What Is Who Wants To Be a Millionaire?

What Is Who Wants To Be A Millionaire

Who Wants to be a Millionaire is a popular game show that was adapted from the original British television show of the same name. The American program premiered in 1999 on the ABC network. The show ran for 20 seasons initially, with the finale airing on May 31, 2019, before being renewed for its 21st season seven months after the announcement of its cancellation. The show also has many international versions, including a release in Australia, India, Russia, the Philippines, and many more. Read on to learn all about Who Wants to be a Millionaire.


The history of Who Wants to be a Millionaire dates back to the late 90s. The show was conceived in 1998 by David Briggs, aided by colleagues Mike Whitehall and Steven Knight, who had previously assisted Briggs in creating shows for the radio. The show was pitched as a conventional game show but with a twist: there would only be one contestant and they would answer a series of multiple-choice questions. They would then have the option to opt out after seeing the question and its choices. They would also have three different options for getting aid for the questions.

The original working title of the game was “Cash Mountain” before it was changed to the current title. Briggs decided to call the show “Who Wants to be a Millionaire” after the 1956 Cole Porter song of the same name. The set of the show was purposely designed to look like the set of a thriller movie to make players feel uncomfortable and create a sense of tension that was unique to game shows at the time. 

The show was adapted for American audiences by Michael Davies for the ABC network in 1999, with Regis Philbin as the host for the entirety of its original American run. Since then, the show has been adapted worldwide, with versions airing in nearly every continent across the world.


The objective of Who Wants to be a Millionaire is for a single contestant to answer a series of knowledge-based questions and win up to a million dollars for answering correctly. Generally, the objective is to answer 15 questions correctly, but the UK version lowered the number of questions from 2007 to 2014. The US version has meanwhile had 15 questions since the beginning of the show’s run.


The original UK version of Who Wants to be a Millionaire was set up so that there was an initial preliminary round known as “fastest finger first” where potential contestants were given a multiple-choice question and the question and choices were read out loud. The contestants can only answer when the music starts, indicating the question is done being read. The contestant that answers the question correctly first gets to move on to the actual game. If two preliminary contestants answer correctly at the same time, there is a tiebreaker round.

The winner of the preliminary round is then put into the main game, where it is just them and the host, who asks them a series of questions during the main game. The questions ramp up in difficulty as they go on, but there was no time limit in the UK version. Contestants would have three lifelines and two “safety net” questions that they could safely get wrong. These safety net questions were questions five and ten when there were 15 questions, and two and seven in the 12-question format.

How to Play

To play the game, the contestant answers each question after the host reads both the question and the answers out loud. Each question answered correctly has a certain amount of prize money attached to it before the grand prize of a million dollars. If a contestant quits before the final question, they get to take home the amount of prize money they have accumulated at that point. If the contestant is sure they want to quit before the final round because they are unsure of the answer, the host will ask them for their potential answer and reveal if they were correct or not.

The standard versions of the game allow contestants to have three lifelines that they can use once each when they’re stuck on a question: 50:50, Phone a Friend, and Ask the Audience. 50:50 removes two incorrect answers, leaving behind the correct answer and one incorrect answer. Phone a Friend allows the contestant to get on a 30-second call with a friend to ask them for help with answering the question. Ask the Audience allows the audience to vote for what they think the correct answer is, and the contestant can choose based on what the audience's answers were.

Summary of Rules

  • The contestant from the preliminary round that answers the question correctly first moves on to the main game.
  • The contestant then answers a series of multiple-choice questions that ramp up in difficulty as the game progresses.
  • Each question answered correctly earns them an amount of prize money.
  • There are two “safety net” questions that the contestant can get wrong without penalty.
  • The contestant can quit if they feel unconfident in their answer, and they will get whatever prize money they’ve earned up to that point.
  • The contestant has three lifelines they can use if they get stuck.
  • Answering all the questions correctly will earn the contestant the grand prize of one million dollars.

International Differences

Perhaps the most well-known international differences in rules are found in the American version of the game show. In the American version, there is no preliminary round, and contestants for the main game are chosen through a casting call, and potential contestants apply to be on the show and give interviews in order to get the chance to be a contestant on the show. 

Another big difference in the American version is that the questions are timed. This was known as the clock format, and the UK version adopted it as well for a short period of time. In this version, contestants had a limited amount of time to answer each question, and the amount of time they had increased as the questions went on, and any time not used to answer each question would be added to the time limit for the final question.

Germany had a special format known as the “risk format,” where they would give up their second safety net question in exchange for a fourth lifeline that would allow them to discuss a question with the audience.

The Italian version also had a special format known as the hot seat. In this variation, there were six contestants that would take turns answering the questions. Any contestant could pass their question on to the next person, but that person couldn’t pass it along again. Options to quit and use a lifeline were also eliminated in this mode.


What is Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?

Who Wants to be a Millionaire is a quiz game show originating from the United Kingdom. It has had many different versions released around the world, with its American version being one of the most popular. The winner of the game wins one million dollars, as the title states, by participating in a series of quizzes and making it to the final stage.

How do you play Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?

There is a lengthy application and interview process in order to choose the contestants for the show. However, anyone can create a version of the game at home where they come up with a series of multiple-choice questions that they have other people answer in order to win a sort of prize.

Who hosts Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?

There have been multiple hosts of the show over the years, and every version of the show has a different host. The UK version was hosted by Chris Tarrant from its creation until 2018 when the show introduced Jeremy Clarkson as the new host. The American version has been hosted by Regis Philbin, Meredith Vieria, Cedric the Entertainer, Terry Crews, and Jimmy Kimmel.