The contestants must first play a preliminary round, called “Fastest Finger First” (or, in the U.S. version, simply “Fastest Finger”), where they are all given a question and four answers from the host and are asked to put those four answers into a particular order; in the first series of the British version and in pre-2003 episodes of the Australian version, the round instead required the contestants to answer one multiple-choice question correctly as quickly as possible. The contestant who does so correctly and in the fastest time goes on to play the main game for the maximum possible prize (often a million units of the local currency). In the event that two or more contestants are tied for the fastest time, those contestants play another question to break the tie. If no one gets the question right, that question is discarded and another question is played in the same manner. If any contestants are visually impaired, the host reads the question and four choices all at once, then repeats the choices after the music begins.
Main game contestants are asked increasingly difficult general knowledge questions by the host. Questions are multiple choice: four possible answers are given (labelled A, B, C and D), and the contestant must choose the correct one. The ‘D’ answer on the first question (except in the Shuffle format like in the US version) is always incorrect and humorous. Upon answering a question correctly, the contestant wins a certain amount of money. In most versions, there is no time limit to answer a question; a contestant may (and often does) take as long as they need to ponder an answer. After the first few questions, the host will ask the contestant if that is their “final answer”. When a contestant says “final” in conjunction with one of the answers, it is official, and cannot be changed. The first five questions usually omit this rule, because the questions are generally so easy that requiring a final answer would significantly slow the game down; thus, there are five chances for the contestant to leave with no money if they were to provide a wrong answer before obtaining the first guaranteed amount; going for 1,000 units of currency after winning 500 units is the last point in the game at which a contestant can still leave empty-handed.
Subsequent questions are played for increasingly large sums, roughly doubling at each turn. The first few questions often have some joke answers. On episodes of the UK version aired between 1998 and 2007, the payout structure was as follows: first going from £100 to £300 in increments of £100, then from £500 to £64,000 with the pound value doubling for each new question, and finally from £125,000 to £1,000,000 with the pound value doubling for each new question.
After viewing a question, the contestant can leave the game with the money already won rather than attempting an answer. If the contestant answers a question incorrectly, then all of their winnings are lost, except that the £1,000 and £32,000 prizes are guaranteed: if a player gets a question wrong above these levels, then the prize drops to the previous guaranteed prize. Answering the £2,000 and £64,000 questions wrong does not reduce the prize money. The prizes are generally non-cumulative; that is, answering a question correctly does not result in the amount being played for being added to the amount already won, rather the amount already won is written off and replaced by a larger sum, usually twice as large. The game ends when the contestant answers a question incorrectly, decides not to answer a question, or answers all questions correctly.
New formats and variations
When the U.S. Millionaire’s syndicated version debuted in 2002, Fastest Finger was eliminated for the reduced episode length (30 minutes as opposed to the previous network version’s length of 60 minutes). Thus, contestants immediately take the Hot Seat, each of them called in after their predecessors’ games end. Contestants are required to pass a more conventional game show qualification test at auditions; however, when the U.S. Millionaire revived its primetime version for specials, it also restored the Fastest Finger round; this was done in 2004 for the Super Millionaire series which raised the top prize to $10,000,000 and in August 2009 for an eleven-night special that celebrated the U.S. version’s tenth anniversary. Long after the U.S. version eliminated its Fastest Finger round, numerous other versions (including the Australian, Italian, Turkish, British, Russian, Dutch and French versions) followed suit by eliminating their respective Fastest Finger First rounds; additionally, some versions (such as the British, Dutch, French and Russian versions) have eliminated their respective Fastest Finger First rounds for special events wherein celebrities play for charity.
In 2007, it was announced that the UK version was changing its format, reducing the number of questions in the game from fifteen to twelve. The new payout structure was as follows: first going from £500 to £2,000 with the prize values doubling for each new question, then from £5,000 to £20,000 with the prize values doubling for each new question, then to £50,000, £75,000 and £150,000, and finally from £250,000 to £1,000,000 with the prize value doubling for each new question. Whereas the first safe haven remained at £1,000, the second safe haven was moved to £50,000. The new rules debuted in an episode that aired on 18 August 2007. Within a period of four years following its introduction to the British Millionaire, the 12-question format was subsequently carried over to a number of international versions, including the Arab, Bulgarian, Dutch, French, Polish, Spanish, and Turkish versions.
In 2007, the German version modified its format, so that contestants would be allowed to choose the option of playing in a new variant called “Risk Mode”. If the contestant chooses to play this variant, they are given access to a fourth lifeline that allows them to discuss a question with a volunteer from the audience, but the tenth-question safe haven is forfeited. This means that if the contestant answers any of questions 11–15 incorrectly, they drop all the way to the guaranteed winnings gained by answering question 5 correctly. If the contestant chooses to the play the classic format, they keep the second safe haven. The risk format was subsequently adopted by such markets as Austria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, the Philippines, Poland, Russia, Switzerland and Venezuela.
In 2008, the U.S. version changed its format so that contestants were required to answer questions within a set time limit. The time limits were 15 seconds for questions 1–5, 30 seconds for questions 6-10, and 45 seconds for questions 11-14. After each of the 14 questions were answered correctly, the remaining time after giving an answer was banked for the million-dollar question. The clock for each question began counting down immediately after all of the question was revealed, and was temporarily paused when a lifeline was used. Contestants who exceeded the time limit were forced to walk away with any prize money they had won up to that point. The clock was later adopted by other international versions; for example, the British version adopted it on 3 August 2010, and the Indian version adopted it on 11 October the same year.
In November 2008, the Norway version introduced a new format, called the “Hot Seat format”, wherein 6 contestants play at once, with each taking turns to climb the money tree. Contestants are allowed to “pass” the onus of answering the question to the next contestant in line, who is unable to re-pass to the next contestant for that question. Also added were time limits on every question, with 15 seconds allocated for the first five questions, 30 for the middle five, and 45 for the last five. In addition, the option of walking away is eliminated, rendering several questions’ values pointless, as they cannot be won. Also, if a player fails to give an answer within the time limit, it is considered an automatic pass. If a contestant cannot pass on or correctly answer a question, he or she is eliminated and the highest value on the money tree is removed. The game ends either when all contestants are eliminated, or when the question for the highest value in the money tree is answered. If the final question is answered correctly, the answering player receives the amount of money; if it is answered incorrectly or all contestants are eliminated before the final question is reached, the last contestant to be eliminated receives either nothing, or a smaller prize if the fifth question milestone is reached. This format was later introduced to various markets (including Italy, Hungary, Vietnam, Indonesia, Australia, Chile and Spain) over the course of a four-year period from 2009 to 2012. In 2017, Australia’s Hot Seat brought back the Fastest Finger First round, while the winner may select one of the lifelines – “50:50”, “Ask a Friend” or “Switch the Question”.
On 13 September 2010, the U.S. version adopted its “shuffle format”. Ten questions are asked in round one, each assigned one of ten different money amounts. The dollar values are randomised at the beginning of the game. The contestant is then shown the original order of difficulty for the ten questions as well as their categories, and those are then randomised as well. This means that the difficulty of the question is not tied to its value. The dollar values for each question remain hidden until a contestant either provides a correct answer or chooses to “jump” their question. In this format, the value of each question answered correctly is added to the contestant’s bank, for a maximum total of $68,600. A contestant who completes the round successfully can walk at any subsequent point with all the money in their bank, or can walk before the round is completed with half that amount (e.g., a contestant who banked $30,000 would leave with $15,000). Contestants who give an incorrect answer at any point in the round leave with $1,000. After completing round one, the contestant moves on to a second round of gameplay (the “Classic Millionaire” round), in which four non-categorised questions are played for set non-cumulative values and a correct answer augments the contestant’s winnings to that point, as in the older formats. The contestant is now allowed to walk away with all the money in their bank; an incorrect answer drops their winnings to $25,000. The shuffle format was replaced with a modified version of the original format (with only 14 questions) for the fourteenth syndicated season; the values of the last four questions remain unchanged.Lifelines
by simon schofield