OCCUPATION: IRS Adviser
RESIDENCE: Hamden, Conn.
MILLION-DOLLAR QUESTION: Which U.S. President appeared on Laugh-In?
ANSWER: Richard Nixon
BIGGEST SPLURGES: A new BMW, a Chevy Silverado, a diamond bracelet for his wife, Debbie, and a three-bedroom house
As the first contestant to win Who Wants to Be a Millionaire‘s big prize, John Carpenter was showered with confetti—and a heap of attention—after his victory last November. Appearing on Saturday Night Live and the Late Show with David Letterman, as well as on the covers of PEOPLE and TV Guide, has given him “a taste of a different kind of life, the whole fame thing,” he says. But while the money—which, as with all the winners, came to about $600,000 after taxes—enabled Carpenter to buy two new cars and a Colonial-style house with a built-in pool, “my lifestyle hasn’t changed,” he says. “I still worry about paying the bills.” In fact, Carpenter and his wife, Debbie, 33, took out loans to help finance their new assets. “I’m thrifty, I’m frugal, I’m an old Boy Scout,” he says. (And since he’s an IRS employee who used up his vacation time for the show, he and Debbie still haven’t gone to Paris together, as he promised they would upon winning.) The only change in Carpenter is “he might see a shirt he likes now and buy it right off the bat,” says Debbie, who after her spouse’s win switched to a part-time schedule at her bank job and launched her own wedding-planning business. While some viewers felt Carpenter was arrogant for phoning his father as a lifeline, only to boast that he was about to win, he insists, “I was just trying to be funny.” And if he were to ever get too boastful, Carpenter offers that his friends are at the ready to “keep me down-to-earth. They joke around when people recognize me. One introduces me as Richard Hatch, the guy who won Survivor.”
OCCUPATION: Corporate consultant
RESIDENCE: Olney, Md.
MILLION-DOLLAR QUESTION: In the children’s book series, where is Paddington Bear originally from?
BIGGEST SPLURGES: 2000 Honda Accord for himself and a computer for his sister Meredith, 19
His lack of style almost cost him a million dollars. “My shirts got rejected,” says Goodman, who had to get wardrobe approval from a Millionaire staffer the night before his early-morning call to the show’s Manhattan set last June. “I didn’t pay attention when they said you have to wear solid colors, so I had brought these bright checkered shirts.” With the stores near his hotel closed, Goodman and his sister Stacy, 28, raced by subway to Times Square, where there’s a Gap open until 11 p.m. “I kept kicking myself, saying, ‘I’m such an idiot! I’m going to cost myself a shot on this show because I can’t pick out clothes.’ ” One red polo shirt (selected by his sister) later, Goodman was winning the top prize—albeit with the garment’s $26.50 price tag still attached. Goodman, who graduated from the University of Michigan in May with a master’s in public policy and now works for a consulting firm in Fairfax, Va., has invested most of the money for his retirement. While he plans to use some of his jackpot to buy a house, for now he lives with his parents, Michael, 55, a systems engineer, and Sharon, 52, a schoolteacher. “He’s just trying to get out of student mode,” says Stacy, who adds that her brother still “looks like he should be on a college campus. His biggest fashion decision is ‘What cap should I wear today?’ ” The onetime national quiz-bowl champion isn’t too worried about appearances, though. Says Goodman: “If I put that much thought into how I look, I would never have won the money.”
OCCUPATION: High school history teacher
RESIDENCE: Gay, Ga.
MILLION-DOLLAR QUESTION: Which of the following men—Albert Einstein, Niels Bohr, Enrico Fermi, Isaac Newton—does not have a chemical element named for him?
ANSWER: Isaac Newton
BIGGEST SPLURGES: 2000 Dodge Durango
It was his wife Sheila’s idea. “She’d go over to the phone after watching the show and say, ‘Call,’ ” explains Bob House. ” ‘You’ve got to put all of that useless information in your head to use.’ ” He put it to very good use, in fact, winning enough money to pay off his and Sheila’s college loans and to ensure that their son Logan, 9, and daughter Shelby, 5, won’t ever need to take out any themselves. Although the couple, who bought a three-bedroom house just six months before his June win, splurged on third-row-center Broadway tickets—treating House’s brother and his wife to Les Misérables—their only big purchase has been a car to replace Sheila’s 10-year-old Nissan Sentra. “We’re planning on working until retirement,” says Sheila, 31, a high school science teacher. And while House was the big man on campus for a few days at the school where he teaches, with his students throwing him a party and Inside Edition trailing him for an on-the-job segment, “it’s back to normal now,” he says.
OCCUPATION: Trial attorney
MILLION-DOLLAR QUESTION: The Earth is approximately how many miles away from the Sun?
ANSWER: 93 million
BIGGEST SPLURGES: A lunch for 16 colleagues and a big-screen TV for himself
Dan Blonsky doesn’t live like a rich man, but he does live like a bachelor. The living room decor of his two-bedroom cottage includes baseball caps and free weights. Fallen leaves fill the small backyard swimming pool. A half-eaten congratulatory cookie bouquet that Blonsky has had since his January win sits on the kitchen counter, and next to his bed is an open box of Triscuits. The man of the house is similarly messy, walking about barefoot in olive-khaki shorts and a wrinkled T-shirt. “I’m stuck in conservative mode when I’m working,” explains Blonsky. “This is my typical lay-around-the-house wear.” But since winning the million, Blonsky, who says he gave a “generous” sum to his lifeline (law partner Jeffrey Crockett) and invested most of the rest, has changed in other ways. “He’s quick to buy the first round of drinks now,” says Larry White, a friend since 1987, when the two were classmates at the University of Pennsylvania Law School. “And the money has given him a certain level of confidence he hasn’t had before—he’s jumped up three levels in the dating pool.” Blonsky, who was chosen as one of PEOPLE’S 100 Most Eligible Bachelors last July, is indeed dating more than he was before his win. But, he insists, “it’s not the money that women are reacting to—it’s the fame. A million dollars is not that much in Miami.”
OCCUPATION: Aspiring screenwriter
RESIDENCE: Gilroy, Calif.
MILLION-DOLLAR QUESTION: Which insect shorted out an early supercomputer and inspired the term “computer bug?”
ANSWER: A moth
BIGGEST SPLURGES: A laptop computer and a monthlong trip to England and Germany
It couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy. After Joe Trela won his million he gave his brother Nate, 23, a down payment for a house and his brother Tony, 19, tuition money for the undergrad’s three remaining years at Notre Dame University. He also spent thousands landscaping his mother’s backyard, which now features an outdoor grill and a hot tub. He is now looking into hiring full-time help for his brother Nick, 22, who has cerebral palsy and is confined to a wheelchair. “I was worried he was giving too much money away,” says Trela’s mother, Carmel, 50, with whom he and Nick live. (Trela’s father died of cancer in 1989.) “But he told me, ‘I’m investing it in the people who are important to me.’ ” Following his March win, Trela quit his customer service job at a nearby computer company to write a sci-fi screenplay—and tone his physique. “I’ve got time to go to the gym now,” says the 1997 Caltech graduate, who is thinking of moving to L.A. once he has finished his screenplay. Until then, he’s happy just being a star in his hometown. In July Trela was a featured guest at Gilroy’s annual garlic festival, and this month he’ll pick the winning raffle during a fashion show at Bellarmine High School, his alma mater. “I’m a very local celebrity,” says Trela. “It’s all been pretty fun.”
OCCUPATION: High school math teacher
RESIDENCE: Collierville, Tenn.
MILLION-DOLLAR QUESTION: Which of the following landlocked countries—Lesotho, Burkina Faso, Mongolia, Luxembourg—is entirely contained within another country?
BIGGEST SPLURGES: A laptop computer, a used 1999 Mercury Mountaineer and a two-and-a-half-week trip to Europe
“I don’t spend much more money than I did before,” says Kim Hunt, who won the game in July. But while Hunt’s spending habits may not have changed, his image has, it seems. “Unattached females who might have had a gloomy or sour attitude are now smiling and friendly,” says the bachelor. “I do examine their motives, but women see money as security, and that’s not necessarily bad. They might think, ‘This person is a nice guy and there’s security.’ Financial security is important.” Despite his own financial security, Hunt, who donated a portion of his winnings to three Baptist churches, has no plans to quit his job. And the teacher, a student himself until 1996 (he has master’s degrees in theology and political science), is still a trivia champ. Only now it’s with Rossville Christian Academy’s academic quiz team, which he coaches. “He’s confident in his intelligence and very straightforward,” says Rossville headmaster Cameron Wright. Downright competitive too. “If I’m playing a game, I like to win,” says Hunt. “Otherwise, what’s the point?”