If at any point the contestant is unsure of the answer to a question, he or she can use one or more "lifelines" which provide some form of assistance. After using a lifeline, the contestant can either answer the question, use another lifeline, or walk away and keep the money (although using the Double Dip lifeline removes this final option). With the exception of the 2010 Jump the Question lifeline, each lifeline can only be used once.
In the original format of the show, three lifelines were available to the contestant:
- 50/50: The contestant asks the host to have the computer randomly eliminate two of the incorrect answer choices, leaving the contestant with a choice between the correct answer and one incorrect one.
- Originally, in both the UK and (original primetime) U.S. versions, the answers eliminated were not random but were pre-selected as the ones the contestant was least likely to pick. Beginning with the U.S. syndicated version's debut in 2002, two answers were randomly removed when a contestant chose to use the lifeline. This change was also made on the UK version of the show when host Chris Tarrant emphasized that the selection was random in 2007. 50/50 was then eliminated from the U.S. version for good beginning with the implementation of the clock format in the seventh season of the U.S. syndicated program.
- Ask the Audience: The contestant asks the studio audience which answer they believe is correct. Members of the studio audience indicate their choices using an audience response system (having 20 seconds to do so, though many televised versions edit out most of the time). The results are immediately displayed on the contestant's and host's screens. This is a popular lifeline, known for its near-perfect accuracy. Regis Philbin, host of the U.S. primetime versions, once said that the audience's answer is correct 95% of the time.
- From 2004-2006 on the syndicated U.S. version, the question was also asked through AOL Instant Messenger to those who had signed up to answer questions for this lifeline. The contestant saw the studio-audience and AOL responses displayed separately. The AOL tie-in was discontinued beginning with the 2006-2007 season.
- Ask the Audience was also used on a reality TV special of The Weakest Link in the UK, aired in 2006. Although not used as a lifeline, this feature allowed the audience to vote as to who they thought was the weakest link, and therefore who should be voted off.
- Despite the 95% success rate, sometimes a majority of the studio audience guesses incorrectly. In 2009, a question relating to the only time which the House of Commons of the United Kingdom are permitted to consume alcohol in the chamber resulted a staggering 81% of the audience guessing the State opening over the correct answer, the budget speech.
- Phone-a-Friend: Contestants may call one of up to five (in some countries' versions, three) pre-arranged friends. In the U.S., the number of pre-arranged friends was three from the introduction of the clock format in September 2008 until the lifeline's elimination from that version in January 2010. The contestant must provide the required number of friends' names and phone numbers (and more recently, their pictures as well) in advance. In countries where the show is broadcast live, the friends are alerted when their contestant reaches the Hot Seat, and are told to keep the phone free and to wait for three rings before answering. The conversation is limited to 30 to 60 seconds (depending on the version), during which time the contestant must tell the friend the question and choices and the friend must answer. A contestant with a disability making them unable to use this lifeline without assistance has the option of having the host read the question and answer choices to the friend, and obtain an answer from them. Phone-a-friends may not be called on mobile phones, and individuals participating as phone-a-friends may do so only twice on any given version. Phone-a-Friend was removed from the U.S. version in January 2010, the reason being because of the increased usage of Internet search engines such as Google by the contestant's friends; and in return for this, Ask the Expert became available throughout the entire game. On the German version, the players can use this lifeline in this way or alternatively call some random person (which can be specified by town/region or gender) to answer the question. The latter will usually be chosen when a strongly regional question is asked (e.g.: What is the largest city on the island of Hiddensee? may lead to a phone call to a random person from Hiddensee).
In February 2004, the U.S. version spawned a short-lived spin-off known as Who Wants to Be a Super Millionaire. On this particular version, two new lifelines were introduced, which were only available after a contestant cleared the $100,000 question (the tenth question in this version).
- Three Wise Men: The contestant asks a sequestered panel chosen by the sponsor which answer they believe is correct. The panel, consisting of three people, one being a former million-dollar winner of the show and at least one being female, has 30 seconds to select an answer but does not need to reach a consensus—each member of the panel may provide a different answer. This lifeline is also used in the Russian version of the show when the 100,000 rubles is not a guaranteed sum, though it can be used on any of the 15 questions. This lifeline is also used in the Swiss version of the show when the 15,000 CHF is not a guaranteed sum. Three Wise Men replaces Ask the Audience in the Swiss version.
- Double Dip: The contestant can give two answers for a question; however, once a contestant elects to use Double Dip, the contestant is forbidden to walk away from the question or use any additional lifelines. The contestant must indicate and confirm that they intend to use this lifeline before giving a first answer. If the first answer is incorrect, the contestant gives another answer; but if the second answer is also wrong or if time runs out (in the case of the clock format), then the contestant will lose all winnings down to the last milestone achieved. For example, if they failed on (not after) the $25,000 question, they would go back down to $5,000. If the first answer given is correct, the lifeline is still considered to have been used. On versions where Double Dip is available with 50/50, if a contestant uses this lifeline having already used 50/50, they can get past this question freely. Most recently the Double Dip lifeline was introduced on the Russian version, where it is only available in Risk Mode. Double Dip was also introduced to the Indian version, Kaun Banega Crorepati, upon its revival on October 11, 2010.
- Prashant Batar became the first contestant to use this lifeline on the final question in the Indian version; however, after initially getting one answer wrong, he was also wrong with his second guess, thus becoming the latest top prize loser in the franchise to date.
In 2004 the syndicated U.S. version introduced another new lifeline:
- Switch the Question: This lifeline becomes available only after the contestant has correctly answered the tenth question, or fifth for some versions. Other versions have it available for the entire game. If the contestant has not chosen a final answer on the revealed question, this lifeline entitles the contestant to switch out the original question for another question of the same value. Once the contestant elects to use this lifeline, he or she cannot return to the original question, and thus the correct answer is revealed for the record. In addition, any lifelines used by the contestant while attempting to answer the original revealed question prior to the question switch will not be reinstated. The syndicated U.S. version introduced this lifeline in 2004, and it has also been used in occasional specials of the UK show, where it is referred to as Flip. It has also been used in the Armenian, Spanish, Colombian, Australian, Arabic, Greek, Israeli, Indonesian, Indian, Italian, New Zealand, Philippine, Polish, Portuguese, Serbian, Swedish, and Turkish versions of the show. In the Portuguese version, the difficulty level of the second question can be higher or lower than the first one. The Polish and Swiss versions require the player to forfeit the second safe haven to have this lifeline available, which the player decides to do before the game starts. Starting on August 3, 2010, this lifeline is now available in the UK version as a fourth lifeline once the contestant has answered seven questions correctly to reach the £50,000 safe haven.
In the German version, an additional lifeline exists, which will be given if the player chooses to play the game in Risk Mode:
- Ask One of the Audience: The host will reread the question, and ask those members of the audience who think they would be able to answer that question to stand up. The contestant may choose one of these (judging by looks only) and discuss the question at length with said audience member. He may or may not choose any answer after that. If he chooses the suggested answer and it proves to be correct, the audience member will also receive a prize of €500.
In 2008, the syndicated U.S. version eliminated the 50/50 and Switch the Question lifelines, revived Double Dip as a replacement for 50/50, and introduced this new lifeline:
- Ask the Expert: This lifeline is similar in nature to the Three Wise Men lifeline mentioned above. The contestant is able to consult with an expert as to what they believe the correct answer is. It is available to the contestant after they successfully answer the $5,000 (fifth) question. After Phone-a-Friend was discontinued midway through Season 8, the rule that stated it was available starting with the sixth question was eliminated, so the Expert could be used during any question. This lifeline is also used in Poland starting in 2009 replacing Phone-a-Friend. It has also replaced Switch the Question in both the Arabian version and the Indian version as of 2010.
The 2009 Tenth Anniversary U.S. prime time series uses the four lifelines from the U.S. version: Double Dip, Ask the Audience, and Phone a Friend were always available—Ask the Expert was available after $1,000 has been won.
In the Hot Seat versions of the show, a new lifeline was introduced to replace all existing lifelines:
- Pass: True to its name, if a player does not know the answer to the question, they may pass, however, they forfeit their place in the Hot Seat. The next player in line is then forced to answer the question correctly within the allotted time. If they answer correctly, they retain control of the Hot Seat, and play continues. If they answer incorrectly, they are eliminated, and the top prize money is reduced. As with all other lifelines, Pass may only be used once.
For the shuffle format in the syndicated U.S. version, all lifelines, with the exception of Ask the Audience, were removed and replaced with this:
- Jump the Question: Similar in nature to Switch the Question, if the contestant has not chosen a final answer on the revealed question, this lifeline entitles the contestant to skip to the next question. The difference between this and Switch the Question is that the contestant goes on to the next section in the money tree. However if this lifeline is used in the "Super Mix" section, the money value of the question will not be added to their money bank. This lifeline can also be used in the upper tier of questions, however, they will not win the specified amount and if the contestant were to move on the next question, they will only receive the money from the last question answered correctly (or if the last question was in the "Super Mix" section, the amount of banked money). For example, if a contestant were to use this lifeline on the $500,000 question, they can skip to the $1 million question but if they decide to walk on that question, they will only receive $250,000 (assuming that they did not use the other jump on that question). Because of this, this lifeline cannot be used on the final question. Unlike all other lifelines in any international version though, contestants are allowed to use this lifeline twice in a single game.
The Philippine version's 2011 season introduced a new lifeline, as well as Switch the Question, to replace Ask the Audience:
- People Speak: Originally used in the Chilean version in 2007 as "Three of the Audience", the host rereads the question and ask all members of the audience who think they would be able to answer that question to stand up. Three of these are chosen by the contestant to give their answers to the question. The contestant may choose any answer after that. The audience members who are correct will receive a share of a prize of P20,000, even if the contestant ends up giving a wrong answer. It is basically a hybrid of Ask One of the Audience and Three Wise Men.
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