11 Amateur Contests with Big Money Prizes

Written By
Paul Tracy
Updated January 16, 2021

Whether it's for the funniest joke, the best tasting apple pie or the fastest commute home, humans are competing with each other every single day. 

But only the lucky few compete at a professional level for big trophies, huge prizes and more money than one person can spend in a lifetime.

The rest of us are left cheering enthusiastically on the sidelines, living vicariously through our children and joining fantasy football leagues.

Spectate no longer! Hang up your cell phone, dust off the old headband and start stretching out those hammys. There are fun, bizarre and delicious ways to instantly boost your income by doing what is already in your nature: competing. 

You don't have to be "in shape" or even talented to win big money in these contests. Just ask the lucky competitors who took home the grand prize in these 11 amateur contests.

World's Ugliest Dog Contest -- $1,000

Every June, ugly dogs from around the country flock to Petaluma, CA for the Sonoma-Marin Fair, which features a contest called "The World's Ugliest Dog." The concept of the contest is quite simple: Judges decide which dog deserves the title of "The World’s Ugliest Dog," and the winner's owner gets a check for $1,000.

But the prizes and pampering don’t stop there. This year's "Ugliest Dog" received a photo shoot with Kira Stackhouse of Nuena Photography and a pampered overnight stay in the luxury of the Sheraton Sonoma County. If that isn’t enough, both the dog and its owner receive a ton of publicity on talk shows and newspapers around the world.

This year's winner of the 23rd Annual Ugliest Dog® Contest was a 1.8 pound mutt named Yoda. Yoda took home all the prizes mentioned above, including a trophy that was 15 times her size.

The US Air Guitar Championships -- $2,700

While air guitar competitions have been around since the early 1980s, it wasn't until 1996 that an official Air Guitar Championship contest was officially established.

Each performance is judged on technical merit, stage presence and "airness" -- when a performance "transcends the imitation of a real guitar and becomes an art form in and of itself."

The 2011 US Air Guitar Championships are being held in Chicago on Saturday, July 23rd with the winner receiving a free trip to the World Championships, held in Oulu, Finland -- a total prize worth approximately $2,770.

While it takes talent to play guitar professionally, it takes a truly special person to rock out the air guitar at the highest level. Test your air chops at the next qualifying competition in your area: usairguitar.com.

National Beard and Moustache Championships -- $5,000

Throughout history, men with facial hair have been ascribed various character traits, such as wisdom, knowledge and masculinity. Now you can add 'champion' to that list.

Enter Beard Team USA -- the group that organizes the annual National Beard and Moustache Championships. Membership on the team is open to anyone, without applications, dues, fees or gender tests.

The 2011 National Beard and Moustache Championships are being held on October 8, 2011 in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. The best beard and moustaches in the country will win $5,000 in prize money, and a chance to compete at the 2012 World Beard and Moustache Championships.

For more information on the contest, or to find your local chapter, visit: beardteamusa.org

National Geographic's Great Outdoors Photo Contest -- $7,500

National Geographic recently ran a Great Outdoors Photo Contest that was open to any and all talented amateur photographers.

The winning photo (above) was taken by Regine Lopez when she was held up in a storm on a dogsled tour of Abisko National Park, Sweden.

Her grand prize for the awesome shot was a luxurious seven-night all-inclusive resort stay for two at the El Dorado Royale in the heart of the Riviera Maya, a prize package estimated around $7,500.

National Geographic always runs a few photo contests a year, so keep an eye on all the National Geographic photo contests at the link below.

Nathan's National Hot Dog Eating Contest -- $10,000

Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest is competitive eating at its best. Legend says that on July 4th, 1916, four immigrants had a hot dog eating contest at Nathan’s famous stand on Coney island in order to settle a bet of who was the most patriotic. The rest, as they say, is history.

A hot dog eating contest has been held annually ever since at Nathan's original stand on Coney Island on July 4th, and is currently celebrating its ninety-sixth year of existence!

On July 4th, 2011, over 40,000 spectators and an additional 1.949 million viewers on ESPN watched four-time-defending champion Joey Chestnut win his fifth title by consuming 62 hot dogs and buns (HDBs) in ten minutes.

World's Championship Duck Calling Contest -- $15,000

Since 1936, the World’s Championship Duck Calling Contest has been a main attraction of the "Wings over the Prairie Festival" in Stuttgart, Arkansas. Every year on the weekend of Thanksgiving, the greatest duck callers in North America gather on Main Street to crown a 'World Champion.'  Many enter, but few win the illustrious title.

This is one of the more competitive contests on the list. To qualify and compete, you must win a preliminary calling contest sanctioned by the contest's governing body, Stuttgart’s Chamber of Commerce. 2010's winner (pictured above) is Brad Allen of Judsonia, Arkansas, who took home more than $15,000 in cash and prizes.

Are you the next World Champion of duck calling?  Find the closest preliminary contest to qualify for the 76th annual contest by visiting www.stuttgartarkansas.org.

APC Crisco National Pie Championships -- $15,000

Brought to you by the American Pie Council, the 2011 APC Crisco® National Pie Championships® were held April 8-10, 2011 at the Caribe Royale Hotel and Convention Center in Orlando, Florida.

If you thought that sentence was a mouthful, wait until you here about this year’s Amateur division winner. With over 300 entries spanning 17 pie flavors, the Amateur Best in Show grand prize went to Phyllis Szymanek of Toledo, Ohio with her Royal Macadamia Raspberry Pie (pictured above). 

For the winning pie, Szymanek took home $5,000 in prize money, as well as a new Sears Kenmore range. Click here to try her award-winning recipe.

If you are an amateur baker or pie aficionado and are interested in competing in next year’s contest, keep your "nose to the air" with the link below.

Annual World Championship Chili Cookoff® -- $25,000

For some, chili is a comfort food. For others, it is a way of life. If you are part of the latter, then it's time transform your passion into a profit.

The International Chili Society (ICS) -- the official organization that sanctions chili cookoffs -- is hosting the 45th Annual World’s Championship Chili Cookoff (WCCC). This year’s event is scheduled for Sept. 30 - Oct. 2 at Veterans Park in Manchester, New Hampshire.

There are a few requirements you must meet in order to compete in the WCCC: You must be 18 years old, an active member of the ICS and win your way through state, regional and district cookoffs.

The competition can get fierce, but the journey is worth it. Just ask the big 2010 Chili winner, Thomas H. Hoover, Jr., who happily took home $25,000 with his Happy Trails Chili.

Ready to serve your chili to the masses? Visit  www.chilicookoff.com to find your nearest contest and enter.

U.S.A. Rock Paper Scissors League Championship -- $50,000

Also known as "Ro Cham Beau," Rock Paper Scissors is a simple game that anyone can play. And if you’re good enough, you could win a cool $50,000 for mastering the technique.

Since 2006, the U.S. A. Rock Paper Scissors League has hosted a national competition each year for the best Rock Paper Scissors player. One restriction, you must be 21 years of age or older to enter.  

Contestants from across the nation compete at the USARPS League Championship, held at the Mandalay Bay Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada. The winner takes home the grand prize: $50,000.

Think you've got the chops for the USARPS League Championship? Visit: www.usarps.com to enter.

USPT Putting Championship and Tour -- $110,000

Fancy yourself a good putter on the green?  How about $110,000 good?

For just a $100, you can enter the 2011 USPT Putting Championship with a chance to win $10,000, the title of "America's Best Putter" and a trip to the 2012 UPST Putting Tour Championships.

The 2011 USPT Putting Championship, held in Carlsbad, CA from Sept. 26 – Oct. 2, is open to everyone 13 and up, men and women, amateurs and professionals.

Along with the $10,000 prize, the winner earns a spot in the 2012 World Putting Tour Championships with a chance to win an additional $100,000.

For more USPT Championship details, check out www.usputtingtour.com.

Pillsbury's Bake-Off Contest -- $1.01 Million

Do you like to bake? Do you like winning more than $1 million in cash and prizes? If you answered ‘Yes’ to both questions then this competition is for you.

The 45th Pillsbury Bake-Off contest -- being held in March 2012 -- is now taking entries. The judges are looking for a "creative, simple idea" and encourage entrants to keep in mind the following criteria: taste, appearance, creativity and how it will appeal to American families.

One lucky winner will walk away with $1 million in cash and $10,000 in GE kitchen appliances.

For more information on entering the contest, visit www.pillsbury.com.

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