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HOW TO SUCCEED ON 'WHO WANTS TO BE A MILLIONAIRE'


Getting onto the programme Strategies for "fastest finger first" When to trust the audience How to use the 50:50 lifeline Choosing your 'phone a friends' Contact Me

This is an unofficial strategy guide for 'Who Wants to be a Millionaire', which I've put together to share with you some advice that I've compiled from my experience of being a contestant on the show in the UK on 31.01.01, and the strategy I used. As the popularity of the game spreads and it is exported round the world in exactly the same format, this should be applicable to anyone intending to play the game in any country.


So you really want to go on the programme?


Probably the first thing you need to decide is whether you want to go on the programme at all. While you are watching at home it's all too easy to sit there shouting at a contestant who struggles with a question you think is easy, but you tend to forget the questions the contestant gets right which you wouldn't have been able to answer. As the show enjoys huge viewing figures in every country in which it broadcast, if you do go on the show you will most likely be seen by everybody you've ever known in your life, including friends, relatives and work colleagues. After my appearance I was amazed when several people I hadn't met for years got in touch to say that they had seen my humble performance. So you will need to make sure that you have sufficient general knowledge to at least get you through the first five questions to the stage where you are guaranteed to go home with at least 1000,as so far only three people in the UK have made it into the hotseat and gone home with nothing, so you can really do without being the fourth. If you get past this stage and give a wrong answer you can at least point to the fact you have picked up a cheque for 1000. The best way to make sure you will be OK if you did get on is to watch the show on TV and strictly put yourself in the position of each contestant, deciding what answers you would give to the questions that come up and which of the lifelines you would use, and see how far you would have got. Make sure that on most sets of questions you would far enough to at least get into the money. If this doesn't put you off and you are still keen to go on the programme then keep on watching and practising being in the chair, as well as playing the game on the ITV website, as this will help to develop your strategy. You can improve your general knowledge by going to pub quizes and watching other quiz shows, but above all, take a note of the subjects on which you weren't able to answer questions, as these are areas you will need to cover either through swatting up or through using lifelines. You should also analyse the questions asked to see what general areas keep coming up, for instance in the UK amongst other subjects there are plenty of questions on the States of the USA, types of animals and types of food, while you would be able to answer most of the chemistry questions with a sound knowledge of the periodic table.


Getting onto the programme


In the UK: You need to phone the hotline (currently 09068-444444) to get yourself on the list of possible contestants. To be able to put your name down you need to correctly answer a question from 4 options. This is not normally too difficult, and you can always phone again if you get the question wrong, but the problem is that you then have to get picked out by the computer from the large number of people who phone in. I believe that they fund the prize money from the calls to the special line, from which I've calculated that in the UK approximately 100,000 people will phone the hotline for every recording of the show. The next stage is that the computer will pick out 50 possible contestants for each show, but I understand that they have a 'draw down' of 10 possible contestants each day for 5 days. The 'draw-down' takes place at mid-day, and each one clears the records of those who have phoned so far, in other words each selection will only be made from calls during the previous 24 hours. So you'll stand a much better chance of getting on on if you call on a weekday, as most people phone up when the show is broadcast on Saturdays. To get from the 50 chosen by the computer down to the 10 contestants who go on the show they ask all 50 an eliminator question which will have a large number as the answer, with the nearest 10 to the answer getting onto the programme. You might for instance be asked to guess the area of a country, in which case you will probably get reasonably close by estimating how far it is across that country north-south and east-west and multiplying the two figures together, this way you will beat most of the people who take an unscientific guess at the answer. I was asked the area of Spain in square miles and guessed 400 times 400, or 160,000, while the correct answer is a bit less than 195,000, so my guess was close enough to be one of the nearest 10. Other eliminator questions I've heard of have been the populations of different cities and the number of people who flew by a particular airline in a particular year, so it might be an idea to find out the approximate answers to these types of questions. If you know how many people flew with one airline in a year your guess as to how many flew with another airline will probably be in the right ball-park and may get you closer than most potential contestants who are having a complete guess. Start compiling knowledge now (the internet is a good source of this type of information), as when they phone you to say you have been picked out as one of the 100 possibles you will be asked the question before the end of that phone call, so don't wait to be called before you start thinking about this part of your strategy!


In the USA: First you need to phone (212)479-7755 to apply for tickets for an audition, which will be held in New York. It seems that at the audition they are looking for people who can be amusing and entertaining on TV, as well as being intelligent. They will send you an application form and an eligibilty form. On the application form you can mention any amusing stories you can think of from work or about your family, or any interesting hobbies you have.


If you live in any country other than the UK or the USA and have been through the selection process to get onto the show, can you please send me an e-mail to let me know how they select contestants in your country.


Syndicated version of the show (USA only)


The syndicated version of the show works like this:-
1) the way to audition is to sign up for one through the millionaire website (not any phone number), which posts when there are auditions taking place. At the audition, you take a 30 question multiple choice test that, if you pass, grants you an immediate interview with a producer who, it seems, evaluates how interesting a personality and presence you have for tv. They also ask you questions based on your answers to the forms, which will be the same forms as above. You then get a postcard in the mail within a few weeks indicating whether or not you've been passed into the contestant pool. If you are selected to be on the show, you get a qualifying phone call about 3 weeks before your tape date.
2) there is NO fastest finger round - once you're chosen to be on the show, you automatically get to the hot seat.
3) In this version of the show, those who want to audition to be contestants must be in the show's audience to take the audition test, so the syndicated version audience tends to be of higher than average intelligence. The producers tell you that the audience is right more than 90% of the time, so you can have greater confidence in using the 'ask the audience' lifeline than you would on the other version of the show. There is also an 'audience' of people at home who submit their answer via AOL's instant messaging service, and their results are presented to the contestant seperately. The answers from the AOL component of the audience tend to be more evenly spread over the four alternatives, and they tend to be less reliable than the studio audience. There is nothing to stop your 'phone a friends' signing up for the AOL 'audience' as well, and this would give you a slight advantage if you used the 'audience' and 'phone a friend' lifelines on the same question. If your going to do this you would need to waste as much time as possible before asking to phone a friend, because your friend will already have had the question through AOL, and you want to give them time to find the answer before you call!
4) There is a new lifeline that you get if you make it past the $25,000 q (originally $32,000) - switch the question - you can swap out the question you get for a different one, but of course, there's no guarantee of it being any easier, just different and you can't go back to the original question once you've switched.


Revising for the Show


So now you've been picked out and you've got through as one of the 10 contestants and having watched the show many times for practise you will be only too aware of the types of question you are likely to struggle on. With such a wide variety of possible questions it might seem impossible to revise for the show in a short space of time, but you can still do some effective revision if it is sufficiently targeted towards the right subject areas. As far as possible you should cover your areas of weakness with your 'phone a friends' (of which much more later!) and then try to revise those areas of weakness on which none of your friends are experts either. I decided to revise types of animal and types of food, so I spent the weekend before I was on the show frantically reading books on these subjects that I had taken out from my local library. If you know anything about memory techniques this will be a useful way of absorbing a lot of information in a short space of time. I won't describe such techniques in detail here, as there is already a lot of literature available on the subject, but on a management training course I learnt that the secret is to think of an image that links the two objects you are trying to remember and it doesn't matter if that image is silly, as that will make it all the more memorable. As I had noticed that questions on different currencies crop up occasionally on the programme I memorised a whole series of currencies using these this method while I was on the train travelling down to the studio. For example I remembered that Brazil's currency is the Real by imagining the footballer Pele signing for Real Madrid, and this image worked for me thanks to my interest in football, but if you were to try something similar you should form images based on your own knowledge and experiences.


Fastest Finger First


The day before I went on the show my work colleagues were giving me conflicting advice about this, with one person telling me make a guess in the fastest time possible, the other to take my time to make sure I got the four alternatives in the right order. The tactic I used on the night was to make a quick assessment of how difficult the question was, to decide whether it was easy and would be won in a fast time, or difficult and would be won by somebody being accurate in a slower time. Again, you need to practise by watching the TV and quickly putting the four alternatives into the right order, but though you might think you would beat the contestants most of the time, once you are there you'll find that it takes at least a second to get from getting the right order in your head to pressing the right buttons. You might find on the night that you need to make a partial guess if you can put some of the alternatives into the right order but aren't sure about the rest, in which case do what you can and get on with guessing the rest. Sometimes you have to put four words into alphabetical order, for example the names of the four Spice Girls. If you get an alphabetical order question like this, don't even think about what the names represent, just focus on the four words themselves and getting them into the right order. One final thing, if you do win fastest finger it is certainly a scary moment, but I always think contestants look daft on TV if they just sit there thinking 'what? me?' and the host has to call them over. I had made up my mind that if my name did come up that no matter what I was thinking at that moment I was going to get straight up out of my chair and walk.


Coping with Pressure


Once you've landed in the hotseat it's not the easiest thing to handle your nerves, but the best advice I can give is not to think about the people watching on TV or even the studio audience, but to concentrate on having a one-to-one conversation with the host. Once you get going it's suprisingly easy to do this once the lights are on you and the host is the only person you can see clearly. If you've practised enough times at home the tactics of the game should become second nature to you, so it's easy to bear in mind which lifelines you have used and which you still have in hand.


To Gamble or Stick?


At various points in the game you can be confronted by an agonising choice of whether to go for more money or to go home with the amount you have already won, if you get a question where you think you may know the answer but aren't totally sure. It's best to have a clear idea in your mind about which stages you are prepared to take a risk on and which stages you are not, where the amount of money you drop will be too much for you to bear. From watching the programme you will have some idea of how much you can realistically hope to win, while if you need to raise a particular amount for some specific purpose it obviously makes sense to gamble until you've reached that amount and then play safe. I think it would be foolish of anyone to take a one in four guess on a question they did not have a clue about if it was at stage where they stood to drop money, but it might be worth a gamble with a one in two chance if you can eliminate two alternatives either through your own knowledge or through the 50:50 lifeline. It's up to you.


Ask the audience


As a general rule of thumb I would work on the basis of asking the audience on the first question you are unable to answer for yourself. Once you get through to the later stages the audience becomes unreliable, as on the difficult questions there may still be some audience members who know the right answer, but their contribution will be blotted out by everybody else just having a guess. The audience is very good on popular culture, so they will help you out if you don't watch Coronation Street or haven't kept up to date with Boyzone's latest release, but don't trust them with questions on obscure Greek mythology! If you know that one of the alternatives is definately wrong there is one possible way of identifying the 'don't knows' in the audience, You can say "I think it might be answer x" (while actually knowing that x is definately wrong) "but I'll just ask the audience to make sure". Hopefully this will lead all the 'don't knows' to guess answer x, while the audience members who know the right answer will stick to their guns and give a different response. Obviously you then ignore the percentage who gave answer x and choose whichever one of the other 3 alternatives was chosen by the highest portion of the audience. This method is no absolute guarantee of success, but it will increase your chances.


50:50


It's always tempting to use this lifeline when you're certain that one or two of the alternatives can't be right, in the hope that one of them will stay there as the remaining wrong answers. It's worth trying and even if it does eliminate the two choices you knew were wrong anyway, if you have the phone a friend lifeline left it will still have helped by leaving them only two choices and therefore more time to think. If you've already used phone a friend the best time to use 50:50 is on the 64,000 question where you've nothing to lose if you get the question wrong anyway, so you can have a free guess between the remaining two alternatives.


Phone a Friend


This is arguably the most important of the lifelines, as you can be more certain of what your friends know than 200 audience members you've never met. You can put forward the names of 5 people, who obviously don't have to be your 5 best friends, but neither should they necessarily be the five cleverest people that you know. The golden rule is that you are looking to find a spread of knowledge over different subjects and to have a very clear idea which subjects each person is to cover, such as one person for geography, another for science, etc. though you also need to have one person with good all round general knowledge to cover any subject that comes up that you hadn't thought of. I've noticed that in the UK they tend to have a lot of history questions in the later stages, so if you think you stand a chance of getting though into the serious money and you know someone who is a real history expert then be sure to put them down on your list of friends. Your starting point is that you are aiming to cover as many as possible of the areas of weakness you have identified by watching the programme, for example I decided straight away that I was poor on TV and film questions, so it was a high priority to find someone who was strong in this area. You should also bear in mind all the other interests of all five people on the list. For example one of my friends was on the list primarily to cover science, as he is an engineer by profession, but I also knew he was interested in motor racing and cricket, so if a question had come up in one of those areas I could still have phoned him as he was on my list of friends. If you feel that four of you friends are enough to cover most likely areas you will have the luxury of choosing a fifth person with very specialist knowledge, just in case a question in that area comes up. I put my sister down on the list of friends purely to cover medical questions and nothing else, as she works as a health visitor. If none of your friends or relatives are medically qualified it may be worth asking your doctor if he or she is prepared to help, should you feel that you may need help if a medical question came up. As you have only 30 seconds when you use this lifeline your friend won't have time to confer with anyone else or run round their living room looking up information in books, but will have time to consult a short list if they leave it right by the phone. One of my friends had a map of the United States by the phone and a list of state capitals and your friends could prepare other lists such as US presidents and kings and queens of England. Obviously you will have to remember which friend has which list. You should ask your friends before the day if they are prepared to help rather than spring it on them on the night to make sure they will be available, and as it can be a nervous experience for them as well as for you, you should choose people who can keep a clear head and be able to think clearly under pressure. And just is case one of your five people suddenly becomes unavailable on the night it's a good idea to take the number of a sixth person with you as you travel to the studio, to be a reserve 'phone a friend.'


Hopefully this waffle has given you some useful advice and if you do decide to go on the show, then the best of luck!

Contact me


You can send me any questions or suggestions by e-mail to timothy.whelan100@ntlworld.com and I will get back to you as soon possible. The most brilliant suggestions will be incorporated into this website and I will give full credit to whoever put them forward.Many thanks to Howie Bagley for sending me the information about the audition he went to in New York, and Miriam for telling me about the syndicated verion of the show in the USA.

Tim Whelan 02.07.02