NEW YORK – Engineer Kevin Olmstead snagged $2.18 million on last night's Who Wants to Be a Millionaire - the biggest single jackpot in U.S. game-show history.
Olmstead, a quiz-show veteran who won $27,000 on Jeopardy! in 1994, took the top $1 million prize, plus $1.18 million in "bonus pool" money that had accrued since January.
Olmsteadis the first Millionaire contestant to win the Big Kahuna since July 2000 - ending a nine-month drought in which the ABC show's ratings sagged slightly as the $1 million prize went unclaimed.
"There hasn't been anyone in 188 shows," Millionaire host Regis Philbin said yesterday while at a McDonald's-Millionaire promotional event.
"There's been a drought, but that's changed. Suddenly, there's more excitement."
"I can't say more," he joked.
Olmstead, a 42-year-old bachelor from Ann Arbor, Mich., had used all his lifelines by the time he reached the $1 million plateau and correctly answered, "Who is credited with inventing the first mass-produced helicopter?"
The answer was Otto Sikorsky.
"He's a nice guy, and he was thrilled to receive the prize - he was literally shaking," Philbin said of Olmstead.
Olmsteadwon his prize March 21. But some suspect that ABC held off airing the episode until last night in order to steal some publicity thunder from The Weakest Link, NBC's much-hyped reality show, which premieres Monday.
ABC has said another person will win $1 million this week on Millionaire, which airs again tomorrow, Friday and Sunday at 8 p.m. on WABC/Channel 7.
Olmstead, an environmental engineer, said he figures to end up with about $1.3 million after taxes, some of which he will give to various charities.
"I will be giving to some charities that are near and dear to me, and a lot [of the winnings] will be invested with an eye toward early retirement - and some will be ‘mad money' to purchase a car and some electronic toys," he said.
"I won't be quitting my job."
In a weird twist, Olmstead is an adviser to the University of Michigan's "Quiz Bowl" program, which once included David Goodman, the last Millionaire winner.
Olmstead also co-owns a company called National Academic Quiz Tournaments, which provides quiz questions for academic competitions.