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A character enters a contest where the nominal first prize isn't actually their preferred one, so they'd be happier winning second place or maybe doing even worse.

This can take three forms:

  1. The character doesn't know beforehand what the prizes are. This generally leads to a Twist Ending where they try their best at the contest, are disappointed to learn they didn't win, and then overjoyed to learn that they got what they wanted anyway.
  2. The character does know, resulting in a sort of non-video game version of Do Well, But Not Perfect. For added hilarity, they might fall victim to Springtime for Hitler and win anyway.
  3. The character is a rookie having his first shot at the big-time and would have no realistic chance of winning yet anyway (despite what most sports movies would have you believe.) The fact the he manages to place at all is considered a moral victory.

Compare The Runner Up Takes It All, Second Prize. Contrast Second Place Is for Losers.


Examples of Second Place Is for Winners include:


Anime and Manga

  • The episode of Black Jack where they first meet the future Team Pet, Largo. A normally rather lazy dog, Largo displays surprising bursts of prescience, often causing trouble that unexpectedly draws people away from dangerous areas. When Pinoco realizes this, she decides to try and profit from it, having Largo pick a number for a Lottery for her, hoping to win the First Prize - a romantic holiday on a southern island, just perfect for her and her 'husband', Black Jack. Instead, they win the a lesser prize -- several pounds of Steak. Over a steak dinner, she complains the Black Jack that Largo apparently isn't psychic after all, but he corrects her: to Largo, a pallet of delicious meat is simply far more valuable than some vacation he probably wouldn't get to go on anyway.
  • Dragon Ball uses this once or twice. When Krillin faces Piccolo Jr. in the final tournament, he manages to withstand the No-Holds-Barred Beatdown much longer than expected. When he finally declares "I give up", Piccolo's Unsportsmanlike Gloating turns to confusion and anger when the crowd starts cheering for Krillin. Turns out Piccolo was impressed by Krillin, so much that he used his full power for a few seconds. After noticing that Krillin isn't the strongest by any means, Piccolo thinks conquering Earth might not be as easy as planned.
    • Of course also used with Goku himself during the first two tournaments, which he notably lost by the end, but still managed to do so well that everyone was proud of his efforts. Additionally, after the first tournament, Goku lost but still ultimately got to use the prize money, as he was so exhausted from fighting that he ate everything at a restaurant during the group's celebratory dinner. The bill was so high that Roshi had to pay with all his winnings he won in disguise.
  • Keroro Gunso has the 1st beach comedy contest. Keroro enters to get a Gundam knockoff (because it's really rare due to poor sales). He doesn't find out that it's a consolation prize for everyone who doesn't til near the end...and he can't stop himself. He wins the first prize instead...a refrigerator.
  • At the end of Princess Nine the girls' baseball team loses to the boys' team from their same school, in the playoff game that was right before Koshien. They're not all that upset about it, considering they pulled together nine people in a matter of weeks and made it that far when most of the administration was saying that they were a disaster waiting to happen.
  • Used by Nara Shikamaru in Naruto during the Chunin exam finals. Up against Temari, he starts off struggling to keep up with her brute force until he finally gets the upper hand. And then decides to throw in the towel, much to all of the exam participants' disappointment. However, the team leaders note this actually shows off Shikamaru's tactical skill in that he knows when to quit, rather than continue on in vain.
    • Note that it had been made clear beforehand that passing the exam was not dependent on winning the tournament. That Shikamaru managed to fight well enough, yet had the levelheadedness to concede when he reached his limits, led to him being the only one who actually passed the exam anyway.
  • In Hana Yori Dango, Tsukushi enters a fashion contest where (due to nepotism) the 1st place winner has been preordained. She wins second place, but since that was the highest spot that hadn't been "reserved," it effectively makes her the winner of the contest.
  • Team Sugo Asurada from Future GPX Cyber Formula does not expect much of a success. After all, their racing crew is consists of only handful of True Companions which barely fills the pitlane and a 14 year-old driver who had no experience in racing. That Hayato finishes third or fourth number of times makes them more happy than people who get a win, much to Randoll's confusion.
  • Pokémon:
    • In XY, Ash enters with his three Flying-Type Pokémon Fletchinder, Hawlucha and Noibat the Pokémon Sky Ralley contest, a contest where a team of three flying (or levitating or gliding) Pokémon are doing a race. They become the runner-up, since the newborn Noibat just learned how to fly in that contest... which is the point why they enter the tournament in the first place: to motivate Noibat to learn flying. Ash, Hawlucha and Fletchinder are more than happy that Noibat finally learned it and they forget the fact that they lost the ralley.
    • Though Ash ultimately lost at the finals during the Lumoise Conference, he fares better than the actual victor, Alain. During the League ceremony, Team Flare launch their attack upon Lumoise City. Alain, being involved with Team Flare, suffers the worst kind of loss when he realizes that his entire goal was a lie and his boss Lysandre only cares about power, ignoring Mega Evolution in favor for a potentially more powerful Bond Phenomenon that Ash possess. In the aftermath the Flare crisis, Ash is constantly recognized and praised by young trainers as the Conference League finalist while Alain quietly rebuilds his life with Prof. Sycamore and privately admits Ash to be the superior trainer. Since the League ceremony wasn't finished when Team Flare attacked, it is heavily modified and officially makes everyone who stood against Lysandre champions of the Kalos League, rendering the League results a moot.

Comic Books

  • Disney Ducks Comic Universe: There's a Scrooge McDuck story where the Billionaire's Club announces a variety of extravagant, chess-themed prizes for whoever makes the most money during the year... a gold-and-platinum chess-set for the first place, a gold-and-silver chess-set for the second place, and a silver-and-bronze chess-set for third place. And, as a consolation-prize for whoever makes the least money during the year, an Ebony pawn and a waived membership fee (said fee had just been raised by a couple of percents, causing Scrooge to faint). At this announcement, Scrooge declares his intention to win the Last Prize, no matter the cost, with most of his colleagues assuming that he'd just gone nuts due to the increased membership-fee. Of course, even when he tries to lose money, he can't manage it -- and in the end, he had to put Donald Duck in charge of his business-empire for a month in order to drive down his stock-prices sufficiently to wind up dead last. Having finally succeeded, he reveals to Donald the real reason he was after the consolation-prize: The Ebony Pawn is actually an antique, originally part of a gem-encrusted chess-set owned by the Queen of Sheba. Said chess-set was in his possession, and with the last, missing pawn restored, the total value of the now-complete, historic chess-set redoubles sufficiently to more than make up for the losses he suffered during the contest.
  • In Doctor Strange and Doctor Doom: Triumph and Torment, Strange and Doom are the first- and second-place finishers in a contest of mages. Strange wins/retains the title of Sorcerer Supreme -- and an obligation to do a favor for the person who finished second. He's not pleased. Doom, on the other hand, is only too happy to have Strange in his debt.

Film -- Animated

  • In The Incredibles, the entire family is cheering on Dash in a school race, but Dash has super speed powers and must not give this away.

  Mr. Incredible: Close second!

Film -- Live Action

  • In the Red Green movie Duct Tape Forever, in order to pay off a $10,000 fine, Harold suggests the lodge enter a duct tape sculpture contest to win the money. The lodge members are skeptical, but when Harold tells them the $10,000 is the third-place prize, they figure it's within their abilities.
  • The first Rocky.
    • And the last. They actually bookend the saga quite well: In the first movie, he's trying to make a name for himself and prove to the world that he belongs in this sport. In the last, he wants one last great fight so he can leave the sport.
  • Children Of Heaven has Ali racing in a children's footrace, in an attempt to fulfill this trope. He doesn't, but eventually goes on to a racing career.

Jokes

  • Grand prize is a new (insert name of The Alleged Car here)? What's second prize?
    • Two of them!

Literature

  • One Encyclopedia Brown story has a girl who deliberately wins second prize in a trivia contest, because she knows the watch that goes to the first-prize winner is broken.
  • The Daniel Pinkwater book Slaves of Spiegel is about a literal Cooking Duel run by an alien warlord. The main characters win second prize, which turns out to be six hundred pounds of Spiegelian blue garlic and deluxe transportation back to Earth; since they'd been coveting the blue garlic for the entire book and had been planning on asking for some as a reward if they won, they're naturally overjoyed. First prize would have been the "opportunity" of being forced to be the warlord's permanent chef (along with such knickknacks as a lifetime supply of peanut-butter flavored aftershave).
  • The last book in The Great Brain series features a spelling bee. The winner gets a new bicycle. The title character and his love interest are the finalists. He could easily win, but chooses to maintain a tie by deliberately misspelling words as necessary. By postponing a resolution he forces the adults to call a draw and give both of them the bikes (they had to have a boy's bike and a girl's bike available). And since he didn't beat his girl, she doesn't hate him, either.
  • Robin McKinley's The Outlaws of Sherwood uses the traditional Robin Hood story of an archery contest set up to lure Robin in by using a golden arrow as the prize, and comments in passing that the other contestants are likely to miss their shots to win the lesser prizes of livestock. (This being an unusually pragmatic version of Robin, he has no interest in the contest at all, demanding to know what on earth he'd do with a golden arrow.)
  • In James Marshall's book The Cut-ups Carry On, protagonists Spud and Joe try to win a dance contest to win a "lunar walker" from one of their favorite TV shows. In the end, the boys are thrilled to win second place and tickets to a sports game while their rivals for the story win first prize, which turns out to be little more than a two-person cardboard car.

Live Action TV

  • In Eureka, Zoe wins second prize in the Tesla High science fair. She is far happier with the second prize -- a car -- than she would be with the first prize -- an internship at Global Dynamics. (On the other hand, the prizes weren't announced until the winners were, so it's entirely possible that Zoe won a car because Stark knew she wouldn't want the internship...)
  • In one episode of Monk, a man enters a children's contest in a town fest and deliberately wins second place. It turns out that he had murdered a woman that day and there was a high risk the crucial piece of evidence got accidentally put in a pie that was the prize.
  • Something like this is part of the premise of Blue Mountain State. The main character is the team's second string quarterback, and he wouldn't have it any other way. He gets all the fame and benefits of being on a high-ranking team, but doesn't have to do any of the work.
  • There's an episode of The Vicar of Dibley where the titular Vicar is trying to win second place in a contest put on by a chocolate manufacturer. First prize is a trip to Disneyland, second is a year's supply of chocolate. The entry she sent in wins first place anyway, much to her disappointment.
  • In Magnum, P.I., Magnum is excited to win second prize in a "create a slogan for our product" contest: a trip to Disney World in Florida. When the grand-prize winner is disqualified for plagiarism, Magnum gets the grand prize instead: a trip to Hawaii. Since Magnum already lives in Hawaii, he's less than overjoyed.
  • The Brady Bunch: In "The Winner," where Bobby desperately tries to win at something, anything, he tries his hand at selling magazines to his brothers and sisters. When Peter asks what first prize is, Bobby replies in a bored voice that it's a scholarship, but second prize is a dirt bike! (Perhaps the latter is a reflection of adult Bobby's passion of being a race car driver.) Later in that same episode, after Bobby falls short in an ice cream contest on the local kids program "Cartoon King," his siblings buy him a trophy "for being the best Bobby Brady we know." Bobby is touched and graciously accepts the trophy. (The Aesop being, of course, that one need not do anything to earn one's love, admiration or (to an extent) respect.)
  • Sesame Street: A segment called "The Remembering Game" (a parody of the long-running game show Concentration) featured Cookie Monster and an Anything Muppet playing the game. Cookie wins the grand prize of an airplane, while the Anything Muppet gets the booby prize ... a cookie! When the Anything Muppet is offended and Cookie disappointed, the two trade prizes. Apparently, it was allowed.
  • In the US version of The Office, the company is bought out by a rival and the CEO decides that Michael and Jim being co-managers is a stupid idea. She will leave one as manager and demote the other back to salesman. Jim finds out that the new company does not have a commission cap for its salesmen so if he gets demoted he can make way more money than the manager. Since he hates being a manager, he tries to make sure that Michael will get the job. However, Michael finds this out and decides that he wants the demotion as well. Hilarity Ensues until Michael realizes that he prefers the extra status over the money
  • On Dan for Mayor, Dan enters the race for mayor of Wessex in order to show his ex-girlfriend that he is not a complete loser. By election day they got back together and are planning to move to Vancouver where she is was offered a great new job. The main candidate is way ahead of him in polls and Dan's main concern is to beat out Wheelo (a clown) for second place. The main candidate drops out in the last moment and Dan wins

Tabletop Games

  • The game The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (basically "who can tell the best bullshit story in the style of the movie") is presented as something the Baron invented and is now explaining. Near the end, he mentions a session whose winners got the cushier bedrooms while spending the weekend at their host's manor, and deliberately shooting for something like fourth place so he could sneak out and chat up one of the daughters later.

Video Games

  • In My Sims Kingdom, Barney enters the Wandolier contest and aims for second prize, a toaster oven, by doing absolutely nothing other than showing up. (One wonders what he actually did to put him ahead of Princess Butter, who depended completely on her father being the king and ended up winning nothing. Possibly, Merlon just decided that if she wants a toaster oven, she can get one more easily than Barney.)
  • In Paper Mario, during one of the sections in which you control Peach, you take part in a game-show-like quiz. First prize is a rather helpful item you can send Mario, but the consolation prize is the Sneaky Parasol, necessary to complete the game.
  • Marisa Kirisame is quite proud to be the second most powerful human in Gensokyo. For one thing, she's competing against Reimu Hakurei, and for another, she can still go toe-to-toe with Reality Warpers, Physical Gods, and Flandre Scarlet, and win.
  • This happens in Mario Party 9 during the "Reverse Mini-Game" in a Bowser Event. You play a standard mini-game, but the objective is to lose as quickly as possible instead of trying to play the normal way. The first person to lose the game will win. Don't let this hurt your head too much.
  • In The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword there is a Boss Rush challenge pitting you against the 12 main bosses you fought before in the main storyline, which you can quit after defeating any of them. Quitting after the 8 bosses nets the player an indestructible shield, which is unarguably the best prize in that minigame and much more valuable than the Piece of Heart you get for the top prize (though you can just go through the challenge again with your new shield and get that, too).
  • Code Master's Formula One games have a special reaction for a player driver who finishes better than expected. For example, Tier-3 teams like Williams and Toro Rosso are happy enough if you grab a podium finish. The lowest-tier drivers from Caterham and Marussia will celebrate even if they finish barely at 16th, since compared to their performances in real life, such a position is almost impossible.
  • Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games features missions that require the player to place in a specific position. The easy ones are placing first or last. You could be asked to finish in second or third, which requires watching the competitors closely and screwing up inputs to keep in pace with them.
  • In Billy vs. SNAKEMAN, this is the fundamental basis of the party game First Loser. Every participant bets a random amount of money, and the ones getting into first place (the number changes from game to game) get the highly coveted... kunai. Meanwhile, the one ending up just below the "winners" get the consolation prize, either a rare permanent item or a large stack of otherwise coveted items (unidentified runes, sugary candy, treasure, etc). The ones getting in after that get their money refunded (minus a 5% cost).
  • In Fallen London, you can compete in a "Shroom-hopping" contest. If you win, you gain a fair amount of money-type items (that are available in many other places too). If you don't win, you gain "Second Chances", powerful items that let you retry failed challenges. If you come in second place, you gain some money items (not as much as first place) and also the Second Chances. This means coming second place will often be much more desirable than first.

Web Animation

  • From Homestar Runner: "The duckie-man is the winner! Loser gets the egg!"
  • In episode 7 of Bowser's Kingdom, Hal and Jeff enter the Villains Olympics to win the money to buy a TV. However, they end up in 2nd place and get the cash prize. The winners ended up in Yoshis Island where hungry Yoshis try to eat them and third place got a lifetime supply of milk, but Petey was lactose-intolerant.

Western Animation

  • Camp Lazlo: Edward wins a race, but finds that Lazlo's Middle Place trophy is bigger than his First Place trophy. The Stinger shows that Chip and Skip's Last Place trophy is shiny, golden, and huge.
  • There's an episode of the Dennis the Menace 1980s cartoon where Mr. Wilson enters a contest for a vacation. He wins first prize, but the vacation package is second prize. First prize is... a pet goose or duck.
  • In an episode of The Dreamstone, there is a contest among the villain army with free sandwiches to win... which turn out to be second prize. The first prize is being press-ganged into the new mission.
  • On the Tex Avery cartoon "The Chump Champ", Spike and Droopy compete for King of Sports, with the winner getting a kiss from the Queen of Sports. Although Droopy bests him at every opportunity, Spike wins by cheating. Turns out Droopy dodged a bullet, as the Queen of Sports turns out to be really ugly, sending Spike heading for the hills.
  • Invader Zim features an episode like this, where Zim and Dib compete for selling candy (as each believes that the secret grand prize will allow him to win over the other). Zim wins, but the grand prize is a box of Adhesive Medical Strips, and the first prize (already known) is a hovercraft.
  • Two Stupid Dogs once had the main characters go on a game show called Let's Make a Right Price, where they continuously won first prize (money, a sports car, etc.) when what they really wanted was the consolation prize (a box of dog biscuits).
  • Happens twice in King of the Hill, both times involving Hank and Bobby. When the two of them enter a father-son shooting contest together, they wind up taking second place. Hank is initially disappointed and expecting Bobby to feel the same way, but is happy to find out Bobby is pleased with coming in second on their first try. In another episode, Bobby enters a rose-growing competition and quickly has the project hijacked because of his dad's hyper-competitive nature. When their arguing costs them first place, Hank is still proud enough of Bobby's roses to plant them in front of the house.
  • My Little Pony Friendship Is Magic:
    • A variation of type 3 occurs when Twilight enters the Running of the Leaves marathon in "Fall Weather Friends", despite never having run a race before. She's rather happy at achieving fifth place, a very respectable placing for a first time racer.
    • Happens again in "Sisterhooves Social", where Rarity and Sweetie Belle compete together in a race, and end up getting second place. They don't win, but the fact that they worked together and did so well helps them reconnect at the end of a Feud Episode.
    • In "May the Best Pet Win", Rainbow Dash holds a race to determine which of a group of critters will be her new pet. One of the contestants is a tortoise, whom Rainbow Dash allowed to compete only at Fluttershy's insistence. However, the tortoise manages to impress Rainbow Dash by being the only pet to stop and help her when a rock slide causes her wings to get pinned under a heavy boulder. So even though the tortoise ends up dead last, Rainbow declares him the winner on the grounds that she said earlier that the winner would be the one who crossed the finish line with her.
  • An episode of The Weekenders has this, although it's not immediately obvious, and only Bluke realized it with his Simpleminded Wisdom. The game in question was a scavenger hunt played by teams of five. First place is a pool table, second place is a pizza. Bluke mentions that the pizza was the best prize when he and the main characters get in second place, then explains why -- you can split a pizza five ways, but how do you split a pool table? Cue the winning team arguing bitterly about who gets the pool table and how they're going to divide up its use between them.
  • Exaggerated for laughs in Futurama. There's a billboard saying "Welcome to Mexico. Silver Medal Winner of the American-Mexican War".
  • King of the Hill:
    • When Hank and Bobby enter a father-son shooting contest together, they wind up taking second place. Hank is initially disappointed and expecting Bobby to feel the same way, but is happy to find out Bobby is pleased with coming in second on their first try.

Bobby enters a rose-growing competition and quickly has the project hijacked because of his dad's hyper-competitive nature. When their arguing costs them first place, Hank is still proud enough of Bobby's roses to plant them in front of the house. Hank and Bobby end up competing against each other in a dog dancing contest. Bobby and Connie's dog, Doggy, take home second place, while Hank and Ladybird don't win anything. Bobby is ecstatic upon placing second regardless of whether or not he beat Hank.

  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: With one exception, any time the ponies take part in a competition they'll never win. However, they will either learn a lesson or otherwise be happy with the result nonetheless.
    • A variation of type 3 occurs when Twilight enters the Running of the Leaves marathon in "Fall Weather Friends", despite never having run a race before. She's rather happy at achieving fifth place, a very respectable placing for a first-time racer. Meanwhile, favorites Applejack and Rainbow Dash get so caught up sabotaging each other that they end up tied for dead last, teaching them not to let their personal rivalry get in the way of what they're doing in the first place.
    • "The Show Stoppers" features the Cutie Mark Crusaders putting on a serious musical number only to win the prize for Best Comedy Act. They're disappointed for all of a minute before declaring that their special talents must lie in comedy.
    • Happens again in "Sisterhooves Social", where Rarity and Sweetie Belle compete together in a race, and end up getting second place. They don't win, but the fact that they worked together and did so well helps them reconnect at the end of a Feud Episode.
    • In "May the Best Pet Win", Rainbow Dash holds a race to determine which of a group of critters will be her new pet. One of the contestants is a tortoise, whom Rainbow Dash allowed to compete only at Fluttershy's insistence. However, the tortoise manages to impress Rainbow Dash by being the only pet to stop and help her when a rock slide causes her wings to get pinned under a heavy boulder. So even though the tortoise ends up dead last, Rainbow declares him the winner on the grounds that she said earlier that the winner would be the one who crossed the finish line with her.
    • In "The Super Speedy Cider Squeezy 6000", Applejack and her family take on a cider-making contest with two brothers and their cider making machine. Despite the Flim Flam brothers looking like they will win, the Apples refuse to compromise the quality of their product and end up losing. However, due to the brothers' rush for quantity, they sent their quality down the tubes and ruined their own plans after none of the ponies would buy their bad cider, proving the Apples' integrity the right way to go.
    • Rainbow Dash's hopes of a world record as part of a special task given to Ponyville's Pegasi are finished before they begin in "Hurricane Fluttershy" due to several ponies she needs falling sick. However, Rainbow perseveres and they complete the task they set out to do, despite having to abort getting the record.
    • In "Equestria Games", though Rainbow Dash, Fluttershy and Bulk Biceps ultimately place silver in the relay race, they're still happy with the result. It helps that Ponyville still had the highest medal count at the end, and Rainbow Dash had accepted from the start that beating the Wonderbolts was a long shot.
  • In Steven Universe professional engineer Peridot and self-taught Pearl get into an argument over who should lead a drill construction project. To settle things they have a contest between two robots they built, which eventually devolves into a straight up fight. Even though Pearl ultimately loses she demonstrates her engineering talents to the other Crystal Gems, who already believed in her, and to Peridot, who eventually acknowledges Pearl's abilities and agrees to work side by side with her.

Real Life

  • The Iditarod Dog Sled Race in Alaska takes racers from Anchorage to Nome. The first person to make it to the halfway checkpoint on the trail receives a cash prize, but becomes ineligible for the larger cash prize for reaching the finish line first. Some racers decide to let an opponent reach the checkpoint first, then try to win the First Place prize. It also has a prize for finishing dead last, a red lantern. Rick Reilly once wrote an essay about a completely hopeless, luckless entrant who actually intended to win the lantern to show to his kids and was disappointed when he learned he finished ahead of two other teams.
  • Philosopher Soren Kierkegaard came from a very disciplined household. When he proved to consistently be the best student in his classes, his father feared the boy would become complacent and arrogant in his superiority, so he charged Soren with the considerably harder task of getting the second-highest scores in all of his classes. Which Soren did.
  • Some rural parts of Germany have a tradition of holding a yearly Schutzenfest, where the men of the village have a shooting competition. The winner has to throw a party for the whole village. Usually, who will win this year is agreed upon beforehand, and the rest are competing for second place.
  • On American Idol, there seems to be an unspoken rule that it's better to come in the top ten but not the top two; such singers still have a chance to be picked up by a record label, but not sign their souls away to 19 Entertainment (the company behind American Idol), and thus have more creative control over their careers.
    • Discredited Trope. 19 Entertainment wised up after the Jennifer Hudson debacle; now they have the right to sign anyone who makes it to the final group.
  • Anecdotal evidence (this troper's experience, confirmed by many a friend) suggests that making the second place prize be worth more is a common tool used by adults to manage arrogant children. This may be a cultural (Eastern European / Russian) thing. The first place is taken by the talented kids, for whom the contest was not enough of a challenge. The second place is for the hard-working kids, i.e. socially approved winners. Therefore the first prize is a poster to put on a wall (among many others), the second prize is a field trip (likely to be one and only).

Other

  • There's an old riddle about an eccentric millionaire who offers his estate to his two sons, but the catch is that they must have a horse race and whomever's horse finished second would get the prize. They initially start out dawdling along as slowly as can be, but after several days of this, they come to a plan and race full speed to the finish. How? Whomever's "horse" finished second. They switched horses.
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