Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Build a Better Jackpot and the World Will Beat a Path to Your Net

Today I was searching for Daytime Emmy Award data for the trivialTV Awards database, and the gameshow categories reminded me of some research I did this past summer.

I was curious about how much cash the best gameshow contestants won, and that search led me to a list of cumulative winnings at tvgameshows.net. That site provides a great list, but it wasn't quite what I was looking for.

I wanted to know who held the record for largest cash winnings from a single championship run on a gameshow at any given time in history. We know Ken Jennings was the largest cash winner when he finished his "Jeopardy" domination, but who held the record before him? And who held the record before that? And before that? I took this line of questioning as far back as I could. And here's what I found.

Announced Cash WinningsDateContestant Information
$2,522,700  11/30/2004Ken Jennings
$2,180,000  4/10/2001Kevin Olmstead
("Who Wants to Be a Millionaire")
$1,765,000  2/16/2000Lt. David Legler
("Twenty One")
$1,120,000  2/2/2000Rahim Oberholzer
("Twenty One")
$1,000,000  11/19/1999John Carpenter
("Who Wants to Be a Millionaire")
$500,000  1/1986Connie & Steve Rutenbar, each
("$1,000,000 Chance of a Lifetime")
$220,500  7/7/1958Elfrida Von Nardroff
("Twenty One")
$192,000  4/16/1957Robert Strom
("The $64,000 Question")
$152,000  4/7/1957Teddy Nadler
("The $64,000 Challenge")
$129,000  3/11/1957Charles Van Doren
("Twenty One")
$100,000  12/10/1955Ethel Park Richardson
("The Big Surprise")
$64,000  9/13/1955Capt. Richard McCutchen
("The $64,000 Question")
$32,000  7/19/1955Catherine Kreitzer
("The $64,000 Question")
$16,000  6/21/1955Redmond O'Hanlon
("The $64,000 Question")
$8,870  9/6/1950Capt. Kenneth Bowen
("Break the Bank")
$7,635  6/18/1949
("Spin the Picture")

I want to make a few comments about the table.
  • It's possible that someone is missing from the table between Redmond O'Hanlon and Capt. Kenneth Bowen. Brooks and Marsh's Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows mentions that "correct identification could be worth a $15,000 jackpot" on "Sing It Again." "Sing It Again" aired from 9/2/1950 - 6/23/1951. Right between these two winners. Does anybody know if someone won the jackpot on "Sing It Again?" And if someone won, does anybody know who and when?
  • Does anybody know the name of the person who won (and the date) for the $7,635 cash prize on "Spin the Picture?" Brooks and Marsh's Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows states "the first jackpot winner, who identified a 'spinning picture' of composer Richard Rodgers, took home a cool $7,635."

I also want to briefly describe why I compiled the list the way I did and the implications. I focused on:
  • "Announced" winnings because there is some doubt as to how much contestants actually received during the Quiz Show scandals. There are also some questions about installment payments versus a single payment (and the time-value of money). And finally there is some uncertainty whether all intallments were actually paid.
  • cash winnings so that I didn't have to worry about placing a dollar value on merchandise. By including only cash, Thom McKee ("Tic Tac Dough," 1980) falls from the list since is winnings ($312,700) included cash and merchandise, including multiple cars.
  • a single championship run so that I didn't need to be concerned with cumulative winnings. It was difficult enough, at times, to find reliable information about a single show. This choice affects a few contestants who appeared on both "The $64,000 Question" and "The $64,000 Challenge."

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