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What is a Consolation Prize?

Michael Pollick
Updated May 23, 2024
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In the game show of life, some people win trips to Hawaii and others...well, they get a lovely set of luggage. Not everyone gets to win the top prize in a contest or game show, but this fact is not always easy to swallow. This is usually when a consolation prize makes its welcomed appearance. This is generally a parting gift offered to contestants who either did not win their competition or failed to appear onstage at all. It is intended to console the contestants who can only watch the winner walk away with the big prize money or the luxury automobile.

What constitutes a consolation prize varies from contest to contest. Some game shows may use donated items from sponsors as parting gifts to losing contestants, while others may have a prize for placing in second or third place. In the spirit of offering actual consolation, this type of prize is often something of fairly substantial value, such as a new computer or set of high-quality luggage. While it may not be as valuable as a new car or trip to an island paradise, the item could prove to be very useful or satisfying to the contestant who receives it.

Sometimes a consolation prize is connected thematically to the grand prize. While the winner may be traveling to Rome, Italy, the runner-up might receive an elaborate dinner at an expensive Italian restaurant. The winner of a contest might drive away in a sports car, but the second place winner may receive NASCAR-related clothing and memorabilia.

Not all contests or game shows offer consolation prizes to the losing contestants, or they may allow the players to keep whatever winnings they accrued during the game. A consolation prize may only consist of the experience of being in a television studio or meeting a favorite celebrity or two.

Offering some sort of consolation prize to finalists of a contest is generally considered to be good form, since it does create a sense of goodwill towards the sponsors of the event. This can be very important if the contest is held on a regular basis or the game show needs to attract a fresh supply of contestants.

Language & Humanities is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Michael Pollick
By Michael Pollick
As a frequent contributor to Language & Humanities, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a wide range of topics. His curiosity drives him to study subjects in-depth, resulting in informative and engaging articles. Prior to becoming a professional writer, Michael honed his skills as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.
Discussion Comments
By anon341975 — On Jul 16, 2013

Where can I get information on the history of the parting gift?

By OeKc05 — On Jul 13, 2011

I live near a huge lake where free fishing contests are held throughout the year. I never fish myself, but my boyfriend drags me to the competition to watch him. They do give out some cool prizes.

Grand prize is $200 and a fully stocked tacklebox. Second place consolation prize is an open-mouthed fish mailbox. People either love this or hate it, because they either find it really tacky or really cool. It is a big, lifelike, green bass with a gaping mouth that has a lid to protect your mail. Several people who live on the road leading up to the lake have these mailboxes.

My boyfriend placed third, and he received two new rod and reels, plus some non-living bait that is supposed to be top of the line. Some people think the third place prize is better than the second place one, but those mailboxes are expensive!

By cloudel — On Jul 12, 2011

In high school band, we had chairs for each player of an instrument. First chair flute was the best flute player, second chair was next best, and so on. However, someone in the chair just beneath yours could challenge you.

Third chair could challenge second chair, and they would have a play-off in front of the band director, who would decide who did better. If the third chair player outperformed the second chair player, then he could steal her chair and she would be bumped down to third chair. Of course, she could always challenge him to get her spot back.

Since the obvious prize to the winner of the challenge was moving up a chair, the band director decided to give out a consolation prize to the loser just for having the guts to participate in the challenge. So, even though they technically were losers and not second place winners, they would receive a metallic light-blue pen with a treble clef at the top of it and the words “music warrior” engraved on the side in silver.

The pens had nice, smooth blue ink and were great to use when taking notes. I “won” a couple of them myself, and it really did take the sting out of losing.

By orangey03 — On Jul 12, 2011

My school gave out prizes other than just ribbons and trophies to contestants of the spelling bee. They did this to encourage literacy.

The grand prize was usually a $100 gift card to a bookstore. To some kids, that wouldn't be much of a prize, but to the excellent spellers who were so good at it because they loved to read, it was an awesome award.

The consolation prize for second place was a $25 gift card to the same bookstore and a thesaurus. I won this prize one year, and I have used that thesaurus extensively when writing essays and articles.

Third place got a consolation prize of just the thesaurus, but for lovers of the written word, that is a good prize. Everyone who ever received it seemed happy to get it.

By Perdido — On Jul 12, 2011

I entered a local singing competition. Though I didn't win, I came in second, and I got a pretty nice consolation prize.

The grand prize winner got to progress to the bigger competition in a larger city. I received a high quality cordless microphone.

I really value this prize because I sing in a local band, and now I can move all around the stage or even the room without worrying about tripping over a cord or getting it tangled up in something. I do have to remain within range of the set of antennae that transmit signals to the microphone, but that range is pretty wide.

By Bhutan — On Jul 11, 2011

@Comfyshoes - I know what you are saying, but a lot of people do win by gambling. I was watching a show where the contestant was offered a diamond ring, six hundred dollars, and a cell phone with a five year supply of a prepaid service plan.

She could have traded her prizes for what was behind the curtain, but decided to stay with what she had. The other lady took advantage of the deal and gave up about $2,000 worth of prizes and ended up winning a Caribbean cruise travel package valued at about $5,000.

I think that it really has a lot to do with luck and everyone that goes on a game show should really understand this.

I also wanted to add that some schools are considering offering consolation prizes to their students so that they don’t feel bad. I have heard of sports teams offering everyone a trophy regardless of their performance because they do not want anyone to feel bad, but sports related accomplishments really have to do with a level of skill and hard work and I think that if you offer consolation prizes to everyone, it sort of dilutes the accomplishments of the students that actually deserved the trophy.

I was even reading about a school that did not want to designate a Valedictorian because they did not want the rest of the student body to feel bad. I think that we have to be careful when we start to downplay extraordinary accomplishments like this for the sake of the group. I don’t think it is fair to the person that worked really hard to have that distinction.

By comfyshoes — On Jul 10, 2011

@Oasis11 - I think that there should be consolation prizes regardless because the contestant feels bad when they lose. The other day I was watching, Lets Make a Deal which is a show where the contestants get to change their prize, by giving up what they have in hopes of getting something better, but sometimes the prize is a zonker meaning that there is no prize.

I feel so bad when that happens that I wish the contestants would get a consolation prize even if it is a year supply of rice. I think that something is better than nothing.

By oasis11 — On Jul 09, 2011

@Suntan12 - I enjoy watching games shows too, but I have a different take. I think that $200,000 is an enormous amount of money that could really change someone’s life. I would not gamble with that amount of money and just take the offer.

So the contestant does share the blame. I don’t think that they should get a consolation prize because they gambled with that money and lost. I think that in a game like the Price is Right where contestants get to bid on prizes and the winning bid allows them to continue to play the game there should be consolation prizes for the other contestants that continue to bid and don’t go farther with the game.

In their case, they did not guess accurately enough, but they did not gamble with their prizes which is a key distinction.

By suntan12 — On Jul 09, 2011

I love watching games shows especially when there is a big winner. I get so happy for the contestant and it is thrilling to watch. I do feel bad when the contestants lose, but not all game shows offer a consolation prize.

For example, if you look at Deal or No Deal, the contestant has the option of taking the money or risking it to get more. I always feel bad when they had a bank offer of $200,000 and end of leaving with $500.

I have never seen anyone win a million dollars. I am sure people have won this amount, but the odds are really against the contestants. I think that in games like this there should be a consolation prize so that the contestant goes home with something because I don’t know how you would begin to recover losing $200,000.

By serenesurface — On Jul 09, 2011

There are also consolation prizes in lottery. If someone misses winning the lottery because of one or two numbers that are different on their lottery ticket from the winning number, usually a consolation prize is given. The consolation prize for lottery is also money but much less than the winner's prize.

It still makes a big difference for the runner-up though. Can you imagine losing the chance to win a hundred thousand dollars by a single digit? It would be a huge disappointment. The consolation prize makes the disappointment less, because there is still something won.

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick
As a frequent contributor to Language & Humanities, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a...
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