“I don't really need your help, I just wanted to let you know that I'm gonna win the million dollars…”
When Who Wants to be a Millionaire burst onto TV in 1999 I was hooked, watching every night in hopes of seeing someone win that elusive million dollar prize. Then finally it happened: John Carpenter won a MILLION dollars! He famously used his Phone a Friend lifeline to call his parents to tell them he was going to win - I couldn’t believe it.
I’m not sure what it was about this show that has stuck with me over 20 years later. Maybe it was the suspense of it all or maybe just the fact that people were winning amounts of money that, to me, seemed unheard of at the time. Or maybe, it was the same thing that has led me to a lifelong appreciation for Disney theme parks. That with a little determination, ingenuity, and support along the way, your dreams really can come true!
No matter the reason, when Disney World opened their own version a year and half later as Who Wants to Be a Millionaire - Play It!, I knew this was something I had to check out. What a fun experience it turned out to be, with some magical Disney memories along the way. In honor of the 14 year anniversary of this attraction closing, I’ll be reliving and sharing my memories of this fantastic attraction.
The Who Wants to Be a Millionaire - Play It! experience opened on April 7th 2001 in Disney’s Hollywood Studios, or MGM Studios as it was called back then. This interactive show was very similar to the actual game show that was still airing on ABC at the time. Contestants would answer a fastest finger question, with the person answering the quickest making it into the Hot Seat. Unlike the actual show however, everyone in the 650 person audience had a chance to answer.
Once in the Hot Seat, the contestant would be asked a series of questions with the chance to win up to a million points, rather than dollars, and a Disney Cruise vacation. Additionally, everyone in the audience could play along for a chance to be the next contestant in the Hot Seat.
Just under a month after the attraction opening, my family and I were visiting Disney World. We were on the tail end of our trip, with tons of magical memories to carry us on till when we could return next. However, we had one more incredible Disney experience to come. We had really enjoyed the Who Wants to Be a Millionaire - Play It! show and decided to check it out again on our last day.
As we filed into the auditorium and were ushered to our seats, my sisters and I talked strategy around how we could win the fastest finger question and make it to the elusive Hot Seat. I decided to just go ahead and guess the answers and hoped to get it right. I mean I had a 1 in 24 chance. . . not the worst odds ever. Then, just as on the real show, the memorable theme music played and we were off.
C, B, D, A. I pushed the keypad as quickly as possible. As the host started to slowly reveal the answers, I could NOT believe it but I had guessed right! The seat numbers for all of the contestants that had gotten it right started to show up on the screen only to reveal me as the fastest! But now what? I had not thought this through. Now I had to actually answer trivia questions in front of all 650 of these people!
As the spotlight shined right on me in my seat I slowly stood up and made my way down to the center of the auditorium. Overcoming the nerves of the moment, I proudly gave my name, told them I was from Virginia, that I was 14 years old, and was there with my family, “Mom, Dad, two sisters”. I knew the rules being the huge fan that I was and was quickly able to make it through the first few questions. I don’t remember the exact wording, but I do remember the first few being particularly easy. One was “Who is Mickey’s wife?” Of course, I answered Minnie with a confident “Yes that is my final answer.”
Once I hit the 1000 point question the nerves really started to kick in. Getting this question right guaranteed that I would go home with a hat, lanyard and special Disney pins for each of the questions I had gotten correct. I could show it off around the park all day! But more importantly it meant that I would not be going home empty handed. I had to get it right.
“Is that your final answer?” the host asked. “Yes,” I responded. The dramatic music played to build the suspense as the host waited an incredibly long nerve wracking amount of time only to reveal, “That is correct!” Whew, I could breathe a sigh of relief. But wow did that hot seat sure feel hot!
One of the fun parts of the show experience is the chance to use “lifelines.” Just like in the real show, they had a 50:50 and Ask the Audience. But instead of Phone a Friend, they had Phone a Complete Stranger where a Cast Member would ask a random person out in the park to help with the question.
For the 8000 point question I decided to use my last lifeline, Phone a Complete Stranger. The phone rang outside in the park and I asked my question over the video call which was pretty incredible technology for 2001. I don’t remember the exact question, but what I do remember is that whoever they picked to help me had zero clue about the topic. Dejected, I decided to walk away with my hat, lanyard and 7 pins.
I wore that hat and that lanyard with those 7 pins proudly for the rest of the day. We received so many congratulations that I felt like an actual star. In fact, my parents still have the hat, lanyard and pins proudly displayed with all of their Disney memorabilia.
Its memories like these that make Disney World so special to me. But it's not necessarily the experience itself, it's the memories that it evokes. Now whenever I see a game show on TV or think about Regis Philbin I immediately return to that time and place: with family, exploring Walt Disney World, on an adventure to have the most fun possible.
You may not get to be a part of a show on your Disney adventure, but I do know that every Disney trip always comes with something wonderful that sticks with you forever. Something that can transport you back to that time and place. That’s why we keep going back. That's the magic of Disney.