In November 1999, John Carpenter, an IRS tax agent, achieved a remarkable milestone on the inaugural season of the American edition of the popular game show, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? Hosted by the late Regis Philbin, this quiz program offers contestants various lifelines to assist them with challenging questions. The most commonly used lifeline allows participants to make a phone call to a friend for help. What sets Carpenter’s appearance apart is that he successfully navigated through the game without utilizing any lifelines—an impressive feat on its own. However, everything changed when he faced the final question worth one million dollars.
The million-dollar question posed to Carpenter was about a U.S. President who had appeared on the TV series Laugh-In. The options given were Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, and Gerald Ford. At this critical juncture, Carpenter made the decision to employ a lifeline, but his motive was quite unexpected.
Confident beyond measure, Carpenter chose to dial his father’s number. When his dad answered the call, he was taken aback by the statement his son delivered. Sporting a smile, Carpenter playfully taunted, “I don’t really need your help. I just wanted to let you know that I’m gonna win the million dollars.”
It was an audacious move, akin to revealing his own spoiler alert! The live audience erupted in laughter and applause, creating a truly memorable moment. If you closely observe the clip, you can actually pinpoint the exact instant when Carpenter realized he had clinched victory—before the four options even appeared on screen. For most of us, the million-dollar question would pose a significant challenge. In case you were curious, the correct answer was President Nixon. Carpenter, of course, selected the right option and thus became the inaugural top-prize winner across the entire Who Wants to Be a Millionaire franchise, which encompasses numerous international versions.
Over 23 years have passed since the IRS agent’s historic game show triumph. After a video of his winning moment went viral on TikTok, social media users have hailed him as a “living legend” and an “iconic” figure. One TikTok user remarked, “Coldest sentence ever spoken,” while another deemed it an impressive flex. A third individual commented, “Bro just smiled,” and a fourth noted, “You can tell exactly when he realized he was going to win.”
Congratulations to John Carpenter, wherever he may be now!