"Is That Your Final Answer?": Top 10 Millionaire Moments

This upcoming Labor Day, (September 5, 2011) marks the season premiere of Who Wants To Be a Millionaire, as the syndicated series enters into its 10th season. In honor of the show’s milestone, I have decided to dedicate this week’s article to countdown the top ten most memorable and unforgettable moments in the twelve years the show has been on television. This was a tough list to compile, so if you think I missed any moments, just leave a comment below the article. Enjoy!

#10: A $250,000 Reaction

The first moment on this week’s countdown occurs during “Million Dollar Movie Week” during the show’s fifth season in syndication. Contestant Jeff Jones, from Grapevine, TX, has just won $125,000 and he is about to answer his next question for $25,000 with no lifelines remaining. Little did he know that his knowledge of the movie Office Space, one of the best movies of all time according to Jones, would earn him a cool quarter of a million dollars. His initial reaction to the question is priceless itself and is the reason why it is number ten on this countdown.

#9: Don’t Ever Second Guess Jay Thomas!

Starting in the show’s seventh season, a new lifeline was introduced called “Ask The Expert”. Similar to Super Millionaire’s “Three Wise Men” lifeline, this lifeline enabled the contestant to ask for help from a smart, intelligent, and resourceful special guest via Skype webcam. Some of the experts included Bill Nye (The Science Guy), Jeopardy! super champion, and actor Alan Thicke. In most cases, the contestants would ask the expert how confident the expert was in their answer to the question. However in this case, actor and comedian Jay Thomas exhibits why you should not second guess the expert’s answer.

#8: Millionaire‘s First $0 Loss (With an Ironic Twist)

During the series’ run, there have been several contestants who have walked away with $1,000 or $32,000, depending on which milestone they reached upon answering a question incorrectly. There were also some contestants who were unfortunate enough to answer one of the first five questions incorrectly (and in some cases, the very first question), thus, having the misfortune of walking away with nothing. But of all the contestants who won nothing on the show, Robby Roseman was probably the most infamous of them all. Not only was he the first contestant to lose on the first question, but he also added an ironic twist to his loss, which is memorable enough to land this clip on this week’s list of ten.

#7: Hardcore Millionaire Contestant

This moment comes from the premiere week from the eight season of the syndicated version of Millionaire. Contestant Alan Carver, from Federal Way, WA, comes on the show with the mindset of a champion and the fixed intention of winning the million dollars on his birthday. After you see how aggressively he plays the game and answers the questions, you will see why he is probably the most intense and hardcore contestant the show has ever seen. I won’t say too much about this moment because I don’t want to give too much away. This is something you will have to see for yourself to believe that it actually happened. Part one of Carver’s game is shown below. You can click here to see part two of his game.

#6: Ed Toutant’s Triumphant Return

In this moment, Ed Toutant became the second highest money winner in the Millionaire history, winning more than $1.8 million. What makes this moment so memorable? This was not Toutant’s first time on the show. In Toutant’s first appearance on January 31, 2001, Toutant only won $1,000 after answering his $16,000 questionincorrectly. It was later discovered that there was an error in the $16,000 question he was asked. Due to the mistake, Toutant was invited back to play for the $1.86 million top prize, the grand prize he was playing for while the progressive jackpot was in effect. On September 7, 2001, Toutant made his second appearance on the show, conquering all 15 questions and winning the $1.86 million. He was also the last million-dollar winner on the ABC primetime version.

#5: Meredith Flirts With A Contestant

In this Millionaire moment, it appears that Meredith is in the “Hot Seat” as she gets hot and heavy for contestant Max Shuman, a Navy pilot from Virginia Beach, VA. Why is this moment listed as number five on this list? Watch this clip in its entirety to find out!

#4: Kevin Olmstead’s Record-Breaking Night

Beginning in January 2001 during the ABC primetime version, Millionaire started a progressive jackpot which added $10,000 to million-dollar top prize for every time the prize was not won. After 118 games with no million-dollar winner, in walks Kevin Olmstead, an environmental engineer from Ann Arbor, MI. Kevin Olmstead not only coached the show’s last millionaire David Goodman, but he would soon become the biggest money winner in game show history at the time and Millionaire’s biggest money winner of all time.

#3: Regis in the Hot Seat?!

In August 2009, Millionaire celebrated its tenth year on television by airing an eleven-night primetime 10th Anniversary celebration special hosted by Regis Philbin, the original host of the show. In this version, each episode was an hour-long, reintroduced the Fastest Finger preliminary game and kept the current seventh season main game rules at the time, with the clock included. This special event also involved celebrity contestants to answer one question at the end of each show for $50,000 towards their charity. On the final night of the special event, Meredith Vieira appeared as the celebrity guest of the show, only to announce that she would not be answering the question, but that Regis would be the one in the Hot Seat answering the question. Will Regis win $50,000 for his charity? Check out this clip to find out.

You can also click here to check Meredith Vieira’s Hot Seat appearance during her appearance on Celebrity Millionaire in 2001.

#2:  “You Just Lost a Lot of Money.”

This Millionaire moment also occurred on the final episode of Millionaire’s celebratory event. At this point, no one has won the million-dollar prize since Nancy Christy did in 2003. Ken Basin, a 24-year-old Harvard  Law graduate from Los Angeles, CA, was not only the last contestant to play during the special event, but he would also become the first contestant in two years to see a million-dollar question. Ken Basin entered the million-dollar level with $500,000 ($25,000 guaranteed), a total of 4 minutes and 39 seconds banked (including the 45 seconds automatically given for the million-dollar question), and one “Ask The Audience” lifeline remaining. With $475,000 at risk, Basin takes the ultimate risk, gambles the almost half-million dollars upon answering the question, and becomes the first contestant in Millionaire history to answer a million-dollar question wrong.

#1: John Carpenter’s Million Dollar Run

I think it goes without saying which moment is the most unforgettable and simply the most memorable moment in Millionaire history. The date is November 19, 1999 and the contestant is John Carpenter, an IRS officer from Hamden, Connecticut. He shocked millions of viewers from all around the world (including myself at the time), and even Regis himself, with his unstoppable and incredible run through the gauntlet of questions, answering 14 questions correctly in a row without using a lifeline. What made this moment one of the greatest game show moments of all time was how he used one of his lifelines. Check out the clip below.

According to an article in USA Today, the reason why Carpenter explained why he used the lifeline the way he did; “I thought I’d look so cocky if I didn’t use any lifelines, so I faked it.”(1) Later, John Carpenter returned to the show in 2000 to take part in Who Wants To Be a Millionaire: Champions Edition. In his return appearance, Carpenter won $250,000, with half of his winnings going toward Carpenter’s selected charity, the SARA foundation.

Here are a few more Millionaire moments that didn’t quite make it in the countdown, but are memorable enough to receive an honorable mention.

(1) Arlene Vigoda. “Million-dollar winner untaxed by celebrity”. USA Today. November 22, 1999. 1D.
***All videos courtesy of ABC, GSN, and Disney-ABC Domestic Television via YouTube. No ownership is implied.***

2 Comments Add yours

  1. iwst99 says:

    Great Blog! I've only just found it (while looking for some info on rigged game shows). Can't wait to read some more of your posts.

    Just a minor detail. On this post, contestant # 7 is from Federal Way, WA not Federal Way, WV. I recently lived in Federal Way for a bit so I made sure to listen to the state given as I thought maybe there was a Federal Way, WV as well. Turns out there isn't.

    Anyway, keep up the great work!


  2. Thank you for choosing my appearances for your top ten list. Today is the 2nd anniversary of my second appearance, and I wouldn't trade the experience for anything.


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