Two thirds of the way through season 3 - what are the trends?
by Jeff Gross / 2005-05-13
On May 10, the 250th contestant of season 3 exited the hot seat. Since there
were a total of 375 hot seat appearances last season, we can say that season 3
is now two thirds completed. Even if that doesn't end up being the case, we're
now at a convenient point to take another detailed look at how season 3 is
The previous analysis piece in January took a look at the first 125 hot seat
appearances and compared them to season 2. Now that Meredith Vieira has presided
over 125 more hot seat appearances, I want to start by taking a look at how the
second third of this season compares to the first. Here are some key things I've
1. Less money has been won.
$800,000 less to be precise. The first third's contestants divided $3,146,000
while the second third only divided $2,346,000. There were 2 winners of $250,000
in each group of 125, but this time, no one managed to win more. So the lack of a
$500,000 winner in this third does account for a large part of the difference.
However, this fact alone doesn't explain the fall. There has also been a remarkable
drop off in the number of contestants winning $25,000 or more. Only 30 out of 125
players in this third have managed to get above question 10, compared to 42 in the
2. The players that make it into the upper tier (past question 10) are using the
new switch the question lifeline earlier.
20 of 30 players this third used switch the question at the first opportunity
(on question 11). This compares to 22 of 42 in the first third. Below question 10,
there are higher numbers of players this third in each category except for question
3. Far more players this third are getting a question wrong.
This is something one would expect as the total amount of the prizes won is lower.
However this is a separate trend from the increased numbers of winners in the middle
tier. More people are winning all mid-level prizes, not just $1,000. In the first
third, 37 of 125 players got a question wrong, 17 doing so with no risk - 14 on
question 11 ($50,000) and 3 on question 6 ($2,000). In the second third, 69 of 125
missed a question, 14 doing so with no risk (9 on question 11 and 5 on question 6).
With the second third's 125 players generally walking away with lower prizes, it can
be argued that these players are a combination of weaker and less risk averse than
those in the first third. More players have answered questions incorrectly and more
players are walking away with smaller prizes. The data provides objective information
supporting this. However, there is room for some subjective arguments. One can consider
the relative difficulty of questions as well as considering how well each selected
contestant's knowledge aligns with the questions being asked. It is possible the
contestant selection process has recently yielded players who are most knowledgeable
in areas more different than usual from the questions asked.
Comparing season 3 thus far to season 2 and before, some of the trends I pointed out in
the previous analysis are becoming more pronounced:
1. Average prize money is declining.
Although the large average prize drop between season 1 ($32,028) and season 2 ($24,016)
didn't look like it was going to extend into this season, the season 3 average is now lower
than season 2's. Season 3's average prize was $25,168 during the first third, but is now
down to $21,968 through the first two thirds. In the second third alone, the average
prize was $18,768. Unless there is a sudden change during season 3's last third, the
total prize amount won this season will be significantly lower than last season.
2. There are still more very big winners.
Despite the trend towards a lower prize total this season, the number of big winners
(question 12 or higher) remains ahead of last year's pace. There were two additional
$250,000 winners during the second third of this season, as well as five additional
question 12 winners ($100,000 this season, $125,000 in prior seasons).
3. There are more lower prize winners.
I started to see this trend during the first third of this season, but it has really
accelerated during the second third. The pace for all prizes $16,000 (question 9) and
below is well ahead of last season, with the exception of $2,000 (question 6). This is
especially true for $1,000 winners. As indicated earlier, far more people are missing
questions, and most of them miss in the second tier.
4. There are far fewer nice sized prize winners.
This follows from points 2 and 3. The squeeze on the number of question 10 and 11
winners ($25,000/$50,000 this season, $32,000/$64,000 in prior seasons) is significant.
At the start of this season, I would have guessed that there would have been more
question 11 winners because of the new switch the question lifeline. The proportion
of question 11 winners to question 10 winners is higher this season than last, but
there will be far fewer winners of these prizes this season if the current pace
5. Switch the question positively effects the total amount won.
This may be a surprising finding given point 4, but really should not be considering
point 2. By considering only players that have made it into the upper tier (those that
answered question 10 or higher successfully), this can be demonstrated. Through the
first two thirds of season 3, the 72 players who made it into the upper tier won a
total of $4,500,000. This averages to $62,500 per player. During all of season 2, 137
players made it into the upper tier and won a total of $7,658,000. This averages to
$55,898 per player. If you were a contestant this season, and finished on question 10,
11 or 12, you may be personally annoyed that you didn't get on last season, but as a
whole, the new switch the question lifeline means more money for contestants.
6. Millionaire's executive producers will be very pleased with switch the question.
Although you may think they would be concerned about giving more money to players
after reading point 5, the new switch the question lifeline does two things that
make Millionaire more exciting to watch. First, it increases the number of big winners.
Second, and equally important, it increases the number of upper tier questions that
are asked. Not only do viewers see more upper tier questions, the extra question
allows viewers to become more involved with the players who do well. Players who do
well now receive more air time. If you're cynically inclined, you've already figured
out that the increased cost per big winner doesn't look too bad if the increased
amount of air time the big winner receives is considered.
Once season 3 is complete sometime in July, I will write a recap of the entire season
and examine if the trends observed continue. If you have any topics you would like
to see me consider for these analyses, please drop me a line at the site e-mail
address, just15questionsaway (at) yahoo (dot) com.
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Season 3 is 1/3 done - how does it compare? (1/2005)