How Many Lifelines Are in Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?

Updated on October 16, 2017
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Jeremy explores several topics in-between juggling college with nanotechnology research (for fingerprint imaging purposes).

Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?'s logo
Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?'s logo

Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?

One of the most popular game shows of all time, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? lured audiences with its big bucks and focus on suspense rather than speed. Regis Philbin famously hosted the American version, but Millionaire actually crafted a variety of productions internationally, each with its own hosts and tweaks.

Central to all editions is the concept of lifelines: once-per-game abilities to help the contestant power through difficult questions. Usually, more than one can be used on the same question if desired, and contestants may still walk away with the money they've currently amassed even after applying a lifeline. You may be surprised just how many lifelines the show has employed—here's a complete list of Millionaire's several safety nets!

The Big Three

The most well-know lifelines to American viewers are Ask the Audience, Phone a Friend, and 50-50, but we'll soon dsicover many more exist.

Ask the Audience Technical Failure

1. Ask the Audience

Summary: Sometimes called Poll the Audience, this effect allows every audience member to input their guess. Then, a percentage displaying how many members voted for each answer choice is provided to the contestant. Large percentages typically indicate a correct response, but there have been times where the majority of the audience have missed a question.

Usefulness: Ask the Audience works better earlier in the game with easier questions, as once the difficulty scales too high, they're less likely to provide high statistics for the correct answer.

Ask the Audience
Ask the Audience

2. Ask One of the Audience

Summary: The German version of Millionaire uses an altered lifeline. The audience is asked who thinks they know the answer, and confident members stand up. The contestant selects one (based only on appearance) and is allowed to discuss the question at length with them. If the answer they provide is correct, the audience member wins a small cash prize, guarding against malicious purposefully-wrong answers.

Usefulness: Quite helpful with an honest audience because they're narrowed down to only those with faith in their choice, and the contestant is allowed to converse with them as they like about the response.

Plus One: Eventually, this lifeline was moved to the American Milllionaire and slightly altered to Plus One, where the contestant brings a companion they can consult rather than picking from the audience.

Phone a Friend Like a Champ

3. Phone a Friend

Summary: Familiar to many American fans, Phone a Friend allows a contestant to make a 30-second phone call to one of a few preselected buddies who can hopefully provide insight about the current question. This lifeline was eventually removed because people started using their friends to consult search engines rather than answer with what they already knew.

Usefulness: Largely depends on who you know, but this wasn't the best lifeline. Contestants spent a good portion of their half-minute just reading the trivia and answers, leaving little time for discussion or debate.

50-50
50-50 | Source

4. 50-50

Summary: This lifeline simply removes two incorrect answers at random. This leaves players with much better odds if they have no idea but still want to hazard a guess.

Usefulness: Very helpful. If a contestant debates between two answers, with luck 50-50 will remove one of them, leaving what should be the correct choice.

Double Dip
Double Dip | Source

5. Double Dip

Summary: Similar to 50-50, Double Dip was introduced in Super Millionaire and allows hot-seat occupants to choose two answers; if either is right, they have correctly answered the question. However, once someone accesses Double Dip, they cannot walk away or harness other lifelines; they have to play out the question immediately.

Usefulness: Incredibly beneficial when used carefully. If a players ponders between two answers, Double Dip doesn't have the risk 50-50 carries of not eliminating one of them.

Three Wise Men

6. Three Wise Men

Summary: Another Super Millionaire concoction, Ask the Expert contacts three knowledgeable individuals (chosen by the show) via video and audio feed. They have 30 seconds to hear the question, choices, and provide their input. Often, the show chooses a former Millionaire contestant as one of the panelists and always picks at least one woman.

Usefulness: Helpful, but still limited. It functions similarly to Phone a Friend, but now players receive three allies instead of one. However, the contestant doesn't know them personally, making it tricky to gauge their strengths and when to use them.

Ask the Expert: The show eventually replaced Three Wise Men with this ability, which allows players to consult only one show-selected scholar. However, the time limit is removed, allowing for more debate. Initially the lifeline was only gained after advancing past the fifth question, but was later moved to be available at any point.

7. Jump the Question

Summary: An interesting power, Jump the Question completely bypasses any question other than the final one with no strings attached... except that no money is earned for that round. For many seasons, players could use this twice per game, a first for any lifeline.

Usefulness: Very helpful in terms of advancing. Jump the Question works best on tricky early to mid-game questions (so players don't hop over big monetary values).

Switch the Question

8. Switch the Question

Summary: Sometimes called Cut the Question, this lifeline appeared for several seasons of the American Millionaire. It's only earned upon answering the first ten questions correctly, and allows contestants to swap their question with another of the same value. However; any lifelines used on the first question don't transfer over; if a player uses 50-50, then switches, the new question will have all four answers presented.

Usefulness: A great boon, Switch the Question should be saved for situations where the player hasn't the foggiest what the correct choice is. However, it should be brandished prior to other lifelines considering any used before it are essentially wasted.

Which is your favorite lifeline?

See results

Your Vote

Though the original British Millionaire (1998-2014) had since ended, the program remains one of the most popular game shows of all time, and we'll hopefully see more Millionaire spin-offs in the future. Feel free to vote for your favorite lifeline, and I'll see you at our next countdown!

Although... one last lifeline remains—sort of. Both Disney Land and Disney World used to host Who Wants to Be a Millionaire—Play It! attractions that replaced Phone a Friend with Phone a Complete Stranger. This involved calling a cast member throughout the park, who would ask a random park-goer the question. Overall, it was a fun novelty that occasionally provided a correct response.

© 2017 Jeremy Gill

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