All or Nothing

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

"You get nothing! You lose! Good day, sir!"

There's no points for second best.

Cheap Trick, "Mighty Wings" (from Top Gun)

Many classic Game Shows offer a Consolation Prize to the losing contestants. However, a more modern take features an All or Nothing approach; either you win the big prize, or you go home empty-handed.

The idea is probably meant to foster increased competition, and wring from the contestants a better performance — or more drama — by raising the stakes. The thought of putting a lot of effort into such an endeavor and having nothing to show for it afterward will certainly have that effect.

A comedic take on the idea might result in a contestant actually owing money to the packager, network or syndicator, but there are actual examples of shows where contestants gamble their possessions and/or money...

Compare Second Place Is for Losers, when a game or sports event is not like that but people act like it is.

Examples of All or Nothing include:


  • The end of the film Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory. Although Charlie has won Wonka's contest by default (since the other children all "dropped out"), Wonka disqualifies him on a technicality, delivering the quote at the top of this page. However, he subverts it a moment later by revealing that it is one last Secret Test of Character, which Charlie passes.
    • The other children in this film would be a straight-up example; they leave with nothing other than the Amusing Injuries they'd brought upon themselves. (This is different than the book. Then again, the book nor the 2005 movie didn't have that contract.)
  • The end of Wheel of Fish scene in the film, UHF, The box reveals to be empty. And Kuni tells the contestant that she is stupid.
  • In the movie The Running Man, contestants, who are criminals, on the Show Within a Show will either win their freedom, a large sum of money, and a long vacation somewhere tropical, or else die. This Brings new meaning to "all or nothing." And the people running the game cheat; thus, no one ever wins.


  • The terms of the will in both the original novel of Brewster's Millions and its various film adaptations essentially give Brewster an all-or-nothing challenge; if he spends the original 'inheritance' in its entirety, he gets the full amount, if he doesn't then he leaves with nothing.
  • The Hunger Games offers a particularly brutal example- one victor gets fabulous wealth and national fame. Each and every one of the other three contestants dies.

Live Action TV

  • The Doctor Who two-parter "Bad Wolf"/"The Parting of the Ways" featured the logical extreme of this trope: the losers of the contest didn't just go away with nothing, their genetic material was filleted and pulped to make them into Daleks.
  • In the Sesame Street game show sketch, The Crying Game Show, The grand prize turned out to be Sonny Friendly's very own teddy bear. And it made Sonny Friendly cry the hardest and thus, Wins the game! And leaves the poor contestants sobbing in failure after the announcer blurts that there is no Consolation Prize.
  • Big Brother Australia instituted a 'fines' system, whereby money would be taken from the prize pot for violations of the rules (of which there are many). The host claimed at the launch night that the winner could potentially walk out of the house owing money to Big Brother.
  • The Mole makes a big deal about runners-up leaving empty-handed. This is one reason Celebrity Mole wasn't played for charity. The other reason would be the hit a celebrity would take if he was deliberately preventing money from going to charity.
  • The Weakest Link
  • Dog Eat Dog
  • Celebrity Sweepstakes actually called its end game "All or Nothing".
    • Actually, this was because those were the two options available to the players - either bet everything you had ("All") or nothing (er, "Nothing"). Also, if you bet everything and lost, you received a consolation prize, which usually was worth more than what you could have won had you bet everything at the maximum odds and won.
  • A partial example with Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, thanks to its multi-tiered prize model; if the contestant can't make it past the first threshold (1000 pounds/dollars), the prize is ZERO.
    • Though, to be fair, the chances of that are astronomically low. The host will even hint at answers from time to time, and the questions are incredibly easy. It still technically fits the trope, but it's next to impossible to achieve. Although it has happened.
  • The complete lack of tiers on FOX's show Greed, added to the inability to walk away once the question is read and a lack of lifelines, demonstrates the main flaw in this trope, especially for high-stakes game shows: few people will go for a shot at $200,000 with a dangerously high chance of leaving with nothing when they have $100,000 in their pockets. The people with irrational overconfidence acting as captain were, sadly, few and far between. In Super Greed, contestants are guaranteed $200,000 regardless of the outcome once they go for the last two questions.
    • A contestant picked and participates in the "terminator" round gets $10,000 regardless of if he/she is terminated or if the team loses the game.
  • US 1 vs. 100 follows this rule with the contestant's inability to walk away once you continue for the next question. At least the remaining mob gets to win the share if a contestant loses. The original format? Doesn't let contestants leave except for right at the end if the mob have been eliminated, but before if the contestant was correct is revealed.
  • In Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?, unless and until a contestant reaches the $25,000 mark, a loss will send them home with nothing.
    • They changed it in the syndicated version. Now, if you get one wrong, you lose what you've won so far, but you're not out of the game.
      • Additionally to the syndicated version, you do get a Consolation Prize of a prepaid card if you miss the bonus question: $2500 if you had at least that much at the bonus question, or $250 otherwise.
  • Don't Forget the Lyrics uses the "Millionaire" formula as a template. If you win less than $25,000 and then get it wrong, you go home with nothing.
  • While the Andrew Lloyd Webber casting talent shows such as How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria don't have a runner-up prize, several of the runners-up will wind up being cast in various musicals because they were on the show... And, apparently, the BBC's standard policy for that sort of show is to pay the contestants the standard industry rate for their appearance.
  • In the Game Show Cash Cab, if they get to their destination without getting three strikes, the winner or winners are given an option, take the money and run, or answer a video question for double what they have. If they lose, they get nothing except the free cab ride.
    • Since the cabbie pulls over and kicks the contestants out the second they get the third strike, they may end up getting a free cab ride to roughly 20 blocks away from where they wanted to go. Though it is still an improvement over 40 or so blocks away from their destination.
  • Estate of Panic has a slight subversion: while not being able to escape the last room (the Vault) in time will result in the contestant losing everything, they are able to press a "panic button" on the wall and call for help at the expense of half the total winnings from the previous three rooms. (They still won't keep anything they earned from the Vault, though).
  • In the original Art Fleming version of Jeopardy!, contestants got to keep whatever money they won. But this led to contestants who would stop ringing in when they were satisfied with the amount of money they had, so when the show was relaunched with Alex Trebek, only the winner got to keep their cash to ensure that contestants would go all out to win the game. Trebek-era Jeopardy! always had sponsored Consolation Prizes of variable values; for many years, they were low-end, such as grocery products, but in recent years, the second-place contestant now gets $2000 and the third-place gets $1000.
  • British show Golden Balls is particularly cruel in this regard. After spending half an hour with bluffs and random distribution of money, two contestants are left with the option of stealing or sharing. If they both opt to share, the prize fund is split. If one decides to steal, they get it all. If both of them try to steal, nobody wins anything.
    • The same system is used in the U.S. show Friend or Foe?.
      • That would be because it's basically the Prisonner Dilemma, which is the Game Theory game non-economists know about.
  • Distraction, including possibly the show's winner if all his or her prizes are destroyed in the final round (which happened at least twice).
  • Moment of Truth. The hopefuls were called upon to answer highly embarrassing and potentially damaging questions about themselves (affairs and past crimes were common subjects), with a prize structure similar to that on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. The killer thing is, if the answerer got even one question wrong, he or she lost EVERYTHING. No safety net, no consolation prize, all that pain and emotional torment for jumping-jack nada. Even better, guess what was used to determine the "correct" answers? A Lie Detector. Which means that even if the answer was correct, it still resulted in absolute failure if the machine said otherwise. (Later it instituted a $25,000 floor, which wasn't much comfort.)
  • Unanimous, in which nine strangers met in a hermetically sealed bunker, and every week voted to see who would win the grand prize, starting at $1.5 million. The hitch was that the vote had to be unanimous for one person for the prize to be awarded. Oh, and the longer the contest dragged on, the smaller the prize got. And if anyone left the bunker, the money would get cut in half. Uh huh. Of course, the whole question of why anyone should want to give the money to anyone else, thus ending the show (and face time, the real reason a lot of these people go on reality TV to begin with) for NO gain is never addressed, nor how hurting the poor saps still in the game was supposed to be a deterrent to walking away.
  • In Britain, The Million Pound Drop was probably worse than Golden Balls about this. After taking most of an hour to go through seven questions and plenty of padding, players must face a final multiple-choice question with two choices. If they pick the correct answer, they keep their winnings; if they pick the incorrect one, they leave empty-handed and any success they had on previous questions is rendered moot. This led to one team who lost £525,000 on an Unexpectedly Obscure Answer which may has well have been a coin flip, since it was on nearly-30-year-old celebrity gossip.
  • On Win Ben Stein's Money, only the finalist gets to keep any cash earned. Contestants who are eliminated have their money returned to Ben's $5,000 pool to potentially be won in later rounds.
  • Exaggerated in the original British version of Grand Slam; not only was the only prize on offer the £50k for winning the sixteen-way tournament... But the contestants had to pay a £1k entry fee to get on the show.
  • Trashed managed to both Exaggerate and avert it - Losing teams would have some of their possessions destroyed, ten hours of community service... And get the parting gift of a Simpsons Chess Set.
  • Let's Make a Deal uses this extensively. Contestants were either given a prize or money and then tempted to trade it away for something potentially better behind a box/curtain/etc. or they are teased with a box or a curtain that may have something of high value but are offered money to back out in case there was a zonk (joke prize). Whatever you get, you were stuck with, so if you screwed up and got a zonk, you pretty much went home with nothing. This persisted in the revival version with Wayne Brady, except sometimes, he will give contestants who got zonked a small monetary prize (usually around $100 to $200) as consolation. Contestants who accept the offer in giving up what they won to try and win the big deal of the day risk winning prizes that are actually less in value compared to what they had previously won.
  • The British gameshow Pointless is like a reverse version of Family Fortunes/Feud: contestants are asked a question with multiple correct answers (like "name a Madonna movie"), and have to find the answers given by the least number out of a hundred people polled before the show. If nobody said an answer, it is Pointless. To win the jackpot, the team that gets through to the final has three chances to find a Pointless answer to the last question. If they can't, the jackpot rolls over to the next show. However, they do get the Pointless trophy.
  • The mid-90s game show Debt turned this on its head, or as host Wink Martindale said, "It's all or nothing, and you want nothing." Three players with real-life debt answered trivia questions in order to be the one that could play to have their debt paid off, and hence, leave with no debt. If you were eliminated in the first two rounds, you won nothing; that is, you still would have all your debt. In a straighter play on the trope (but really Double or Nothing), the final round the contestant could play only if they won the Speed Round was called "Bet Your Debt", in which he or she would answer one question based on some aspect of pop culture they claimed as a speciality. Getting the question right earned the contestant a cash amount equal to their debt. Getting it wrong meant the contestant left with their original debt.
  • On the 2000's revival of the Japanese quiz show Time Shock, contestants who missed more than half the questions in a round not only left empty-handed, but they were also taken for a spin - literally; they were strapped into a gyroscope chair of the sort one might find at a space camp, and failure would trigger the chair's "Tornado Spin".
  • Million Dollar Money Drop was especially cruel. The contestants started out with the maximum possible prize of one million dollars, then had to answer a series of seven multiple-choice questions, placing the money on the answers. This, naturally, led to some difficult choices on whether to put everything on one answer or hedge, and if they decided to hedge, how much to hedge. Nerve-wracking enough on its own, but where this trope was literally invoked was in the final question, which had only two choices. Since the contestants were required to leave one choice uncovered, there were two possibilities here, win all the money they still had at that point...or lose it all, thereby completely wasting all their efforts up to that point. Not surprisingly, this show was cancelled after about half a season.
  • The Price Is Right uses this trope in several games. While some games that were played allowed contestants to back out take home what they won so far, most of the game required contestants to go for broke and either win or lose everything.


  • "Weird Al" Yankovic's song I Lost On Jeopardy!; although the song is poking fun at the idea of Consolation Prizes, it does so by invoking this trope, just as Jeopardy! itself did.
  • Also parodied in Monty Python Live at the Hollywood Bowl: "Well, nobody leaves this show empty-handed... so we're going to cut off his hands."

Video Games

  • In Star Wars Episode I: Pod Racer, you can choose one of three ways to distribute prize money, depending on how confident you are at winning. One of the options is "Winner Takes All," which gives a massive amount of cash to the racer who places 1st but nothing for anyone else. Once you finish a series of races and get prize money, however, you can't get any more prize money, making this a real wager.
  • In many fighting games and role playing games, characters may have an attack/ability that can do massive damage (or have some other great benefit) or completely fail/backfire.

Western Animation

  • The Simpsons featured the comedic fictional take, when Marge went on Jeopardy! and finished in the red. She ran away from Trebek's thugs demanding that she pay up, though.

Thug: "She ain't gettin' the home version."

  • The Penguins of Madagascar: "When [Skipper] said all or nothing, he really meant all."
  • Metalocalypse featured one of the most extreme takes on this of all time: either your celebrity partner gets the question right, or you get killed with the cash you would've won.


  • This is the whole idea behind the gambit of "double or nothing" in gambling.
  • The X-Games has an event called "step up" (essentially a motorcycle high jump). It's the only event with only a gold medal, nothing for 2nd or 3rd. In fairness, has only a few competitors, so 3rd isn't much of an accomplishment.

Real Life

  • Richard Nixon believed that "In the Olympics, second gets you the silver medal, in politics it gets you oblivion". This explains a lot. On the other hand, in the original U.S. Constitution, the Vice-Presidency was the consolation prize for the runner-up.
    • That idea was scrapped after the first tie in the Electoral College. (For which, see Aaron Burr's entry on The Starscream).
  • Scantron tests. You'll either get it right (by knowledge or making a educated/lucky guess) or get it wrong. This is also true for just about any computer-graded standardized test that requires you to fill in bubbles for answers (e.g., the SAT, ACT, GRE, LSAT, GMAT...).