Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

Is that your final answer?

TV Game Show, originating in the United Kingdom (where it has been hosted since its inception by Chris Tarrant) in 1998 and now sold to multiple countries. Celador, its former production company, claims that the format has been aired in 100 countries worldwide. Regis Philbin and Meredith Vieira were the American hosts on ABC and in syndication, respectively.

The game starts with a "Fastest Finger First" (or just "Fastest Finger" in the U.S.) round, wherein about ten contestants have to place four answers in order; (e.g., "List these U.S. Presidents in chronological order, starting with the earliest"). The first contestant to give the correct answer moves to the main game; everybody else goes home.

In the main game, the contestant must answer 15 (since changed to 12 in the UK version, or 14 in the US version) multiple-choice questions, worth increasing amounts of money to win up to £1 million (or local currency equivalent). They start with three "Lifelines", which are one-time-only helps they can use if they're unsure about a question.

Possible Lifelines include:

  • "Ask The Audience": The audience votes for the correct answer. Audiences of the Russian version are infamous for deliberately giving the wrong answer out of spite.
  • "Phone-A-Friend": The contestant is given thirty seconds to speak to someone (whom they chose beforehand) on the phone. Discontinued in October 2009, since it had become "Phone-A-Google-User" in practice.
  • "50:50": Two wrong answers are eliminated; originally, this removed the two most obviously-wrong answers, but later changed to removing two wrong answers at random... well, maybe random.
  • "Switch The Question": Allowed contestants to change a question that baffled them for a new question of the same value. Only available in special episodes of the UK version, but permitted for all contestants on the American version from 2004 to 2008, provided the player answered the tenth question (then reduced to $25,000 from $32,000) correctly.
  • "Double Dip": Used only on Super Millionaire at first, but later replaced 50:50 in the American version in 2008. Contestants are allowed to make two guesses at the same question, but once this lifeline is used, they are locked into answering the question and cannot walk away.
  • "Ask The Expert": After winning $1,000 (later $5,000) on the US version, the contestant earned this lifeline. Ask the Expert was basically an enhanced Phone-A-Friend, but with a (sometimes) genuinely-smarter person. In early 2010, this lifeline replaced Phone-A-Friend and was available from the outset.
  • "Three Wise Men": Used only on Super Millionaire, this allowed a panel of three experts (one of whom was a former Millionaire contestant) to deliberate and provide an answer within 30 seconds. Was a precursor to Ask the Expert, noted above.
  • "Ask an Audience Member": Introduced in 2007 on the German version and exported to a myriad of other versions since, this lifeline is available to any contestant who chooses to play the "risky" variant of the game, at the cost of the 10th question safety net. When used, all audience members who are sure that they know the answer are asked to stand up and the contestant picks one of them to give their answer. To incentivize help, if the answer the audience member provides is correct, they are awarded a small cash bonus. Some other versions of the show used the same lifeline, except the contestant gets to ask three people instead of just one audience member. This version is known as "Ask Three of the Audience" or "The People Speak".
  • "+1": Replaced the second Jump in the 2014-15 season of the US syndicated version. Allows a player to call down a friend who came with them from the audience to help them out on a question—basically, a mix of Ask The Expert and Phone-A-Friend. The Australian Hot Seat show uses this lifeline as "Ask a Friend", with some slight differences (the friend doesn't come down from the audience and instead just speaks up from his seat). It is available as one of three possible lifelines (alongside 50:50 and Switch) in exchange for the $1000 check won during Fastest Finger First.
  • "Jump the Question": Used only on the new shuffle format implemented on the American version in September 2010, the player skips to the next question and does not earn its resulting payout (the payout goes out of play in the first round (the shuffle round) and the question value is merely passed up in the second round (Classic Millionaire)). A contestant receives two of these.
  • "Ask the Host": Introduced in the 2018 revival of the British version (it was originally intended to be one of the lifelines when the show first started and was mentioned in promotional material, but was replaced with 50:50 before the show began) the contestant is given the chance to ask the host what they think the answer is. The host also no longer sees the correct answer in versions that use this lifeline. The host cannot give any more assistance once they have given their own "final answer" and is forced to let the computer reveal the answer once it is locked in by the contestant. Also used on the U.S. 2020 revival, in lieu of Ask the Audience due to the COVID-19 pandemic necessitating the show be filmed behind closed doors.

Under the classic rules, the contestant can stop at any time and keep whatever money they've earned up to that point. If they pass the 5- or 10-question mark (2- and 7- mark in the 2007-14 UK version), they are guaranteed to get that amount of money, even if they answer wrong on a later question. If they get an answer wrong, they lose their money, except for whatever was guaranteed. See below for the changes in the US Shuffle format.

Britain has had four top-prize winners to date. A fifth, Charles Ingram, lost his money after it was proved that a friend gave him the answers by "strategic coughing" in a very famous case. Ironically, the first-ever winner was a middle-aged woman who was already quite wealthy. The first American winner famously did it without using a single lifeline in the process, with the exception of Phone-A-Friend — which he only used to inform his father that he was about to win the Million.

The American version was a massive hit in the beginning, spawning a huge revival in game shows in general and big money, prime time quiz shows in particular (including many other imported shows). Ratings eventually tanked, however, with most people pointing the finger at ABC for milking the show to the point of overexposure (at one point, it was aired four nights a week). It lived on as a syndicated format for 19 years before finally being cancelled in 2019. A revival came in 2020.

In Italy, as part of the 2008 year-end holidays, the format was temporarily changed to a fast-paced version - the Extraordinary Edition - in which:

Six contestants played a single series of 15 questions; with no lifelines nor the possibility to walk away, and the only safe haven checkpoint set at the value of the fifth question. There was a time limit of 15 seconds for the first questions (1-5), 30 seconds for the middle questions (6-10) and 45 seconds for the final questions (11-15). Each contestant could "pass" only once; a move which rotated the next contestant into the same question, and that contestant couldn't pass that one even if he/she hadn't passed yet. Giving a wrong answer eliminated the contestant and called in the next one with a new question at the same level. The total number of questions couldn't exceed 15, which meant not only the goal amount could be reduced down to the value of the tenth question; there could be only one winner as well. The Hot Seat format, which first arrived to Australia in 2009, uses the same rules of this version (albeit without the Fastest Finger First round in most countries). However, Italy later abandoned this fast-paced version in favor of going back to the original set-up. The Australian version wound up having the show extended from 30 to 60 minutes, thanks to an all-new Fastest Finger First round, which consists of 15 questions (albeit structured like classic Millionaire questions instead of the usual "four-in-a-row" structure). The contestant who has the most answers in this round wins an additional $1000 and the opportunity to trade in the won check for one of three lifelines (50:50, Switch or Ask a Friend).

The US version underwent a massive alteration of its format for its ninth syndicated season. The game is now played in two distinct rounds, and the first ten questions (the first round of the game — the Shuffle Round) are worth an amount ranging from $100 to $25,000, but what a question is worth is only revealed once the question is answered correctly, and this money is accumulated rather than progressed through. Not only are dollar amounts random in the Shuffle Round, but so are question difficulties and categories. Missing a question drops the player down to $1000, and bailing out forfeits half the banked money. The final questions in the second round, named Classic Millionaire (worth $100K, $250K, $500K, and $1,000,000 of course), are played in the traditional manner. The lifelines were also changed for this, only Ask the Audience remains alongside two instances of a new lifeline called Jump the Question which lets the player skip over a question, at the expense of not being able to collect the money behind it. The format was slightly altered in 2014 by introducing the Plus One lifeline before 2015 returned the 50:50 and the traditional moneytree.

The following Game Show tropes appear in Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?:
  • All or Nothing: In classic editions, the first two or five questions. In these editions, the questions are generally going from easiest to hardest, and the first question always has one answer that is hilariously wrong. Averted altogether in the current American format, where missing any of the first ten questions drops the contestant down to $1,000, and the difficulties are randomized in the first round (hence the universal minimum payout).
  • Confetti Drop: A snowstorm of confetti is released when someone wins the top prize or at the end of the last show of a run. In some countries, this is accompanied by fireworks.
  • Consolation Prize:
    • Most editions offer a smaller amount if one fails on a question past a checkpoint (usually questions five and ten, or two and seven in the UK's newer format).
    • The 2010 US version offers $1,000 for missing any of the ten first questions, and $25,000 for missing any of the last four.
    • In the Brazilian version, players who gave an incorrect answer to any question (other than the million real one) got half the money won from the previous questions.
  • Game Show Appearance: A foreign version was the setting (and point) of the Oscar-winning Slumdog Millionaire. Its success, in fact, helped to fuel the 10th-Anniversary specials on ABC. The production company behind Who Wants To Be a Millionaire was part of the movie project.
  • Home Game: Board and video. Coincidentally, the latter was the first video game to reach a million sales in the United Kingdom.
  • Let's Just See What Would Have Happened: Usually done if a contestant decides to walk away. In most cases, the contestant made the correct decision by walking away.
  • Lifelines: Trope Namer.
  • Losing Horns: Type A, in a sense, whenever you go for a question worth at least $1,000 and miss. The piece played for a $32,000 loss is particularly jarring, and should you be unfortunate enough to miss the $1,000,000 question, the show takes this Trope up to about 13 (see Nightmare Fuel on the YMMV page).
    • Interestingly, the US Retool, which had to use new music for legal reasons, uses the same theme no matter what question in the stack is answered incorrectly.
  • Personnel:
    • The Announcer: Present only in the Japanese version. A few European versions have a recorded announcement play at the start of each episode to announce the host.
    • Game Show Host: Regis Philbin in the ABC version, Meredith Vieira (or substitutes) on the US syndicated run. Chris Tarrant in the original UK version. Jeremy Clarkson in the UK revival. And of course many, many others depending on your locale.
    • Studio Audience: Actively used when a contestant uses Ask The Audience.
  • Product Placement: Those 15 Capital One checks, Netflix Movie Week, and Ask The Expert's Skype service. AT&T sponsored Phone-A-Friend during the ABC era, and AOL sponsored an secondary Ask the Audience poll conducted through an AIM bot. There was also a "tax free" week sponsored by H&R Block, where prize values were adjusted so that their advertised winnings would actually be what they win after taxes.
    • In the UK, Barclays Bank's logo appeared on the 15 cheques, something which disappeared almost immediately after a rival bank started sponsoring the programme. (For what it's worth, product placement in the UK was entirely forbidden until 2011.)
  • Progressive Jackpot: One on occasion during Regis's era on the American version, the grand prize would increase by $10,000 for every person who failed to reach the million dollars. The prize reached $2,180,000 until it was won, although one other contestant during the jackpot phase came back due to a faulty question and went on to win the jackpot of $1,860,000 he was playing for the first time.
  • Retired Game Show Element: Several of the lifelines in the US version, along with the clock.
  • Unexpectedly Obscure Answer: Mostly in the upper tier, but "What kind of animal did Hannibal cross the Alps on?" at $100 really sticks out. While by no means a hard question, it's certainly far harder than the typical $100 questions, which were more often along the lines of "What color is the sky?"
    • The contestant missed that question, creating a Trope of his own in what fans of the show would refer to as "Llama-ing Out" — winning nothing.
    • Even more seem to pop up in the early questions of the New Zealand version of the show. The first contestant on that version went away with nothing, in fact.
    • A bad trend in recent American episodes: questions that ask what celebrities did before they became famous (or which of four celebrities had a specific job). These are almost always the hardest in Round 1 and frequently jumped or walked away from, and none have been answered correctly.
  • Who Wants to Be Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?: Trope Namer — the show's success revived the Game Show genre and inspired a boatload of imitators, including an adaptation of fellow Celador production Winning Lines and eventually Philbin's own follow-up Million Dollar Password.
Tropes used in Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? include:

  • A Day in the Limelight: Regis actually played a charity question to wrap-up the 10th-Anniversary specials. Meredith took the hosting duties for this occasion -- the chairs were reversed, Meredith hosting in the usual contestant position. Inverted in the daytime version, when Regis came back to host the week after Thanksgiving 2009.
    • Regis won the money by answering which of four answers was NOT a million-dollar winning answer on the US version of Millionaire.
      • This episode was also famous for being the only time on the American show when a contestant attempted the million-dollar answer and missed it.
  • All Gays Love Theater: In the Celebrity Millionaire episode with Norm MacDonald, the $500,000 question was about a play Samuel Beckett wrote. After seeing the choices, Norm said:

Norm: Well, I'm not gay, so I don't know that much about Broadway musicals... (audience laughs)

  • Artifact Title: Due to redenominations or outright replacements of currencies with another, more valuable one, some countries were left with versions of Millionaire that had a top prize less than one million of the equivalent currency. Cases of this include Portugal (from 50 million escudos to 250000 euros), Greece (50 million drachma to 150000 euros), Slovenia (15 million tolar to 100000 euros) and Azerbaijan (100000000 old manat to 100000 new manat). The Finnish version played with this, as it went to an 2000000 euro top prize after the switch from the markka to the euro, but after a few years the million top prize got restored, this time in euros. Averted by Bulgaria and Ghana, as the game show got renamed to "Who Wants to Be Rich?" in both cases, due to the high value of the lev and the new cedi.
    • Inverted in Belgium where the show originally was called "Who wants to be a multi-millionaire?". The original top prize was 20 million BEF[1]. After the switch to the Euro, it became "Who wants to be a Euro-millionaire?".
  • Ascended Contestant: A few months before Meredith Vieira became the host of the syndicated US version of Millionaire, she was a contestant on the primetime version. Meredith was one of the last contestants out of the Fastest Finger circle, and made a joke about it when premiering the syndicated version, which nixed the Fastest Finger concept altogether.
  • Bonus Material:
  • Catch Phrase: "Is that your final answer?". This is used as "insurance" to prevent any legal dispute if someone says an answer, gets it wrong, and then claims they were just deliberating out loud as the hosts try to encourage.
    • During the first episode of the short-lived Irish version presented by Gay Bryne (that's his real name, and he was such a well-loved celebrity that nobody seems to have made a joke about it — now that is respect), he said "Is that your final answer?", "Are you sure?", "No regrets?" in that order after every. Single. Question. Every single one. Even the first five (aka "piss-easy") questions. It was unbelievably annoying, but luckily he packed it in by the second episode.
      • After a few American episodes, Regis' "Final Answer" insurances were edited out during the initial questions (because they usually were "piss-easy" and often included joke answers) to save time and keep the beginning of the game flowing.
    • Also, from Tarrant, "But we don't want to give you that!"...which managed to mutate itself into the public consciousness.
  • Commercial Break Cliffhanger: Played straight in the UK, Australia and Japan; averted in the US. The closest the US came to playing this straight a rare occasion when a contestant switched out a high-level question and the replacement was only shown after commercials, but even then, the answer to the first question was shown before the break. The 2020 US revival also plays this straight.
  • Couch Gag: The first question almost always has a gag answer for D. Subverted in that, if it isn't an obvious gag, it's probably the correct answer. And if that's the case, usually it would occur in the second question.
  • Epic Fail: Several times.
    • 2000: A contestant named Kati Knudsen was hell-bent on being the first woman to win the Million. This resolve never wavered, despite burning off all her Lifelines at the $8000 level. She even managed to claw her way to the $500,000 question. She then spent over an hour on the question (who was the most recently added member of the United Nations), saying "I'm pretty sure it's ___" on three of the four answer choices. Even Regis looked uncomfortable, and was practically begging her to stop (and probably would've physically removed her from the Hot Seat if he could have). Kati, not to be denied, plays the question, locks in an answer, and gets it wrong, dropping her to $32,000. Viewers could hear Kati cursing herself out as she left the stage.
    • August 2009: Ken Basin. "No, it's not your final answer; you just lost a lot of money."
  • Faux Documentary: "The Audience Experience".
  • Getting Crap Past the Radar: There's definitely some unusual questions that seem like they shouldn't have been allowed to air, such as one about Wienergate and another about two guys breaking a world record for longest kiss. Add to that other Accidental Innuendo such as the infamous "Uranus" slip-up and the show doesn't seem quite as innocent.
  • Heartbeat Soundtrack: Gradual, but the background music fades away as the contestant goes up the money ladder; the sole sound (aside from a held low chord) remaining at the last question is, as you might have guessed, the heartbeat.
    • The pattern is inverted in the US Retool, which had to use new music for legal reasons. The percussion maintains the heartbeat-like rhythm for all three forms of the Round 1 music and the $100K question, but more instruments are added for the $250K, $500K and $1 million questions, making this motif less noticeable.
  • Hint System: In the celebrity versions of the Regis run, if a contestant was stuck on a question valued at $32,000 or below, the remaining contestants in the Fastest Finger seats were allowed to help the player out, usually of the comedic Cough-Snark-Cough variety. This was so that every player would be guaranteed to win $32,000 for the charity and have all three lifelines for the final five questions, where the game would be played straight.
  • Loophole Abuse: One contestant during the timer era constantly interrupted Vieira's reading of the answers, so that he could bank up more time for later questions. This trick could have been averted entirely if they rejiggered the clock to start after she's read the "D" answer...
  • Luck-Based Mission: Australia's Millionaire Hot Seat, which is the same format as the Italian version mentioned above.
    • The current US format to a lesser extent, since the first ten questions and their values are separately randomized.
  • Manipulative Editing: When a contestant walked away with time remaining on the clock, you could sometimes see for a split-second how much time the contestant actually had left (a jump in the music also signified an edit). This was most notable during the Tournament Of Ten.
  • Missing Episode: The first US celebrity edition's episodes (where Drew Carey and Rosie O'Donnell won $500,000 each for their charities), and the episode where Ed Toutant returned after a flawed $16,000 question and went on to win a $1,860,000 progressive jackpot, have never been rerun on GSN even though Millionaire reruns are quite common on that network.
  • Negated Moment of Awesome: During the US Celebrity Millionaire, Norm MacDonald was going for the Million and almost answered correctly, but was talked out of it by a nervous Regis, who was concerned Norm was merely recklessly guessing (to be fair, he kinda was) and might potentially lose $468,000 to Paul Newman's charity. Still, how awesome would it have been to see Norm win the Million, especially since it would've been a great Take That at everyone who had picked on Norm all week (Norm was the last contestant in the batch of shows) for supposedly being dumb?
  • Nintendo Hard: The top tier of questions, as they should be.
  • Obvious Rule Patch: The removal of Phone-a-Friend in the US version. It was obvious that these friends were often typing keywords into Google or other search engines to try to find the answer in the 30 seconds allowed. They often didn't even try to hide it. Neither did the show when they invoked said Obvious Rule Patch and replaced it with giving the Ask the Expert lifeline throughout the game.
  • Replaced the Theme Tune: The British version remixed its own music in 2007, although it did not replace some of the shorter themes (like the "final winnings" tune) or the sound effects. The American version kept the same music through the clock format of 2008-2010, but replaced all music and sound effects with the 2010-2011 season for legal reasons. Just as an example, the intro themes in the original soundtrack (albeit with sound effects), the 2007 UK remix and the 2010 US soundtrack.
  • Reverse Psychology: One of Meredith's hosting trademarks is trying to psych out contestants who just gave a final answer before telling them they're right. She never does this when the contestant gets a question wrong, however.
    • Of course, feigning disappointment before telling a contestant they were right was also a Regis trademark, to the point of parody.
  • Right for the Wrong Reasons: Occurs a few times, such as in this $100,000 question. [2]
  • Rules Spiel: In most versions.
  • Sequel Difficulty Spike: The US syndicated version is much harder than the ABC version, with entire seasons going by without million-dollar winners. Justified, considering ratings of the syndicated version aren't as huge as the network version once was (ABC's Executive Meddling didn't help matters), and thus can't offer as much money.
    • The Canadian version bragged about this, even though it was done for the same reason.
  • Sweeps: In the US syndicated version, many of each season's best and most memorable contestants as well as games that get into the very high-level questions are aired during sweeps periods.
    • Before the show became a regular fixture on ABC, the first two two-week network runs were done during August and November (1999) Sweeps periods.
  • Take That:
    • Regis shouted "Peanuts!" when Ken Basin answered how much he won on Jeopardy!.
    • A similar crack by Meredith can be found here, aimed at the Phone-a-Friend rather than the contestant.
  • Time Keeps on Ticking: Under the US clock format, the clock starts ticking down after each question is read, but while the four choices are read. Most contestants waited until Meredith or Regis was done reading the choices before speaking (see Loophole Abuse above for an exception), which nearly cost some players.
  • Trailers Always Spoil: When three contestants ended up winning the top prize within a month of each other in Summer 2000, network executives thought it would be a good idea to tell people ahead of time that a glut of millionaires was coming. In truth, the ratings weren't really affected either way, but it set a precedent for many other game shows in later years to do the exact same thing.
  • You Are Better Than You Think You Are: Subverted, hard. Before Ken Basin's penultimate question (for $500,000), former million-dollar winner Nancy Christy said to him from the audience, "You know more than you think you do. Trust yourself." He became the first person to blow the $1,000,000 question in American Millionaire history.
  1. 1 USD was worth about 35 BEF
  2. For starters, krypton is not fictional, but she could have simply misspoken when she said neon "doesn't sound like a gas" (maybe she meant to say it didn't sound like the right answer?).