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A participant in a contest of some sort is really not as good as some of the other participants, but wins first prize anyway thanks to a combination of various factors, but primarily sheer chutzpah.
Ironically, this character does not necessarily have to be The Ace. In fact, he or she is sometimes a total loser (and not always even a Cool Loser) who triumphs through a fluke or dumb luck - or sometimes simply because he or she is simply too stupid to realize defeat.
This trope should be distinguished from Popularity Power, because the person in question usually isn't popular at all. It's also closely related to Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass, Crazy Awesome, and The Determinator. The term "dark horse" is a more charitable way of referring to a character with these attributes. Such a "dark horse" may win a Dark Horse Victory if two superior competitors ignore him while focusing their efforts on each other.
See also Karma Houdini, which is the basic idea behind this trope, but applied to villains.
- The title character of Forrest Gump.
- A good example is the film Napoleon Dynamite. Despite being an outcast the central character has success helping his friend become class president... with his dance skills.
- Subverted in the Greek tale of Arachne. Arachne was a Jerkass weaver who claimed to be able to create more exquisite tapestries than even the goddesses of Olympus could. Unable to tolerate this boasting, the goddess Athena challenged this mortal girl to a weaving contest. Remarkably, despite being only a human, Arachne did outperform Athena at the loom - which even Athena herself had to admit. But, with fatal foolishness, Arachne went the extra step of taunting Athena by including in her tapestry design an offensive caricature of her father, Zeus. Athena punished the girl by turning her into a spider - which is why eight-legged arthropods are to this day known as "arachnids."
- Also subverted in the myth of the music contest between Apollo and Pan, only here it was not the winner himself who was punished. Apollo—the very god of music, for goodness sakes! -- and Pan asked King Midas of Phrygia (yes, the one with the "golden touch") to judge a contest between the two of them, with Apollo at the lyre and Pan on his flute. Pan was clearly an inferior being to Apollo (being, among other things, only half-divine, as he was the son of the god Hermes and a wood nymph) yet played at least as well on his flute as Apollo did at his instrument, and ended up beating out Apollo for the prize. Midas, however, was too stupid to realize that one must never anger an Olympian god: Apollo, being a classic sore loser, humiliated Midas by giving him the ears of an ass.
- William Regal was once called upon to judge a singing contest on Monday Night Raw. One of the participants was Santino Marella, and Regal found him intolerably irritating. Ron Simmons (you know, the "DAMN" guy) came out to the arena and beat Marella up, drawing cheers from the audience. Regal was so grateful for this act that he announced Simmons as the winner - even though Simmons hadn't sung one note!
- Come to think of it, Santino Marella himself. He's a diminutive Sicilian wrestler (although actually from Canada) who has spent the better part of the past two years jobbing to more established Superstars on Raw. He tends to be portrayed as pretty pathetic, or at best only semi-competent. Yet he has two Intercontinental Championship reigns to his credit (albeit ones he owed to absurdly fortunate circumstances) and became "Miss WrestleMania" in 2009 when (in drag) he eliminated former girlfriend Beth Phoenix in a Battle Royal!
- In what may forever be his most absurd accomplishment, he became the runner-up of the 2011 Royal Rumble via a Brick Joke. You see Santino was knocked out early in is run of match and was fortunate enough to fall under the bottom rope to the floor. About 10 minutes later, Alberto Del Rio was celebrating his apparent victory when Santino recovered and hit The Cobra! Santino started celebrating prematurely allowing Del Rio to recover and reverse Santino's elimination attempt, sending Santino over the top rope. But just imagine how close we were to seeing Santino Marella in the main event of Wrestlemania!
- In the summer of 2007, Mae Young won a Divas' Bikini Contest on Friday Night SmackDown! despite A) wearing a standard one-piece bathing suit instead of a bikini; and B) being 84 years old. She did try to prove she deserved to win afterward by starting to strip off her swimsuit, but thankfully the other Divas stopped her.
- This was a Call Back to the Royal Rumble 2000, where Mae won the Swimsuit Competition and did expose herself to celebrate (albeit with prosthetics over her real breasts and a big red "Censored" sign over most of the screen)
- The Simpsons:
- Somewhat unsurprisingly, Ralph Wiggum got this treatment once on The Simpsons. In particular, one thinks of the episode in which he entered "Diorama-Rama" a contest for the second-graders at Springfield Elementary. He didn't even try to make a diorama (mostly because he didn't know what a diorama was), instead simply bringing in a box full of vintage Star Wars figures. Despite the fact that Ralph clearly didn't even qualify, Principal Skinner so enjoyed seeing the vintage action figures that he gave Ralph first prize anyway. Ralph gleefully lampshaded the trope, chanting: "I beat the smart kids! I beat the smart kids!" - until, that is, he fell on the box of figures and bent his Wookiee.
- In another episode, Bart entered a school science fair with an entry called "Can Hamsters Fly Airplanes?" Even though his "experiment" clearly did not prove or disprove any hypothesis, Principal Skinner was so charmed by the sight of a hamster wearing flight goggles and a scarf and sitting in a model airplane that he pronounced Bart the winner.
- Total Drama Island was won by Owen. Owen, who wasn't physically fit, wasn't very smart, and often times was the load for his tribe, won the first season.
- In the 2006 reality-TV competition Skating With Celebrities, actress Kristy Swanson really wasn't as good an ice-skater as her chief rival, TV reporter Jillian Barberie. But the judges on that show were so impressed by the heroic effort put forth by Swanson and her partner (and future husband) Lloyd Eisler that in the end they awarded her the trophy anyway. (Of course, it helped that Barberie suffered a groin injury fairly early in the competition, which noticeably limited her ability to perform her most dazzling stunts.)