A participant in a contest of some sort is really not as good as some of the other participants, but wins first prize anyway thanks to a combination of various factors, but primarily sheer chutzpah.
Ironically, this character does not necessarily have to be The Ace. In fact, they are sometimes a total loser (and not always even a Cool Loser) who triumphs through a fluke or dumb luck - or sometimes simply because they are simply too stupid to realize defeat.
This trope should be distinguished from Popularity Power, because the person in question usually isn't popular at all. It's also closely related to Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass, Crazy Awesome, and Determinator. The term "dark horse" is a more charitable way of referring to a character with these attributes. Such a "dark horse" may win a Dark Horse Victory if two superior competitors ignore them while focusing their efforts on each other.
See also Karma Houdini, which is the basic idea behind this trope, but applied to villains.
- In the first episode of The Munsters, Herman attends a masquerade party dressed as King Arthur in a suit of armor. After removing his helmet and revealing his real face (i.e. that of Frankenstein's Monster), the partygoers think he's wearing a mask underneath another mask, and he wins a bottle of champagne for having the best costume.
- In The Honeymooners episode "The Man from Space", Ed Norton arrives at a costume party without changing out of his sewer worker outfit first. The judges think he's dressed as a man from space and wins first prize.
- The Greek myth of Arachne is...unclear on this. The basic elements of the story: Arachne was a young woman who was so talented at weaving that it drew comparisons to even Athena, who challenged her to a contest; when the dust has settled, Arachne has been turned into a spider (which is where the term "arachnids" comes from). The problem is that since many myths were passed on via Oral Tradition, the specifics vary wildly from telling to telling. Some of the time Arachne is a boastful Jerkass who brought the wrath of Olympus down on herself, while other times Athena is a Jerkass God who couldn't tolerate a mere mortal being anywhere near her level. Sometimes Arachne wins the contest and the transformation is Athena being spiteful, other times she loses and and the transformation is punishment for her pride, and still other times the transformation is seen as a good thing (such as the version where Arachne loses and hangs herself and Athena changes her out of pity and as a tribute to her talents). So whether Arachne falls under this trope or not really depends on which version of the story one is reading.
- Also subverted in the myth of the music contest between Apollo and Pan, only here it was not the winner himself who was punished. Apollo — the very god of music, for goodness sakes! — and Pan asked King Midas of Phrygia (yes, the one with the "golden touch") to judge a contest between the two of them, with Apollo at the lyre and Pan on his flute. Pan was clearly an inferior being to Apollo (being, among other things, only half-divine, as he was the son of the god Hermes and a wood nymph) yet played at least as well on his flute as Apollo did at his instrument, and ended up beating out Apollo for the prize. Midas, however, was too stupid to realize that one must never anger an Olympian god: Apollo, being a classic sore loser, humiliated Midas by giving him the ears of an ass.
- William Regal was once called upon to judge a singing contest on Monday Night Raw. One of the participants was Santino Marella, and Regal found him intolerably irritating. Ron Simmons (you know, the "DAMN" guy) came out to the arena and beat Marella up, drawing cheers from the audience. Regal was so grateful for this act that he announced Simmons as the winner - even though Simmons hadn't sung one note!
- Come to think of it, Santino Marella himself. He's a diminutive Sicilian wrestler (although actually from Canada) who has spent the better part of the past two years jobbing to more established Superstars on Raw. He tends to be portrayed as pretty pathetic, or at best only semi-competent. Yet he has two Intercontinental Championship reigns to his credit (albeit ones he owed to absurdly fortunate circumstances) and became "Miss WrestleMania" in 2009 when (in drag) he eliminated former girlfriend Beth Phoenix in a Battle Royal!
- In what may forever be his most absurd accomplishment, he became the runner-up of the 2011 Royal Rumble via a Brick Joke. You see Santino was knocked out early in his run in the match and was fortunate enough to fall under the bottom rope to the floor. About 10 minutes later, Alberto Del Rio was celebrating his apparent victory when Santino recovered and hit The Cobra! Santino started celebrating prematurely allowing Del Rio to recover and reverse Santino's elimination attempt, sending Santino over the top rope. But just imagine how close we were to seeing Santino Marella in the main event of Wrestlemania!
- He was also a Tag Team champion at one time. His partner: a straight-faced Russian stereotype, who he convinced to join in with his post-match trumpet mime celebrations when they won.
- In the summer of 2007, Mae Young won a Divas' Bikini Contest on Friday Night SmackDown! despite A) wearing a standard one-piece bathing suit instead of a bikini; and B) being 84 years old. She did try to prove she deserved to win afterward by starting to strip off her swimsuit, but thankfully the other Divas stopped her.
- This was a Call-Back to the Royal Rumble 2000, where Mae won the Swimsuit Competition and did expose herself to celebrate (albeit with prosthetics over her real breasts and a big red "Censored" sign over most of the screen)
- During the unauthorized Ring of Honor Bizarro Episode A Night Of Hoopla Davey Richards won a "pants off dance off" despite keeping his pants on. Granted, the fans were adamant he leave them on when he started taking them off...
- The Simpsons:
- Somewhat unsurprisingly, Ralph Wiggum got this treatment once on The Simpsons. In particular, one thinks of the episode in which he entered "Diorama-Rama" a contest for the second-graders at Springfield Elementary. He didn't even try to make a diorama (mostly because he didn't know what a diorama was), instead simply bringing in a box full of vintage Star Wars figures. Despite the fact that Ralph clearly didn't even qualify, Principal Skinner so enjoyed seeing the vintage action figures that he gave Ralph first prize anyway. Ralph gleefully lampshaded the trope, chanting: "I beat the smart kids! I beat the smart kids!" - until, that is, he fell on the box of figures and bent his Wookiee.
- In another episode, Bart entered a school science fair with an entry called "Can Hamsters Fly Airplanes?" Even though his "experiment" clearly did not prove or disprove any hypothesis, Principal Skinner was so charmed by the sight of a hamster wearing flight goggles and a scarf and sitting in a model airplane that he pronounced Bart the winner.
- Total Drama Island was won by Owen. Owen, who wasn't physically fit, wasn't very smart, and often times was the load for his tribe, won the first season.
- An episode of Invader Zim titled "Top Of The Line" would have involved Gir, Mimi, Chip and other sir units competing to be named the best model of Sir units, after certain circumstances all sirs other than the defective Gir are unable to continue and Gir wins.
- In the 2006 reality-TV competition Skating With Celebrities, actress Kristy Swanson really wasn't as good an ice-skater as her chief rival, TV reporter Jillian Barberie. But the judges on that show were so impressed by the heroic effort put forth by Swanson and her partner (and future husband) Lloyd Eisler that in the end they awarded her the trophy anyway. (Of course, it helped that Barberie suffered a groin injury fairly early in the competition, which noticeably limited her ability to perform her most dazzling stunts.)
- Shows like America's Got Talent and Britain's Got Talent are practically built around this. The bottom line is "are you entertaining?", and being weird can help give an edge over more mundane acts.
- Along the same lines, in Strictly Come Dancing (the British equivalent of Dancing with the Stars), John Sergeant's complete lack of dancing ability did not in any way affect his popularity with the viewing public. Despite routinely receiving awful scores from the judges the viewers kept voting for him to stay in since he was so likable and entertaining. He eventually pulled out after ten weeks as he felt it would be unfair if he actually won the competition.