The game generally starts with a "Fastest Finger First" (or just "Fastest Finger" in the United States) round, wherein up to ten contestants have to place four answers in order; (e.g., "List these U.S. Presidents in chronological order, starting with the earliest"). The contestant who gives the correct order in the fastest time starts the main game, followed by those who did so in the next fastest times, and ending with he/she who had the slowest time.
In the main game, the contestant must answer 15 (14 in later seasons of the U.S. syndicated version, and later series of the UK version changed it to 12 although the original 15-question money tree was reinstated in the revival) multiple-choice questions correctly, worth increasing amounts of money to win up to £1 million (or local currency equivalent). He/she starts with three "Lifelines", which are one-time-only helps he/she can use if he/she's unsure about a question.
Under the classic rules, the contestant can stop at any time and keep whatever money he/she's earned up to that point (a move known as "walking away"). If he/she passes the 5- or 10-question mark (2- and 7- mark in the UK version from 2007-14), he/she is guaranteed to get that amount of money, even if they answer wrong on a later question. If he/she gets an answer wrong, he/she loses his/her money, except for whatever was guaranteed. The 2018 British revival added a twist to the second safety net by letting the contestant choose from the sixth question onwards whether he/she wants to set the safety net at the next question or proceed (the first still remains at the 5-question mark). See below for the changes in the US Shuffle format.
Britain has had six top-prize winners to date; five during the original 1998-2014 run, and one so far from the 2018 revival. A seventh, Charles Ingram, lost his money after it was proved that a friend gave him the answers by "strategic coughing" in a very famous case (a documentary about how the scam went down drew huge viewing figures, and the story was later the basis for a successful stage play which was adapted for television in 2020). Ironically, the UK version's first winner was future Egghead Judith Keppel, a middle-aged woman who was already quite wealthy. The US version yielded the world's first winner, John Carpenter, who 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. He also got a little good natured ribbing over the fact that he worked for the tax bureau.
The American versionnote 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 their fastest fingers at ABC for milking the show to the point of overexposure (at one point, it was aired four nights a week). It still lived, however, in a more normal (for a game show) weekday afternoon syndication format, but the show's popularity and viewership has dipped quite a bit since then. The U.S. syndicated version was cancelled on May 31, 2019 after 17 seasons. On April 8, 2020, ABC premiered a new primetime version of the series hosted by Jimmy Kimmel.
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.
- Failure to give the final answer before time ran out or 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 US version underwent a massive alteration of its format for its ninth syndicated season. The first ten questions were played for amounts ranging from $100 to $25,000, except that the value of each question was randomized, was only revealed once the question is answered correctly, and was added to a bank. Additionally, question difficulties and categories were also randomized. Missing a question drops the player down to $1,000, and bailing out forfeits half the banked money. The final questions in the second round, named Classic Millionaire (worth $100K, $250K, $500K, and $1,000,000 of course), were played in the traditional manner, including walking away with whatever they've earned up to that point. The lifelines were also changed for this, only Ask the Audience remains alongside two instances of a new lifeline called Jump the Question which lets the player skip over a question, at the expense of not being able to collect the money behind it. For its 2014-15 season, one of the Jumps were replaced by "Plus One", which is basically Phone-a-Friend except you have to bring the friend with you. In an act of desperation, the 2015-16 season returned to the classic structure, using a 14-question progression and reviving 50:50 in place of the jump.
The Brazilian version was originally called "Jogo do Milhão" (Million Game), hosted by the legendary Silvio Santos. However, the Brazilian network broadcasting it (SBT) had to rename it because the word 'Jogo' suggested gambling. (Many assume it was an exaggeration from Moral Watchdogs.) The Brazilian version became known as "Show do Milhão" (Million Show) ever since. This version was not licensed by Celador, so there were some changes to the show's format and presentation. Each contestant who got the chance to answer the million real (Brazilian currency) question was traditionally given twenty seconds before deciding between risking all the money they've got so far (R$ 500,000) or playing it safe by keeping the money and not answering the final question. The player could stop at any time they desire and those who do so keep all the money they earned to that point. Missing a question sends the player home with half of their current winnings. The prize was usually (if not always) delivered as gold bars. Nowadays TV Globo broadcasts an officially-licensed version named "Quem Quer Ser Um Milionário" and hosted by Luciano Huck. In September 2021, Show Do Milhão returned to SBT as "Show Do Milhão PicPay", sponsored by PicPay and hosted by Celso Portiolli.
The Russian version was originally called "О, Счастливчик!" (Oh, lucky man!), but was renamed to a literal translation of its English name after Channel Hop from NTV to Channel One (known as ORT at that time). Since 2001 it was hosted by a Russian parodist Maxim Galkin, but Dmitry Dibrov - the original host of the show - returned in 2008 and still hosts it ever since. The Russian version also was notorious in that the prize was ₽1,000,000, which was, like, 30 times less than $1,000,000 at that time. Later the prize was increased to the current sum of ₽3,000,000, but it's still a lot less than international equivalents.
After Chris Tarrant decided to leave the original UK version in 2013, ITV announced its cancellation, and the final show aired in January 2014, although a revival with a new host (Jeremy Clarkson of The Grand Tour and Top Gear fame) began to air in May 2018.
Who Wants to Be a Millionaire is the Trope Namer for:
- Lifelines: Including, but not limited to:
- "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, especially to certain aggravating celebrities. In the original Brazilian version, the audience consisted of people waiting for their turns to play. Temporarily abolished in 2020 for a few versions (including Russia, USA and the UK) due to the absence of said audience thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, with various replacements (the UK version gave players a second Phone-A-Friend lifeline instead).
- "Phone-A-Friend": The contestant is given thirty seconds to speak to someone (whom they chose beforehand) on the phone. Discontinued in January 2010, since it had become "Phone-A-Google-User" in practice (the rest of that season had the "Ask The Expert" lifeline replace it from the start of the game). The British version fixed this problem by bringing in the contestant's three friends backstage and isolated them in Sound Proof Booths until they were called. The video games had something similar to "Ask the Expert" (although it was still referred to as "Phone-a-Friend"), due to the limitation of video games at the time.
- "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. Replaced by Double Dip in 2008 with the introduction of the Clock format but later reintroduced in 2015, replacing the remaining Jump the Question from the now-retired Shuffle format.
- "Switch The Question": Allowed contestants to change a question that baffled them for a new question of the same value. The UK version featured this lifeline (known as "Flip") on some select special shows but required the contestant to trade one of their remaining lifelines for itnote . When this version adopted the Clock format (2010-2014), the lifeline became available after the 7th question (£50,000). On the American version from 2004 to 2008, it became available provided the player had answered the tenth question (then reduced to $25,000 from $32,000) correctly. Any lifelines that are used on the question before the switch do not carry over to the replacement question. This lifeline was first used on the original Brazilian version (and was known as a "pass", which could be used up to three times in the game). It was removed when the show moved on to the Timed format, but it returned for the special kids games in the revival of the Classic format, known as "Cut The Question" and was only available for the first 10 questions. This lifeline was also added into the Russian version from December 1st, 2018 onwards.
- "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, nor can they use any further lifelines on that question. It was removed when the show moved on to the Shuffle format.
- "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. It was removed when the show moved on to the Shuffle format.
- "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. In the Brazilian version, the panel was made of three college students.
- "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]). The Jumps are useless on the $1,000,000 question since it's the last question on the ladder. A contestant received two Jumps up until the 2014-15 season, when one was removed and replaced with the Plus One. The remaining Jump was removed in the 2015-16 season when the Shuffle format was discontinued and the show returned to the "classic" format.
- "The Cards": Instead of the "50:50", the original Brazilian version had each player being allowed to ask for help from cards. 4 cards were left face down for the player to pick one. If the picked card was a King, no wrong answer would be removed; if the card was an Ace, one wrong answer would be removed; if it was a Two, two wrong answers would be removed and; if the card was a Three, all three wrong answers would be removed.
- "Crystal Ball": Allows the contestant to reveal the cash value of one question in the shuffled portion of the game. It first appeared during the 2012 Halloween Week episodes in America, and returned several times throughout the rest of the Shuffle format. The lifeline is only good for the first 9 questions out of 14, as the player would know the value of the last shuffled question and the final four questions are set amounts; if the Crystal Ball was not used prior to Question 10, it was removed automatically for the last 5 questions.
- "+1": Replaces the second Jump in the 2014-15 season. Allows a player to call down a friend that came with them from the audience to help them out on a question—basically, a mix of Ask The Expert and Phone-A-Friend.
- "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 prize. Some versions use a variation called "Three of the Audience", in which the contestant can choose, well, three audience members.
- "Ask the Host": Introduced in the 2018 revival of the British version,note the contestant is given the chance to ask the host what they think the answer is (the answers to all of the questions are not revealed in advance to the host). 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.
- "Ask A Friend": Different from Phone-A-Friend, similar to +1. For the 2020 U.S. celebrities-and-first-responders revival, contestants are allowed one friend to sit behind them (notably, Catherine O'Hara brought legendary Jeopardy! champion Brad Rutter). Together, they can work as a team through the first ten questions, since there's a house minimum of $32,000 (the final safe haven) for the charity. Once $32,000 is secured and five questions remain, the teammate can no longer freely aid the contestant, but can be used as this lifeline for any remaining question in exchange for any remaining lifeline, though this must be decided before play resumes. Note that this does not replace Phone-A-Friend; it's common for contestants to have both this and Phone-A-Friend in their lifeline inventory.
- Who Wants to Be "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?": 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.
Provides examples of:
- Abandoned Catchphrase: The first season had the host recite the catchphrase "Is that your final answer?" after every single question. This was later shortened to "Final answer?", then to just "Final?". Two possible reasons for doing away with the original catchphrase: (1) Viewers got a little fatigued hearing the same phrase over and over again, (2) Regis Philbin, the original host, was getting more than a little sick of having people say the phrase to him everywhere — see also Never Heard That One Before.
- Absurdly High-Stakes Game: In 2004, after the end of the U.S. primetime version, ABC aired a brief, ramped-up revival as Who Wants to Be a Super Millionaire for February and May sweeps. The format stayed similar, except that the prize money was ramped up considerably (with the final five questions being $500,000, $1,000,000, $2,500,000, $5,000,000, and $10,000,000). In addition, once the contestant reached the second safe haven (now $100,000), two new lifelines were unlocked — Double Dip (which allows contestants to make a second guess on a question, except they forfeit their right to walk away, or use any further lifelines on that question), and Three Wise Men (which allows the contestant to converse with a panel of three experts (including a past contestant) for 30 seconds.
- Actor Allusion: As seen in the first trailer for the 2018 UK revival, which starts off with new host Jeremy Clarkson in a fast car talking about excitement and risk as he's doing one of his car reviews on The Grand Tour or Top Gear, only to reveal that he was actually referring to the experience that a contestant gets being on WWTBAM.
- 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)
- 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 almost always has one answer that is hilariously wrong (and since it's always the last choice that's the joke answer, the lack of such an obvious wrong answer is a dead giveaway that the last choice is correct).
- Averted altogether in the shuffle 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).
- Artifact Title:
- After the switch to the Euro, a few countries in Europe ended up with only six-figure top prize amounts (Greece and Portugal changed their top prizes to €250,000; for example), but the titles weren't always modified to reflect this change.
- Inverted in Belgium where the show originally was called "Who wants to be a multi-millionaire?". The original top prize was fr.20,000,000note . After the switch to the Euro, it became "Who wants to be a Euro-millionaire?".
- In France, the original top prize of Qui veut gagner des millions? ("Who wants to win millions?") was ₣4,000,000note . It was increased to €1,000,000, or ₣6,559,570.
- This actually became a point of controversy in some countries. It was the popularity of the American version that inspired other countries to start doing the show themselves. "Becoming a Millionaire" meant winning 1 million of that country's currency. Converting 1 million into US dollars (or even British Pounds) often resulted in a relatively very small amount, and contestants demanded that they be given the equivalent to US$1M.
- The German version did change from DM1M to €1M and even capitalised on this with the slogan "The million is now worth twice as much" (the rate was DM1.95583 = €1).
- Ascended Extra:
- 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.
- In an inversion, while Regis Philbin was the host for the primetime version, he ended up as a celebrity contestant on the 10th anniversary edition.
- Like Vieira above, Jimmy Kimmel also went from being a celebrity contestant on the original primetime version in 2001 to hosting the 2020 revival.
- Audience Participation:
- The Ask The Audience lifeline and its derivatives.
- The 15th season of the Indian Hindi/English version introduced "Desh Ka Sawal" (lit. Country Question), a feature allowing viewers to select questions for the players.
- Badass Boast: John Carpenter, the first ever Millionaire on the franchise, is the trope codifier for game shows when he used his Phone-a-Friend to tell his father he was going to win the million. A few other international Millionaires would do the same thing when they reached the final question with Phone-a-Friend available.
- Bait-and-Switch: Until the end of the clock format, the first question always gave D a joke answer. One month into Chris Harrison's tenure, a contestant got tripped up by a suspected joke answer for D and guessed something else... only to discover that the D answer in this case was correct.
Norm: Well I know The O'Reilly Factor is, uh, Fox News Channel.
- Norm Macdonald did one for comedy purposes in his Celebrity Millionaire appearance, on a question about which channel Larry King Live appears on (CNN).
Norm: I know that Hardball With Chris Matthews is MSNBC.
Regis: You sure?
Norm: Yeah. I know that, uh, Sportscenter is ESPN...
(Regis looks bored)
Norm: I know Larry King Live is on The WB.
- Blinking Lights of Victory:
- When a contestant successfully answers the top-prize question, in developed countries (such as the United States, Germany, Russia, or Japan, for example), the studio lights brighten up, sweep around, and strobe, along with the Confetti Drop. Sometimes averted in countries that cannot afford the flashy effects.
- Although, in an inversion, if the contestant gets any of the answers wrong, only the correct answer on the contestant's screen blinks.
- Bribing Your Way to Victory: Attempted in the Russian version at the end of 2018.
- To elaborate: Famous quiz show player and resident Magister of the Chto? Gde? Kogda? ("What? Where? When?") intellectual club, 63-year-old Aleksandr Abramovich Drouz conspired with KHSM's chief editor Ilya Ber to pay him some money from the top prize in exchange for the correct answers. Ber decided to give him answers anyway, but he secretly changed several questions to compromise Drouz. On the actual run, which occured on December 22nd, 2018, Drouz - along with fellow Magister Viktor Sidnev - got all the way up to the final question despite the noticeable change in the questions themselves. Still, the contestants gave the wrong answer and lost a whopping ₽1,300,000 as a result.
- As the recordings of conversation between Ber and Drouz were leaked online on February 12th, 2019, Drouz answered Ber's accusations by saying that the chief editor himself decided to strike this deal with him in the first place, and Drouz just decided to "stick around" and see "how far Ber will go along with it". Also, he decided to deliberately give the wrong answer to spite Ber - even though he himself knew what the correct answer was.
- This act got Ber banned from his position on the show, and Drouz's membership in the Chto? Gde? Kogda? club being revoked for an indefinite amount of time. Needless to say, the amount of money Drouz and Sidnev won on that day - ₽200,000 - was stripped from them.
- A similar situation also once happened on the Croatian version of the show.
- Cap: Present in the Russian version since December 2018. Thanks to the addition of "Switch the Question" lifeline - and thus bringing the total amount of lifelines to 5, the contestants are allowed to use only 4 of them throughout the game.
- Catchphrase: "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 Byrne, he said "Is that your final answer?", "Are you sure?", "No regrets?" in that order after every single question. Even the first five (aka "piss-easy") questions. 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.
- From Tarrant, "But we don't want to give you that!"...which managed to mutate itself into the public consciousness.
- He also had a habit of saying "If you went with that answer, I'd take that cheque...rip it into little pieces...", especially during the higher questions or when the contestant decides to walk away.
- Chris also had a tendency to ask a variation of, "Why are you so sure?", when the contestant shows a lot of confidence on an obscure question.
- In the first couple seasons at least, when a contestant locked in the correct answer Regis would often reply "It's a good one!" Especially for the rapid-fire lower-tier questions.
- Celebrity Edition: Most (if not all) of the versions of Millionaire have had episodes set aside for celebrities to play the game, usually for charity. In the Australian version, the celebrity splits the cash with a designated home viewer, and they were also done live. Towards the end of the UK show's original run, it was predominantly made up of celebrity editions, with the civilian editions becoming less common. The Russian version, however, is full with celebrity editions since at least 2014.
- Cheaters Never Prosper:
- The UK version had a rather infamous case with then-Major Charles Ingram, who conspired with his wife and fellow contestant Tecwen Whittock to cheat their way to winning £1,000,000 in 2001 via strategic coughing. Needless to say, they didn't get the prize (a hold was placed on the cheque, which was dated for the planned transmission date) and subsequently ended up being prosecuted for deception. All three were found guilty and received suspended jail terms - this in turn led to Ingram being thrown out of the Army and bankrupted. He did manage to eke out a career as a Z-list celebrity for a short while afterwards, but even that didn't last long (although as mentioned in the introduction, the story remains well-known and a TV documentary, a book, stageplay and drama series based on the scandal have all had success). A Concerned Citizen delves into this disaster further.
- Subverted with Martin Flood on the Australian version. He was accused of cheating his way to his $1,000,000 win in a similar way that Charles Ingram did; but since he was found guiltless, he was allowed to retire from working.
- See Bribing Your Way to Victory above.
- Checkpoint Starvation: The Hot Seat version features only 1 checkpoint at question 5. In some international versions, there's a "high-risk" money tree where there's only 1 checkpoint fixed at question 5 and the second checkpoint can be set by the player, as seen in the UK's 20th Anniversary revival. Then, there's "extra high-risk" trees that take this up to 11 with only 1 checkpoint available to be set by the player. In either form of risk trees, the game forces the player to inflict the starvation on themselves.
- Commercial Break Cliffhanger: Played straight in the UK, Australia and Japan; averted in the US until Kimmel’s tenure, in which it was also played straight. The closest the US came to playing this straight was on the 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.
- Composite Character: A rather odd version of this trope are the 2021 Australian specials: they combine the lifelines used in Hot Seat (Ask the Host - a replacement for Ask a Friend due to COVID, Switch the Question and 50:50 - the only lifeline to appear in both Hot Seat and the original version of Millionaire from 1999 to 2007) with the general atmosphere of prime-time Millionaire and the classic moneytree. Some aspects point out that hastily reprogrammed Hot Seat software was used in production (the lifelines were just the most obvious): the music during questions 1 to 5 gets interrupted after a correct answer like in Hot Seat and unlike in classic Millionaire and the lifeline icon strap shows up with a characteristic "boom" sound which in Hot Seat signals the stopping of the question timer so a lifeline could be used.
- Confetti Drop: A snowstorm of confetti is released when someone wins the top prize.
- For the first two seasons of the UK version and the first season of the Australian version, Confetti dropped at the end of the last episode respectively. This is also common on many of the UK celebrity episodes using the Clock format.
- The Australian version sometimes dropped Confetti on $250,000 and $500,000 winners, in addition to Million Dollar winners, as well as other random occasions.
- Spin-Off Millionaire Hot Seat does something similar, although every $250,000 winner also gets showered. The show's 1,000 episode also dropped confetti at the end.
- The Syndicated US version dropped confetti at the end of the on the milestone 1,000 and 1,500 episodes.
- On the occasion of the first millionaire in the UK edition, the confetti cannons jammed and it had to be done at the end of the show instead.
- The German and Hungarian didn't just drop Confetti on winners, Fireworks were even set off on-stage! The Ecuador version uses Balloons in addition to Confetti.
- On the 2019 April Fool's episode in the German version, Confetti dropped when the first contestant of the day won €500, as part of a joke on the host.
- Averted in the Ireland, Iceland, Russian, Georgian, Ukrainian, Kazakhstan and the Iran versions, which drop nothing on big winners.
- Consolation Prize:
- Most editions offer a smaller amount if one fails on a question past a checkpoint, usually questions 5 and 10 or 2 and 7, depending on the money tree.
- From 2010-2017, the US version offered $1,000 for missing any of the ten first questions, and $25,000 for missing any of the last four.
- The filming of episodes can't be properly structured. They have to wait for the current question to finish up before they're allowed to go to a commercial break (though there are a few very extreme exceptions.) Every now and then, this results in a commercial break right after a contestant finished their run, but there wouldn't be enough time left in the episode to bring out the next contestant. Meredith (as well her successors) usually takes the last few minutes to call a selected member of the audience and give them a chance to answer the next question that would have been asked to the former contestant. Whether they guessed correctly or not, they walked away with a copy of the Who Wants To Be A Millionaire video game for the Nintendo Wii, but would also earn $1,000 if they got it right.
- During the original run of 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 question. The Brazilian version now follows the rules of the original UK format.
- 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.
- Crowd Chant:
- Cedric's debut was met with chants of "CED-RIC! CED-RIC! CED-RIC!"
- Robert "Bob-O" Essig received one of these after he answered his $1,000,000 question correctly on Super Millionaire.
- Regis got two on the 10th Anniversary finale: one when he found out that he would be playing his own charity question (see below) and another during the question when he exclaimed, "I don't need any help! I DON'T NEED!"
- 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 syndicated 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 primetime version of Millionaire. This episode was also famous for being the first time on the American show when a contestant attempted the million-dollar answer and missed it.
- Difficulty by Region: A question valued at £20,000 on the British version later showed up on the American version valued at $500,000. Justified, in that the question specifically refers to something pertaining to Britain, something a British contestant is more likely to know than an American one. The inverse also applies with several £1,000,000 questions from the British version dealing with American culture, making them easier for American contestants.
- A million-ruble question from Russian edition showed up in the Kazakh Russian-language version as the question number six.
- A two million peso question from the second Filipino edition has popped up, in one form or another, as a US and UK mid-tier question.
- Ditzy Genius: A Discussed Trope between Jeremy Clarkson and million-pound winner Donald Fear. Before the latter's £500,000 question, they discuss how some people who have a lot of general knowledge tend to lack in other, more practical, parts of life.Clarkson: Are you the sort of person who can't find your wallet, or your spectacles?
Fear: All the time. I am the most frustrating person to live with, and I live with a saint who puts up with me.
Clarkson: So, I mean, it is like, "oh, where's I put that?" Or do you go to bed at night, and put your spectacles in the fridge and then turn up in bed with a bottle of milk? Which is what I always do.
Fear: Not quite as extreme as that, but certainly, yeah. Something along those lines.
Clarkson: I mean, your head must be full of... this kind of stuff that there's no room for...
Fear: Practical things, the things that actually matter, yeah. You're quite right.
- Downer Ending: How the 10th Anniversary Celebration ended; Ken Basin is the final contestant in the series of special episodes. After answering the first 14 questions, he locks in his final answer for the $1,000,000 question (making him the first contestant to do so since Nancy Christy in 2003). Despite the applause from the audience, he ends up becoming the first US contestant to get the final question wrong, leaving him with only $25,000. As Regis says, "No, it's not the final answer; you've just lost a lot of money."
- Early-Installment Weirdness: It took a while before the original British version worked out the few minor kinks in the system:
- In the first series (excluding the Christmas Special), each episode was only half an hour long.
- Most notably in the first episodes, the Fastest Finger First round consisted of answering a normal question rather than a 'put these in order' question. (This was changed when a contestant discovered a flaw with the machines used for the round: simultaneously pressing all four buttons at once would be accepted as a correct answer. The contestant in question later confessed what he'd done to a member of the production team and the round was changed to the 'put these in order' version as an Obvious Rule Patch.)
- In the first series, the sound used to lock in an answer on at least the first upper tier question was a different, much more ominous sound effect. By series two, the "three downward tones" used for the final answer in the middle tier were used in the upper tier, too.
- A Hint System was in place on the lower tier of questions in the first series; Chris Tarrant could see what the correct answer was on his screen and would try to divert a struggling player towards that answer, suggesting things like "B looks good". By the next series, Chris could no longer see the answers and any hapless contestant stuck on the first five questions was left to burn their lifelines.
- On the first episode, Phone-a-Friend used an actual phone, although all indications point to the usual studio speakerphone effect already being used. By the second episode, the pretense was dropped.
- The 1999 episodes had Regis ask "Final answer?" for the $100-$1,000 questions as well as the later rounds; in subsequent seasons they'd edit that out unless a contestant used a lifeline that early on. He also explained the lifelines and rules more thoroughly, which would also be dropped as players got familiar with the game.
- Almost all episodes from 1999 through fall 2000 began with the opening narration, "Last time on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire...", followed by clips from the previous episode. This was dropped when the new intro sequence was created for the fall 2000 season (though clips from the previous episode remained). And speaking of that intro, Regis sounded more excited in his reading of it for the 1999 episodes; starting in the 2000 episodes, his tone was more measured.
- The first seasons of the syndicated version had some elements from the ABC era — Phone-a-Friend was still sponsored by AT&T, while the tenth, eleventh, and twelfth questions were still worth the traditional $32K, $64K, and $125K respectively. In 2004, these questions were downgraded to $25K, $50K, and $100K.
- Enforced Plug: On a couple episodes in early 2001, Regis plugged The Mole (a reality show that also aired on ABC) right before listing the next episode's contestants.
- Flawless Victory/Mundane Made Awesome: In order to become a Top Prize winnernote , you must answer all (usually 15) questions correctly!However...
- John Carpenter's run to a million dollars was done without any help whatsoever (no lifelines). When he gets to the million dollar question, he uses his Phone-A-Friend lifeline to call his dad not for help, but to tell him that he's about to win a million dollars.
- Jonas von Essen, a Swedish contestant known as the "master of memory", came very close in his four-lifeline run, only ever using one lifeline at the 14th question (Switch The Question, and he guessed the switched-out question right). On the final question, he used Phone-A-Friend much in the same way as John Carpenter above - to invite a friend to a party celebrating his victory (after which he used his other two lifelines as well, but just to ease his anxiety).
- Donald Fear, the first jackpot winner in the revived version of the UK series, also came close; the only lifeline he ever used in his run was 50:50.
- Game Show Host:
- In the UK, Chris Tarrant hosted the original run (1998-2014) and Jeremy Clarkson currently hosts the 2018 revival.
- In the US, Regis Philbin hosted the ABC version (1999-2002 and 2009 10th Anniversary specials) and the syndicated version has been hosted in turn by Meredith Vieira (2002-13), Cedric the Entertainer (2013-14), Terry Crews (2014-15), Chris Harrison (2015-2019), and Jimmy Kimmel (2020-present).
- Eddie McGuire has been hosting the Australian version (and its Hot Seat spin-off) since 1999. Same goes for Günther Jauch of the German version.
- The legendary Amitabh Bachchan has been taking the helm for the majority of the Indian Hindi/English-language adaptation. Similarly, Armin Assinger of the Austrian version.
- Genre Savvy: Celebrity contestants on the U.S. version who are sitting on a 50:50 lifeline are especially wise that any verbalized guesses or eliminations would influence what the computer will take away if used and tread carefully about what is said on a tough question. They will definitely hang a lampshade on it in the Hot Seat when prodded to talk out their thoughts.
- Golden Snitch: The maximum amount of money that can be won in the Hot Seat format depends entirely upon how many contestants remain at the time of the final question.For example... You can't walk away (although you may pass if you still can), and you have 45 seconds to answer the final question. If you get it wrong or run out of time when unable to pass, you only get the value of the 5th question; but if as a final contestant you get eliminated when the host has given 4 correct answers or less, you return home empty-handed!
- Heads I Win, Tails You Lose: In the revised 2010 US edition, no matter what happens, the contestant will walk away with money. For the poor saps who miss the first question, or aren't able to accumulate more than $1,000 for losing, they come out ahead of the game by walking away with $1,000. Winning more than $2,000 just means they walk away with more.
- Heartbeat Soundtrack:
- The background music for the middle and upper tiers consists of heartbeat-like percussion alternated with an actual heartbeat, accompanied by a Drone of Dread and an ominous synthesized choir that go up in pitch as the contestant goes up the money ladder. The final question ditches the choir, leaving just the Drone of Dread and the percussion/heartbeat.
- The pattern is inverted in the US retooled seasons for syndication, 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. The original soundtrack returned for the 2020 U.S. revival.
- 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. According to the Celebrity Edition rules, any player who made it to the Hot Seat was guaranteed at least $32,000 for his or her charity, so this playful hinting allowed the contestant to play his or her way up to that level while keeping all three lifelines for the final five questions. After that point, the game would be played straight.
- Used early on in the British version's history - if a contestant got stuck in the first tier of questions, Chris would have the answer on his screen, leading him to give hints along the lines of "I don't know, but B looks good."
- The 2020 ABC revival allows the celebrity to bring in someone (i.e. a family member, friend, etc.) to assist them; they can confer on the first 10 questions, but after that they become a Lifeline.
- Home Game:
- Board and video, the latter developed by Jellyvision (now Jackbox Games), creators of You Don't Know Jack. Coincidentally, the latter was the first video game to reach a million sales in the United Kingdom.
- ABC also offered an interactive component through its "Enhanced TV" service, which allowed users to play along with the show live on the internet.
- The show also had a Facebook game during its latter half of its syndication run.
- The 2020 U.S. revival has a live game after every airing through the official Millionaire mobile game.
- Iconic Sequel Song: The original theme tune for the pilot was really REALLY awful. So bad producers dropped it, and the one we all know and love was created in a week (and modified throughout the first series).
- Info Dump: More common in the earlier episodes, obviously. It sometimes occurred in the later questions when Regis had to remind the contestant how much they stood to win or lose if they succeeded or failed:Regis: You'll lose $218,000 if you get it wrong, back down to $32(000). No lifelines. Got $250(000). $500(000) if you get this.
- Occurs frequently in the UK version (with both hosts).
- Instant-Win Condition:
- If you made it to the top tier of questions in Super Millionaire with your 50:50 still intact, you could use it in conjunction with the Double Dip to guarantee yourself a correct answer. Several contestants lampshaded this strategy, though none were able to use it, since they'd all used the 50:50 before the $500K question.
- The Russian version's players, however, use the 50:50 + Double Dip combo quite frequently.
- Know When to Fold 'Em: What most (smart) players eventually do: as if you get a question wrong you fall back to the last safe haven, but you can quit at any point and keep whatever money you've accrued so far. Most people either quit or lost long before the million dollar question.
- 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. On the other hand, if done on the last question and the guess was right... A notable example was on the Celebrities Week, when everyone was playing for charity. This happened to Norm Macdonald, who was solemnly told that he would've gotten the Million for his charity.
- 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...
- For a little while, ain't no rule saying you can't phone a friend and have them look up the answer on the internet. This got fixed in an Obvious Rule Patch.
- Losing Horns: Type A, in a sense, whenever you get a question in the middle or upper tier wrong. The off-key variation played for losing the final middle-tier question 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, resulting in an ominous shortened version of the theme song. From 2010 until the end of its syndicated run, the US version had to use new music for legal reasons, and had used the same theme no matter what question in the stack is answered incorrectly, even the last question.
- Luck-Based Mission:
- The Hot Seat format, which is the same as the fast-paced Italian version mentioned above.
- The US shuffle format to a lesser extent, since the first ten questions and their values are separately randomized.
- Majorly Awesome: Subverted with Major Charles Ingram. He won the top prize... but then it turned out he was cheating.
- 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.
- Mind Screwdriver: Cedric the Entertainer will joke around a lot before he tells contestants that they're right.
- Monochrome Casting: During the American version's heyday, it received criticism for having a disproportionate amount of white men as contestants.note It was an unintentional example of this trope; unlike other game shows, Millionaire found contestants through a phone game. It got to the point where Regis pleaded for women and minorities to call the contestant hotline. When the syndicated version rolled around, the show switched from the phone game to a more traditional casting process, and the amount of nonwhite contestants increased.
- Moon Logic Puzzle: A bad trend in 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.
- My Greatest Second Chance:
- Any time a player was invited back due to incorrectly answering a question that turned out to be faulty (e.g. no correct answer, multiple correct answers, incorrect answer deemed correct, etc.). Perhaps the most notable example of this is Ed Toutant, who was invited back after missing a faulty $16,000 question and went on to win the $1,860,000 Progressive Jackpot he was originally playing for.
- Both the primetime and syndicated runs had special weeks in which past $0 "winners" were invited back for another try.
- 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 (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.
- Exaggerated on the Hot Seat format. Unlike the US version's clock format, which gave you your unused time back for the final question, the Hot Seat format gives you a flat 45 seconds, no lifelines, and you cannot walk away with the amount you have. Similarly, if the answer you gave is wrong or (as the last standing contestant) fail to lock in your answer before time runs out, your prize money drops back down to the 5th question's value ($1,000), regardless of how much the final question is worth. Yes, if you get the Top Prize question wrong, you only receive the value of the sole safety net.
- The Academy Awards special that aired in 2000. Hoo boy, even if you consider yourself a movie buff, these were tough questions. To give an idea, the first contestant left with nothing after getting the $200 question wrong, the second walked away with $4,000, and the third walked away with $16,000. That's right, none of the three made it to the $32,000 level.
- Non Standard Game Over:
- In the American version's clock format, running out of time normally meant you automatically walked with whatever you had. If in the midst of a Double Dip, running out of time was treated as a wrong answer because of the inability to walk away.
- In the original video game, repeatedly failing the Fastest Finger question resulted in Regis leaving in disgust, causing the game to terminate.
- Obvious Rule Patch:
- The removal of Phone-a-Friend in the US version. By the time the clock format started, it had become obvious that these friends were using 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 patch and replaced it with giving the Ask the Expert lifeline throughout the game. The UK version at least fixed this problem by changing how this lifeline worked. Instead of the contestant having all three people on the telephone line, the contestant chose helpers ahead of time, who were brought backstage and isolated in Sound Proof Booths until they were called. Since the audience can see them when this lifeline is used, it pretty much eliminated any chance to Google the answer, as well as sorting the occasional problem where the friend didn't pick up or say anything. (For the 2018 revival, they had a member of the production team sitting with them to ensure they didn't cheat.) The U.S. version followed suit, except under the name "Plus One" (in which the friend appears with the contestant onstage).
- On Super Millionaire, the Double Dip lifeline was given to contestants for answering the tenth question correctly. This brought up the possibility of a contestant using 50:50 and then that to guarantee moving one step upward on the prize ladder. To correct that, the syndicated version simply replaced 50:50 with Double Dip when the clock format was introduced.
- Setting the Cap for Russian version. With a total of five lifelines at contestants' disposal, it would be much easier to progress through the money ladder; thus, they are allowed to pick only four of them.
- Similarly, some versions with four lifelines allow only three to be chosen.
- Orbital Shot: Done in Super Millionaire when a contestant reaches the $100,000 level.
- Poor, Predictable Rock: During Celebrity Week 2012, a question came up about which choices would win against a certain pattern in Rock, Paper, Scissors. One of the (wrong) choices was rock, rock, rock.
- 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 a 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: On one occasion during Regis's era on the American version, the grand prize would increase by $10,000 for every episode where the million dollars wasn't given away (retroactive to the last time it was won, thus it started at $1,710,000 on the episode where it was introduced). 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.
- Real Life Writes the Plot: The Ask the Audience lifeline was (for the first time ever) not used during the 2020 U.S. revival (with Ask the Host from the UK version replacing it), as the episodes were taped without one due to the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic.
- Similarly for the UK version, Ask the Audience was replaced by a second Phone-A-Friend lifeline due to the pandemic.
- Red Filter of Doom: In the newer Russian version, if the contestant(s) miss the final question, not only does the infamous final question Losing Horns play, the whole set turns blood red.
- 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 original music was restored in 2018. The American version remixed some of its music for the clock format of 2008-2010, but replaced all music and sound effects with the 2010-2011 season until the end of its syndicated run for legal reasons. The ABC 2020 revival restored the original music.
- Retired Game Show Element: Several of the lifelines in the US version, along with the clock.
- 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. Cedric the Entertainer puts more effort into it. Of course, feigning disappointment before telling a contestant they were right was also a Regis trademark, to the point of parody.
- Revisiting the Roots: The 2018 revival of the UK version made civilian editions the norm again, reinstated the Fastest Finger First round and returned to the 15-question format (as opposed to the 12-question one used in later years).
- Right for the Wrong Reasons:
- Occurs a few times, such as in this $100,000 question.note
- The Brazilian version broadcast on Globo provided another example on November 10th, 2018.note
- Scare Chord: The "out of time" chord (called the "klaxon" in the UK and US, or the "siren" in Australia) that chimes if a contestant is still playing when the episode is finished is pretty unsettling-sounding and seems to come out of nowhere. In later American seasons, it more closely resembles a buzzer from a sporting arena.
- And then there was the losing bell reserved for when a contestant blew the $1,000,000 question. It was only ever heard during the 10th Anniversary special, when American contestant Ken Basin blew the final question of the game. Being a distorted minor-key version of the usual victory bell, it's quite unsettling to those who have heard it. This was not played in the UK for when the infamously flawed £1,000,000 question about the US motto was missed; the £500,000 miss cue played in its stead.
- Scenery Porn: Some international versions tend to have sets that qualify, such as the French version's set since 2014. Exaggerated on the Indian version since 2013, which uses every single rupee in the budget to make elaborate, detailed, plain and simply breathtaking sets which tend to break the norm completely - the 2013/14 set wasn't even round and the 2020 and 2021 sets look like something out of a sci-fi movie with numerous spotlights flashing and converging towards the contestant.
- Screw This, I'm Outta Here: In the original video game, if you incorrectly answer the "fastest finger" question too often, Regis will chew you out and leave in disgust, causing the game to immediately end.Regis: You know, I'm totally disgusted. How did I get hooked into this? It's over. I'll see you later.
- The Canadiam Edition (shot in the same NYC studio as the American version) only had two episodes before being cancelled.
- The New Zealander edition lasted a single season in 2008.
- Similarly, the South Korean version also lasted only one season in 2013.
- Speed Round:
- The Clock Format essentially turns the show into a series of this.
- The 15th season of the Indian Hindi/English version introduces a proper one named "Super Sandook" (lit. Super Chest), where the player has 90 seconds to answer up to 10 multiple-choice questions. Each question is worth a 10,000-rupee bonus, and if the player has at least 60,000 rupees at the end, they have the chance to trade the bonus money for a lifeline they have already used. This game is played after clearing question ten (320,000 rupees).
- Studio Audience: Actively used when a contestant uses Ask The Audience.
- Subverted Catchphrase: Terry Crews will sometimes ask contestants "Is that your final decision?"
- Usually, Regis will announce the next episode's contestants by saying they've flown in from all over the country. But in the 1/28/01 episode, Regis introduces the contestants by saying they're not The Mole.
- Take That!:
- Tempting Fate:
- In the UK version, a Fastest Finger question asked "Starting with 'Stop', put the traffic light sequence in order according to the British Highway Code". Before giving the correct ordernote , Chris Tarrant quipped, "If any of our contestants have got that wrong, don't let them give you a lift home." As it turned out, nobody got it right, so Tarrant gave an accidental traffic safety lesson for all involved.
- In a 2001 episode of the same version, a contestant won £32,000, the highest "safe" amount on that version. Chris Tarrant handed him a cheque for that amount, as he often does in that situation — which the contestant immediately crumpled up and tossed away, saying he intended to win a lot more. Said contestant promptly blew the next question, and Tarrant refused to write him another cheque, forcing the contestant to go looking on the studio floor for the original one.
- That Came Out Wrong: In one of his first episodes, Cedric quipped to a female contestant that "this is the furthest anyone has gone with me." Cue the audience laughing while quickly clarifying that he meant furthest into the game.
- The Smurfette Principle: Both Judith Keppel and Nancy Christy were (and remain so far) the only female Top Prize winners in the UK and US versions, respectively.
- Time Keeps On Ticking: Under the US clock and previous UK formats, 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. Averted with the Turkish version, which lets the host read the answer choices before the clock starts. Also averted with the Hot Seat variants, where the timer starts after the host reads the four answers.
- Title Theme Tune: Subverted. The eight-note sting at the end and into ad breaks was intended to mimic the syllables of 'Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?".
- 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.
- The UK version also tends to hype up top prize winners in advance. Notably, the broadcast of the episode with the first millionaire was heavily publicised as such, so it could act as a spoiler for another big TV event on the opposite channel — namely, the final ever episode of the enormously popular One Foot in the Grave. Later millionaires had various tactics, such as trailers strongly implying the million was about to be given away again, whilst the first win of the revived series announced that it would happen without specifying which episode in the forthcoming run would feature it.
- Useless Useful Spell: The "Ask the Host" lifeline in the 2018 revival of the UK version has become notable for the number of times Clarkson has had no clue whatsoever what the answer is, even on subjects that the contestant might reasonably have expected him to have some knowledge of, to the point that he celebrated in genuine joy when a contestant used the lifeline on a question he knew the answer to.
- What the Hell, Player?: In the original video game, if you try Regis' patience by doing nothing at the player selection screen or repeatedly failing the "Fastest Finger" question, he'll chew you out for your incompetence. Do it enough times, and he'll decide enough's enough and leave, causing the game to terminate.Regis: "Come on, people! How many times can we do this? You're pathetic! This game is over. It's over! I mean, I'm getting outta here."
- You Are Better Than You Think You Are: Subverted. 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.