Whether its college kids binge-watching “The Price Is Right,” or quiz show connoisseurs playing along with “Jeopardy!” many Americans dream of making a million — or at least winning a trip or two — on a television game show. While there are winners every episode, the odds of a game show minting a millionaire are slim. Still, they aren’t zero. Here are 10 game shows that have made their contestants their first $1 million.
1. “Jeopardy!” (Syndicated)
Now in its 34th season in syndication, America’s highest-rated quiz show gives out the answers, leaving contestants to provide the questions to long-time host Alex Trebek. “Jeopardy!” has minted two millionaires: Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter.
Jennings, who took home more than $3.27 million in prize money, holds the record for the longest winning streak on the show as the last man standing in 74 games. Jennings donated some of that cash to charities and invested the rest in stocks, bonds, real estate and other relatively conservative vehicles. He’s also parlayed his game show stardom into book deals, authoring titles including the best-selling “Brainiac,” and serves as a panelist on the NPR quiz show “Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me!”
Meanwhile, Rutter’s win streak was capped at five, the maximum allowed when he made his initial appearance. Since then, he’s taken home the top prize in the show’s Tournament of Champions, Million Dollar Masters, Ultimate Tournament of Champions, and Battle of the Decades. Rutter, who has raked in more than $4.35 million — and runs his own production company when he’s not dominating trivia — has never lost to a human on “Jeopardy!,” including Ken Jennings. Rutter’s only defeat came at the expense of the IBM supercomputer Watson.
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2. “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” (Syndicated)
“Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?,” based on a program originally aired in Britain, has made more than a dozen contestants members of the seven-figure club since it first aired in 1999 during prime time on ABC. Over its long tenure, “Millionaire’s” lists of hosts has included Regis Philbin, Meredith Vieira and current host Chris Harrison, of “Bachelor” fame.
The show’s format has also evolved over the years, although it has always employed multiple-choice questions that increase in difficulty with each round. Contestants have the opportunity to tap a handful of “lifelines” to help them when they’re stumped. They also have the option to walk away with their winnings, rather than risk losing a bundle by missing a question in a later round.
3. “The Price Is Right” (CBS)
“The Price Is Right,” which premiered in September 1974, is America’s longest-running game show. While its most-iconic host was Bob Barker, comedian Drew Carey now has a 10-season tenure guiding contestants through a variety of well-loved TV show games in which they guess prices for products. Lucky winners advance to the Showcase Showdown to spin the show’s wheel for cash prizes. Each episode’s two Showcase Showdown winners — whose totals on the Wheel were closest to one dollar — advance to the Showcase round at the end of the hour-long episode.
Million-dollar payouts are rare on a show where prizes more commonly consist of couches, and occasionally cars, but they do happen. For instance, one contestant took home a cool million by correctly guessing the price of a sofa and an exercise bike during one of the show’s Million Dollar Spectacular specials — and she got to keep the sofa and trainer, too.
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4. “Wheel of Fortune” (Syndicated)
Contestants have been spinning this wheel since the 1970s, where players make money through lucky spins and correctly naming letters in a phrase they must identify to win the round. Pat Sajak and letter-turner Vanna White share the title of host for the show, which has doled out $1 million a few times in its 30-plus years on the air. The latest $1 million winner identified the alliterative Bonus Round answer “Loud Laughter” for the victory.
5. “Beat Shazam” (FOX)
In this interactive TV show game, teams of two compete against one another to see who can name hit songs faster. The episode’s highest-scoring team then faces off against the song identification app Shazam. Humans only managed to “beat Shazam” once in the show’s first 14 episodes, when a Nashville couple identified the Tears for Fears tune “Shout” before the app. The show, hosted by Academy Award winner Jamie Foxx, who also serves as executive producer, has been renewed for its second season.
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6. “The Wall” (NBC)
This high-stakes quiz show has been a slam dunk for aspiring millionaires — and NBA legend LeBron James, who serves as executive producer, certainly knows a thing or two about making a mint. In the show, hosted by Chris Hardwick, teams of two answer questions, triggering balls to drop down a board reminiscent of the one used for decades in “The Price Is Right” Plinko game. Correct answers earn green balls, which travel down “The Wall” toward numbered slots at the bottom and add to contestants’ winnings, while incorrect answers earn red balls that make the same drop downward to subtract from a team’s total.
Teams can earn more than $12 million on a single night of the show, or lose as much as $3 million with a single wrong answer, if a red ball finds its fateful mark. As the stakes rise, one team member must answer alone while the other waits behind “The Wall,” leaving the pair’s financial future to fate and a teammate’s trivia prowess. So far, a few teams have walked away with more than $1 million, with James personally delivering the cash to winners from the show’s inaugural episode. “The Wall” is also poised to move overseas, with a French broadcasting network commissioning 40 episodes.
7. “Deal or No Deal” (NBC, GSN)
Host Howie Mandel is no stranger to game shows, but he knew a good “Deal” when he saw one. In this show, a single contestant chose one of 26 briefcases, all of which contained cash ranging from a penny to $1 million, at the beginning of the episode. The player then chose remaining cases to be opened one at a time, revealing the money inside, until “the Banker” made an offer for what was in the case he or she was holding. Contestants who said “No Deal” continued choosing briefcases to open. Revealing lower amounts resulted in a sweeter offer from the Banker, while opening cases with higher payouts drove the offer down. A couple of contestants beat the Banker and the odds to take the top prize on “Deal or No Deal,” which now airs in reruns on the Game Show Network.
8. “Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?” (FOX, Hulu)
In this quiz show hosted by comedian Jeff Foxworthy, an adult contestant answered questions on school-day subjects such as history and geography to win money. The questions, ranked from first through fifth grade, increased in difficulty, but players could call on “classmates,” a panel of actual elementary-aged students, for help. Two contestants, a Georgia school district superintendent and a professor who won the Nobel Prize in physics, took home the show’s $1 million jackpot, proving beyond a doubt they were smarter than a 5th grader. Viewers who want to test themselves can catch reruns on Hulu.
9. “Twenty-One” (NBC)
In this brief reboot of the classic program probably most famous for the 1950s cheating scandal chronicled in the film “Quiz Show,” legitimate champ David Legler racked up winnings of more than $1.76 million for correctly answering trivia questions while in an isolation booth, competing against another player also in an isolation chamber. The naval submarine lieutenant won six games over three episodes in 2000.
10. “Duel” (ABC)
This quiz show pit two contestants against each other in duels during which competitors answered multiple choice questions by placing bets on the correct answer with one of their 10 allotted poker chips. Players could place a chip on more than one answer, but once they ran out of chips or didn’t place a chip on the correct answer, they were eliminated from the game. Contestants could successfully stretch their bankroll by betting on one answer at a time, but only if it was correct. Ashlee Register, a Florida nurse, won a total of $1.795 million over the course of the week-long game show event, including taking the top prize in the 2007 season finale.