Ah, game shows. The great American pastime of testing brains, pressing luck, and betting it all for the promise of cash is alive and well, and has produced many winners with totals in the millions!
If you've spent enough hours of your time shouting answers at the T.V. with your family, you might recognize some of these champions from their initial runs on these game shows. Though some contestants have monetary totals spanning multiple shows, this doesn't make their feat any less impressive!
Scroll down to find out the lucky contestants that have taken home incredible amounts of cash in front of a national audience!
10 John Carpenter: $1,250,000
John Carpenter became the first top prize winner on the popular Regis Philbin incarnation of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, amazingly earning the prize without the use of a single lifeline until the last question.
We're not totally sure that lifeline counts, though, as Carpenter used the "Phone A Friend" option in order to call his father to tell him he was going to be a millionaire, as he already knew the answer to the final question. Carpenter appeared on the Champions edition of the show, winning an additional 250,000, in which half was donated to charity.
9 Curtis Warren: $1,546,988
Curtis Warren is no stranger to game shows. After winning $410,000 in 1999 on the short-lived FOX series Greed, he was invited back on the show's "Million Dollar Moment," becoming the only contestant on the show to actually get to the prize money.
Warren also appeared on the show Sale of the Century in 1986, winning $136,288, and also Win Ben Stein's Money, where he scored $700. For a time, Warren held the record for the highest total ever won on a game show, but was surpassed the next week by someone else.
8 David Legler: $1,765,000
That someone else ended up being David Legler, who won over $1.7 million on the four-month revival of the popular '50s game show, Twenty-One. The rules for the revival were tweaked a bit from the original show, adding a new payout structure that divided the amount of money won into seven rounds during the February through May 2000 airdates.
Legler played the game during the aforementioned time-frame and accrued his winnings over 6 different games. He was the largest game show prize winner in history until 2001.
7 Ashlee Register: $1,795,000
The highest-winning female game show contestant, Ashlee Register also held the honor of being the contestant to win the most money from a single game show appearance. She achieved this feat on the 2007 series Duel, in which contestants used chips to answer trivia questions, adding to a running jackpot with chips used for incorrect answers.
Register won $75,000 in her initial duels with other players, and was also awarded the $1.7 million jackpot that had accumulated throughout the game. She is still currently the female record holder for money won on a single game show!
6 Ed Toutant: $1,871,401
Ed Toutant appeared on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire at the height of its popularity. Originally, Toutant was eliminated from the show as the result of a flawed question, only taking home $1,000 when he missed the $16,000 level question. He researched the question, found out that it was misleading, and wrote an email to producers, who invited him back on the show.
Toutant was playing at the time in which Millionaire implemented a jackpot that increased by $10,000 every show that someone did not reach the top prize. He was able to get the jackpot in the end, raking in over $1.8 million in the process! Sadly, Toutant passed away last year from brain cancer, but he is remembered fondly by friends, family, and his community alike.
5 Kevin Olmstead: $2,207,000
Also a Millionaire alum, Kevin Olmstead participated in the show when it had the aforementioned jackpot structure, thus allowing him access to more cash. After a five month drought of top prize winners, Olmstead took home $2.2 million after answering the fifteen questions correctly.
He held his record for 3 years until the rise of Jeopardy! star Ken Jennings, and also made appearances on Grand Slam, and 1 vs. 100, but did not take home any money.
4 James Holzhauer: $2,522,549
James Holzhauer is the most recent addition to this list, his record streak on Jeopardy! propelling him to fame earlier this year. Holzhauer was able to turn confident bets and intellect into dollar bills, surpassing the record total amount won in a single episode, $77,000 in 2010, six times. He is the only person to have won $100,000 plus in a single episode of regular Jeopardy! play.
Holzhauer's run affected Jeopardy!'s ratings in a positive manner, and nearly 14.5 million people watched his defeat to challenger Emma Boettcher on June 3, 2019. Holzhauer will return to the show in the Tournament of Champions in November, which may affect his current total prize winnings, and place in game show history!
3 Andrew Kravis: $2,656,550
Andrew Kravis appeared on multiple game shows, but the bulk of his winnings came from the 2013 single season program The Million Second Quiz, hosted by Ryan Seacrest. The contestants answered trivia questions for a chance to occupy a "money chair" that gave them cash as long as they stayed in the seat.
Kravis ended up with the $2 million grand prize, in addition to the money he had won in the previous rounds. His original winning total was $2,326,346, but Secreast announced that they would round this up to surpass the record set by Ken Jennings on Jeopardy!
2 Ken Jennings: $4,223,414
You know his name, and so does pretty much everyone who owned a television during 2003 and 2004. At one time, like many others, Ken Jennings held the record for the largest cash prize won on a games show, even making an appearance in Guinness Book of World Records for doing so.
His legendary run on Jeopardy! has been challenged, but only matched by one. For 74 games, Jennings' winning streak amazed and excited game show watchers across the country, and once his reign on the show came to an end, Jennings continued to revel in the fame, making several more appearances on Jeopardy!, plus a few other shows, which also added to his prize money.
1 Brad Rutter: $4,888,436
Brad Rutter, like Ken Jennings, is also a Jeopardy! champ, never losing to a human in official gameplay (he lost to IBM computer Watson and Jennings in an exhibition Jeopardy! match, but it wasn't a regular game.) As a result of his initial success on the show, in which he took home $55,105, he was invited back multiple times to compete in championship editions, further adding to his grand total.
Rutter also competed on Million Dollar Mind Game, an English version of the popular Russian property Who? Where? When? that sees 6 friends working to win money by answering trivia questions. Rutter's team won $600,000, and the winnings were evenly split between the six. Combined with his many Jeopardy! appearances, Rutter is currently the largest game show prize winner in history, a force to be reckoned with when it comes to trivia games!