Celebrity | Television

IRS Worker Won The Million Dollars, But His "Phone A Friend" Was Even More Iconic

Perhaps the most popular game show of its time, Who Wants To Be A Millionaire ran for 10 years and gave us something to watch every night.

I was rather young when the show aired, so after the $100 question I was pretty much down for the count. But there are a few episodes that I absolutely remember watching.

John Carpenter's epic run on the show is one of those episodes.

The Massachusetts native appeared on Millionaire in November of 1999. An IRS agent, he was originally uninterested in even watching the game show, but one evening at a friend's house he decided to tune in.

Carpenter says he found the higher-tiered questions "not to be any more difficult" than the lower-tiered ones, so he called the Millionaire hotline, which is how people became contestants. Carpenter answered all those questions correctly, and two days later he was on the show.

Carpenter "cruised right through those first fourteen questions," according to then-host Regis Philbin. The calm, cool, and collected contestant didn't use any of his lifelines, which at the time included Ask the Audience, Phone a Friend, and 50-50.

However, when Carpenter got to the final, million-dollar question, he decided to use one his lifelines. Everyone figured it was to get help with the answer, but it was something much more special.

The final question of Carpenter's Millionair run was tricky.

"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

Get the question right, and Carpenter walks away $1 million richer. Get the question wrong, and he drops to $250,000 and the game is over.

Carpenter opted to use the Phone a Friend lifeline and call his father, which everyone figured was to ask his advice on the answer.

They were wrong.

How incredibly amazing is that?

After winning the million dollar prize, Carpenter contemplated leaving his job at the IRS, but ultimately decided to stay.

"I wasn't a millionaire a second after I won the money," he noted, "because I had to pay taxes on it.  It's not enough money, especially living around here, to just drop out and have fun and not do anything. It's not like (major league) ball player money."

But he also acknowledged he was extremely better off with the money.

"It's a lot of money. It makes things more comfortable than they would be. But it's not like what it used to mean when you said $1 million."

Carpenter says he was lucky with the questions he got, saying he knows "a little about a lot of things." There was only one that actually came close to stumping him, but he eventually figured it out (obviously.)

How do you think you'd fair on "Millionaire"?

Meagan has been a writer with Shared for two years and has an intense love for Netflix, napping, and carbohydrates. If you wish to contact Meagan, her email is meagan@shared.com