WWTBAM analysis

Looking back over season 3 (part 1)
by Jeff Gross / 2005-08-27


On July 22, the final contestant of syndicated Millionaire's season three appeared in the hot seat. Now that the season has concluded, it's time to take a look back at what has happened and how it has compared to the first two seasons.

I'll be dividing the end of season review into two parts. This piece will cover the play of the last part of this season, and compare it to the first two "thirds" which were reviewed in the last two analysis pieces.

Before I do this though, I want to quantify two particular statistics about season 3 that faithful viewers of Millionaire have already noticed.

1. There were far fewer contestants in season three. There was a total of 324 hot seat appearances this past season, 51 fewer than season two's 375 and 68 fewer than season one's 392.

2. Much less money has been won this season. Both the total amount won and average contestant prize were lower. Season three's total prize pool was about $6.5 million, compared to $9 million in season two and $12.6 million in season one. Season three's average prize was $19,930, compared to $24,016 in season two and $32,028 in season one.

When I did the previous two analysis pieces, I was assuming that season three would have about the same number of contestants as season two. Big mistake. Several factors contributed to the lower number of contestants, and I'll be looking at these in the next piece.

First, I want to take a look at how the final 74 contestants of season three fared in comparison to the first 250.

1. The decline in contestant performance continues. The average prize for season three's first 125 contestants was $25,168. The second 125 averaged $18,768. The final 74 only managed to average $13,045. One person won $100,000 in the final group, which was the high water mark.

The drop in average prizes between the second 125 contestants and the final 74 is almost entirely due to the fact there were fewer winners of $100k or more (7 versus 1). Comparing the three parts of the season by looking at the percentage of winners in the prize categories below illustrates this (actual contestant numbers are in parentheses):

Prize group First 125 Second 125 Final 74
$25k or more 33.6% (42) 24.0% (30) 23.0% (17)
$1k to $16k 64.0% (80) 72.0% (90) 74.3% (55)
Less than $1k 2.4% (3) 4.0% (5) 2.7% (2)

The table shows that the percentage of contestants that made it into the upper tier (saw question 11 or higher) is similar for both the second 125 and last 74 contestants. However, the numbers are significantly lower than for the first 125 contestants.

2. The last group had proportionally more middle to upper second tier winners. Whether it was due to more difficult questions or more risk-averse contestants, the prizes won by the final 74 are more heavily weighted towards the $8k-$25k level than either of the first two groups of 125. This is demonstrated in the table below (actual contestant numbers are in parentheses):

Prize group First 125 Second 125 Final 74
$100k or more 5.6% (7) 5.6% (7) 1.4% (1)
$50k 13.6% (17) 7.2% (9) 8.1% (6)
$25k 14.4% (18) 11.2% (14) 13.5% (10)
$16k 15.2% (19) 19.2% (24) 14.9% (11)
$8k 7.2% (9) 9.6% (12) 17.6% (13)
Less than $8k 44.0% (55) 47.2% (59) 44.6% (33)

The combined percentages of $8k-$25k winners is 27.2% for the first 125, 32.0% for the second 125 and 33.8% for the final 74. If $50k winners are included, the final 74 players still have the highest combined percentages of the three groups. The combined percentages become 50.4% for the first 125, 47.2% for the second 125 and 52.7% for the final 74. The first group of 125 players had a larger number of $50k winners.

3. A high number of players continue to get a question wrong. The trend seen in the second 125 contestants has continued through to the season's last 74. The table below shows the total of players answering incorrectly, the number that risked part of their prize and the number that took no risk. Contestants answering question 6 ($2k) or 11 ($50k) incorrectly have not risked any part of their prize to that point.

Although the total percentage of contestants answering incorrectly are similar for both the second 125 and final 74 contestants, a higher percentage of the final 74 answered incorrectly without risk. The percentages in the table below are of the total contestant group.

Wrong answers First 125 Second 125 Final 74
Total 29.6% (37) 55.2% (69) 54.1% (40)
With risk 16.0% (20) 44.0% (55) 33.8% (25)
Without risk 13.6% (17) 11.2% (14) 20.3% (15)

As previously mentioned, the second part of the season 3 analysis will consider how the season as a whole compares to previous seasons. If there is a particular aspect of the past season that you would like me to compare please send me a message via the site e-mail address, info (at) wwtbam (dot) biz.