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What Happened To John Carpenter From Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?

"Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" was a smash hit when it debuted in August 1999. The game show was hosted by Regis Philbin and offered contestants what seemed at the time to be much more money than it does now. But it wasn't until Episode 26, three months after the show's debut, that someone actually won that million-dollar check. That person was John Carpenter, a 31-year-old IRS agent, and his win was an epic game show moment that caught audiences totally off guard.

Carpenter didn't use a single lifeline as he tore through the questions until he got to the very last one, using the "phone a friend" to call his father. "I don't really need your help," Carpenter told his dad in the iconic moment. "I just wanted to let you know that I'm gonna win the million dollars." The audience erupted into laughter, applause, and cheers before Carpenter gave the correct answer. The confident contestant returned in May 2000 for the show's Champions Edition, though the second time around he won just $250,000.

So, where is John Carpenter now? The Washington Post caught up with him in 2020 to look back on the memorable moment that has since spread all over the internet. As it turns out, he still works at the IRS. "It was a spur of the moment thing. I'm a little bit of a smartass," Carpenter said of his cheeky phone call. "I look back on it and — well, thank God I was right."

The first Who Wants to Be a Millionaire winner hasn't changed much

Following his big win, John Carpenter was subject to a barrage of media attention. He and his wife didn't share any big plans for the money other than a trip to Paris, some possible home improvements, and how it might speed along their plans of having children. Some people expected him to quit his job, and speaking to People at the time, he sounded like he was considering it. "I have thought about expanding myself. Wondering if there's something new," Carpenter said. "Now I have a cushion. I could start over fresh. I'm still a young guy."

However, it seems the millionaire decided to go the safer route. According to LinkedIn, he is still a revenue officer with the IRS in 2024. He told the Washington Post in 2020, "It's a hell of a lot of money, but I live in New England. If I lived somewhere else, maybe it would be different." It seems he's still just a normal guy.

Carpenter was the first of nine contestants who became million-dollar winners during Regis Philbin's time as host. Philbin was replaced by Meredith Vieira in 2002 (both are among the richest game show hosts of all time), and since then, another five contestants have won the top prize on various iterations of the American show. While it seemed "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" would be canceled in 2019, it has since had multiple revivals, with its latest iteration, hosted by Jimmy Kimmel, airing this summer.