Follow TV Tropes


Website / Darwin Awards

Go To

"A Chronicle of Enterprising Demises Honoring those who improve the species... by accidentally removing themselves from it!"

While I have common sense I rarely let it interfere with my actions, preferring to use it to analyze why I shouldn't have done what ever it is that I did to cause the most recent Darwin moment.
James Nicoll

The Darwin Awards are a collection of stories of those that have given the best their DNA can offer to the gene pool. That is, they removed their DNA from the gene pool through such utterly stupid actions (of their own devising) that the fact they can no longer breed is worth an award. The vast majority of the time, the "winners" achieve their goals fatally; while it is possible to win without dying, this would require one to survive an event that leaves them unable to procreate.

The Awards are hosted on the Internet, but the website's owner Wendy Northcutt also periodically authors books detailing that year's "winners".

The site generally classes "nominees" into four categories:

  • Darwin Award winners: Those killed or unable to reproduce. Inability to reproduce need not be a physical consequence; for instance, being jailed for life qualifies, as this completely eliminates the opportunity to reproduce. In turn, there are three subcategories of Darwin Award winner:
    • "Confirmed by Darwin" (accounted in reliable news sources);
    • "Unconfirmed by Darwin" (can't be found in reliable news sources, but also not proven false); and
    • "Debunked by Darwin" (once thought to be true, but now found to be false).
  • At-Risk Survivors: Those who fail to actually remove themselves from the gene pool, but who did their idiotic best and just defied the odds by surviving. In other words, "honorable mentions".
  • Urban Legends: Stories believed to be true but which have no basis in reality.
  • Personal Accounts: Stories offered by the site's users, which go into their own category because there's no way to verify them.

Death Is a Sad Thing, so the Darwin Awards can be a little tricky to navigate. As such, there are several more categories of "nominees" who are automatically disqualified from the Darwin Awards listings even if they meet the above categories:

  • People who take out innocents in the process of removing themselves from the gene pool, including by default all drunk drivers. There's an exception to the exception here, where the bystander himself deserves a nomination for staying in the vicinity when anyone in their right mind who saw what the contender was doing would get the hell out of there.
  • People with mental disorders; Wendy sees such deaths as just plain tragic. The exception to this exception is Alcohol-Induced Idiocy (or with other drugs), as such diminished capacity is a result of the contender's willful act.
  • People under the age of 16, unless a majority of the youth's peers agree that the nominee's action was monumentally stupid even by their standards.
  • invoked People who are trying to win a Darwin Award. That one's not official, but the point of the Awards is to point out people who are Too Dumb to Live, so their removal from the gene pool is best exemplified by something they caused unintentionally.
These exceptions didn't always exist, and the early days of the site included entries that fell under these exceptions. Some remain on the site under a Grandfather Clause, but others were removed.

There was also a film version called The Darwin Awards, based on some of the stories from this site.

See also 1000 Ways to Die, which is based on a similar premise (the major difference is that 1000 Ways To Die doesn't really care about the death being due to stupidity if it's spectacular or bizarre enough) and Mythbusters, which tested some of the stories (and who appear in the Darwin Awards movie as The Cameo).

Fictional examples of this kind of activity go on Too Dumb to Live.

The Darwin Awards contain examples of the following tropes:

  • Alcohol-Induced Idiocy: The excessive consumption of intoxicating beverages often plays a major role in these stories.
    • A few of the books have had to include disclaimers explaining that this doesn't excuse you from winning a Darwin Award, since it was your decision to get drunk in the first place.
    • The books also noted that being drunk when handling a pet snake led to the most Darwin-esque reptile accidents... which is ironic since one way to make a snake let go of you/back off is to get alcohol in its face, and many owners of large constrictors keep a spray bottle of alcohol within reach of the enclosure for precisely this reason.
  • All Animals Are Domesticated: People being stupid enough to take this trope to heart are common nominees.
    • Special mention goes to the two guys who jumped into a tiger enclosure, threw flowers on the tiger, and were somehow surprised when the tiger promptly mauled them.
      • Extra stupid points allocated considering that the end would still be the same (if potentially less gruesome) if they had jumped in an enclosure with a perfectly domesticated guard dog that was as unfamiliar with them as the tiger was.
    • A tourist who purportedly left a Safari car in South Africa to rearrange some lion cubs who apparently weren't posing for photos to her satisfaction. Right under the nose of their mother.
    • The moron who decided the best way to determine whether a grizzly bear in a zoo was male or female was by entering its enclosure and kicking it between the legs. The bear turned out to be male (and needless to say, reacted in much the same way the male of any species would to that particular injury).
    • A man who thought it was a good idea to tease an Indian elephant by holding out sugar cane to the hungry animal, then jerking it back when the elephant reached out its trunk to take it. Suffice to say, the elephant got tired of it a lot sooner than the man and made its displeasure known in very pointed fashion.
    • A well-known Personal Account relates the story of a soldier who attempted to cross a field inhabited by bison, and with warning signs on the fences, insisting that the sign must be a joke because, "Real, live buffalo don't exist!" He survived to learn that he was wrong, but still would fall under the category of Honorable Mention in light of his injuries, were it better documented.
  • Artistic License: Some fictional stories can be easy to spot by how many of the details seem to run on "Hollywood" logic as opposed to the ways things actually work.
  • Ballistic Discount: Subverted.
  • Based on an Advice Book: The film is an inversion, as it's based on a source about things nobody with half a brain ought to do.
  • Bestiality Is Depraved: One of the winners who was left alive but unable to reproduce ended up that way by attempting to have sex with a porcupine, proving that the hedgehog can indeed never be buggered at all. Another man was kicked to death while attempting to acquire carnal knowledge of a cow.
  • Black Comedy: This is the reason why these deaths are funny instead of morbid; the people are so stupid they Cross the Line Twice.
  • Black Comedy Rape: There are a few stories dealing with attempted rapes that went horribly, horribly wrong. Like the story of the woman who bit her assailant's balls off. Then took off with them, and handed them in to the police, which meant her assailant was arrested when he checked into the hospital with a matching injury. The evidence proceedings for that case must have been interesting.
  • Boom, Headshot!: One of the 2003 winners was a robber who tried to shoot his victim, only for his gun to not fire. He then tried looking into the barrel and pulling the trigger again. This time, it worked.
  • Bread, Eggs, Breaded Eggs: The Honourable Mention story "(Un)armed and Dangerous" opens like this: "A drunk driver? No Darwin. An one-armed man driving an unadapted car? No Darwin. A man driving while talking on a cell phone? No Darwin. But a drunken one-armed man driving an unadapted car while talking on a cell phone? Darwin Award - almost!"
  • Bullying the Dragon: Often leads contenders to their nasty ends. Such examples include the guy who kicked a bear in the balls, the man who deliberately challenged his son to stab him to death, and the famous incident where a robber decided to rob a gun store filled with gun users and a cop.
    • Extra credit has to go to the man who earned his Black Belt in karate and apparently believed the achievement meant he could kill a lion with his bare hands. So he got into a zoo after hours and entered the lion enclosure. As a writer who covered the incident observed, it didn't matter if he could have successfully defeated one lion. There were several lions in the enclosure and they saw no reason to fight fair...
  • Cactus Cushion: An account of dubious veracity tells of a group of drunken revelers who went out to the desert and starting letting off illegal fireworks. One man threw an especially powerful one at the base of giant saguaro cactus. The explosion blow out the base of the cactus, which toppled on top of the man, killing him.
  • The Cameo: The Darwin Awards movie boasts cameos by Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman as well as Metallica.
  • Chainsaw Good: One fool took his own head off with one of these.
  • Children Are Innocent: The reason why people under the age of 16 are not considered eligible for the awards, as a key criteria is that the winner had to have had the option of avoiding such catastrophic stupidity and knowingly chose the more dangerous option, whereas children are by default considered too dumb to know any better.
  • Close to Home: According to one entry, one woman was a fan of the site until her uncle won an award. She thought it was very insensitive of the site before realizing the hypocrisy involved and chose to stop reading the site instead of getting the uncle's story removed.
  • Consolation World Record: A great many winners were trying to get into the Guinness Book of World Records. Instead they killed or neutered themselves and ended up here.
  • Crippling Castration: The one outcome other than death that can qualify an individual for this award. Self-inflicted attacks of this type are the general cause of a person exiting the gene pool without exiting this mortal coil. Here and here are just two of a fairly large number of examples.
  • Cruel and Unusual Death: At least half of the fatalities; possibly more. In this list, for example, two animal-rights activists were trampled to death by the pigs they had just released.
  • Death as Comedy: The point of the awards is finding comedy in the death of others, because the death is hilariously self-inflicted.
  • Death by Irony: Protesting motorcycle helmet laws, an Onondaga, NY man was participating in a bare-noggin protest ride when he was killed via flipping over the handlebars. Read about it here.
  • Draft Dodging: Tales of those killed or crippled while attempting to inflict a minor injury to avoid military service include a farmhand kicked in the head by a draft horse, and a man who had his arm bitten off by a lion.
  • Dumbwaiter Ride: One story involves two guys who decide to take a ride in a dumbwaiter. Unfortunately, they both squeeze in at the same time, and their combined weight sends them falling to their deaths. Then their buddy sticks his head in the shaft and gets killed by the counterweight.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness: Some of the earlier stories were obviously fabricated but still treated as if they were true.
  • Epic Fail: Whatever it was they were trying to do, it ended up in their deaths.
  • Eskimos Aren't Real: "Real, live buffalo don't exist!"
  • Exact Words: All that one needs to "win" a Darwin Award is to remove themselves from the gene pool somehow. Death is not a requirement and there are several "winners" still alive but who have lost their ability to produce children.
  • Explosive Stupidity:
    • The story note  of the would-be mail bomber who died when the package was returned for insufficient postage.
    • One of three Cambodian friends decided it was a good idea to bring an unexploded anti-tank mine to a cafe and play Russian Roulette with them, stamping on the mine while tossing drinks. The people present at the cafe were quick to flee, which proved to be the right move as the mine eventually detonated, obliterating all three.
    • Then there were the Palestinian terrorists who built a bomb with a timer while in their home, planning to make it go off in Israel. However, Daylight Savings Time was not observed at the exact same time in both places, meaning the bomb went off while it — and they — were still in the car.
    • More recently, a terrorist who used consumer-grade drones to carry bombs was reportedly killed when one of these drones, recently upgraded with an auto-return function, helpfully reversed course and flew back to its launch point because its battery was running low.
    • The Urban Legend about a 17th century village making a crude wooden cannon to attack their neighbors with, which promptly exploded and killed most of the would-be artillerymen. The Mythbusters tested this one and found it fairly plausible — the only part they didn't buy was being able to build the cannon in a single day using 17th century tools.
    • One Croatian tried to get the explosive out of a hand grenade with a chainsaw for New Years' firecrackers.
  • The Farmer and the Viper: A robber and murderer persuaded a friend to loan him fifteen thousand euros to get him out of the country. When it came time to pay the loan back, though, the felon decided it would be financially easier to kaboom the friend by tailpiping his car. The muffler was still hot and the explosive went off prematurely, mortally wounding the felon.
  • Forgot I Couldn't Swim:
    • This guy who chose to dive into a lake, without a life jacket, and without having safety ropes available aboard his boat.
    • This guy pushed his girlfriend into an icy river and then jumped in to shove her even more. What makes this funny is that she can swim while he can't.
  • Forklift Fu: A forklift driving instructor killed himself with a forklift while filming a safety video on the dangers on not wearing a seatbelt. He was not wearing a seatbelt while filming.
  • Gas Siphoning: There's a story about a thief trying to siphon gas from an RV this way. Too bad he didn't put the hose in the gas tank, he put it in the sewage holding tank. Yuck.
  • Gone Horribly Right: A lot of stories involve pranks or stunts that turned out fatally realistic. For example, one aspiring rap artist recorded a video of himself putting a gun to his head and pulling the trigger. He probably thought it was unloaded...
  • Grilling Pyrotechnics: An 'At-Risk Survivor' award went to a pair of guys who started their barbecue grill, then realized they were short of charcoal. So they loaded their still smoldering grill on to the back of their pick-up to drive it round to a friend's place who had some charcoal. No prizes for guessing what happens when you force air at high speed through smoldering coals. Their truck ended up going up in flames.
  • Groin Attack: A self-inflicted one is one way to get into the books, if it prevents one from reproducing—one of the few ways to get awarded without dying.
  • Hilarity in Zoos: There are a few stories of people ignoring signs and barrier fences with fatal results.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard:
    • As well as many of the Award "winners", founder Wendy Northcutt considers herself a klutz and a "potential Darwin Award candidate", which would be this trope (and cruelly ironic) if it happens. She's come close.
    • Taunting a prosecutor with the evidence needed to convict you of a capital felony and getting you executed isn't a bright idea.
  • Improvised Zipline: One award winner decided to use a karabiner clip to slide down the cable of a disused chairlift. Too late he discovered that he had no way to arrest his acceleration and no way to disengage himself from the karabiner. He collided fatally with a pylon. Prefaced by the last words "Hey, watch this!"
  • I Just Shot Marvin in the Face: Naturally, irresponsible use of firearms is an extremely common way for people to get themselves killed or injured, normally by geniuses deciding that James Yeager is right and that instead of checking their weapons normally by working the action, that the best way to determine if a gun is safe or not is to point it at themselves and pull the trigger! See here, here and here for just a few examples.
  • Karmic Death: This fellow who managed to briefly dodge the death penalty for murder in a case of double jeopardy managed to, in a textbook case of Stupid Evil, send a highly abusive letter that consisted of him effectively confessing to the crime down to the smallest details because he thought that he couldn’t be prosecuted further for it. However, thanks to his bragging, the court manages to nail him for the crime in the end and he is summarily executed seven years later.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: In Kenya, a thief stole from a church offering basket in plain sight of everyone else there, ran into the street, and was struck and killed by a bus.
  • Macho Masochism:
    • As noted under Chainsaw Good, two lunkheads trying to impress the female sex managed to maim themselves, one fatally.
    • One entry (still pending as of late 2021, but well documented) is about a Russian guy who decided to show off his masculinity by surviving in the Siberian wilderness. His whole knowledge on the subject was a few forum reads, and he was close enough to a major road that a friend accompanying him got out in time and even arranged a (failed) rescue party. Not only did the friend fail to convince him to get out, but so did the members of a forum onto which he managed to post one last time from the forest.
  • Making Love in All the Wrong Places: For example, in a car parked the middle of a highway, at night. Or in a running hearse parked inside a garage. Or on a steep rooftop. Or in a moving car while driving at high speeds, or a moving plane while piloting (see below).
  • Medal of Dishonor: The Darwin Award is for the highest class of idiots.
  • Mile-High Club: Two pilots decided to have sex in the cockpit of the plane they were flying. It worked out about as well as you'd expect. Bonus points for the fact that it happened in Florida.
  • Motorcycle Jousting: Here is an example involving motor scooters that resulted in the deaths of both involved; the girl they were trying to impress was naturally not impressed.
  • Multiple Gunshot Death: The idiot who decided to rob a gun store fails miserably, was shot to death by the clerk, an off duty cop, and several armed customers. Turns out it the last part was embellished, as the customers never fired their guns, but the robber ended shot dead the same.
  • Must Have Nicotine: Several Darwin awards have been won by people smoking in inappropriate situations, including one woman who stepped off a moving bus because she was desperate for a cigarette.
  • Nail 'Em: This guy managed to shoot himself in the brain with a nail gun while messing around. Fortunately for him, he somehow managed to get away without serious damage.
  • Old-School Chivalry: A medieval knight who once asked a favor of a lady was once given one of the lady's dresses as a token. He then proceeded to wear the dress instead of armor while jousting. Needless to say that didn't go well. Gotta hand it to the lady, though; brilliant way of getting rid of an unwanted suitor.
  • Only in Florida: Considering all the shenanigans that go on in America's biggest Weirdness Magnet, the state has its fair share of award winners.
  • Out with a Bang: Considered textbook examples since the victims are stopped from procreating while making the attempt. Like so.
  • Oven Logic: The guy whose father turned up the heat on his alcohol-enriched fruitcake.
  • Overcome with Desire: The direct cause of several instances of Out with a Bang (above), often involving Making Love in All the Wrong Places (also above).
  • Pants-Positive Safety: A frightening number of incidents involve loaded firearms in too-close proximity to one's genitals (one not-so-shining example here).
  • Paying in Coins: This unconfirmed account:
    (1996, Rhode Island) Portsmouth police charged Gregory Rosa, 25, with a string of vending machine robberies in January. He was captured when he inexplicably fled from police when they spotted him loitering around a vending machine. Suspicions were confirmed when he later tried to post $400 bail in coins.
  • Poor Communication Kills: When clinging to a tree after accidentally falling off a glacier, it is wise to relay that fact to your companions, just in case they are stupid enough to decide they can safely slide down after you. "Are you OK?" "Yes!"
  • Powered by a Forsaken Child: Accidentally; one urban legend is about a man who tried to use a power plant's coal runner as a treadmill but evidently slipped and was converted into power for hundreds of homes.
  • Reckless Gun Usage: Some people can find truly ingenious ways to shoot themselves.
  • Russian Roulette: The site notes that simply participating in this game and losing is not enough on its own to be considered a contender for an award, as it is simply far too common a form of stupidity. In order to be eligible, the contender must have done something extra to push the already incredibly poor decision to blatantly gamble your life in a game involving loaded firearms and a one-in-six chance into the realm of truly outrageous idiocy.
    • A highlight in this category is definitely a Houston man who not only decided to play the game, but also somehow failed to understand why a revolver is used, as he instead used a semiautomatic pistol for the game instead.
    • An even dumber variation involves three guys taking turns stomping on a land mine; fortunately, everyone else is smart enough to get the hell away before the inevitable kaboom.
  • Smite Me, O Mighty Smiter: Do not taunt lightning.
  • Soft Glass: Some winners fatally avert this trope. While fake prop 'sugar glass' breaks harmlessly, real glass does not.
  • Stupid Crooks: A chapter in one of the books is dedicated to them, such as the guy who tried to rob a gun shop with a gun--in the presence of a uniformed cop.
  • Stupid Evil: A good many of the more assholish contenders apply for this. For example, the honorable mention who decided to swerve off the road and crash his own car in an attempt to hit a random dog For the Evulz or the guy who mutilated himself for a get-rich-quick insurance scam.
  • Testosterone Poisoning: The Most Macho Man in Europe and a whole lot more. One of the chapters in one of the books is titled "Testosterone Poisoning", though in this case it refers to stupidity brought on by excessive displays of virility.
  • The Movie: A fictional film was made in 2006 about two investigators chasing Darwin Award-type stupidity for an insurance company, starring Joseph Fiennes and Winona Ryder. (Reviews were generally bad, according to The Other Wiki.)
  • Throw the Pin: Grenades seem to be a magnet for Darwin Award winners.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Basically the entire point of the Darwin Awards, and, according to the creator, one of the biggest reasons why the incidents described are funny instead of morbid.
    • This is also why minors aren't included on the list, as there's a big difference between "too dumb to live" and merely ignorant.
    • A few "lucky" ones don't kill themselves, but still end up being unable to have children.
    • "At-Risk Survivors" are people who managed to survive despite doing something that put them squarely in Too Dumb to Live territory. Sheer luck is often a factor in these.
  • Tree Buchet: According to an Urban Legend, a heavy storm caused a tree to get bent over and wedged under the eaves of a house. The homeowner climbed up the tree to saw the top of the tree off to free it from the eaves. Once he cut through, the tree sprang back, catapulting the owner to his death.
  • Underside Ride: One Darwin Award winner tried this while attempting to diagnose a truck's engine, apparently to watch the engine while it worked. It seemed a fine idea until the moving parts caught his sleeve... Link here.
  • Undignified Death: Award winners killed themselves by doing something stupid. If it were dignified then we wouldn't find it comical.
  • Urban Legends: Sometimes end up being submitted by people who mistake them as true, though they're almost always proven false if they are. This includes one of the most popular Darwin Awards, the famous JATO story, which was so popular that the Mythbusters did three shows involving it, two of which were made after it was pretty widely known to be an Urban Legend (though admittedly the reason there are three is that the second one ended with the car blowing up as the test began. The third was successfully excecuted).
  • Walk on Water: Attempted by a priest who, obviously, failed miserably and fatally. Also a group of people tried to learn to walk on water, their attempts were eventually stopped after their leader slipped on a bar of soap in the bathtub and drowned.
  • Who Would Be Stupid Enough?: Apparently, quite a lot of people are stupid enough to ignore blatantly obvious safeties and take outrageous risks. With that said, Don't Try This at Home. If you fancy trying this yourself, you're doing the human race a favor by ridding us of your stupidity. Thanks!
  • William Telling: Perhaps unsurprisingly this example involves the participants using beer cans instead of apples.