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"This song is dedicated to every kid who ever got picked last in gym class."
Good Charlotte, "Little Things"

A common phenomenon in gym class.

Whenever two captains are elected from a group of kids to pick teammates from the remaining kids (be it for dodgeball, basketball, baseball or any other team sport), the ones who are the least talented and most nerdy are always the ones left to pick from last, but a very special type of humiliation is always reserved for the very last kid remaining. "Picked Last" isn't even a fitting term for what this really entails as the kid isn't actually "picked" by a team but rather is forced to be taken by one because there's no one else left to pick from.

This almost always happens to any Geek characters when the story focuses on a recreational activity. If this is supposed to be observed as a comedic event, it may be the fate of a Ridiculously Average Guy who is somehow less preferable to the geek, or, even more humiliating, that bit of Fridge Logic in the above paragraph is disregarded with the captains choosing players that aren't even supposed to be choices when only one kid is left; this may include adults or inanimate objects.

Usually, this character may be The Woobie, especially if it's clear that he really likes the sport even though he may lack any real talent, effectively taking the fun out of the game for him when he's left to be Picked Last. In these cases, the character may be given a moment to shine in the spotlight by the end of the story by becoming a team captain for a day and getting to do the actual picking, by making a great play in the game, or even both. Sadly, this may be the one aspect of the trope's overall use in fiction that isn't Truth in Television.

Examples of Picked Last include:


Comic Books

  • Spider-Man comics suggest this happened to Peter Parker a lot, unsurprisingly. The "Skin Deep" story shows one of the few cases where this didn't happen to him, because the class had an even more obvious target for once.
  • In the Avatar: The Last Airbender comic "Gym Time", the last two people to be picked are Mai and Zuko, and Aang chooses Mai. However, since all the teams are filled, Zuko becomes the ball.

Film

Literature

  • While he attended Muggle primary school, Harry Potter was always picked last, but not because he wasn't any good. Nobody wanted Dudley's gang to think they liked him and end up getting beaten up for it.
  • Referenced several times in Terry Pratchett's Unseen Academicals.

  Ridcully: Now we all understand this! It's a boy thing! It's like little girls and the colour pink! You know how to do this! Pick the teams alternately so one of you ends up with the weird kid and the other with the fat kid. Some of the fastest mathematics of all time have been achieved by team captains trying not to end up with the weird kid - stay where you are, Rincewind!

    • Also mentioned in Soul Music. Susan is always picked last despite her very patiently telling everyone what a great player she is and how much sense it would make for them to pick her (and actually being right). She can't quite figure out why they don't catch on.
  • Raistlin from the Dragonlance series apparently had this happen to him (Due to his frailness) whenever he tried to play physical games with his twin brother and his friends. He eventually just stopped playing with them.
  • In A Drizzle of Education, Drizzle is picked last in gym class back at her old school.
  • The very last scene of Loser by Jerry Spinelli sees the main character, whose only defining attribute is the fact that he always loses, being picked last. Ironically, he isn't supposed to be picked at all, as the two teams are even, and the antagonist is actually taking pity on him by allowing him on the team.
  • Referenced by Bartiameus in Ptolemy's Gate, the third book of The Bartimaeus Trilogy, when he states that the plotting magicians were the ones that if you picked sides for soccer would be "standing at the end, next to the fat kid and the one with the plaster cast."

Live Action TV

  • On The Big Bang Theory, after Penny and Leonard break up, Sheldon is asked whether he's on "Team Penny" or "Team Leonard." He answers, "Whichever team picks last," since that's how it happened when he was in high school (unless there was a kid in a wheelchair).
  • Bill from Freaks and Geeks had a history of being picked last. This actually drove him to prank call his gym teacher! After his teacher finds out he was the one who made the call, Bill is awarded the opportunity to captain a team for a day.
  • An early episode of The Wonder Years had the final two kids left to pick from being Paul Pfiefer and another student played by Dustin Diamond on numerous occasions. The episode's main focus, however, was on Paul's love for playing basketball and sheer lack of ability, which would make him one of the most undesirable players to have on a team. Kevin's protests to Coach Cutlip about how unfair the captain system is have the adverse affect of earning him a spot as a team captain. He decides use his position to pick all of the least talented kids for his team. This also led to a kid with a noticeably athletic build being the last pick, behind a nerd who was half his size.
  • In the final episode of each season of ~Hell's Kitchen~, the two finalists get to pick who will cook for them during the final service from a selection of contestants that were eliminated previously. Expect whichever chef is picked last to require some serious soothing to their ego, if they just don't outright phone it in during the service. The prize for the final challenge is usually getting first pick of the returning chefs, meaning that you avoid getting the last pick as well. Though this doesn't guarantee 100% that the second-to-last pick isn't going to be bitter either.
    • Also happens on the similar show Masterchef, where, for team challenges, the two team captains choose their cooks. The last person picked always gets a Confession Cam shot immediately after being picked with how they reacted to being picked last. Some shrug it off, some take it personally, and a couple get indignant and pissy, even if they performed the worst in the challenge to determine the team captains or have a record of poorly cooked dishes.
  • On Hannah Montana, this happens to Miley in every gym class and is the setup for the episode "Cuffs Will Keep Us Together." As her alter-ego, Hannah Montana, she has the coordination to dance on stage (sometimes in high heels and usually while singing, no less), but when it comes to sports, she's unable to do things like catch a ball without using her face.
  • Inverted on the second season of Worst Cooks In America, where the two hosts picked the teams for each other. Both were deliberately trying to saddle their rival with the worst of the worst. The last one chosen commented on this in a Confession Cam, saying they chose to take this as a compliment... while Lampshading the fact they were still apparently "the best of the worst".
  • In a casual basketball game in The Famous Jett Jackson, J.B. gave up and left when a kid with a broken arm was picked ahead of him.
  • Happens to Rachel in the Friends episode "The One With the Football".
  • Family Matters: In the Season 3 episode "Making the Team," Urkel is demoted from the last man on the bench of a basketball team ... to water boy. However, when – during a game – every available substitute is injured and the team is down to just four players (and Eddie, one of the last players standing, reminds the coach that if he forfeits, he could be fired), the coach is forced to turn to the nerd. Urkel – prepared for the moment – doffs his nerdy clothes to reveal his uniform, and displaying amazing athletic ability, engineers an amazing comeback to win the game. (Jaleel White's real-life passion for basketball was later written in to several episodes about Urkel's "mysterious" basketball ability.)

Music

  • Along with the page quote, 2 Skinnee J's song "Riot Nrrrd" is dedicated to "all you lonely kids who were the last picked in gym classes."
  • The Peter, Paul, And Mary song "Right Field".

 "We'd pick out the captains and we'd choose up the teams,

It was always a measure of my self esteem.

Cause the fastest, the strongest played shortstop and first,

The last ones they picked were the worst."

 "Cause when it comes to playing basketball,

I'm always last to be picked,

And in some cases never picked at all."

  • Mentioned in the "Weird Al" Yankovic song "That Boy Could Dance", whose title character is totally inept at everything in life except dancing.

Video Games

  • In Magical Diary, if you tell Ellen that she doesn't have to sign up for the Sports Club, she gets annoyed and mentions that people were never eager to pick her for their team, even when she was really good at the sport in question. However, it doesn't seem to have been quite as bad as "always last".

Web Comics

 Ray: Beef, why do I get a feelin' that our army's made up of ex-kids who were always picked last for kickball?

Roast Beef: Can you think of anyone who has a more gigantic and deep-seated fury at the world

Ray: Huh. Good point.

  • In this Looking for Group strip, Richard is picked after the crippled children with speech impediments.

Web Original

  • Makes for Crowning Moment of Heartwarming in a Red vs. Blue Special, where teams are picked new to match the new location. Sarge's first pick is Simmons who blurts out, in the most happy way imaginable, "First! I've never been picked first!"

Western Animation

  • On Fairly Oddparents Timmy Turner was picked last for everything in Dimmsdale to the point where he got Cosmo and Wanda to make him the most wanted kid in the world. Unfortunately, "most wanted" has another meaning...
  • Sheldon from My Life as a Teenage Robot got picked last for everything as well.
  • Captain Zed And The Zee Zone had a dream sequence where a kid always got picked last for sports. In the dream, out of three players, the captains picked the other two people, and then they picked the bushes and rocks (who grew legs and arms and started playing tennis with them).
  • The Simpsons episode "King of the Hill" simultaneously plays this straight and subverts this in a few ways with Bart and Rod Flanders picking teammates for a game of Capture The Flag. Bart picks Nelson over his best friend Milhouse, who naively comments on how he must be "saving the best for last." Rod, on the other hand, chooses his brother Todd as his first pick.
    • Another episode had Homer all excited for the Employee of the Week awards because, as he notes from the rulebook, every employee must win the Employee of the Week award at least once, and everyone else has won it, so it's his turn at last. He doesn't seem terribly upset about being last picked, but he is upset when the award goes to an inanimate carbon rod.
  • Predictably, happened at least a couple times in Recess. Played with a bit, by having the second-to-last pick actually be the worst sports player (e.g. a random kid with a broken leg and crutches, or Gus), but the one picked last is being socially snubbed.
  • In 101 Dalmations: The Series, Lt. Pug picks Lucky and Tripod as team leaders for cohesian drils in one episode. Spot is the last picked and Lucky even tries to pick a bucket instead because she is a chicken and the rest are dogs. She gets her own back later in the episode, though.
  • In Megamind, Megamind was always picked last in school during the brief time that he tried to fit in as a normal kid.
    • It's even exaggerated; we see him standing next to a cute girl who gets picked before him, then the camera pans out to show that the girl is on crutches.
  • In one episode of King of the Hill, Hank and his friends find a kickball and decide to start playing. When their other family members and neighbors come to join the game, they split into teams. Dale is picked last, even after Connie, a 12-year old girl who wasn't the most athletic person to choose from. Team captain Bill is obviously disappointed at having Dale on his team.
  • In an episode of Tiny Toon Adventures, Hamton complains about always getting picked last on the soccer team. At the end, the team apologizes, saying that it's not because they don't like him...

 Plucky: It's because you're a lousy goalie.

Real Life

  • Physical education teachers – most often at the elementary school level – often will take steps to discourage favoritism and eliminate the stigma that sometimes comes with an athletically untalened student being Picked Last. These range from "numbering off" students ("1," "2," "1," "2," "1," "2" ...) to arbitrarily determine teams, to having the perpetual "end of the bench kid" have his/her turn at choosing members of a team. As stated in the introduction, strange things have happened ... with the "untalented" kid sometimes making the game-winning play (or playing a key role therein), and the teacher pointing it out to teach a lesson.
  • Played with when it comes to professional sports drafts, as they end after a set number of picks, instead of after everyone who enters the draft is taken. Those not chosen can sign with whatever team they want to.
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