Secrets The Producers Of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire Kept From The Public


Think you know Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? Here are the secrets the producers wanted to keep from the public.

Regis Is A Diva

Regis is loved by the public, but he was a diva with a long list of demands for the producers while hosting Millionaire. The veteran TV presenter had rules which had to always be followed on set. The funniest one: contestants were forbidden from getting up from their seats until after Regis had – probably because he was insecure about his height!

A Winner Cheated

Everyone was rooting for British Army Major Charles Ingram when he appeared on Britain’s Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. The middle-aged father had debts of over 50,000 British pounds (around $70,500) and desperately needed the prize money. He answered the million pound question correctly, but was disgraced, demoted in the army, and stripped of his winnings after it was discovered he cheated during the program. His wife and an accomplice would cough every time the correct answer was read to him.

Another Scandal

Coming off the heels of the major cheating drama on Britain’s Millionaire, Martin Flood was investigated for cheating after winning the top prize on Australia’s Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. By coincidence, an audience member coughed when Martin was working through an answer. Because the scenario was so similar to the British cheating scandal, Martin’s winnings were frozen for several months. Even though he was cleared of all wrongdoing by producers, the accusations still lingered and hurt Martin’s reputation.

It’s Almost Impossible To Get On

Many people think it’s easy to get on the show, but it’s extremely challenging. First, there are phone tournaments which, out of several thousand winners, only 300-400 people are selected in a random lottery drawing. Those people are then invited to New York but have to pay their own travel and accommodation expenses, and take a difficult trivia quiz in studio. Then they meet with producers, who cast them based on personality as well as intelligent. Less than 1% of applicants end up on the show.

The Show Was “Too Easy”

Originally, the show was so easy that 6 people won the top prize within the first year that it aired. The insurance company Lloyd’s of London, responsible for the million dollar payouts, sued the show’s producers because they felt the questions were too basic! The British had a field day with the idea that the American version was dumbed down. “You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to become a millionaire– you just have to be an American,” noted the Guardian newspaper.

Regis Isn’t That Smart

According to insiders who appeared on the show and went through the extensive audition process, they were specifically told by producers that “Regis is dumb.” The producers of Millionaire said, “Regis does not have the answers until we show them after you’ve locked in your answer. If you are working through an answer and you think he’s making faces to guide you, remember, there’s as much chance that he’s going to help as there is that he’s making that face because he’s relieving himself.”

The Writers Used Google

You might imagine the writers of Millionaire’s questions as a bunch of geniuses sitting around a table and coming up with materials off the top of their heads, but nothing could be further from the truth. Even from the beginning, the writers used google to come up with questions. In a tell all interview, one writer explained that he used the word “only” often – as in “Who is the only…” or “what country is the only…” to develop tricky questions.

Winners Don’t Get $1 Million

While winning a million dollars may seem like a dream come true, the actual paycheck the winners receive is nowhere close to that amount. Taxes eat up at least 40% of the prize winnings, and depending on the winner’s occupation, there might be even more money taken out of that check. When all is said and done, winners would usually walk away with around $600,000, which is a nice amount of money, but not enough to quit working and retire.

Only Single Women Win

If you are a female contestant competing on the show, apparently the secret to winning the million is being single. England’s Judith Keppel and American high school history teacher Nancy Christy of Tulsa, Oklahoma, are the only female English speakers to win the grand prize. Judith has been divorced twice and was single at the time of her appearance on his show. Nancy Christy has never been single and had no significant other at the time of her Millionaire victory.

Lifelines Are Pre-Checked

It might seem like the contestants are just randomly calling up their lifelines when in the Hot Seat, but every person who is a lifeline on Millionaire is heavily vetted by producers. They are subjected to an intensive interview before they can be listed as a lifeline. It may be disappointing to fans, but lifelines are not geniuses who know the correct answers off the top of their heads – they typically quickly Google the questions and tell the contestant the results.

Regis’ Salary Was Insane

Regis Philbin was the host of a day time morning talk show when agreed to host Who Wants To Be A Millionaire on a whim. By the time the second season rolled around, it was clear that the show was a major hit and Regis was an integral part of the show’s success. His agents ended up successfully renegotiating his contract so that in the later seasons of the series, Regis was making around $300,000 for every episode he hosted.

No “Final Answer”

Everyone knows the host’s standard line after a contestant answers a question – “Is this your final answer?” One the contestant answers “Yes” their answer can’t be withdrawn or changed. However, the Australian version of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire surprisingly doesn’t contain the famous catchphrase. That doesn’t mean that contestants don’t have to confirm their answer. Instead, the host asks them if they want to “lock it in.” While still catchy, we prefer the drama of saying “Final answer.”

Freaky Set

Unlike traditional game shows with brightly colored sets and comfortable chairs, the Millionaire set was designed to keep contestants squirming. The show’s unforgettable score mimicked the sound of a beating human heart, with the pulse sound increasing as the questions became more difficult. The set also gradually darkened as the contestants advanced to higher-value questions, until all that was visible were the contestant and host’s faces, making the contestant feel like they were under the spotlight in a police interrogation.

Hosts Must Wear Armani Suits

Who Wants To Be A Millionaire has been syndicated all over the world, with millions of viewers tuning in to watch their local version of the show. While the languages spoken and questions vary by region, certain elements of the show are required to stay the same. Most importantly, in the licensing agreement with the British production company that created Millionaire, it is explicitly stated that all hosts, no matter what, must where Armani suits like the British Millionaire host Chris Tarrant.

The First Winner Was A Woman

The first ever winner of Millionaire was Judith Keppel, who scored the top prize on the original British version of the show. However, Keppel hasn’t let fame change her. She still takes the bus around town, and rather than celebrating with a lavish shopping spree or exotic vacation, the first purchase she made with her winnings was a four day money management educational course. She was also criticized for not appearing excited when she won, but we chalk that up to just being British.

Bad Luck, Good Luck

Ed Toutant, a resident of Austin, Texas, appeared on Season 2 of the American Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. He has the dubious distinction of being the only contestant ever invited back on the show due to an unfair loss. In his first appearance on the show, he was given an inaccurate question which he answered correctly but was eliminated due to research errors. In the end, it didn’t matter, because he was invited back to the show and won.

The Youngest Winner

David Goodman’s million dollar run on the show was an historic event for many reasons. First, he was only one of three contestants ever to reach the million dollar question with all three lifelines intact. However, he ended up using all the lifelines on his final question: “Which country is children’s book character Paddington Bear originally from?” Secondly, David was just 24 years old at the time of his win. He still has the record for youngest winner ever.

Japan Has The Most Winners

The Japanese version of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire has several aspects that make it distinct from other international versions of the show. First off, the Japanese version is the only one that features the voice of a narrator throughout the program. Secondly, it has produced the highest number of winners out of any version. A total of 38 Japanese contestants have taken the top prize, 10 million Japanese yen, which is equivalent to about $90,000.

Afghanistan Has 2 Versions

It might surprise readers, but there are actually 2 versions of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire in Afghanistan. One is broadcast in local language Pashto, and the other version is done in the widely-spoken Farsi. The top prize of 1 million Afghani is significantly less impressive when converted to US dollars – around $15,000. Regardless, that’s nearly double what the average Afghan makes in a year. However, not a single contestant has won the top prize on either version yet.

A Thai Contestant Cheated And Won

Thai people were rooting for Lertlak Panchanawaporn, a local street vendor who unbelievably answered every question right and won the 1 million baht (equivalent to around $30,000) on Thailand’s version of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. Unfortunately, the rags to riches story was too good to be true. It turned out that due to a computer error, Lertlak’s console was showing her the highlighted correct answers whenever she was given a question. She was stripped of her winnings immediately after the truth was discovered.

A Bulgarian Celebrity Was Disqualified

Asen Kisimov was a well known Bulgarian entertainer – he was a legendary stage and movie actor, composer, singer and radio presenter. He was already famous when he appeared on Bulgaria’s version of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. He was admired for being the only Bulgarian to ever answer the final question, worth 1 million Bulgarian Lev (around $630,000) correctly. Unfortunately, it was revealed that his daughter worked for the TV station that broadcasted the show, rendering his win invalid.

An Indian Millionaire Came From A Slum

Slumdog Millionaire was a box office hit which was also critically acclaimed, winning 8 Academy Awards in 2009. However, what’s more interesting than the plot of the film is the way that after its release, art imitated life. The first person to win the Indian version of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire was Sushil Kumar, who like the character in Slumdog Millionaire, came from an impoverished childhood in an slum. Kumar used his winnings to build a house for his family.

Snoop Dogg Competed On The Show

You might not think of the gangster rapper turned cell phone spokesman Snoop Dogg as being a potential contestant on a high-stakes game show, but he appeared on a special celebrity edition of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. He correctly answered a $50,000 question (after using the Ask the Audience lifeline) about super hero flick The Watchmen. He donated all the winnings to his charity –  The Snoop Dogg Youth Football League, which helps keep at-risk kids off the streets.

One Person Failed The $1 Million Question

Some people are gamblers, and others play it safe. Entertainment attorney Kevin Basin of Los Angeles is the only contestant in the history of the American Who Wants To Be A Millionaire to guess incorrectly on the final $1 million question. Everyone else who was’t sure chose to walk away safely with the guaranteed $500,000, but Ken has the dubious honor of being the only person to lose $468,000 on the show. You have to admire his nerve though!

Prize Money Killed A Winner

Brett McDonald of Perth, Western Australia appeared on the Australian version of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, but walked away with $250,000 after he didn’t know the answer to the $500,000 question. His $250,000 prize was the highest at the time on the show. He used some of his prize money to buy his dream car, a Ferrari. In a tragic twist of fate, he died in a terrible car wreck. He was just 34 years old.

The $1 Million Question With No Lifelines

Phil Gibbons, a salesman for an Internet company from Santa Monica, California, had a rough start on his run on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. He used his lifelines very early on: his 50:50 lifeline on a $2,000 question and his Ask The Audience lifeline on a $4,000 question. Phil sacrificed his Phone A Friend on the $8,000 question. But Phil kept going and managed to make it all the way to the million dollar question without help.

The First Winner Used No Lifelines

John Carpenter, an IRS agent from Connecticut, was the first ever winner of the top prize on the American version of Millionaire. He sped through the show, taking only 18 minutes to get from the qualifying round to the final question. But the craziest part of John’s run, more than his speed, is the fact that he used no lifelines until the final question – and he used his Phone A Friend to tell his father that he was about to win!

Nigeria Has Only One Winner

The West African country of Nigeria’s version of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire was watched by millions. However, there has only been one top prize winner in the history of the program – Aroma Ufodike from the small village of Nnewi. He won 10 million Naira, which is equivalent to around $275,000. He used his Phone A Friend lifetime on the final question “Professor Maathai Wangari won the Nobel Prize for which of these?” His cousin said peace and it was the correct answer.

The Show Is Actually British

In most of our minds, Who Wants To Be A Millionaire is as American as it gets, featuring the classic American dream of a nobody getting rich quick and becoming an overnight millionaire. However, Millionaire was originally developed and aired in England. The American version of the show, everything – from the set down to the lighting cues and stage music, to the hosts wearing Armani suits – has been meticulously replicated from the British version. Who would’ve thought?

Fame Didn’t Change Winner Dan Blonsky

Miami attorney Dan Blonsky seemed relatively unfazed when he won the top prize on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, and a quick background search shows he seems to be keeping a low profile. According to his Linkedin account Dan Blonsky still works at the same law firm that employed him when he competed on the show. The only major difference is that now his bio on the law firm’s site says he is married with two kids!

The Show Had Another Name

Who Wants To Be A Millionaire has to be one of the best show names in TV history. It’s quick, catchy, grabs your attention and lets you know exactly what the show is about. It’s impossible to imagine the show with a different name. But you may be surprised to know that the British creators of the show originally planned on using a different name – Cash Mountain! We’re not sure why they had a change of heart and went with the Millionaire name, but we’re glad they did!

One Wrong Answer = Game Over?

Classic game shows like Jeopardy, The Price is Right, and Wheel of Fortune all have financial penalties if a contestant gets an answer wrong. But none of them are like Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, where one wrong answer means the game is over. Network executives were initially nervous about this aspect of the show, thinking the audience wouldn’t like to see contestants losing, but the British creators refused to license the show unless that important element was kept.

Kathy Griffin Was On The Show

Comedian Kathy Griffin is more known for her potty mouth and edgy humor than for her intellect, but she did pretty well when she competed on the American Celebrity Edition of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. She competed for her charity, the V-Day Foundation. She did not use any of her lifelines and did great until the $64,000 question – where she used her Ask The Audience. She went with the audience answer, which was incorrect, but still walked away with $32,000.

A Winner Was On Jeopardy

Million dollar winner Bernie Cullen is probably best remembered for wearing a neon orange sweater during his appearance on Millionaire. But what the audience didn’t know was that Bernie was already a seasoned game show professional. Born in Dublin, Ireland but raised in the US, Bernie was an undefeated five-time champion on Jeopardy! in 1996. He won his first game with a large bet on a Daily Double. So by the time he appeared on Millionaire, he was already used to the spotlight.

A Competitive Eater Appeared On The Show

Some people are born to win, and when they’re in competitive situations, it’s their time to shine. Tim Janus from New York City is a professional competitive eater, known for his distinct face paint making him semi anonymous during competitions (where he uses the nickname “Eater X.”) However, Tim branched out and qualified to compete on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. He played it cautious and walked away with $100,000 after being stumped on the $250,000 question.