It was 2005, and comedian Howie Mandel was getting ready for the premiere of his new game show on NBC.
"Deal or No Deal," inspired by a Dutch game show of the same name, was centered on deal-making, financial prowess and luck — three things that Mandel already knew would be a challenge for the contestants who came to win.
"She shows me she's got three children, she's never had health insurance, she's never owned a home. A million dollars — much less than a million dollars — would change her life," he said.
That's when Mandel, who is also executive producer of his show's new run on CNBC, realized just how much pressure his show's contestants have to withstand.
"I got so afraid because, unlike you and me who've done television before, when you put a contestant on a set, there's all these lights, there's all these cameras, and she was glazed," he told the "Mad Money" host. "I even changed my cadence, like I talked to my children when they were five, and I went, 'The first offer is forty thousand dollars.'"
"Without even thinking," the woman didn't take the deal, Mandel said. That, he said, is a recurring problem for contestants: chasing the $1 million jackpot at the risk of losing everything instead of choosing to walk away with money they could really use.
"Here's a woman, if she had $40,000 — she wasn't from New York or LA — if she had $40,000, she could put a down payment on a house. That's more than the average American family makes a year," Mandel said. "She could do so much with it, and she kept saying 'No Deal' and played."
In the end, the woman walked away with $5,000. In Mandel's mind, that was "still a lot of money" that she could've used productively.
"Where [else] do you win $5,000?" he told Cramer. "You can invest that. They can listen to Jim. She could make some money."
But when "Deal or No Deal" called the contestant back for a follow-up show two years later, Mandel was rattled.
"She came back two years later. You know what she had done? Her breasts," he said. "Talk about an investment. It's in her vest."