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"No, of course not. The posh kids always win."
Bambi, The Young Ones

When a show's main characters go on a Game Show Appearance, most of the time, you can expect them to come home defeated, because Status Quo Is God. Can sometimes be extended to other contests. Note that exceptions tend to happen when significant prizes are not at stake.

More heroic characters will often sacrifice the win for "Friend or Idol?" Decision. More selfish characters are usually done in by their own greed.

See also Crack Defeat. Compare Failure Is the Only Option.

Examples of Status Quo Game Show include:

Live Action TV

  • In The Suite Life of Zack and Cody, the twins would have done extremely well had Cody not decided to be greedy and 'Risk It All!' Guess what the lesson of the story was...
  • 227: Mary and Sandra on Wheel of Fortune.
    • And later the whole family on Family Feud, where Sandra does horrible in the first section of Fast Money, and Calvin nearly wins it all on his own...except for switching his final answer from the one that would've won them the big money.
  • The Odd Couple: Felix and Oscar on Password.
  • Smart Guy: Teenage girl wants car. Has to sit in one as long as possible to win. Shoves out what seems to be her one remaining rival. As she's celebrating, though, it turns out someone who'd been in the trunk is the winner.
  • Cheers: Cliff, Jeopardy!
  • The Carol Burnett Show: Carol's recurring character Eunice sings "Feelings" on The Gong Show. Despite her conviction that she doesn't need lessons because she's "a natural" she gets gonged, and her despair is shown by a Fade to Black.
  • Roseanne had an apparent exception, with the family winning the lottery and living it up. However, it was then revealed that they hadn't won the lottery, that almost a whole season had been All Just a Dream, and things were actually worse off than before.
  • I Love Lucy: Lucy wins a $300 prize when one of her dollar bills matches a bill's serial number announced on the radio, but she loses the bill and her subsequent attempts to get it back end up costing $299. In another episode, Lucy schemes to win a Hawaiian vacation on a game show, but Ricky shows up as a guest on the same program and deliberately sabotages her in the most humiliating manner possible.
  • Cosby and Caroline in The City both had characters win large sums of money in contests sponsored by sports teams, only to learn afterwards that they had relatives who worked for the team and were thus ineligible for the contest.
  • Married... with Children absolutely loved this trope:
    • In one episode, Kelly went on a sports trivia game show (after Al taught her all he knows about sports) and almost won the grand prize, only to fail the final question, which was about Al's "four touchdowns in one game".
    • Peggy once won $10,000 in a bingo contest, only to have to spend it all on taxis to arrive safely back home (after Al forgot to pick her up).
    • Subverted in an early episode when Al and Peg cheat their way onto a game show for newlyweds, and Peg's efforts (at torturing Al) win them a new sports car. It's never seen or referred to, even in episodes involving Al's broken down Dodge, until an episode years later. (Typically handwaved as being due to insurance and/or tax issues.)
  • Boy Meets World, the episode is appropriately titled "The Eskimo". Mr. Feeny assigns Shawn to get him Super Bowl tickets, so Shawn enters a radio contest in which he must be the last person to leave the radio's billboard in the January chill. His final competition is, yes, an ice cream cone-eating fellow in Eskimo garb (Phenotype Stereotype). Shawn gives up the contest, but still makes it to the Super Bowl himself.
  • The Young Ones appeared on University Challenge, against a team of upper class twits.
    • ACHTUNG!
    • Although there's no prize (other than a trophy) for winning, so it wouldn't have mattered even if they had won.
  • In an episode of Fame, Leroy won a lot of prizes on a TV game show, and then he got hit by the tax bill. In order to pay it, he had to sell everything he'd won, and since the tax bill was based on the manufacturers' suggested retail prices, and he couldn't sell any of the stuff he'd won for anything near that, he wound up breaking even.
  • While this wasn't technically a game show, one episode of The Greatest American Hero had Ralph become a baseball player. One plot element plot had him cheated out of his salary by being given a contract which disguised insurance as income. This had no relation to the rest of the episode, and seemed to be there only to avoid the change in status quo that would be caused by making Ralph a millionaire.
  • In an episode of the Life Lesson/Inspirational show McGee and Me, the main character, Nick, ends up on a Double Dare-esque gameshow. Most of the leadup consists of Nick getting increasingly arrogant about it, up to and including when he discovers his opponent is a girl. He's promptly creamed (literally) and learns a valuable lesson in humility.
  • No one in Saturday Night Live's "Celebrity Jeopardy!" sketches ever wins. And this includes Trebek, believe it or not.
  • In one My Family episode, Michael arranges for all the main characters to appear on The Weakest Link together because he believes that as the smartest member of the family he's sure to win the prize money. He's beaten in the last round by Alfie.
  • In one episode of Kenan and Kel, the title characters enter a wedded couple game show which has a house as the prize (as Kenan wants to live on his own to have privacy), with Kel dressed as a girl named Kelly. They lose because, apparently, Kel and "Kelly" have different Trademark Favorite Drinks.

 Kenan: Her favorite drink, can I reiterate one more 'gain, is ORAAANGE SODA!

Host: Ok. Alright. Kelly, what you say?

[Kel holds up a sign that has the answer "Root Beer"]

Host: Oh, I'm sorry, Kenan. Root beer!


 Ray: ...Only employees of this station and their relatives are eligible to enter. The rest of you people [listeners], you're not eligible, so don't bother.

Bob: Yeah, so if you're related to us, get started on your postcard now...

Ray: For instance, if you're my brother, you have an excellent chance of winning.

Bob: Right. So if you're Ray's brother, get busy and fill out that postcard, and we'll send you this great prize.

Western Animation

  • The Simpsons: Marge in the red on Jeopardy! Trebek actually confronts her after the taping, demanding all the money she lost.
    • And again: Lisa delivers an essay on corrupt politicians in Washington, but loses to Vietnamese immigrant talking about running a tire balancing shop.
      • However, the politician Lisa fingered in her essay was arrested for his corruption, so Lisa did get some satisfaction. Also, the winning child commended Lisa for the "vigilance is the price of freedom" lesson her essay gave them.
      • Averted--sort of--when the Simpsons win a Japanese game show...because the prize is a plane ticket back to the U.S., without which they'd be stranded in Japan.
  • The Weekenders: Lor has to make 3 straight free throws for $10,000.
  • Dinosaurs: The family is on a game show with the subject being about TV... but their TV was destroyed by a meteor weeks ago, and Earl entered them on the show to win a new one.
  • All That, which was taken off of Nickelodeon's air, actually had a sketch which was a game show called "You Can't Win." This was insured by sneaky things such as, in a challenge to eat 400 meatballs in 10 seconds, putting into the giant bowl 403 meatballs, 3 too many.
  • In one episode of Garfield and Friends, Roy Rooster was the host of a game show that was actually called "You Can't Win," in which the questions were designed to be impossible to answer and everyone went home with a lovely consolation prize consisting of a rock.
  • In an early episode of Rugrats, Chaz wins the lottery, and proceeds to make his life as fancy as possible, which ends up extending to his son. Drew comes to him with a new product to invest in, and the product, an amazing ear cleaner, turns out to produce even more ear waste, bombing, and losing all the money Chaz invested in it, that being enough to thrust him back into his own life.
    • He did save a glass elephant. Which Stu promptly broke.
    • A second episode had Stu and Lou Pickles dress Tommy up as a girl and enter him in a Little Miss Beauty contest to win a Kingfisher 9000 boat. And he actually won, out beating Angelica. They were disqualified, however, when Didi showed up and the dads were unable to pull Tommy out before his name was announced. When Didi found out, whoo-boy...

 Didi: Does THIS look like a "Tonya" to you?!

  • South Park had Stan's dad lose $30,000 on Wheel of Fortune when he gave the incorrect answer to "people who annoy you". The correct answer was "naggers."
    • In another episode the townspeople put all of their savings onto a single roulette bet - and win a ridiculous amount of money as much as they needed to return to the status quo and then a little bit extra left over. But then they let it ride and lose it all on the next spin.
  • One episode of Dexters Laboratory has Dexter and Deedee partake in a game somewhat similar to Double Dare called Sibling Rivalry. Dexter wanted to win the telescope and Deedee wanted the pony. Inverted in that Deedee wins, but chooses the prize Dexter wanted... which, of course, she uses to spy on him.
  • In one episode of Animaniacs, Pinky and The Brain go on a game show ("Gyp-Parody") in order to win money so they can buy what they need to pull off their latest plan. The Brain, being a genius, answers everything correctly - until the last round, of course, because the question was about the TV show Pinky had been watching at the beginning of the segment until The Brain made him turn it off.
    • Tiny Toon Adventures had a more literal Gyp-Parody example. Buster Bunny hosted; Calamity Coyote, Dizzy Devil, and Elmyra Duff were the contestants. None were able to win anything: Calamity because his buzzer didn't work, Dizzy because he was too busy eating his podium, and Elmyra because, well, she's a moron. The game ends with Elmyra's repeated blunders driving Buster completely nuts and Babs quietly wheeling him off.
  • Arthur: In "Arthur and the Big Riddle," Arthur loses on a game show called Riddle Quest, but he only does so because he gets distracted wondering whether he'd be on the show for the rest of his life if he kept winning.
  • An episode of Garfield and Friends had Garfield win the lottery after Jon opted to toss away his ticket. However, during an interview on a Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous-type show, Garfield was revealed to be underage (about 12-13 when the episode was produced) and the judge of the lottery suddenly appeared to void the winning. The new winner? The host of that very show where Garfield was just outted in!

Real Life

  • UK writer and TV personality Danny Wallace once bought a £50,000 winning scratchcard, but accidentally voided it after winning by scratching off too many "windows".
  • Similar to the top example, there's a tale (probably apocryphal, but it fits the trope) of a man winning a fortune on the football pools, the guy turning up to deliver the cheque and the man announcing the cheque's arrival as "a great way to celebrate his 18th birthday" - at which point the cheque was promptly torn up, because he was under age for gambling...
    • It certainly has happened with the National Lottery, where they refuse to pay out to under age winners.
  • You can't win is pretty much the premise of thermodynamics. The laws of thermodynamics are sometimes written as such:

 You can't win; you can only break even.

You can only break even at absolute zero.

You can't reach absolute zero.

  • The second episode of the Alex Trebek version of Jeopardy! ended in a three-way tie for $0, thanks to all three contestants wagering everything and getting Final Jeopardy! wrong.
  • Press Your Luck also had several three-way ties for $0. At least one of them resulted from two contestants having hit four Whammys (which locked them out of the game), followed by the remaining contestant hitting another on her last spin.
    • Subverted in some cases: if all players ended up with $0, anyone with less than four Whammys got to come back and try again.


Anime and Manga

  • A partial exception exists in the original Yu-Gi-Oh! manga. Jounouchi enters a video game show in order to win a million yen and get his family out of poverty. While the producers try to cheat him out of the prize on the chance-based final roulette, Yami Yugi manages to put a stop to that with a Shadow Game that drenches the control panel with red paint, making them unable to tell which button is the red one that makes him a loser. Jounouchi wins, but the station goes bankrupt and he gets nothing.
    • Because Yami Yugi's "Penalty Game" for the producer after the whole paint thing has him barge in on the cameras and demand money from the people watching (He puts his Mind On The Air, see), so they subsequently lose their offended viewers and sponsors. Nice job, Yami Yugi.

Comic Books

  • One story in Archie Comics has Reggie on a thinly veiled parody of Love Connection. He says he has a good time, but his date calls him a stuck-up, self-centered dick. His consolation prize is a board-game version of the show, and he's noticeably choking slightly as he accepts it. The last panel is everyone in the main cast, even his longtime rival Archie, feeling sorry for him for being humiliated on national TV. Even the reader is sorry for him.


  • Since most movies aren't slaves to the status quo, they're usually exceptions to this trope. A notable example is Rosie Perez's character Gloria becoming a five-day champ on Jeopardy! in White Men Can't Jump.
  • Despite being rather cynical and quite depressing at times, in Slumdog Millionaire, Jamal ultimately wins it all.
  • Rocky's wife says this exact line to him in Rocky IV, trying to convince him not to box his Russian challenger.
    • Mason Dixon's manager says it in Rocky Balboa, pointing out that if he wins, he beat up a 60-year-old... and if he loses, a 60-year-old beat the crap out of him.
      • Surprisingly enough, it may have actually been played completely straight. He barely managed a split decision win, and there's a pretty good chance that it didn't do squat for his career or the sport of boxing. His half-hearted victory gesture said it all.
      • It's implied it's going to help Mason's career; because of his padded record and soft fights, he was thought as a paper champion due to having never been through a grueling fight. When he defeats the legendary Rocky who still had some gas in the tank and does so with a broken hand that opened the window for another Rocky comeback, he finally dispels that notion as he too gets an ovation from the crowd and the respect of ol' Rock.


  • The perpetually poor Weasley family wins a sweepstakes at the beginning of Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban. They promptly blow the prize on a trip to Egypt, but the winner's photo published in the paper becomes a major Chekhov's Gun. Totally averted at the end of Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire, when Harry gives his Tri-Wizard winnings to the Weasley twins: They use the money to start up their own business and are notably wealthier for the remainder of the series.
    • Well, they'd bought everything they needed, they couldn't normally afford holidays, and their son worked on another continent -- of course they'd go see him. Besides, the prize wasn't exactly huge.

Live Action TV

  • Spin City, where Paul that show won the grand prize on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?.
  • Del Boy from Only Fools and Horses went on Goldrush (a thinly disguised Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?) and lost in the final round. Then the producers realized that, wait a minute, his answer was actually right. So they called him up to apologize and offer him the prize money. But he assumed it was a prank call and told them to give the money to charity.
  • In one episode of Frasier, Niles won an SUV when he had to make a half-court throw at a basketball game. He planned to use it to go antiquing.
    • But, because Status Quo Is God, he instead ended up donating it to a policeman's charity.
  • My Name Is Earl used the "last one touching the car wins" contest. Catalina wins over Randy, but when prompted for her Social Security number, she bolts, and Randy wins by default. The car is later gambled away by Joy's mother.
  • A Double Subversion in Family Matters, when Urkel makes a shot for a huge cash prize, he hurls the basketball in celebration... the prize money was just enough to cover the repairs of the scoreboard he broke doing so.
  • Al and Peg on Married... with Children win a sports car in a game show (technically, Peg won it by willing to zap Al the hardest in an electric chair - plus, they cheated to get on the show in the first place). It doesn't appear again for years, even during episodes that revolve around Al's lousy-running Dodge (Hand Wave: they couldn't afford the insurance needed to drive it, a situation that was the key plot point of an episode, in fact). When it finally does pop up, it's abandoned on the freeway in a holiday traffic jam.
  • An interesting zig-zag: One episode of The Nanny had Fran getting on Jeopardy! and winning in a Dark Horse Victory with a final score of $200. She loses her second game, and the status quo remains.
  • On an episode of The Honeymooners, Ralph and Alice compete on Beat the Clock, but have to come back for a second taping to finish. Unfortunately, Alice has family obligations at the time, and Ralph finally comes to the decision to inform the show that they can't compete. Oddly enough, host Bud Collyer permits Ed to fill in for Alice, and they end up winning.
  • A B plot on an episode of Las Vegas featured a girl celebrating her 21st birthday in the casino and pulling the handle on the slot machine at the stroke of midnight and hitting the jackpot. Unfortunately, the clock inside the machine still said 23:59, invalidating her win. At the end of the episode, she is offered a check for that same amount to do a commercial for the casino reminding people to wait until they are 21 to gamble.
    • This one actually makes perfect sense. If word got out that a customer was robbed of a jackpot for the flimsiest excuse imaginable (and she wasn't even at fault!), it would be ruinous for the casino, and possibly other casinos in the neighborhood as well.
  • On How I Met Your Mother, Barney goes on The Price Is Right and, not only does he win, but he guesses the cost of every item exactly right down to the dollar.
    • Of course, it doesn't matter anyway, since Barney's character at many seperate occasions is stated to be absurdly rich already - for instance, having a wall-covering flatscreen tv that was brought in from Japan by a boat that could carry Godzilla. The money won on The Price Is Right undoubtly was a pittance for him, His reasons to go on the show were meeting Bob Barker (whom Barney believed to be his father) and getting Marshall and Lily some really nice wedding presents.
  • Real Life game shows, of course.


Video Games

  • In the Sam and Max Freelance Police game Situation: Comedy, the duo take a shot at a game show called "Who's Never Going to be a Millionaire". Initially, the trope is played straight (They're given a extremely hard question and all the replies are in the manner of "Huh?"). Switching the questions with a stack of song lyrics makes things infinitely easier, and they win. The prize, however, is a million dollars... in food stamps. Instead, they fork it over to Bosko for his invention of the episode. In a talent show, Sam also wins a recording contract, which turns out to be useful much, much later.

Web Comics

  • In PvP, Robbie wins the lottery and quits the magazine. Cole expects everything to Snap Back and is surprised when it doesn't. Later strips involving Robbie show him still living as a millionaire.
    • In a storyline when people speculated status quo would be restored, Word of God flat out said, "Robbie won't be losing his wealth anytime soon."

Web Original

Western Animation

  • In the Looney Tunes short "The Ducksters", Porky Pig is a contestant on "Truth or AAAAAAGH!", a quiz show hosted by Daffy Duck. The sole purpose of the game seems to be humiliating the contestants, giving them obscure questions to answer (Daffy appears shocked when Porky actually gets one right), impossible challenges, and pain-inducing "penalties". In the end, Porky only wins the prize money because he threatens Daffy with bodily harm, and then uses it to buy the studio and turn the tables on Daffy.
  • Hey Arnold!: Arnold, his grandparents and two boarders use Team Spirit to beat another family on a game show called "Fighting Families" (similar to the old Nick game show Double Dare).
  • One episode of Family Guy actually begins with Peter on Wheel of Fortune, winning the prize and setting up the plot for the rest of the episode. No setup for how he got on the show, he was just there, won, and the episode proceeded as normal.
    • Though it was using the antiquated rules for Wheel of Fortune where all money won on the game show had to be spent there too for various services or goods.
  • The Jetsons once competed against the family of George's boss, Mr. Spacely, on what was essentially a futuristic version of Family Feud. The Jetsons end up winning the contest, and a furious Mr. Spacely threatens to fire George on the spot if he takes the grand prize, instead of what's behind a special force field. George decides to trade the grand prize for whatever's behind the force field, and his family is upset until they find out it's a new food-making machine, which they've been needing since their old one had broken down. Mr. Spacely, meanwhile, won the grand prize...a lifetime supply of Cogswell Cogs, the goods of his arch-rival. Needless to say, Mr. Spacely isn't too happy with his prize.
  • In one episode of Rugrats, Didi participates in a Jeopardy!-type game show, the Title Drop "Super Stumpers", and finds herself horribly outclassed by a snooty super genius. Even she realizes that she can't win. However, fortune smiles on her when Tommy, Phil and Lil raid the control room of the studio in an attempt to find the sun (she had mentioned earlier she wanted to "find her place in the sun"). She wins big time, but chooses a gold-plated dalmatian statue instead. Tommy, however, probably figured things out much quickly -- she found her place in the sun.
  • One episode of A Pup Named Scooby Doo had Scooby and Shaggy competing against a super-smart brother/sister duo in a game spoofing The $1,000,000 Chance of a Lifetime. Things are one-sided until the ghost of the episode appears and stops the show. Once the mystery's solved, the show resumes, and Scooby and Shaggy win when their opponents can't figure out what kind of phrase involves two 'z's in the middle of the word. Their prize? A lifetime supply of pizza, comic books and Scooby Snacks -- which is fine by them.
  • An episode of Cow and Chicken had the titular characters and their parents enter a Canadian version of America's Funniest Home Videos. They win, but it turns out that the Canadian Dollars to American Dollars conversion rate was horrible - something along the lines of $10,000 Canadian = $.05 American.
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