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X Must Not Win

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Rarity: Oh Fluttershy, would you be a dear and fly faster please!
Fluttershy: I can't!
Twilight: If you can't catch [Rainbow Dash], Discord wins!
Fluttershy: That big... dumb... MEANIE! (speeds up)

This is when wanting to avoid letting a particular character be victorious provides fuel for the other character's persistence in fighting against them. In this case, even scoring a "draw" (whenever it's possible) or otherwise not letting the enemy win in any way would suffice; the one with this persistence doesn't have to win, themselves.

It is a spiteful component of persistence; even when it's the good guys who feel this way about the bad guys, it raises some form of moral ambiguity that this fuels it. On the other hand, this is also used in cases were the character in question winning really would be a very bad idea — see also Evil Only Has to Win Once.

See also Spiteful A.I.. This is one of the main drivers of political maneuverings both in fiction and in Real Life. See Enemy Mine, Balance of Power, We Win, Because You Didn't, etc. For when the writers can't let a character win for various reasons, see Failure Is the Only Option.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • In Dr. STONE, the Kingdom of Science's entire strategy for the Grand Bout is preventing Magma from winning at any cost, since if he wins he'll become chief (and kill Ruri).
  • Parodied in Sket Dance. Telling the Student Council or the Sket Dan that the other group is involved in something is a perfect way get to them to join in. This is especially pronounced with Tsubaki and Bossun, due to Sibling Rivalry.
  • In Yuri is My Job!, the four employees of the Liebe Girls' Academy salon compete in a Blume election to decide which one will become Lady Blume and issue a decree. It soon becomes clear that the race is between Mitsuki and Sumika, and they are rather close. Kanoko, who has an unrequited love for her friend and Mitsuki's schwester Hime, offers to make a deal with Sumika: in exchange for Kanoko's vote(employees' votes are worth 90 regular votes), Sumika will use her decree to dissolve the schwester system. Sumika, however, bluntly refuses, telling Kanoko to give up on Hime and promising to use her power to make the schwester bonds permanent. Kanoko is dejected, but votes for Sumika anyway, causing her to win by a margin of 118 votes, simply because she doesn't want Mitsuki to win.

    Comic Books 
  • Transformers (2019): As the series goes on, Megatron's sanity starts going increasingly south, and he believes so long as there is a single Autobot alive and free anywhere he hasn't actually "won", even when he effectively has the entire planet, supposedly everything he ever wanted.

    Films — Animation 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Batman's insistence in The Dark Knight on not letting The Joker win is what drives him to make a Zero-Approval Gambit in order to preserve Harvey Dent's image.
  • In the final race of Speed Racer, Royalton agrees to pay all of the other racers a lot of money if they can collectively prevent Speed from winning the race. As this money is more than the prize money for the race, it effectively means that everyone else is cooperating to get Speed to crash or slow him down so someone else could overtake him.
  • In The Rise of Skywalker, this is why Hux betrays the First Order.
    Hux: I don't care if you win. I need Kylo Ren to lose.

  • In The Chronicles of Narnia: The Magician's Nephew, Jadis has this attitude towards her sister. She wipes out her entire planet rather than let her sister win a civil war and become queen in her stead.
  • Fire & Blood: Part of the motivation for some of the backers of Aegon II in the Dance of the Dragons. They really, really don't want Daemon to become king, and are totally prepared to start a civil war to that end. With some of them, it's a cut-and-paste with Rhaenyra's name instead.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In the Father Ted episode "Cigarettes and Alcohol and Rollerblading", after being goaded into giving up something for Lent by Father Dick Byrne, Ted gives Dougal a lecture on the importance of Lent, something far more important than the sacrifices made by Jesus as the latter points out, but beating Dick Byrne at his bet.
  • The X-Files: In "Musings of a Cigarette-Smoking Man", we discover that CSM is personally responsible for the Buffalo Bills never winning a Super Bowl. note 
    Lydon: I'm working on next month's Oscar nominations. Any preference?
    Cigarette-Smoking Man: I couldn't care less. What I don't want to see is the Bills winning the Super Bowl. As long as I'm alive, that doesn't happen.
    Jones: That'll be tough, sir. Buffalo wants it bad.
    Cigarette-Smoking Man: So did the Soviets in '80.
    Jones: What are you saying? That you rigged the Olympic hockey game?
    Cigarette-Smoking Man: What's the matter? Don't you believe in miracles?
  • In the Angel episode "Destiny", this is Spike's pretty-much-admitted motive for competing with Angel and trying to prove that he has the status of "the Shanshu prophecy's Chosen One" to the exclusion of Angel.

  • Wooden Overcoats: In Season Three's "The Race for Piffling," Georgie volunteers to become Mayor Desmond's campaign manager when he runs for reelection. Part of this is because Mayor Desmond is her friend, but part of it is because Eric Chapman is running against him, and while he's the most popular man in town, Georgie can't stand him.

    Tabletop Games 
  • This essay on the Kingmaker Scenario calls this "The Vendetta" — whatever the reason, player A no longer cares about trying to win the game themselves, and has adopted an attitude of "I'm going to do everything in my power to make sure player B doesn't win."

    Video Games 

    Web Original 
  • In Achievement Hunter's Let's Play Minecraft, this used to be pretty much the team's thoughts on Gavin: if he's close to victory, they'll pull out the stops to make sure he doesn't win.
    • When it comes to Nintendo games, Matt gets the treatment. Unfortunately, he's so much better that it usually doesn't change much. Outside of Mario Party, where it's Michael who regularly kicks his opponents' butts.
  • If you replace AH with the Sidemen, Minecraft competitions with Grand Theft Auto V races, and Gavin with KSI, you will have the same ordeal; a popular British gamer getting screwed over by the rest of his mates.
    • Behzinga also gets this treatment in various non-GTA games without KSI.
  • In many of the Smosh Games Game Bang, the crew would try to team up against Sohinki (or just anyone who has the best lead, really) to stop him from winning all the time. Usually doesn't work though, since the group tend to have a bad team work and ended up killing each other all the time.

    Western Animation 
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic:
    • The two-parter "The Return of Harmony" has Fluttershy flying faster on being told the alternative is to let Discord win.
    • Applejack and Rainbow Dash's race in "Fall Weather Friends" slowly devolves from a friendly competition to using any trickery and dirty tactics to rob the other of victory after both are convinced the other tripped them over. By the end they are so busy beating each other senseless they both tie for last place.
  • Plankton of SpongeBob SquarePants is a conniving sociopath who usually wants to steal the Krabby Patty formula and take Mr Krabs' hard earned success. However, even when Plankton is using legitimate methods to gain customers, Krabs is insistant on sabotaging any profit he makes and claiming it for himself. This reached such obsessive grounds that Krabs became obsessed with destroying Plankton when he gained one customer, making it not just a case of "X Must Not Win" but "X Must Not Lose Humbly".
  • South Park:
    • Kyle's feud with Cartman is usually justified given the latter's highly malicious intent. However even in petty wars, Kyle takes a sometimes disturbing extra mile to make sure that Cartman's plans go up in smoke. In "Douche and Turd", he and Cartman create opposing school mascots, with Kyle using increasingly manipulative methods to get people to vote against Cartman's candidate. Similarly, a lot of Cartman's intentions are built around making Kyle lose.
      Butters: Whoa, you sure seem with it, Eric. You must have some... ih-inspiration.
      Cartman: Yes, the tears of Kyle Broflovski when he loses his ten dollars to me.
    • To add onto the Cartman example, there are plenty of occasions Cartman comes out with amazing success and fame due to a bet with Kyle, but brushes it all off because he didn't win the bet in particular. In "Christian Rock Hard" for example, Cartman bets Kyle he can make a Platinum album before him. Cartman succeeds in making a highly successful Christian rock band, gaining enormous popularity and wealth. However once he finds out that Christian record labels don't give out Platinum albums (thus he can never win his bet with Kyle) he flies into a rage in public, destroying the band's career.
    • And for more Cartman, in "Fat Butt and Pancake Head," Cartman pretends he (or his hand, at least) is Jennifer Lopez. "Ms. Lopez" creates a hit album, gets affectionate with Ben Affleck, and enjoys the wealth and fame of celebrity life via Xanatos Speed Chess. The reason is to make Kyle admit the possibility that the hand is an independent living being from Cartman and calls the whole thing off when Kyle makes even the tiniest admission. In the episode "200," the hand is proven to be an actual separate entity.
    • However, when Cartman does win, he's still not satisfied unless he can rub the victory in Kyle's face indefinitely. In "Red Hot Catholic Love", after spending most of the episode gloating over winning their bet (about if it's possible to crap out of your mouth) Kyle being a Graceful Loser makes him so angry he storms off and even leaves the money behind.
  • Similar to the Kyle example above is Dib from Invader Zim. Though Dib primarily clashes with Zim to keep the latter from conquering the Earth, Dib can't abide Zim succeeding even in low-stake battles. The best example is in "Door to Door", where literally Dib's only reason for participating in the titular fundraiser is to keep Zim from winning first place and the "secret prize".
  • Bertram of Family Guy will do anything to destroy Stewie, even if it means creating a time paradox that destroys the entire time space continuum in the process.
    Bertram: Worth it!!!
  • Shown to quite a detrimental level in The Simpsons episode "Trash of the Titans", since Homer's campaign is based largely on a spite war towards incumbent Ray Patterson, he proves completely incompetent when he finally gets the job.
  • The Looney Tunes "Hunting Trilogy" generally convey Daffy Duck as this towards Bugs Bunny. While touting himself as a self proclaimed self preservationist, Daffy takes increasingly stubborn lengths to make sure Bugs gets shot by Elmer Fudd instead of him, to the point of even berating and directing Elmer, the very guy he's trying to avoid, to shoot Bugs (which always end up backfiring onto him). In both "Rabbit Seasoning" and "Duck Rabbit Duck" Daffy's downfall stems from coming out of his hiding place at the start of the cartoon when Bugs is already outsmarting Elmer, not satisfied with coming out safe but Bugs not getting shot.
  • In one episode of Steven Universe this is Stevonnie's motive for racing a smug jerk. However, mid-race they fall apart and realizes that they've let him get under their skin, and that focusing on beating him is still giving him attention, which is what he really wants.
  • She-Ra and the Princesses of Power: Catra becomes increasingly obsessed with beating Adora, often to the detriment of her wellbeing or achieving her current nominal goal. Most clearly, when her allies build a device to do something Catra doesn't care about, then learn from Adora that activating it may destroy the world as a side effect and decide not to. She betrays her allies so she can activate it herself, because if Adora doesn't want that to happen, doing it counts as beating her.

    Real Life 
  • Due to PETA's highly contentious reputation, PETA's involvement in a cause will frequently lead many people to oppose the cause more than they would otherwise, simply because they despise the thought of allowing PETA to have any victories whatsoever.
  • In Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them, author Al Franken says this is one aspect of American politics he deeply hates, calling it the "I-will-stop-you-from-doing-good-because-I-don't-want-you-to-get-credit" factor. A prime example of this would be the Republicans violently opposing their own healthcare idea as soon as Barack Obama decided to actually implement it.
  • Sports rivalries run on this. Every team's list of greatest victories includes an upset win that ruined a rival's chance to win something.
    • As do exceptionally bitter rivalries between fandoms. When relations deteriorate, It's not uncommon for people to just want to see the other fandom destroyed, regardless of the negative consequences for their own.
  • Due to the way network television works, there have been cases of successful TV shows that were intentionally sabotaged by being switched to the Friday Night Death Slot, budget cuts, and similar issues, because a network executive wants the show gone, and needs it to perform poorly to motivate cancellation. Reasons range from attracting the "wrong" audience, because the executive personally dislikes the show, and in some cases, because the show was greenlit by their predecessor, and they don't want a successful product making them look good.
  • At the 2014 and 2015 editions of Eurovision Song Contest, amidst disasters between Russia and Ukraine around the same time, the crowd at these events were clear in that they didn't want Russia to win. In 2014, loud booings were heard when Russia qualified from the semi-final and whenever they recieved a high amount of points. The following year, Russia happened to be one of the favorites, meaning it was at the top of the scoreboard several times, which led to the crowd not caring about who would actually win (it was Sweden), as long as Russia did not come out on top.
  • NASCAR driver Kevin Harvick actually invoked one in the form of a bounty in 2020 after Kyle Busch, who also owns a race team in it, won his seventh straight start in the Truck Series. Gander Outdoors, the title sponsor of the Truck Series, matched it, putting the total bounty at a hundred thousand US dollars. Chase Elliott succeeded in claiming it the first time of asking.
  • After ABS-CBN was shut down on February 10, 2020 under the Duterte Administration. The Malacañang Palace is very insistent on not bringing the studio back despite ABS-CBN's attempts to renew their contract numerous times. Only time will tell if the new administration will bring ABS-CBN back on the channel.