-it's-unfair and no-it's-not arguments, we won't get into them here to avoid an argument. At time of writing there haven't actually been any super successful transgender athletesnote , so the question has yet to come up as a practical matter for any major competition, but this hasn't stopped it from being a major source of debate.
  • The "Oscar Curse". Being nominated for an Oscar or other major award early in one's career can scare off directors and studios who think the nominee will demand more money/publicity from them; the actor may not be courted by major projects because they didn't win and needs to work on something to earn money and build a reputation, but they're considered too successful for some of the things that would actually still benefit them.
  • This became the subject of a court case when an applicant for the New London, CT police force was rejected for scoring too high on an intelligence test. The policy was adopted on the theory that overly intelligent applicants would quickly find police work boring and seek other jobs, wasting the time and money spent to train them.

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