American game show winnings records

American game show winnings records

American game shows through the years have had their fair share of big winners. This article looks at some of the records, as well as some people who have held them over the years.

Daytime game shows

Cumulative records

The daytime all-time winnings record (for a cumulative run on a show) is held by Tom O'Brien, a contestant on "Sale of the Century" in 1987. A contestant during the Winners' Board era of the show, O'Brien won all 11 games he played in, winning 10 prizes off the board plus a $50,000 bonus for winning an 11th consecutive game. That plus over $20,000 in winnings in Tournament of Champions play gave O'Brien a grand total of over $173,000 in cash and prizes.

The record for most winnings by a woman in a cumulative run is held by another "Sale" contestant, Stephanie Holmquist, whose $150,000+ record run (actual total, see Sale page) was the all-time daytime record as well until it was topped by O'Brien.

(It should be noted that O'Brien's total is not the highest total in "Sale" history. That belongs to contestant Tim Holleran, who won over $180,000 in cash and prizes. However, Holleran's winnings were from two different shows, with the majority coming from the 1985-86 syndicated show and a little over $20,000 from tournament play on the NBC network show.)

ingle-day record

The single day record, for many years, was held by Michael Larson, who won $110,237 on "Press Your Luck" in 1984. Larson achieved his record by memorizing the show's board patterns. He repeatedly hit the board's money-and-a-spin squares, and his game had to be split into two episodes (which aired Friday, June 8 and Monday, June 11, 1984 after being taped on May 19) because his turn caused the game to go well over the show's half-hour allotted time. In 2003, Game Show Network produced a documentary about the event. [ Big Bucks: The Press Your Luck Scandal] review by Michael Speier, Variety, March 12, 2003, accessed September 22, 2007]

In 2006, Larson's record was broken by Vickyann Chrobak-Sadowski on "The Price Is Right", who also set a regular show record in the process on the show's 35th season premiere. She won $147,517 in cash and prizes, including both Showcases.

Overall winnings record

The beginnings until 1999

The record for overall winnings on American game shows has changed hands quite a few times over the years. Although the fifties had their share of big winners (Herb Stempel and Charles Van Doren of "Twenty One" infamy being two of the most notable),cite web | title = Herbert Stempel | publisher = PBS | url = | accessdate = 2007-09-01] cite web | title = Game Show Scandals | publisher = Museum of Broadcast Communications | url = | accessdate = 2007-09-01] the biggest winner of them all was Teddy Nadler in the 1956-57 television season, who set a record that would stand for the next two decades by winning $264,000 on "The $64,000 Challenge"cite web | title = Off the Map | date = 1960-03-28 | publisher = Time Magazine | url =,9171,826147,00.html | accessdate = 2007-09-01]

It wasn't until 1980 that Nadler's record fell. During the summer of that year, a US Naval officer named Thom McKee began a run on "Tic Tac Dough" that carried over into the following season. Since champions on "Tic Tac Dough" played until they were defeated, and games on the show could end in ties with the pot carrying over, McKee was able to keep building his total as long as he kept playing and winning (which wasn't true of many other shows). McKee won $312,700 in cash and prizes in 43 games, which included eight cars (on "Tic Tac Dough" and its sister show, "The Joker's Wild", a contestant automatically won a car after every fifth game they won).cite web | title = Tic-Tac-Dough's biggest star | date = August 2006 | publisher = Trivia Hall of Fame | url = | accessdate = 2007-09-01]

In 1999, McKee was passed by Michael Shutterly, who was the biggest winner in the first airing of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" in the United States. Shutterly was the first contestant on the show to get to the 15th and final question, but elected to walk instead with $500,000, which made him the highest winner in game show history.cite news | title = Who wants a UK quiz show? | publisher = BBC News | date = 1999-08-26 | url = | accessdate = 2007-09-01]

While McKee was the biggest solo winner until 1999, nine couples on "The $1,000,000 Chance of a Lifetime" won the show's top prize of $1,000,000 (in a combination of prizes and a long-term annuity) during the show's run in syndication from January 1986 to September 1987. However, this program had no solo players.

From 1999 on

It was during the second season of "Millionaire" in the United States that the show crowned its first million-dollar winner. On November 19, 1999, John Carpenter climbed to the top without using any lifelines, save for a phone call on the final question to tell his father he was going to win the million dollars. After Carpenter answered the final question, which concerned Richard Nixon's appearance on "Laugh-In" in 1968,cite news | title = Taxman scoops a million | publisher = BBC News | date = 1999-11-21 | url = | accessdate = 2007-09-01] host Regis Philbin called the answer "the final answer heard 'round the world," then proclaimed Carpenter the show's first millionaire.

Carpenter's record stayed until the following year. In early 2000, Rahim Oberholtzer, a contestant on the revival of "Twenty One", won four games in his appearances on the show, along with $120,000 in the show's "Perfect 21" bonus round, for a total of $1.12 million.cite news | last = Gewertz | first = Ken | title = Law School Student Aces T.V. Pop Quiz | publisher = Harvard University Gazette | date = 2000-02-10 | url = | accessdate = 2007-09-01] (Maury Povich proclaimed him "the TV Game Show king" for surpassing Carpenter's mark.)

Oberholtzer's record did not last long. Late in its run, the Fox show "Greed" began bringing back some of its previous winners to try for an extra $1 million. Curtis Warren, who was part of the first "team" to win $1,000,000 on the show and who had already won $410,000, was one of the contestants brought back to do so on February 12, 2000. After answering an elimination question, Warren was given a question about TV shows that had been made into movies, with 8 choices (of which he had to identify the four correct answers). He successfully did so, giving himself $1,410,000cite news | last = Jefferson | first = Deshundra | coauthors = Haris, Alexander
title = Who wants to be a game show champ? | publisher = CNN Money | date = 2004-07-14 | url = | accessdate = 2007-09-07
] and the record for the time being.

Warren's record was even shorter lived than Oberholtzer's had been, lasting only four days.

Three days before Warren's big win, a contestant named David Legler on "Twenty One" began a run to the top. Four days after Warren's win, the run continued, with Legler earning a grand total of $1,765,000 in six wins to surpass Warren's total and become the third contestant in a span of two months to top $1,000,000 on a game show.cite journal | author = Laurie B. Davis | title = Education comes first for M.B.A. student who won $1.7 million | journal = University of Chicago Chronicle | volume = 19 | issue = 1 | date = 2000-03-02 | url = | accessdate = 2007-09-04] (It should be noted that shortly after Rahim Oberholtzer's win, "Twenty One" changed its payoff structure, which is part of the reason why it took Legler 5 wins to reach $1 million in winnings and 6 to top the record instead of the four it took Oberholtzer to top Carpenter's record.)

Legler held the record for well over a year. Around the turn of the year, "Millionaire", deciding that it had been too long (five months) since their top prize had been won, began offering an accumulating jackpot, which increased by $10,000 each time the top prize was not won in a game. The prize reached $2,180,000 on April 10, 2001, the night that Kevin Olmstead took the hot seat.

After answering all 15 questions, including the final one about Igor Sikorsky's invention of the helicopter, Olmstead became the first contestant to top $2 million in total winnings on a game show and supplanted Legler as the all time leader.cite news | title = Double jackpot winner on US Millionaire | publisher = BBC News | date = 2001-04-11 | url = | accessdate = 2007-09-04 ] It was said among some that the record might last forever.

However, in 2003, at the beginning of its 20th season, "Jeopardy!" changed its rules to allow contestants to continue playing until they lost. Theoretically, a person could accumulate millions of dollars, just as long as they kept winning. On June 2, 2004, such a streak began.cite news | author = Associated Press | title = Ken Jennings top game-show earner ever | publisher = MSNBC | date = 2004-11-04 | url = | accessdate = 2007-09-04 ]

Ken Jennings, a software engineer from Utah, dethroned the reigning champion that day and began a streak that continued for the next two months to finish the season, and the first 3 months that season 21 spanned. By the time his streak ended on November 30, 2004, Jennings had won $2,522,700 in cash, which was over $300,000 more than Olmstead had won.cite news | title = Who Is Ken Jennings? | publisher = ABC News | date = 2004-11-30 | url = | accessdate = 2007-09-04 ]

Shortly after Jennings' streak ended, "Jeopardy!" decided to see how he would fare in tournament play. On February 9, 2005, the show launched its Ultimate Tournament of Champions, inviting back 144 other past champions to compete over the next three months in a five-round elimination tournament with a $2 million grand prize. The field included the highest-winning five-time champions and winners of some previous tournaments, though not all invitees were able to participate. Jennings received a bye into the finals of the tournament, where he faced semi-final winners Jerome Vered and Brad Rutter in a three-game, cumulative total match. Vered had set a single-day scoring record during his appearance on the show in the early 1990s, while Rutter had won the 2002 Million Dollar Masters tournament and had held the show's winnings record before Jennings broke it. Rutter was also one of two contestants in the tournament who could surpass Jennings' lifetime total by winning the top prize (Bernie Cullen, who was eliminated in the prior rounds of the tournament, was the other).

In the tournament's three-day final, Rutter handily defeated Jennings and Vered to win the tournament and $2,000,000, and in the process he supplanted Jennings as the winningest all time American game show contestant. Including the $1.18 million he had won in his previous "Jeopardy!" appearances (five regular season games, a Tournament of Champions win, the Masters win, and three matches in the earlier rounds of the UToC), Rutter has won $3,255,102 in cash.cite news | last = Toland | first = Bill | title = A: He beat the best Q: Who is Brad Rutter? | publisher = Pittsburgh Post-Gazette | date = 2005-05-27 | url = | accessdate = 2007-09-01]

Jennings won an additional $500,000 for his second-place finish, bringing his second place total to a then $3,022,700. He has since added to his winnings with a $714.29 win on "1 vs. 100" and $100,000 for winning the 2007 "Grand Slam" tournament. On October 10, 2008, Jennings won $500,000 more on Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?, regaining the first place slot again.

All Time Winnings List

This list includes only quiz show and game show winners. Winners' totals (set at a minimum of US $500,000) includes totals won on all shows they have appeared on and include all cash and prizes, if applicable, won on those shows.

#Ken Jennings, "Jeopardy!", "1 vs. 100", "Grand Slam", "Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?": $3,623,414.29. "Jennings won $2,520,700 in his original run on "Jeopardy!" (plus $2,000 for his final second place finish), $500,000 for his second place finish in the Ultimate Tournament of Championscite web | title = Brad Rutter defeats Ken Jennings and Jerome Vered in the Jeopardy! Ultimate Tournament of Champions | publisher = Jeopardy homepage | url = | accessdate = 2007-09-06] , $714.29 on "1 vs. 100"cite web | title = Ken Jennings | publisher = J! Archive | url = | accessdate = 2007-09-08] , $100,000 for winning the "Grand Slam" tournament and $500,000 on "Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?".
#Brad Rutter, "Jeopardy!": $3,270,102.00 [ [ J! Archive - Brad Rutter ] ] "Rutter's total includes $55,102 during his initial appearance on "Jeopardy!" in 2001, $100,000 in 2002's Tournament of Champions, $1,000,000 for winning the Million Dollar Masters tournament in 2002, and $2,115,000 for winning the Ultimate Tournament of Champions in 2005.
#Kevin Olmstead, "Jeopardy!", "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire": $2,207,000.00. cite news | last = Restivo | first = James | title = "U" alum is a millionaire | publisher = The Michigan Daily | date = 2001-04-11 | url = | accessdate = 2007-09-06] Olmstead's win occurred during the Mega Millionaire shows in 2001, and was the record for over three years. He also won $27,000 during a three-day appearance on "Jeopardy!" in 1994."
#Ed Toutant, "Jeopardy!", "Millionaire": $1,871,000.00. cite news | title = 'Grand Slam' is a clash of the game-show titans | publisher = Orange County Register | date = 2007-07-29 | url = | accessdate = 2007-09-06]
#Ashlee Register, "Duel": $1,795,000.00. [cite web | title = Inteview with the winner | publisher = | url = | accessdate = 2007-12-24] . "Register won the week-long "Duel" competition, airing on ABC in December 2007. Highest winning female of all time."
#David Legler, "Twenty One": $1,765,000.00. "Twenty-One's biggest winner."
#Curtis Warren, "Greed", "Sale of the Century": $1,546,288.00. "Also includes $136,288 won on "Sale of the Century" ".
#John Carpenter, "Millionaire": $1,125,000.00. "First top-prize winner on US Millionaire, won $250,000 in the Champions of "Millionaire" tournament, half of which was split with a charity."
#Adam Rose, "The Price Is Right $1,000,000 Spectacular": $1,153,908.00. "First top prize winner on the prime time version of "The Price Is Right," winning the total on the February 22, 2008 edition of the show. Winnings included $20,000 in Grand Game, and coming within the $1,000 (primetime rule) of his $84,000 showcase to win both showcases, and the $1,000,000.
#Michael Haynes, "The Price Is Right $1,000,000 Spectacular": $1,127,062.00. "Second top prize winner on the prime time version of "The Price Is Right".
#Rahim Oberholtzer, "Twenty One": $1,120,000.00. "Second $1,000,000 winner in television quiz history."
#Cynthia Azevedo, "The Price Is Right $1,000,000 Spectacular": $1,089,017.00. "Third top prize winner on "The Price Is Right"'s prime time spinoff; won her game by playing Clock Game under special "Million Dollar Game" criteria, guessing both prices correctly in less than 10 seconds. She also became CBS's highest all-time female winner."
#Bernie Cullen, "Jeopardy!" and "Millionaire": $1,069,102.00. cite web | title = Bernie Cullen | publisher = J! Archive | url = | accessdate = 2007-09-07] "Won $63,102 on "Jeopardy!" as a five time champ in 1996 and $6000 additional in ToC and Ultimate ToC play in 2005. Won top prize on "Millionaire" several days after Kevin Olmstead."
#Dr. Tim Hsieh, "It's Your Chance of a Lifetime": $1,042,309.00. cite news | last = Kornblum | first = Janet | title = 'Jeopardy!' ace knows no limits | publisher = USA Today | date = 2004-09-06 | url = | accessdate = 2007-09-07] "Biggest winner in It's Your Chance of a Lifetime"'s brief history.
#Joe Trela, "Millionaire": $1,000,500.00. . "Third top prize winner on "Millionaire" and won $1,000 in the Champions of "Millionaire" tournament, half of which was split with a charity."
#Dan Blonsky, "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire": $1,000,500.00 "Second top prize winner on Millionaire and won $1,000 in Champions of "Millionaire", half of which was split with a charity."
#Kathy Cox, "Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?": $1,000,000.00. "Became the program's first millionaire on September 5, 2008".
#Jessica Robinson, "Deal or No Deal": $1,000,000.00. "Became the program's first millionaire on September 1, 2008".
#Jamie Sadler, "Power of 10": $1,000,000.00. cite news | title = Teen Wins $1 Million On "Power Of 10" | publisher = CBS News | date = 2007-08-08 | url = | accessdate = 2007-09-07] "First contestant and only millionaire on the program. He is also the youngest to win a million on a US quiz show."
#Robert "Bob-O" Essig, "Who Wants to Be a Super Millionaire": $1,000,000.00. cite news | title = Ashtabula Man Wins $1 Million On 'Super Millionaire' | publisher = | date = 2004-02-24 | url = | accessdate = 2007-09-07] "Highest winner on the "Super Millionaire" shows."
#Kevin Smith, "Millionaire": $1,000,000.00. cite news | last = Binder | first = Chase | title = Heck yes, I want to be a millionaire | publisher = Concord Monitor | date = 2007-08-07 | url = | accessdate = 2007-09-07] "First contestant on Meredith Vieira's syndicated "Millionaire" to win the top prize."
#David Goodman, "Millionaire": $1,000,000.00.
#Kim Hunt, "Millionaire": $1,000,000.00. cite news | title = Who Wants To Be A Millionaire | publisher = WCHS-TV | url = | accessdate = 2007-09-07]
#Bob House, "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire": $1,000,000.00.
#Nancy Christy, "Millionaire": $1,000,000.00. cite news | last = Formichelli | first = Linda | title = Advice: Beat the game shows | publisher = USA Weekend Magazine | date = 2005-03-06 | url = | accessdate = 2007-09-07] "The most recent top prize winner on syndicated program. First female seven-figure winner."
#Jason Luna, "1 vs. 100": $1,000,000.00. "First millionaire on the program"
#Sheila Shagainy, "Studio 7": $854,000.00. cite news | title = This week: Sept. 5-11 | publisher = The Washington Post | date = 2004-09-05 | url = | accessdate = 2007-09-07] "Show's biggest winner"
#David Juliano, "Jeopardy!", "Win Ben Stein's Money" and "Greed": $813,000.00. Fact|date=September 2007 "Teammate of Lauren Griswold's. Also won $8,000 on Jeopardy! in 1993"
#Lauren Griswold, "Greed": $810,000.00. Fact|date=September 2007 "Show's second biggest winner, behind Curtis Warren"
#George Elias, "Greed", "Pyramid", "The Singing Bee": $775,000.00. "Won $600,000 on "Greed", $125,000 on "Pyramid" in 2002, and $50,000 on The "Singing Bee" in 2007."
#Michele Falco, "Deal or No Deal": $750,000.00. cite news | last = DeBarros | first = Anthony | title = What are the chances of a million-dollar 'Deal'? | publisher = USA Today | date = 2006-10-02 | url = | accessdate = 2007-09-07] "Second highest win in the program's history."
#Paulara Hawkins, "Show Me the Money": $740,000.00. cite web | title = Contestant Wins $740,000 On Show Me the Money - Question About Sex Therapist Dr. Ruth | publisher = Reality TV Website | url = | accessdate = 2007-09-08] "Biggest winner on short-lived show."
#Kimberly Chastang, "Deal or No Deal": $701,000.00. cite news | title = "Deal Or No Deal's" Howie Mandel | publisher = | date = 2007-05-08 | url = | accessdate = 2007-09-08] "Third highest win in the program's history."
#Matthew Silina, "Deal or No Deal": $675,000.00. cite web | title = Howie Mandel Takes Us for a Ride. (Literally.) | author = Matt Webb Mitovich | publisher = TV Guide | url ={C22369BF-A6EF-406F-B835-A32C1D1193C6} | accessdate = 2007-09-10] "Fourth highest win in the program's history."
#Monique Jones, "Greed": $610,000.00. Fact|date=September 2007 "Part of $1,000,000 win by team."
#Melissa Hall, "Twenty One": $600,000.00. cite web | title = All-Time Network TV Quiz/Game $$$ Winners | publisher = TV | url = | accessdate = 2007-09-11] "Highest winning woman on "Twenty One"."
#Vic King, "Hollywood Squares", "Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?": $563,000.00. cite web|title= Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader? - Episode 120 Recap| publisher =|date = 2007-07-23|url =|accessdate = 2007-09-21] "Won $63,000 on "Hollywood Squares" and $500,000 on "5th Grader"."
#Lyn Payne, "Jeopardy!", "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire": $560,002.00. "Was four-time champion on Jeopardy!, semi-finalist in the Tournament of Champions, and later won $500,000 on Millionaire." [cite web | title = Lyn Payne | publisher = J! Archive | url = | accessdate = 2007-11-02]
#Michael Shutterly, "Jeopardy!", "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire": $549,700.00. "Was four-time champion on "Jeopardy!", won $500,000 on "Millionaire" and later won $1,000 in the Champions of "Millionaire" tournament, half of which was split with a charity."
#Tim Shields, "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire": $516,000.00. "Shields originally won $1,000 on his initial "Millionaire" appearance, but was brought back due to a faulty $16,000 question. His return appearance where he augmented his winnings to $500,000 went unaired until the Champions of "Millionaire" tournament, where he split $32,000 with a charity."
#Catherine Rahm, "Winning Lines", "Sale of the Century": $503,400.00. "Highest winner on "Winning Lines" with $500,000."
#Jerome Vered, "Jeopardy!" and "Win Ben Stein's Money": $501,602
#Pat Headly, "Super Millionaire": $500,000.00.
#Scott Hoff, "Super Millionaire": $500,000.00.
#Jason Carter, "Super Millionaire": $500,000.00.
#Todd Kim, "Super Millionaire": $500,000.00.
#Mary Burke, "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire," $500,000.00.
#Tom Hoobler, "WWTBAM," $500,000.00.
#Moe Cain, "WWTBAM," $500,000.00.
#Steve Perry, "WWTBAM," $500,000.00.
#David Stewart, "WWTBAM," $500,000.00.
#Gary Gambino, "WWTBAM", $500,000.00.
#Jim Matthews, "WWTBAM": $500,000.00.
#Justin Ray Castillo, "WWTBAM": $500,000.00.
#Pat Thompson, "WWTBAM": $500,000.00.
#Phil Gibbons, "WWTBAM": $500,000.00.
#Joe Kelleher, "WWTBAM": $500,000.00.
#Tom O'Brien, "WWTBAM": $500,000.00. "(NOTE: Not the same Tom O'Brien that won $173,000+ on Sale of the Century in 1987-88.)"
#Dr. Mike Menz, "WWTBAM": $500,000.00.
#Stephanie Girardi, "WWTBAM:" $500,000.00. "Highest winning woman in history until record topped by Catherine Rahm."
#David Fite, "WWTBAM": $500,000.00.
#Rob Coughlin, "WWTBAM": $500,000.00.
#Armand Kachigian, "WWTBAM": $500,000.00. cite news|title = WWTBAM News, November 2006 | url =]
#Jeff Gross, "WWTBAM": $500,000.00.
#Ogi Ogas, "WWTBAM": $500,000.00.
#Robert Talon, "Identity": $500,000.00. cite news | title = Fil-Am wins $500,000 in NBC's "Identity" | author = Nickee de Leon | publisher = Asian Journal | date = 2006-12-27 | url = | accessdate = 2007-09-10]
#Christian Saulnier, "Identity": $500,000.00. cite news | last = Cook | first = Matt | title = Saulnier wins big | publisher = Norwood Bulletin | date = 2007-04-20 | url = | accessdate = 2007-09-11]
#Christina Howard, "Identity": $500,000.00. cite web|title = Identity Returns! and so Does Quality Game Show TV| author = Roxanne McDonald | publisher = TV Robot | date = 2007-03-18 | url =| accessdate = 2007-09-12]
#Alex Outhred, "Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?": $500,000.00. cite web|title= Live Poker Coverage | publisher = Poker Pages | url = | accessdate = 2007-09-11] "Professional poker player, first contestant to have chance at $1,000,000 on the series."
#John Zole, "Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?": $500,000.00. cite web|title= We Love to Interrupt| publisher = Game Show NewsNet|date = 2007-03-18|url =|accessdate = 2007-09-12]
#Stephanie Wambach, "Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?": $500,000.00. cite web|title= St. Louis Woman Is Smarter Than a Fifth Grader|publisher =|date = 2007-06-28|url=;jsessionid=7C68D5F644369D4B8BE6209DAAC2E6EA?contentId=3629530&version=2&locale=EN-US&layoutCode=VSTY&pageId=1.1.1&sflg=1|accessdate = 2007-09-14]
#Robert Rutter, "Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?": $500,000.00. cite web|title= "Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?"- Second Season Premiere|publisher = Game Show Kingdom|date = 2007-09-06|url=|accessdate = 2007-09-12]
#Jason Ramsey, "Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?": $500,000.00. cite web
title= "The Couch Potato"|url=
#Kirk Conole, "Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?": $500,000.00.
#Dottie Harris, "Don't Forget the Lyrics!": $500,000.00.
#Asia Craft, "Don't Forget the Lyrics": $500,000.00.
#Cassandra Whitehead, "1 vs. 100": $500,000.00.
#Gabriel Reilich, "Duel": $500,000.00. cite web
title= "The Couch Potato"|url=

External links

* [ Primetime Winners List From] (accurate to September 2004)
* [ Past & Present #1 Quiz Show Winners]


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