WWTBAM has now been on the air for quite some time now, and after witnessing hundreds of contestants, a number of points have surfaced on strategy. When to use the Lifelines, when to hold on to them; when to guess, when to walk away; who to phone, how to talk to them, and so on. Although my laments scattered throughout the pages here have made a number of htese points clear, I've created this page to consolidate all elements of strategy for any potential viewers. So, let's start at the very beginning:


If you want to have any shot at the million bucks, you've first got to start by calling the contestant hotline: 1-800-433-8321. Your best chances at getting through are right when the phone lines open (6 PM Eastern time), and any time the show would be on in the East Coast (which, in my case, is either 5-6 or 6-7).

When you call, you'll be asked for your birthdate and the last four digits of your SSN. This is to keep you honest; you're only allowed to call once a day, and if you try to do it more than once the announcer won't let you. After an orientation on the rules, the game begins. The three questions start easy (usually putting words in order to form a book title or something) and get harder as you go on. If you miss one question, you're out.

If you do make it through the three questions, you'll be asked to pick a tape date. After that, you'll have to sweat next to the phone the following day for three hours. The odds of getting selected for the second round are quite small. According to WWTBAM FF finalist Mitch Groff, there are about 1 million calls to the phone game per day, and only 2% get through the three questions. That's 20,000 people. Assuming there are five tapings available and an equal number of people picks each one, that's 4,000 possible semifinalists.

The random drawing only picks 40 people per taping per contest day, which means your odds are about 1 in 100 of getting the callback.

Now here's where I'm getting at. And if this sounds a bit abrasive I apologize. The biggest element of strategy is this: Play along with all the contestants at home. If you cannot reach the $32K level without Lifelines at least 80% of the time, DO NOT even attempt qualifying. There are a couple reasons for this. First of all, if you're not reaching $32K, it means that you're only winning $1-16K. There are numerous other shows on the air right now that offer that kind of money, and give you a better shot at it. On WWTBAM, you only have a 0.02% chance of even reaching the semifinals, which doesn't offer any money anyway.

Now I know what you're thinking: "But Tim, I could win a million dollars here!" You won't. If you have to use all your Lifelines on the lower and middle tiers, the odds are next to zero that you're going to win the million. Only one person who had all his Lifelines spent by the $32K question won the million (Joe Trela), and all of the other millionaires had at least two left when they started the upper tier. With all Lifelines spent, you might reach the second plateau, and with a lucky guess you might even reach $64K. But if you're constantly struggling before that mark, what makes you think you'll do any better when you're actually sitting there in the midst of the lights and the music and all the tension - plus the fact that it's no longer for Monopoly money?

You also must abstain out of consideration for the rest of us, who actually have a chance at winning at least six digits. Remember, only 1 in 100 people get chosen for the second round. If you get picked when you know fully well how bad your chances are, it means you're screwing 99 other people over - and these people might've had a decent shot. I've qualified about 15 times, and I've never got a callback. This while I see people like Dan Dagey and Allen Kong and Jennifer Perrine say they got in on their first try and then proceed to stink up the studio.

So to make a long story short, don't call unless you're sure you'll win at least $32,000. If you aren't, then seek other avenues at fast riches. You'll be doing yourself and the rest of the contestant pool a great service.

For the acual strategy part, there really isn't much to say. You will want to have a paper and pen handy to write down the answers as they're being given. Some may say that's cheating, but it isn't. The FF finalists all get to see the question and choices, so there's no reason why you shouldn't at this early stage. In fact, Reege even mentions when you call to "Be sure you have a pen, some paper, and a calendar (to plot the tape dates) ready."

Remember, you're not being timed to put your answers in. So assemble the order first before punching the numbers in. This will change in the FF round. Also, it helps to use a speakerphone so you can free up your hands while playing.

I've never gotten as far as the second phone qualifier, although I've heard it's played in pretty much the same way. If you win them both, it's on to...


You're now just one question away from the hot seat. There's one extra point that sets this round apart from the phone game: you're actually racing other people at this point. So, you'll want to go as fast as you can, and here's how.

First, as soon as the question is read, try to come up with potential first answers. (For instance, if you're asked to put state capitals in order from east to west, Boston, Albany, Augusta, Tallahassee, and the capitals of other east coast states are all likely openers.) When the answer comes up, glance at them quickly, and figure out which one should go first. Then, pick which should go next out of the remaining three. Don't try to arrange them first and plug them in afterwards, since that takes time, which is a commodity you can't afford to waste. The winning times in the FF round usually hover between 4 and 6 seconds; anything slower than that and you'll have to hope that you were the only one to get it right.

Let's say you win the round, and you're now standing next to Reege, shaking his hand. You're in the big time now.

As Chris Tarrant (host of the British show) says in his orientations, "Some you know, some you don't know, but the worst are the ones in between." There are always going to be questions where you say "I think it's B, but I'm not 100% sure..." This section will advise you on when to guess and when to use a Lifeline or call it a day.

First of all, let's talk about the amount of money you're putting on the line on each question. In the lower tier, every question is risking all your winnings (although you should have no trouble mowing them down; if you are, read that "plea to hopefuls" again). The first questions of the middle and upper tiers are freebies; you won't lose a dime if you're wrong. So, even if you have no clue, guess away. The second question of each tier puts half your current score at stake. The third question gambles 75% of your money, the fourth 87%, and the fifth about 93%. Keep these figures in mind when you decide your next move.

Before we continue, I want to stress that you should eschew using any Lifelines until the $32K question; if at first you don't know the answer, think about it for a bit and see if you can't at the very least eliminate an answer or two that are probably wrong. Also, at $64K, a guess is often a better course of action since you have nothing to lose. The questions after that are a bit more nebulous, so here's how I would tackle them:

$125K Question: If I had an educated guess, or if I could eliminate at least one wrong answer on my own, I'd go for it. If not, I'd use a Lifeline or stop. Mathematically, you should guess with one answer knocked out because you stand to gain about twice as much money as you would lose if you were wrong ($61K vs. $32K).
$250K Question: I'd have to be able to eliminate two wrong answers, or have a strong inclination about one answer. Otherwise, I'd burn a Lifeline or quit.
$500K Question: I'd have to be able to eliminate two answers and have a strong feeling about one answer over another, or else I'd use a Lifeline or walk away.
$1M Question: I'd have to be 100% sure. No gambling here.

Another thing to consider is the time limit. You have none. You're allowed to take as long as you want on a question. So don't feel rushed to use a Lifeline or stop immediately when you see a question. Do as much as you can on your own, and ask for assistance if necessary. Remember, Doug Foster needed 15 minutes on his $32K question, so take your time.

Let's say you're given a question that you just cannot answer. So, you reach for your Lifelines. But which one? And how do you use them?


Most people use this Lifeline first, and for good reason: it's got the highest efficiency of the three Lifelines. However, it should be used wisely.

First of all, you have to assume that your audience is of average intelligence. As such, you won't want to ask them about esoteric subjects. Try to limit your use of this Lifeline to questions of pop culture, current events, or general knowledge. Anything past that, and the results will be less reliable.

Also, don't mention what your hunch is before asking the audience, because if you do you'll be throwing that away. Look at David Honea. Honea said he thought the term for a fisherman's basket was a Creel, but didn't feel sure. So, he asked the audience, and 66% of them agreed with him, while 32% chose the other answer (Honea also committed another AtA no-no - that of using the 50:50 first - but we'll get into that later). Even though 2/3 of the audience concurred with David, he had to resort to using his phone Lifeline.

Now why did I say that using the AtA after divulging your inclination would be "throwing it away"? Well, let's go over the possibilities of what the results of the poll will be. If it's evenly spread out between the answers, you'll really be doubting your instinct. Same thing if they favor a different answer. If they favor your answer, it still won't be enough, since saying your guess may have biased those who didn't know to vote for that answer. They may be wrong, they may be right, but you'll be doubting the results no matter what they say.

Also, as mentioned above, don't use the 50:50 first. A majority vote (meaning more than 50%) out of four answers is a pretty strong showing and will probably convince you to go with them. With only two answers, one of them has to get a majority vote, so you'll once again be more wary of the results.

As I write this, the last episode featured a woman named Jo Ann Bravato, who did something regarding her PaF that I feel needs to be mentioned right away.

You have the opportunity to call one of five people to discuss the question with them and get their answer. If you try to have five groups of people, you'll have less time to discuss the question since the person on the other end of the line will have to waste time relaying the question and answers to whoever else is in the room. So, to put this as succinctly as possible:

Call one person, and ONLY one person. Do not, I repeat, DO NOT call a room full of people in the hopes that one of them knows the answer!!

In the case of Miss Bravato, she had to read a long-winded question and wordy answers to her correspondent, which took about 12 seconds. Her correspondent then had to repeat that question and those answers to whoever else was there, which took another 12 seconds. That group of people now had 6 seconds to give an answer - which they couldn't do in time. Jo Ann panicked, wound up burning her last Lifeline (the 50:50), picked the wrong answer, and was sent back down to $1000. (It was the $32K question).

This also applies to people who think they can sit someone at a computer, ready to look up the right answer. Again, you don't have time, even with a fast connection. Michael Shutterly tried that when he returned to Champions week; it wound up costing him $7000.

Folks, you only have 30 seconds. If you had 60 or even 45 seconds, you could fudge a bit when it came to having a think tank to call as opposed to one person. But with only 30 seconds, you really only have enough time to get a quick answer out from one person, check on the certainty, and maybe ask for possible wrong answers. If they don't know, they don't know, but you're no worse off in that regard than if they run out of time before giving you an answer.

There are other ways of buying time while on the phone. First of all, try to avoid reading the full question, in favor of only giving the pertinent information. If the question reads:

Jacqueline du Pre was a celebrated player of what musical instrument?
C. Cello
D. Flute

Don't say all that, just say: "Did Jacqueline du Pre play Cello or Flute?" You've now got an extra 5 seconds of debating time.

Also, leave off any answers that you know are wrong. It saves time and prevents your partner from considering them. Don't say the letters; they don't need to hear them. And of course, ask for a certainty percentage. If they're 90% sure, then you're probably better off than if they were only 60% sure.

The 50:50 is probably the most enigmatic of the three Lifelines. In some cases it's the most helpful; in others it doesn't help at all. Of the three options, it's the only one that offers certainty: the audience might not be sure about how they voted, your correspondent may not be certain about the answer s/he picked, but with the 50:50 you can take solace in the fact that it's taking away two answers that are definitely wrong.

As such, this Lifeline is most valuable in the upper tier, especially if you get to the $500K or $1M question. The higher you go, the less reliable any human advisement will be, so you'll want to have something concrete when you get that high.

At this point, I should state the obvious: Don't mention your hunch before using the 50:50. Whether it's wrong or right, it'll still be there, and even if it's right you'll be doubting yourself. Keep that kind of stuff to yourself.

It's also in this stage of strategy that I should mention the Weirdo Rule. The Weirdo Rule states that if a weird answer is left after you use the 50:50, it's probably the right answer. The 50:50 is supposed to leave behind the right answer and the most plausible wrong answer. Wild answers shouldn't be left over in this case, so if you see one after the 50:50, go with it. There's another reason for this. Simply put, gag answers don't appear in the upper tier. If it sounds like a gag, why would they have it there if it looks so obviously wrong?

That's about all the strategy that really comes into play while playing. If you have another point to share, feel free to E-mail me and let me know. Best of luck, WWTBAM hopefuls!

Back to the "Who Wants to be a Millionaire?" Fan Page

Back to the Game Show Lair