Phone-a-Friend is a lifeline in the Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? game. It is most commonly used if a contestant gets stuck on a particular question and needs help by calling a friend or relative on telephone. The contestant has to ask the current question and four (or two when 50:50 was used before) possible choices, and the friend is given 30 seconds to provide input and give the answer they think is correct to the contestant before the call is cut off.
The Phone-a-Friend lifeline was one of the original three lifelines on the show, when it first aired in the UK on September 4th, 1998. The UK version used it for its entirety; however, the U.S. show has used it only until early 2010, when it was discontinued because of an increasing trend in contestants’ friends using Internet search engines to look up the right answer (while this was not necessarily a rules violation, it was contrary to the original intent of this lifeline). This lifeline was sponsored by AT&T for the U.S. primetime run from 1999-2002, the first season of the syndicated version from 2002-2003, and 2009 primetime revival.
In all versions of the game that have this lifeline, a contestant must give the show a list of three or five friends before gameplay begins that can be called (they may not choose any other friends during gameplay). These friends will be called just as a contestant begins gameplay in order to remind them to be on stand-by and to keep the line as open as possible. On live shows, the show may bring said friends to a backstage location somewhere else in the studio and keep them away from telephones, TVs, and access to outside parties, in order for them to not know the contents of the questions a contestant is facing beforehand.
In the US and UK clock formats, when the contestant chose to use the lifeline, the clock would be stopped. Once the call was finished, the host would give a brief explanation, and then the clock would start again.
Phone A Complete StrangerEdit
A variation of Phone-a-Friend, called Phone A Complete Stranger, was used on the Who Wants to Be a Millionaire – Play It! attraction. Instead of calling someone from the contestant's list of friends, a Disney Cast Member would get called and asked by the host to find a park guest to help the contestant with the question they need help on.
During Star Wars Weekends at Disney's Hollywood Studios, when the attraction had questions asked about Star Wars, the lifeline would be temporarily renamed Phone A Stormtrooper. For ESPN The Weekend, it would be replaced with a chance to ask an ESPN expert for assistance.
- Regis Philbin said on the first episode of the U.S. version that Phone-a-Friend was his favorite lifeline.
- On three occasions, a contestant would use the Phone-a-Friend lifeline on the last question, not for help, but to inform their friend that they were about to win the top prize, then eventually do so. The most common example is John Carpenter. The other two are Ralf Schnoor and Enrique Chicote.
- When Eddie Timanus used the Phone-a-Friend lifeline during his Millionaire run, since he was blind, host Meredith Vieira would read the question and four possible choices to Eddie's friend instead and also remind him of how much time remained on the 30 second clock.