Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? (often informally called Millionaire) is an American game show, developed by Michael Davies, based on the British program of the same name.


The goal of the game is to answer fifteen (or fourteen) multiple choice questions of increasing difficulty. As the contestant answers more questions correctly, they will win more money. If they manage to answer the last question, they will win $1,000,000. An incorrect answer will either result in the contestant losing all their winnings or dropping down to the last milestone level, which is the level in which the winnings earned at that point cannot be taken away and are usually at the fifth and tenth questions.

Contestants are also given a set of three lifelines to help them out if they get stuck on a question. Each lifeline can only be used once in the game. In most cases, at any point in the game, usually when a contestant gets stuck on a question and is out of lifelines, they can choose to walk away with the winnings they have earned up to that point.


  • 50:50: This lifeline allows the contestant to have two of the incorrect answers removed, leaving the correct answer and one wrong answer.
  • Phone-A-Friend: Contestants could call one of their friends or relatives and ask them what they think the answer is. However, they can only speak with them for thirty seconds.
  • Ask the Audience: Contestants can poll the studio audience on what they think the answer is. Each audience member has their own keypad which they can vote on and the results appear on a bar graph in percentages.
  • Three Wise Men: Backstage, there is a panel of three experts, always including a past Millionaire contestant and one female, whom the contestant can ask for help on. The identities of the three experts are not revealed until a contestant has earned the right to use the lifeline. Like Phone-A-Friend, there is a thirty second time limit.
  • Double Dip: This lifeline allows the contestant to make two guesses on a question. It, however, requires them to answer the question, forbidding them from walking away. It does not get reinstated if the first guess turns out to be correct.
  • Switch the Question: Contestants could switch out of the current question for a new one of the same value. Lifelines used on the old question do not get reinstated.
  • Ask the Expert: Similar to Three Wise Men, contestants could ask the show's weekly expert, often a celebrity, on what they think the answer to the question is. Unlike Three Wise Men, there was no time limit and the contestant could speak with the expert.
  • Jump the Question: If a contestant gets stuck on a question, they can choose to skip it entirely. However, the money hidden behind the question is also put out of play and lifelines used on the jumped question do not get reinstated.
  • Crystal Ball: A contestant could choose to have the value hidden behind a question revealed before they decide to answer it.
  • Plus One: Contestants could bring a Plus One, friend or family member, with them to the studio. They sit in the audience and whenever the contestant needs their help, they come down onto the stage and tries to help them. They stay on the stage for the duration of the question, even when other lifelines are used.

Format historyEdit

Classic format (1999-2008)Edit

When the original primetime version of the show began, the playout structure started out going from $100 to $300 in increments of $100, then from $500 to $64,000 in which each question's values is the previous question's doubled, then from $125,000 to $1,000,000 with each value being the previous doubled. Contestants were given three lifelines: 50:50, Phone-A-Friend and Ask the Audience.

Before the main game starts, a group of ten contestants compete in a preliminary "Fastest Finger" round. They are given a question asking them to put the four choices in the correct order and whoever does so in the fastest time earns the right to play the main game. If there is a tie, then the two winning contestants compete in a tie-breaker "Fastest Finger" round. If none of the contestants put the four choices in the correct order, they are given another question.

In 2002, the primetime version of the show was cancelled and a syndicated version started. The rules were exactly the same except there were no "Fastest Finger" rounds. Contestants would immediately start the main game.

When the show entered its third syndicated season in 2004, a couple of things were changed. The values of the $32,000; $64,000 and $125,000 questions were reduced to $25,000; $50,000 and $100,000 respectively. Also, contestants were given "Switch the Question" as a fourth lifeline if they make it past the $25,000 level.

Who Wants to Be a Super Millionaire? (2004)Edit

In 2004, ABC aired a 12-episode spin-off series called Who Wants to Be a Super Millionaire? The top prize was increased to $10,000,000. There were still fifteen questions, but the values were increased. It started off going from $1,000 to $5,000 in increments of $1,000, then from $10,000 to $30,000 in increments if $10,000, next $50,000, $100,000, $500,000, $1,000,000, and finally from $2,500,000 to $10,000,000 in which each value is that of the previous question doubled.

Contestants started off with the same three lifelines, but they were also given two additional lifelines if they made it to the $100,000 level, which were Three Wise Men and Double Dip. The "Fastest Finger" round returns for the series.

Clock format (2008-2010)Edit

In 2008, for the seventh syndicated season, time limits were added to each question. The time limits were 15 seconds for the first five questions, 30 seconds for questions six through ten, 45 seconds for questions eleven through fourteen, and 45 seconds plus unused time from the first fourteen questions for question fifteen. Each question also now has a category.

The money tree stayed the same, but a couple of the lifelines were changed. 50:50 was replaced with Double Dip and Switch the Question was replaced with a new lifeline, Ask the Expert, which was earned at the $1,000 level instead of $25,000. Whenever a contestant decides to use a lifeline, the clock would stop and restart after they are done using the lifeline. Contestants who run out of time before making a final decision are forced to walk away with the money they have won up to that point unless they were using Double Dip on that question, in which case they will drop down to the last milestone question since the lifeline forbids contestants from walking away.

This format was used on the show's 10th Anniversary Prime-time Celebration in 2009, but with the "Fastest Finger First" round added.

The money tree went through an overhaul in late 2009. The values went from $500 to $2,000 with the values doubling for each question, then $3,000, from $5,000 to $15,000 in increments of $2,500, and the last five questions stayed the same. In late 2010, the Phone-A-Friend lifeline was removed after an increase of contestants' friends using the Internet to figure out the answers. As a result, Ask the Expert was now available from the start of the game, no longer needed to be earned.

Shuffle format (2010-2015)Edit

In 2010, the format went through a major overhaul. Time limits were retired and the game was now divided into two rounds. Round 1 features ten questions with values of $100, $500, $1,000, $2,000, $3,000, $5,000, $7,000, $10,000, $15,000 and $25,000, which were now cumulative. Before the start of the game, the questions and values are randomized. The values were hidden and would only be revealed after the contestant answers the respective question correctly. Round 2 featured four questions with the same values of the last four questions from 2004-2010. They were not randomized and were of increasing difficulty, like in the older formats. An incorrect answer in Round 1 results in the contestant leaving with a $1,000 consolidation prize, even if they had less than $1,000 before giving an incorrect answer. In Round 2, their winnings would be dropped to $25,000. Also, contestants could only walk with half of the money in their bank if they do not complete Round 1.

For the format, the "Hot Seat" and corresponding monitors were retired. Instead, there was a table in the middle of the set and the contestant and host would stand and walk around the stage. According to Vieira, the "Hot Seat" did not serve the show's intention of making the contestants nervous but instead made them more comfortable.

The Double Dip and Ask the Expert lifelines were replaced with two "Jump the Question" lifelines. If a contestant makes it through Round 1 without jumping any questions, they could win a maximum of $68,600.

On occasion, the show would have "Double Your Money" weeks in which one of the Round 1 question's values would be labelled the "Double Money Question." Whenever a contestant answers that question, the value hidden behind it would be doubled before being added to their bank. This could lead to a maximum total Round 1 winnings of $93,600.

There were also occasions where contestants were given a "Crystal Ball" lifeline, which could only be used in Round 1. It allowed them to reveal the value hidden behind the question before they decide to answer it.

In 2014, a slight change was made to the lifelines. One of the jumps was replaced with a new lifeline, "Plus One." Also, the questions no longer had categories.

The Shuffle format has been met with criticism from game show fans. Some fans felt that the new rules were too complicated or unfair to the contestants, since contestants could answer a hard question and earn little money or win big on an easy question. There were a couple who said they ripped off the rules from other game shows, like Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader or Deal or No Deal. Others simply say that, with the retirement of the "hot seat" and the old music, the new format was too much of a far cry from the old format. Even Regis Philbin, the host of the original primetime version of the show, has expressed his dislike for it on his talk show shortly after it was introduced.[1] Meredith Vieira was also skeptical of it at first, but the producers were able to convince her into it. "After nine years, games get predictable, so there’s always a risk when you change things, but I think it’s been worth it. The game is edgier now. It’s far less predictable, and there’s a lot more risk-taking."[2]

Current format (2015-present)Edit

The show changed its format again in 2015, this time, going back to a format more like classic format. The first five questions had the same values as they did in the later clock format while the last four were the same as the ones in Round 2 of the shuffle format. Questions six through ten had values of $7,000, $10,000, $20,000, $30,000 and $50,000. "50:50" was brought back, replacing the other "Jump the Question."

A few elements from the shuffle format still remain, however. Contestants would still stand up on the stage and the tree still consisted of fourteen questions. Also, and an incorrect answer on one of the first five questions would still lead to a $1,000 consolidation prize, though this is not emphasized as much as it was before.

Money Tree HistoryEdit

# 1999-2004 2004 (Super Millionaire) 2004-2009 2009-2010 2010-2015 2015-present
15 $1,000,000 $10,000,000 $1,000,000 $1,000,000
14 $500,000 $5,000,000 $500,000 $500,000 $1,000,000 $1,000,000
13 $250,000 $2,500,000 $250,000 $250,000 $500,000 $500,000
12 $125,000 $1,000,000 $100,000 $100,000 $250,000 $250,000
11 $64,000 $500,000 $50,000 $50,000 $100,000 $100,000
10 $32,000 $100,000 $25,000 $25,000 $25,000
9 $16,000 $50,000 $16,000 $15,000 $30,000
8 $8,000 $30,000 $8,000 $12,500 $20,000
7 $4,000 $20,000 $4,000 $10,000 $10,000
6 $2,000 $10,000 $2,000 $7,500 $7,000
5 $1,000 $5,000 $1,000 $5,000 $5,000
4 $500 $4,000 $500 $3,000 $3,000
3 $300 $3,000 $300 $2,000 $2,000
2 $200 $2,000 $200 $1,000 $1,000
1 $100 $1,000 $100 $500 $500

Lifeline HistoryEdit

1999-2004 2004 (Super Millionaire) 2004-2008 2008-2010 2010 2010-2014 2014-2015 2015-present
50:50 Double Dip Jump the Question 50:50
Phone-A-Friend Ask the Expert Jump the Question Plus One
Ask the Audience
Three Wise Men Switch the Question Ask the Expert
Double Dip


When the show started in 1999, it featured the original music scores composed by Keith and Stratchan, which was also used on the British version of the show at the time. Unlike older game show scores, the score for Millionaire is meant to play almost throughout the entire game. The theme song was inspired by the "Mars" movement of Gustav Holst's The Planets while the question cues for questions 6 through 10, then again from 11 through 14, took a pitch up from that of the previous question in order to increase the tension as a contestant progresses through the game.

In 2008, to coincide with the clock format, the original musical scores were slightly rearranged to feature the sound of a ticking clock synced to the music. Then later, in 2010, for the Shuffle format, the Stratchan's cues were removed from the show altogether and replaced with new music by Jeff Lippencott and Mark T. Williams, another change that has been criticized by some game show fans. Unlike the old music, the new music does not increase in pitch for each question. The new music still continues to be used today, even though the Shuffle format has been retired.

Top Prize WinnersEdit

Millionaire has had a total of twelve top prize winners, including nine from the primetime version and three from the syndicated version.

  • John Carpenter (November 19, 1999): He was the show's first top prize winner as well as the first worldwide. He went through the first fourteen questions without using any of his lifelines, while on the last question, asking about which president appeared on Laugh In, he called his father Tom, not for help, but to tell him he knew the answer and was going to win the million dollars, which, after going for Richard Nixon, he did. He later reappeared on the show on the Champions Edition to play for his charity, the SARA Foundation, and won $250,000.
  • Dan Blonsky (January 16-18, 2000) He was the second contestant, both on the U.S. version and worldwide, to win the top prize. His question asked how far the Earth was from the sun. He went for 93 million and won the top prize. He later appeared on the Champions Edition to play for the Miami Bridge Youth and Family Services, but only won $1,000 this time.
  • Joe Trela (March 23, 2000) Trela used up all his lifelines by question 10, but still made it to the million dollar question, which asked about which insect inspired the term "computer bug." He went for Moth and won the million. Like Carpenter and Blonsky, he appeared on the Champions Edition to play for a charity, but won only $1,000.
  • Bob House (June 11-13, 2000) He made it through the first fourteen questions with his 50:50 and Phone-A-Friend lifelines intact, which he used on the last question, asking him to choose among Albert Einstein, Niels Bohr, Isaac Newton and Enrico Fermi whom does not have a chemical element named after them. After first using his 50:50 and then calling his colleague Donna, he went for Isaac Newton and won the top prize.
  • Kim Hunt (June 18-July 6, 2000) In his question, he had to pick which country was landlocked entirely within another country. He picked Lesotho and won. Before hand, in the Fastest Finger, he Beth Rohr tied in 4.69 seconds, so a tiebreaker was held between the two, which Hunt won. He is the only top prize winner to also compete in a Fastest Finger tiebreaker.
  • David Goodman (July 11, 2000) Like John Carpenter, he made it through the first fourteen questions without using any lifelines, but he decided to use them all on the last question instead, first 50:50, then Ask the Audience and finally, Phone-A-Friend. His question asked about where Paddington Bear was from with the answer being Peru. He is also the show's youngest top prize winner.
  • Kevin Olmstead (April 6 & 10, 2001) At the time of his run, after the show went for five months without a top prize winner, they had an increasing bonus of $10,000 added to the $1,000,000 top prize for each episode. After 186 episodes, Kevin Olmstead, after being asked who invented the first mass-produced helicopter and answering Igor Sikorsky, won $2,186,000. The top prize reverted to $1,000,000 afterwards.
  • Bernie Cullen (April 15, 2001) Five days after Olmstead's victory, Berine Cullen won the top prize after being asked what letter appears at the beginning of the registration number of every non-military aircraft in the U.S.. He still had his Ask the Audience and 50:50 lifelines available, which he used. The majority of the audience went for N, which also remained after 50:50. Berie decided to go for N and won. He was the last top prize winner on the primetime version of the show to win $1,000,000.
  • Ed Toutant (January 28 & 31 & September 7, 2001) On his original appearance, which was during the time of the increasing $10,000 bonus, he ended up winning only $1,000 after facing a bad $16,000 question. He was asked what vegetable scientists in England recently genetically altered so that it glows when it needs water. He asked the audience, who said Tomato, so Ed went with them, but he was ruled out with the correct answer said to be Potato. However, after doing research, he found out that the experiment happened in Scotland, not England, and that a doctor in England has been doing research on glowing tomato plants. He was invited back to the show and asked a new question worth $16,000. He soon made it to the last question, worth $1,860,000, asking what U.S. soldiers in World War II used aerosol cans for. He used his 50:50, his last remaining lifeline, and went for Insecticide, winning $1,860,000. He was the last contestant on the primetime version to win the top prize.
  • Kevin Smith (February 18, 2003) The first top prize winner on the syndicated version of the show, his question asked about what Samuel Wilson, whom inspired the U.S. icon "Uncle Sam," worked on during the War of 1812. He knew the answer, but prior to answering, he recalls being in the Ring of Fire one time during the primetime version and witnessing a contestant, Stan Wu, misreading a question and leaving empty-handed. To make sure he understood the question, he asked Meredith to re-read the question and choices. He then went for Meat inspector and won.
  • Nancy Christy (May 7-8, 2003) Nancy was the first and, so far, only woman to win the top prize. Like Joe Trela, she also used up all her lifelines before the 10th question, but still made it to the million. Her million dollar question asked who Grant Wood used to model for the farmer in his painting, "American Gothic." She went for C: His dentist and won.
  • Sam Murray (November 6-20, 2009) Sam won the top prize after winning the Million Dollar Tournament of Ten, a tournament the show held in 2009 after not crowning a $1,000,000 winner in six years, which the producers thought was too long of a period. During his original run on November 6, he walked away with $50,000, then came back on the 11th during the tournament to face his million dollar question, asking about how many people have lived on Earth according to the Population Reference Bureau. He decided to go for 100 billion, which was correct, putting him in the running seat for the million. None of the later contestants answered their million dollar questions, so at the end of the tournament on the 20th, the top prize went to Sam.

External LinksEdit


  1. Game Show Garbage: The New Millionaire
  2. Entertainment Weekly: 'Who Wants To Be A Millionaire' updates show with new twists. Talk about a game changer!