“Danyelle Stephenson, come on down.” It’s the phrase she had been waiting to hear her whole life, a voice beckoning her to come join the Technicolor stage of “The Price is Right” – a set filled with lavish prizes, the only soundstage in the world where soccer moms win pickup trucks for guessing the price of a blender and dogs and cats everywhere wince at the hosts’ daily reminder for viewers to neuter their pets and a place of bittersweet nostalgia for Stephenson.
Stephenson, a University of Nebraska at Omaha senior studying public relations and advertising, appeared on the Feb. 17 episode of “The Price is Right,” winning the showcase showdown and recalling childhood memories of watching the morning game show with her late grandmother.
“I remember my grandmother used to come over to my house three or four times a week and we would sit at the kitchen table and watch Bob Barker and her soaps each morning,” Stephenson said. “The episode I’m on actually aired two years to the date of her death, but it makes this whole experience that much cooler.”
The UNO senior’s journey to “The Price is Right,” an hour-long game show where contestants compete to win cash and prizes by bidding on the price of merchandise, began on a November trip to Los Angeles for her work as an instructor at Nebraska Dance. On the plane ride to California, Stephenson and several of the other teachers decided at the last minute that they should try and get on the show even though they were only in the City of Angels for four days.
“Danyelle was the one that had the idea of going to the show in the first place because it was something she has always wanted to do,” said Brooke Buda, a UNO alumna and co-worker of Stephenson’s. “We were all excited to go along, but it was only fitting that she would be the one picked to ‘come on down.’ I can’t think of a more deserving person.”
Once in Los Angeles, Stephenson and three of her co-workers arrived at the CBS soundstage at 8:30 a.m. but didn’t get in the set till noon because audience producers interview each contestant before they enter. Lining them up in rows of about 25, each person is asked several questions to help producers determine who will be the most watchable on television, even though it looks like participants are chosen via random selection to television viewers.
Once inside, Stephenson was one of the first four contestants picked to “come on down.” Shaking her hands in the air and jumping over the chairs to get to her podium, Stephenson said she couldn’t contain her excitement after being chosen but still managed to outbid the three other contestants on a 3-D television.
“They escorted us to the four center seats in the front row, so we were just freaking out that we would even be on T.V.,” said Alissa McMahon, a UNO student and Stephenson’s co-worker. “When Danyelle got called down to contestant’s row, we were put in even more disbelief. Then she was the first person to get on stage, and they announced that she was going to play her favorite game in the entire show…Plinko.”
A game in which contestants place chips on a pegboard where they fall into spaces labeled from $0 up to $10,000, Plinko has been such a hallmark of the show that Stephenson even crafted a short tune about the game that she sang as she auditioned. Stephenson went on to win $11,500 while playing the game.
After winning the T.V. she guessed on in contestant’s row and the lofty cash price from Plinko, Stephenson spun “The Big Wheel,” which determines who advances to the Showcase Showdown, and landed on the highest amount against the three others she was playing. Her friends squelching from the audience and Stephenson’s mouth hitting the floor in shock, she advanced to the final round of the game.
“It all went by so fast that you almost have no time to think except for ‘Oh, my gosh,’” said Stephenson. “It didn’t seem real. I was so relaxed, and it didn’t even dawn on me that I was going to the Showcase Showdown until I sat back down after spinning the wheel.”
In the Showcase Showdown, Stephenson’s package that she had to bid on included a trip to Nashville, a Chevy Spark and an outdoor kitchen set. Her competition overbid on her package to Fiji, and Stephenson won, already sprinting away to hug her new car and friends before the camera could spin around for a reaction shot.
“Just from watching the show for years, I knew to bid low, so I listened to the audience’s suggestions and went a bit lower,” Stephenson said. “I’ll admit that I felt bad that I didn’t congratulate my competition or shake her hand once I won. I hate when the winner just runs off, but I just wasn’t thinking and darted.”
In total, Stephenson walked away from the CBS lot that day $11,500 richer and with an electric wine bottle opener, waffle maker, a Simon memory game and her Showcase winnings. Perhaps even luckier, she just happened to be looking for a new car at the time and will receive her Chevy Spark in April.
Even though she won a bevy of items, she said she would have had to turn it all down had she not won the money in Plinko because she had to pay $9,000 of her winnings off in taxes.
“During the commercials, [host] Drew Carrey speaks to the audience members and there is a real sense of ‘good luck and I hope you bid well’ between everybody,’” Stephenson said.
Following the show, Stephenson said the hardest part of the whole experience was she had to keep it secret that she had won and could only tell family and friends that she was in the audience and to watch the show to look for her.
Now that the show has aired, Stephenson said 15 minutes of game show fame and her winnings won’t change her. She still has dreams of moving to L.A. for dance or to New York to work in an ad agency and keeps busy at UNO as a member of MaverickPR and Ad Club.
“It makes me more confident because I had this silly dream of being on the show since I was little,” Stephenson said. “It’s made me realize that dreams can come true if you chase them.”
Stephenson has now relived the surreal moment and watched the show countless times with classmates, friends and family. Yet, every time “The Price is Right” flashes across her screen, she can’t help but think of her grandmother.
“If she were to watch it with me today, she would first say ‘You’re taking me to Nashville with you, you know that.’ And I’d like to think that she’d be proud of me.”