Originally a British TV show, presented by Chris Tarrant the format was soon bought by TV companies across the globe.

The full game works like this:

Viewers phone a premium rate phone number, to apply to appear on the show. Random applicants are auditioned on the phone, then 10 appear on each show.

The ten contestants are asked a question which involves sorting four items (e.g. sort "Two,Three,Four,Five" into alphabetical order). The contestant who gets the correct answer in the least time takes centre stage for the quiz.

The contestant is asked 15 questions, each of which is a four-option multiple-choice question, one at a time. Each question earns them more money -- it rises (almost) exponentially:

£100
£200
£300
£500
£1,000 *
£2,000
£4,000
£8,000
£16,000
£32,000 *
£64,000
£125,000
£250,000
£500,000
£1,000,000

The contestant may choose not to answer a question at any time, and retire with their winnings so far. If they get a question wrong, they lose everything the won since the last milestone. The milestone questions are the ones marked with a "*". For example, if you had already won £64,000 and then were to answer the £125,000 question wrongly, you would take home £32,000 (the milestone value), losing £32,000.

Along the way, there are likely to be questions to which the contestant won't know the answer. To help them, they have three lifelines, each of which they may use once:

Ask The Audience
The studio audience vote with their idea of the answer, and the contestant is presented with a graph of the results, which they may use to influence their choice of answer.
50/50
Two wrong answers are removed from the selection of four, giving the contestant a 50/50 chance of going on to select the right answer.
Phone a Friend
The contestant may phone one of a selection of friends they chose before the show, and has 30 seconds to ask them the question.
One of the keys to success in Who Wants To Be A Millionaire is strategic use of the lifelines: don't squander them too early, but don't lose everything by failing to use them either.

The big one mil was won by Judith Keppel. Lots of people whinged because it looked as if she already had a bob or two in the bank.

The Japanese wanted to run such a thing, but 1e+6 yen is not that much money. Japanese laws prohibit more than 100,000 yen (crudely ~ US$1000) as a prize on television, too.

The times, they are a-changin.

Yesterday (Monday the 20th of November) the grand prize was finally won on the British version. The winner was Judith Keppel, a relative of Camilla Parker-Bowles and sadly someone who didn't seem to really need a millon quid. This is the most money that has ever been given out anywhere in the world (£1,000,000 being much more than $1,000,000).

Already, BBC are accusing ITV of deliberately dumbing down the questions, so that they could steal ratings from BBC who were airing the last ever episode of 'One Foot In The Grave'. Some of the questions are quite difficult though. See how you do:

£100:Complete this phrase. As sick as a...

Partridge
Puffin
Parrot
Penguin

For £200 : Which legal document states a person's wishes regarding the disposal of their property after death?

Would
Shall
Should
Will

For £300: Complete the title of the James Bond film The Man With The Golden...

Tooth
Gun
Eagle
Delicious

For £500 : Which of these fruits shares its name with something superior or desirable?

Apricot
Grapefruit
Plum
Mango

For £1,000 : In which sport do two teams pull at the opposite ends of a rope?

Tug of war
Basketball
Ice hockey
Polo

For £2,000 : Where would a cowboy wear his chaps?

On his head
On his arms
On his legs
On his hands

For £4,000 : Which of these zodiac signs is not represented by an animal that grows horns?

Taurus
Capricorn
Aquarius
Aries

For £8,000 : Sherpas and Gurkhas are native to which country?

Russia
Ecuador
Nepal
Morocco

For £16,000 : Prime Minister Tony Blair was born in which country?

England
Northern Ireland
Scotland
Wales

Ms.Keppel asked the audience For £32,000 : Whose autobiography has the title A Long Walk To Freedom?

Ranulph Fiennes
Mother Teresa
Nelson Mandela
Mikhail Gorbachev

For £64,000 : Duffel coats are named after a town in which country?

Belgium
Holland
Germany
Austria

Ms.Keppel went 50/50

For £125,000

Complete this stage instruction in Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale: "Exit, pursued by a ..."

Tiger
Clown
Bear
Dog

Ms. Keppel phoned a friend

For £250,000 : The young of which creature is known as a squab?

Salmon
Horse
Pigeon
Octopus

For £500,000 : Who is the patron saint of Spain?

St James
St John
St Benedict
St Peter

For £1m : Which king was married to Eleanor of Aquitaine?

Henry I
Henry II
Richard I
Henry V

"Who Wants to be a Millionaire?" is an extremely popular gameshow that started in the UK before the concept was sold on and turned into an equally popular show in America and other countries. And it's addictive, despite its many apparent flaws. Its irritating presenter for one - one of the high points of the computerised pub quiz machine version is that you can poke Chris Tarrant, the British presenter, in the eye to skip his part of the dialogue, and Regis is, I hear, no better. Many of the contestants are just as bad, with their boundless stupidity; you can find yourself wanting to scream at them "Denmark! For God's sake, you're a moron! Denmark! IT'S DENMARK!" (or, in some cases, actually doing it), especially when they "phone a friend" who turns out to be as braindead as they are. Yet, somehow, you find yourself sitting watching this trashy, sensationalist drivel, utterly enthralled with it.

Perhaps it's because it hinges on suspense and the sheer intensity of seeing someone decide whether or not to answer a question that could double their winnings or send them home with a paltry few thousand pounds (or dollars). Do you take the 64 thousand that you can have now? Or do you try for 125 you could win, but maybe lose 32 and leave in shame... maybe the next question will be easy; maybe you can take the big one, become a millionaire. It's gripping stuff; you can see the contestant sweat in their seat, see them driven almost to breaking point by the knowledge that their next decision could change their life. It's not often that you see someone do something that could really alter the course of their entire life.

Another reason for its popularity is the producer's habit of deliberately not taking on people who do extremely well on the phone-in entry quiz, thus ensuring that only people of fairly average intelligence get on, and that they don't have to pay out the big prizes too often. Naturally, it's mainly to save themselves money that they do this, but it also means that the people up there are just like you. If perhaps a little less intelligent. E2, by its very nature, ought to attract people of above-average intelligence (and above-average smug superiority, too). Anyway, the contestants aren't nerdy trivia-mad mega-brains who memorised the encyclopedia before the show; they're Joe Normal who works in the shop round the corner. This isn't countdown (a popular British show), where the contestants are just too damn clever; you feel you could actually do as well if not better than them. It could be you up there; and by god, you'd be sure to win that million.

So, if you find yourself not being able to change the channel despite wanting to punch Chris (or Regis), then just think; it's secretly because you wish it was you sat across from him, being teased, tormented and pressurised for the entertainment of the masses. Come on, admit it. You want a go too, and you'd do better than that fool.

I recently participated in the written audition for said game show, partly out of curiosity, and partly out of a sick desire to get on the show (in the "hot seat" with Regis) and subsequently be thrown off for insulting the audience members and decrying the mass entertainment spectacle generally. Henceforth follows a brief summary of what transpired, so that anyone who finds the recruiters coming to their town won't have to waste three hours just to find out what goes on behind the scenes at the bottom level.

Part the first: The Waiting
I arrived at the line at around 4pm, and wound up being 37th in line for the 6pm audition. Since this affair was going on at the west end of the University of Arizona campus, I'd expected a fair number of others students to be in line, but my fellow linesmen were primarily middle-aged blokes, most without the common sense to bring some bottled water for a two-hour stay out in the sun and on the concrete in Tucson, AZ. I polished off Catch-22 and started The Jungle until the line started moving.

Part second: The Preparation
315 of us were filed into a room at the Marriott, and each given a piece of cardboard and a green "Who Wants to Be A Millionaire" pen. After we were seated and settled, a spunky, 20-something girl took the podium and explained what was going to happen. First, the disclaimer. No one who works for, or has an immediate family member who works for ABC, AT&T, Disney, blah blah blah is eligible. Somehow she managed to drag the essence of this sentence out for about five minutes. Next, an explanation of the audition procedure. We would shortly get a short multiple choice test, 35 questions, 12 minutes. When we finished, we would sit quietly until the time was up. Then the papers would all be graded, and those who answered above a certain cut-off line would progress to the next stage, which involved being interviewed by one of the WWTBAM employees. Those who passed the interview would be notified by snail mail that they'd been chosen to be in the pool of contestants a few weeks later, and then the WWTBAM execs would call people in the pool to appear on the show at their discretion. Once you appear on the show, you're removed from the pool, but you can get in the pool again by re-auditioning at a later date. Simple enough.

Part the third: The Questions
"Are there any questions at this point, before we hand the tests out?"

"So wait, once we get in the pool, then in a few weeks they'll mail us to appear on the show?"
"What happens if you get on the show, but you don't get into the hot seat?"
"How tall is Regis?"
"After you get on the show, and if you win any money, can you still get in the pool again?"
"What about calling in by phone to get on? Can we still do that, even once we're in the pool?"
"What do you mean by 'pool'?"
"What if you get in the pool, but then you get married to someone who does work for, say like, AT&T, before you get on the show?"
brief pause
--"OK, wise-ass. If something like that happened, we'd deal with it on a case-by-case basis."

Part four: The Test
35 questions, four answers each, and about 20 required pop culture/mass entertainment knowledge that my lifestyle provides me no access to. Oh well, I thought, at least I got some reading done.

Part five: The Aftermath
"While we're waiting for the tests to be graded, let's have some fun. Who's good at impressions?"

/me shudders

The first part of the festivities involved four middle-aged, out of shape auditioners doing song-and-dance impressions of none other than Britney Spears. The best one got (wow!) a commemorative "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" T-shirt. Next, we watched (I most emphatically chose not to watch, instead carving the word "Millionaire" on my pen down to the word "lion") a promotional video for the show, and were instructed to scream and applaud whenever the audience on the show did so, for whoever was the loudest, would get a free (gasp!) "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" t-shirt. Then followed a freestyle impersonation contest for a T-shirt, and a joke-telling contest for a t-shirt. Finally (oh God, finally) the numbers of those who passed the test were called off, and the rest of us were told to leave.

I stole a couple dozen plastic Marriott cups on my way out. Could I do any less?

I tried out for "Millionaire" in Los Angeles in August 2001, and can report that the experience was surprisingly similar to srkorn's, right down to all the questions about that mysterious pool, although this being L.A., someone in the line asked no one in particular, "Do you know if they're casting for the whole season?"

However, thanks to my career in closed captioning, I knew what kind of business Jamie's aunt and uncle run on "The Jamie Foxx Show" (a hotel), and I can therefore provide the rest of the story.

Part Six: After the Aftermath
After everyone else has departed the Hilton ballroom, the 20-something girl congratulates the 30 or so of us who passed the test and then tells us to get up because we're walking to a meeting room on the second floor of the hotel. We all walk in a single file out of the ballroom, around the corner, past the hotel restaurant where lunch diners stare at the procession, up the stairs, down the hall, and finally arrive at a small room containing 30 or so chairs.

Part Seven: I'm Quirky, I Swear
Two perky people pass out 2-page forms for us to fill out with the pens we were given earlier and start going around the room with Polaroid cameras taking pictures of us. The forms start off easy, asking for name, address, nearest major airport to our home, and so on, but the second page is like a college application, with 10 questions, of which we're supposed to answer 3. "What would Regis find most fascinating about you?" and nine others. I eventually pick three that require me to write that I've always wanted to be a baseball scoreboard operator, and that if I won the $1 million, I'd go right out and buy a pinball machine.

They get around to taking my picture while I'm in the middle of one of the essays, so I have an annoyed expression in the photograph. Meanwhile, the man sitting next to me is actually having trouble with the "major airport" question, mainly because it asks for a city, and the airport he lives closest to is John Wayne Orange County International Airport. He asks me what city he should write down, and I tell him Santa Ana.

Part Eight: The Waiting Game
At last, we finish our forms, and we are again lined up. This time, we're led into another hallway outside some even smaller meeting rooms, and told that we'll be individually interviewed by actual contestant coordinators from the show. (All these perky people, it turns out, have been a mix of production assistants and interns from KABC, so we didn't have to be nice to any of them after all.)

As we wait outside the room, three potential contestants in front of me are talking:

Man #1: Yeah, I was a 5-time champion on "Jeopardy!" in 1990. (Back in those days, I watched "Jeopardy!" every night, and he does look vaguely familiar.)
Man #2: I was on in '96, but I was only a 3-timer.
Woman: I've only been on this Game Show Network show called "Inquizition."

They're not talking to me, so I don't get a chance to tell them that my entire live game show experience consists of having been in the audience for "Illinois Instant Riches" in Chicago in 1996.

Part Nine: 60 Seconds of Sheer Terror

Eventually, my time comes, and I walk into the tiny room, where a man and a woman are sitting at a table. I hand the man the form and my Polaroid. He reads the form quickly.

The first thing he asks me about is the fact that I've listed my job as "closed captioner." I tell him the company I work for does captioning for all the networks, as well as various syndicated shows. Fortunately, he doesn't ask specifically about "Millionaire," which the company captions, but I, personally, don't. (From reading the official rules on the ABC web site, I am under the impression that I'm fully eligible to appear on the show, but I want the final decision made by Disney lawyers, not the contestant coordinators.)

He then asks me about wanting to be a scoreboard operator. I manage to stammer out something about enjoying pushing buttons.

The minute or so seems more like a year or so. Eventually, I escape from their steely gaze, and am free to go. Outside the hotel at noon, the line for the 2:00 P.M. tryout looks much longer than the line for the 9:00 A.M. tryout did when I had arrived at 7:50 A.M.

Part Ten: The Waiting Game (Part 2)
After about six weeks, I decide the postcard isn't going to show up, and I resign myself to life without an extra $1 million. I should have told that guy the Orange County airport was in San Juan Capistrano, I guess.

In late 2001, the game finally reached the shores of an island called Singapore. This was of course the subject of much hype, pomp and other major media coverage which you would expect from such a popular gameshow.

(Add that to the fact that the only other gameshows Singapore has hosted before that are: The Pyramid Game and Hollywood Celebrity Squares, giving out total prize money of no more than 1000 Singapore dollars - approximately US$560 - per show.)

The hoo-ha was further increased when the first local episode aired, after one season of the US version with Regis Philbin, and the participants seemed genuinely content with leaving with 1000 Singapore dollars! This is despite the fact that the questions were obviously "dumbed down". With only a population of 4 million, people soon began to realise that anyone had a chance to become a millionaire!

However, regardless of that new understanding, no one of any standard really got onto the hot seat, and the first season ended with only one person winning the $32,000 prize.

One contestant didn't even know what Little Miss Muffet was eating on her tuffet!

The second season was more interesting, though, because of the way the standard of questions suddenly rose by leaps and bounds. This was in response to three contestants who won $64k, $64k and $125k in the span of a fortnight. It led to much speculation, suggesting the sponsors did not have the money for a million dollar pay-off.

Nonetheless, the season had not ended yet and I decided to take my chances. Just to show you how much simpler it is to get onto the show, this is how the selection went:

1 - The Phone Call
Dial a number, get charged $2 flat, listen to a recording and answer a simple multiple choice question. Get it right, leave your particulars and wait for the producers to call you.

2a - The Second Call
Receive a call from one of the show's many personnel, who will ask you three questions. Get all of them correct, and give more particulars to them.

2b - The Tiebreaker
Apparently, there were several people who got the three questions right, so another call arrived with a tiebreaker question. Get this right, and you're in!

3a - Filming Day
We were told to arrive at the studio at 2p.m., to familiarise ourselves with the set, the system and how to make yourself look as dopey as every other contestant that has gotten into the Hot Seat before you.

3b - Filming Night
I was very amused, because I won the fastest finger first first (now say that 5 times fast!), and got into the hot seat, much to my excitement and the excitement of my mother, who was in the audience.

5 minutes later, I was shaking hands with the show's host, and holding a big styrofoam cheque for one thousand Singapore dollars. Ah well, there goes my millionaire dream.

Not surprisingly, the show lasted for one more season before dying off. Its primetime slot has been replaced by the local version of Wheel of Fortune, which just paid my friend a cool 10 thousand in cash and prizes. Hmmmmm, maybe there is hope for Singaporean gameshows after all.

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