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John Carpenter (game show contestant)

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John Carpenter
Born 1968 (age 46–47)
Education Rutgers University
Occupation IRS agent
Known for First top prize winner on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire
Home town Hamden, Connecticut

John Carpenter (born c. 1968)[1] is an American game show contestant and IRS agent. He is best-known for becoming the first top prize winner on the United States version of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. 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.[2] Carpenter was also the first top prize winner among all international versions of the Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? series.

On the November 19, 1999, episode, Carpenter proceeded to advance to the million-dollar question without using any lifelines. He then used his Phone-A-Friend to call his father not for help, but rather to tell him he was going to win the game. Carpenter answered the question correctly and became the show's first million dollar winner. His win gave him national recognition and led to multiple talk show appearances, as well as reappearances on Millionaire itself.

Career and family[edit]

Carpenter is from Hamden, Connecticut. His father, Tom, worked as a computer program analyst for the Department of Veterans Affairs, while his mother, Gail, served as an administrative assistant for the Massachusetts Audubon Society.[3] In 1986, he enrolled at Rutgers University and graduated in 1990 with a degree in economics.[4] His first job was working with Domino's Pizza. During his job, he was robbed at gun point while delivering an order.[3] In January 1991, he joined the U.S. Internal Revenue Service after completing government exams and tests.[3] In November 1996, Carpenter met his future wife, Debbie Fong, who was studying for a Master's degree at Southern Connecticut State University and worked as a manager of a Fleet Bank branch in New Haven. They married in August 1998.[3] At the time of his appearance on Millionaire, he was 31 years old.[5] When he revealed his profession as an IRS officer on Millionaire, Carpenter was playfully booed by the audience.[6]

Who Wants to Be a Millionaire[edit]

$1 million (15 of 15) - no time limit
Which of these U.S. Presidents appeared on the television series "Laugh-In"?
• A: Lyndon Johnson • B: Richard Nixon
• C: Jimmy Carter • D: Gerald Ford

Carpenter was originally uninterested in Millionaire but eventually tuned in one night after dinner while having friends over at his house. When he found the show's higher-tier questions to not be, in his words, "any more difficult" than the lower-tier ones, he decided to call in to the show's hotline for a chance to become a contestant.[7] Carpenter answered all of the hotline questions correctly and was on the show within two days.[7]

Host Regis Philbin described Carpenter as having "cruised right through those first fourteen questions,"[7] he had proceeded to reach the final question without using any of his lifelines. The $1 million question was, "Which of these U.S. Presidents appeared on the television series 'Laugh-In'?", with the choices being A) Lyndon Johnson, B) Richard Nixon, C) Jimmy Carter, and D) Gerald Ford.[8] Carpenter used his Phone-A-Friend lifeline to call his father not for help, but rather to inform him that he knew the answer. Carpenter later explained, "I thought I'd look so cocky if I didn't use any lifelines, so I faked it."[8]

With his win, Carpenter became the first contestant in the worldwide Millionaire franchise to win the show's top prize.[9] He said that the only question that had flustered him was one which asked for the location of the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. Carpenter eventually remembered that the film Tombstone included the gunfight, and he replied correctly with the answer 'Tombstone, Arizona'.[4] 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."[10] Carpenter also described the fame as having a bigger impact on his life than the money, later stating: "The money doesn't change your life. What happens afterwards might."[11]

Later work[edit]

Shortly after winning on Millionaire, Carpenter played himself in a Saturday Night Live skit.[11] 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, Oprah Winfrey Show, Live with Regis and Kathie Lee, and Late Show with David Letterman.[11][12]

Carpenter appeared as himself in the second half of the fourth season of Oz.[11] 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 and Didi Conn appearing as celebrity participants.[13]

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.[14]

Other game show appearances[edit]

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 of their additional winnings from the Champions Edition going to a charity of their choice.[15] Carpenter won $250,000,[16] bringing his total Millionaire winnings $1,250,000. In 2004, Carpenter participated in Super Millionaire, as one of the "Three Wise Men" on the episode during which Robert "Bob-O" Essig won $1,000,000.[17]

He later participated as part of the Mob on NBC's 1 vs. 100 on October 27, 2006.[18] and as a contestant on the Game Show Network game show Grand Slam.[19] Carpenter appeared on the August 16, 2009 episode of Millionaire in prime time for its tenth anniversary.[20] In the audience with him was his dad, his wife, and his son.[21] Additionally, he was also the first expert in the "Ask the Expert" lifeline for the eighth season of the syndicated series.[22]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Millionaire Makeovers!". People (Time Inc.) 54 (20). November 13, 2000. Archived from the original on September 11, 2015. Retrieved July 8, 2015. 
  2. ^ Petrozello, Donna (February 3, 2000). "Million-plu$ reply an educated guess". New York Daily News. p. 101. 
  3. ^ a b c d Jerome, Jim (December 6, 1999). "Many Happy Returns". People (Time Inc.) 52 (22). Archived from the original on September 30, 2015. Retrieved July 7, 2015. 
  4. ^ a b Rosenthal, Phil (November 20, 1999). "Contestant wins $1 million". Chicago Sun Times. p. 30. 
  5. ^ Taylor, Frances Grandy (November 20, 1999). "Final answer? Quiz show: a million to 1 taxman". Hartford Courant. p. A1. 
  6. ^ Bianculli, David (November 22, 1999). "Cool million makes red-hot TV". New York Daily News. Archived from the original on September 11, 2009. Retrieved September 6, 2009. 
  7. ^ a b c "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire". Gameshow Hall of Fame. GSN. January 21, 2007. 
  8. ^ a b Vigoda, Arlene (November 22, 1999). "Million-dollar winner untaxed by celebrity". USA Today (Gannett Company). p. 1D. 
  9. ^ "Taxman scoops a million". BBC News. November 21, 1999. Archived from the original on June 21, 2015. Retrieved August 1, 2014. 
  10. ^ Davis, Kristin (November 2000). "I'm Rich! (Now what?)". Kiplinger's Personal Finance: 93-94. 
  11. ^ a b c d Duca, Lauren (August 15, 2014). "The Final Answer On Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?, 15 Years After It Premiered". Huffington Post. Archived from the original on August 22, 2015. Retrieved July 9, 2015. 
  12. ^ de Moraes, Lisa (November 23, 1999). "Drab 'Millionaire' Winner Emerges as a Media Animal". The Washington Post. p. C07. 
  13. ^ Moore, Frazier (January 6, 2001). "Wizard of 'Oz' lives with permanent reminder of gritty show". The San Diego Union Tribune. p. E6. 
  14. ^ "Matching Wits with the Million-Dollar Mind : The World;s Hardest Trivia Quizzes from America's First Quiz Show Millionaire". The Book Depository. Archived from the original on October 25, 2015. Retrieved October 24, 2015. 
  15. ^ Deggans, Eric (May 12, 2000). "Miami 'Millionaire' gets 2nd shot at final answer". St. Petersburg Times. Archived from the original on April 5, 2008. Retrieved October 9, 2014. 
  16. ^ Bracht, Mel (May 26, 2000). "Money isn't the root of happiness: Tulsan has more fun in 2nd Millionaire gig". NewsOK. Oklahoma Publishing Company. Archived from the original on February 9, 2015. Retrieved October 9, 2014. 
  17. ^ Super Millionaire. Season 1. Episode 2. February 23, 2004. ABC. 
  18. ^ 1 vs. 100. Season 1. Episode 3. October 27, 2006. NBC. 
  19. ^ Owen, Rob (August 2, 2007). "Dennis Miller rallies around game show all-stars". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. p. WE-33. 
  20. ^ Grosvenor, Carrie (July 27, 2009). "Millionaire Experts, Former Contestants Announced". (About Entertainment). Archived from the original on August 2, 2009. Retrieved May 2, 2014. 
  21. ^ Who Wants to Be a Millionaire: 10th Anniversary Celebration. Episode 6. August 16, 2009. ABC. 
  22. ^ Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. Season 8. Episode 1. September 7, 2009. Syndicated. 

External links[edit]

Honorary titles
Preceded by
First Millionaire
Top prize winner on
Who Wants to Be a Millionaire (U.S.)

November 19, 1999
Succeeded by
Dan Blonsky
Preceded by
Michael Shutterly
All-time American game show winnings leader
Succeeded by
Rahim Oberholtzer