Who Wants To Be A Millionaire Wiki

John Carpenter, a tax collector from Hamden, Connecticut, was a contestant on the U.S. version of the show on November 18-19, 1999. He was the first American contestant to win $1,000,000. Notably, he made it all the way to the final question without using any lifelines, and only used his Phone-a-Friend to call his father to tell him he was about to win the jackpot.

He held the record for the largest single win in United States game show history, until it was broken by Rahim Oberholtzer who won $1.12 million on another U.S. quiz show, Twenty One. Carpenter was also the first top prize winner among all international versions of the Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? series.

He later returned for the Champions Edition on May 24-25, 2000 and won $250,000. ($125,000 went to him, and the other $125,000 went to charity)

Small biography

John Carpenter is from Hamden, Connecticut. He graduated from Rutgers University in 1990 with a degree in economics. At the time of his appearance on Millionaire, he was 31 years old and worked as a collections agent (revenue officer) for the U.S. Internal Revenue Service. When he revealed his profession as an IRS officer on Millionaire, Carpenter was booed playfully by the audience.


Fastest Finger Question

Fastest Finger Question
Put the following races in order according to their length, from the shortest to the longest.
• A: Iditarod Dog Sled Race • B: Tour De France
• C: London Marathon • D: Indianapolis 500
Out of 8 contestants, 3 got it right, but John (with a time of 5.42 seconds) was the fastest to correctly answer C-D-A-B, making it into the Hot Seat. (The races are, respectively, 938, ~2200, 26 and 500 miles long.)

John's Run to the Million

$100 (1 of 15) - Not Timed
In the "Road Runner and Coyote" cartoons, what famous sound does the Road Runner make?
• A: Ping! Ping! • B: Beep! Beep!
• C: Aooga! Aooga! • D: Vroom! Vroom!
$200 (2 of 15) - Not Timed
Where should choking victims place their hands to indicate to others that they need help?
• A: Over the eyes • B: On the knees
• C: Around the throat • D: On the hips
The klaxon called time and John would return on $200 with all lifelines still available.
$300 (3 of 15) - Not Timed
Which of these dance names is used to describe a fashionable dot?
• A: Hora • B: Swing
• C: Lambada • D: Polka
$500 (4 of 15) - Not Timed
In what "language" would you say "ello-hay" to greet your friends?
• A: Bull Latin • B: Dog Latin
• C: Duck Latin • D: Pig Latin
$1,000 (5 of 15) - Not Timed
What part of a chicken is commonly called the "drumstick"?
• A: Breast • B: Wing
• C: Leg • D: Gizzard
$2,000 (6 of 15) - Not Timed
What is the only position on a football team that can be "sacked"?
• A: Center • B: Wide receiver
• C: Tight end • D: Quarterback
$4,000 (7 of 15) - Not Timed
What god of love is often depicted as a chubby winged infant with a bow and arrow?
• A: Zeus • B: Mercury
• C: Cupid • D: Poseidon
$8,000 (8 of 15) - Not Timed
What Steven Spielberg film climaxes at a place called Devil's Tower?
• A: E.T: The Extra-Terrestrial • B: Jurassic Park
• C: Raiders of the Lost Ark • D: Close Encounters of the Third Kind
$16,000 (9 of 15) - Not Timed
In what U.S. town did the famous 1881 shoot-out at the O.K. Corral take place?
• A: Laramie • B: Tombstone
• C: El Paso • D: Dodge City
$32,000 (10 of 15) - Not Timed
Which of the following months has no U.S. federal holiday?
• A: August • B: February
• C: September • D: November
$64,000 (11 of 15) - Not Timed
What mythological beast is reborn from its own ashes?
• A: Phoenix • B: Minotaur
• C: Dragon • D: Golem
$125,000 (12 of 15) - Not Timed
Who developed the first effective vaccine against polio?
• A: Albert Sabin • B: Niels Bohr
• C: Louis Pasteur • D: Jonas Salk
$250,000 (13 of 15) - Not Timed
Which of the following is not a monotheistic religion?
• A: Islam • B: Judaism
• C: Hinduism • D: Christianity
$500,000 (14 of 15) - Not Timed
What architect designed the glass pyramid in the courtyard of the Louvre?
• A: Philip Johnson • B: Le Corbusier
• C: Frank Gehry • D: I.M. Pei
$1,000,000 (15 of 15) - Not Timed
Which of these U.S. Presidents appeared on the television series "Laugh-In"?
"Phone-a-Friend" lifeline used
• A: Lyndon Johnson • B: Richard Nixon
• C: Jimmy Carter • D: Gerald Ford

This question is renowned famously when John used his Phone-a-Friend lifeline to call his father Tom with this following conversation;

  • Regis Philbin: ...John you've got thirty seconds, starts right now.
  • John: Hi, Dad.
  • Tom (over phone): Hi!
  • John: Um...I don't really need your help, I just wanted to let you know that I'm gonna win the million dollars...

(crowd laughs, then starts cheering)

  • John: (with 7 seconds remaining) ...because the U.S. President that appeared on 'Laugh-In' is Richard Nixon and that's my final answer.

John wins the million dollars

(crowd whoops)

  • Regis: Well, my gosh. What can I say except: Debbie (Carpenter's wife), you're going to Paris, and this is the final answer heard all around the world...HE'S WON A MILLION DOLLARS!

John Carpenter: Millionaire

(crowd cheers wildly)

John hugging his wife after winning the top prize

John later explained, "I thought I'd look so cocky if I didn't use any lifelines, so I faked it." He said that the only question that had flustered him was one which asked for the location of the OK Corral gunfight. Carpenter eventually remembered that the film Tombstone included the gunfight, and he replied correctly with the answer Tombstone, Arizona.

While taking a vacation after his win, Carpenter considered quitting his job with the IRS, but eventually decided against it. He explained to Kiplinger's Personal Finance that "after the taxes, it's not change-your-life kind of money if you want to eat every day".


Shortly after winning on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, Carpenter played himself in a Saturday Night Live skit. Donald Trump, played by Darrell Hammond, announced that Carpenter would be his running-mate in the presidential election. Afterward, Carpenter pretended to call his father, then shouted, "Live from New York, it's Saturday Night!" Carpenter also appeared on Good Morning America, Live with Regis and Kathie Lee, and Late Show with David Letterman.

WWTBAM - Champions Edition

In 2000, Carpenter appeared in the Who Wants to Be a Millionaire: Champions Edition, in which previous contestants who won $250,000-$1,000,000 played again, with half their winnings going to their favorite charities. Carpenter played for the SARA Foundation.

Fastest Finger Question

The Fastest Finger question was:

Fastest Finger Question
Put these actors named Tom in order of their births, starting with the most recent.
• A: Tom Hanks • B: Tom Skerritt
• C: Tom Cruise • D: Tom Selleck
Among an astounding 9 contestants who got it right, John Carpenter makes it into the Hot Seat by answering C-A-D-B in a time of 4.49 seconds.

John's Second Run to the Million

$100 (1 of 15) - Not timed
Etiquette dictates that a female subject greeting the queen should do what?
• A: Curtsy • B: Boo
• C: Wink • D: High-five
$200 (2 of 15) - Not timed
According to the Biblical verse, "Many are called," but who "are chosen"?
• A: Women • B: Few
• C: Sheep • D: Tall people
$300 (3 of 15) - Not timed
What is the term for a decorative image drawn on the skin with a needle?
• A: Freckle • B: Fresco
• C: Tattoo • D: Regrettable
$500 (4 of 15) - Not timed
Where is the stinger on a scorpion's body?
• A: Mouth • B: Tail
• C: Claw • D: Leg
$1,000 (5 of 15) - Not timed
Lima beans are named for a city in what country?
• A: Peru • B: Cuba
• C: Italy • D: Argentina
$2,000 (6 of 15) - Not timed
Which of the following daily comics is usually printed as a single panel within a circle?
• A: The Far Side • B: Mother Goose & Grimm
• C: The Lockhorns • D: The Family Circus
$4,000 (7 of 15) - Not timed
The Tamagotchi virtual pet is made in the shape of what?
• A: Cat • B: Egg
• C: Heart • D: Bunny
$8,000 (8 of 15) - Not timed
In the 1998 movie "Bulworth," Warren Beatty's character delivers his political message in what musical style?
• A: Rap • B: Reggae
• C: Rock • D: Country
$16,000 (9 of 15) - Not timed
In the 1790s, what British seaman led the mutiny aboard the "Bounty"?
• A: Joseph Banks • B: Fletcher Christian
• C: James Cook • D: Joseph Cinque
$32,000 (10 of 15) - Not timed
In architecture, what is the name of the center stone at the top of an arch?
• A: Cornerstone • B: Impost
• C: Lodestone • D: Keystone
$64,000 (11 of 15) - Not timed
Which of the following operas features the Toreador Song"?
"Ask the Audience" lifeline used
• A: Don Giovanni • B: La Boheme
• C: Carmen • D: Lucia di Lammermoor
Ask the Audience Results: A: 15% • B: 18% • C: 60% • D: 7%
John repeated until the 10th question what he did in his previous appearance: go through all the questions without any lifeline aid (not counting when he phoned his father telling him he would win a million as it was not used what the lifeline's purpose was). But, after answering 25 questions in a row without using a lifeline, he had to use the "Ask the Audience" lifeline on the $64,000 question.
$125,000 (12 of 15) - Not timed
Where was Russian revolutionary leader Leon Trotsky murdered in 1940?
• A: Turkmenistan • B: Paris
• C: Buenos Aires • D: Mexico City
The klaxon called time.
$250,000 (13 of 15) - Not timed
A two-sided painting by what artist is featured in the award-winning play "Six Degrees of Separation"?
"50:50" lifeline used
• A: Paul Klee • B: Wassily Kandinsky
• C: Roy Lichtenstein • D: Jackson Pollock
And he used the "50:50" lifeline on the $250,000 question.

But, then, the $500,000 question came:

$500,000 (14 of 15) - Not Timed
Who was the first baseball player to be featured on a U.S. postage stamp?
"Phone-a-Friend" lifeline used
• A: Roberto Clemente • B: Lou Gehrig
• C: Jackie Robinson • D: Babe Ruth
Unsure, he phoned his brother (to his completely unexpected surprise) to help him with the question. But, not confident with his brother's guess (which was Jackie Robinson), he decided to walk away, winning $250,000. The correct answer was, indeed, C: Jackie Robinson.

$125,000 went to him and the other half to his charity, making his total Millionaire winnings $1,125,000.

Total Prize Money: $250,000

Post WWTBAM - Champions Edition

Carpenter appeared as himself in a 2001 episode of Oz (season 4, episode 9, "Medium Rare"). He plays a contestant in a fictional TV game show called "Up Your Ante" that the prisoners in Em City are watching. The show within the show is hosted by Gordon Elliott, with Eartha Kitt appearing as a celebrity participant.

With Rod L. Evans, Carpenter co-authored a trivia book titled Matching Wits With the Million-Dollar Mind: The World's Hardest Trivia Quizzes From America's First Quiz Show Millionaire. The book was published by Berkley Books in 2002.

In 2004, he participated in Super Millionaire, as one of the "Three Wise Men". He was one with Dr. Drew Pinsky and Dr. Abby Salny on the episode that Robert "Bob-O" Essig won $1,000,000.

He appeared as part of the Mob (seat #16) on the Game Show 1 vs. 100 on October 27, 2006. He was singled out by the first contestant for help with $51,800 at stake on the question "Which of the following is not a real person to have a salad named after him: Bob Cobb, Caesar Cardini, or François Niçoise ?" Carpenter answered "Bob Cobb", which Carpenter correctly recognized as The Maestro of Seinfeld fame; the contestant agreed but the Cobb salad was indeed named after a Robert Cobb. (The correct answer was François Niçoise.)

John was a contestant on the GSN game show Grand Slam. He faced Tic Tac Dough champion Thom McKee in the first round match and won his match but lost in the quarterfinals to Weakest Link champion Michelle Kitt.

John appeared on the August 16, 2009 episode of Millionaire in prime time for its tenth anniversary. In the audience with him was his dad, his wife, and their son. Additionally, he was also the first expert in the "Ask the Expert" lifeline for the eighth season of the syndicated series.


  • According to an interview with him on Australia's version of the Is That Your Final Answer? documentary, due to his $1m win John's wife was able to work part-time rather than full-time, and he also bought a new BMW 528, a new mobile phone and a new digital camera, so his wife was able to take pictures of their new dog.


Preceded by
Al Metz
U.S. Contestant (Season 1)
John Carpenter
Succeeded by
Stephen Fox
Preceded by
Michael Shutterly
Champions Edition Contestants
John Carpenter
Succeeded by
Toby Moore
Preceded by
U.S. Top Prize Winners
John Carpenter
Succeeded by
Dan Blonsky
Preceded by
Nancy Christy
Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson
Anthony DeCurtis
Super Millionaire Three Wise Men
Dr. Abby Salny
Dr. Drew Pinsky
John Carpenter
Succeeded by
David Goodman
Tracy Caldwell Dyson
Michael Starr
Preceded by
U.S. Experts
John Carpenter
Succeeded by
Alexandra "Ali" Wentworth