Kristen "Tex" Iniguez, a cheerleader-turned-paralegal from California, won a modest $500 on "Deal or No Deal." Now, she's asking her friends if they can help her build on that for a good cause.
She's starting a scholarship for students at Miramar College in San Diego, inspired by the memory of her friend Scott, who passed away in 2014.
"Before I went into this, I definitely had intentions, no matter what I won, to start a scholarship fund for my friend," Iniguez tells CNBC Make It. "He was like me: over the top, silly, funny, so much fun, so outgoing." And more than anything, she recalls, he "brought us closer together."
So when Iniguez opened the final briefcase worth $500, she knew she'd put the total toward his memory: "I get to give away this money," she says, and "I'm going to invite everyone who came to the viewing party" to donate even more.
That way, "we can have this scholarship … every year," she says. "This is the most proud I've been," that "we're all able to honor him."
In the beginning of the game, Iniguez opted to keep case No. 26, one of her lucky numbers, and she began eliminating other cases on the board, some of which had high values.
"The thing is," she says, "I really just was so confident in my case. I thought, like, 'OK, let's just get through these big numbers because I already know what's in my case. Let's just get to that case.'
"I just kept it thinking, 'It's a game, I've got to get through these to get to my big number.'"
Her strategy was simple: Avoid picking her lucky numbers until the end, "which is what I did." And she caught some breaks along the way. After knocking off a few big numbers, some of the smaller numbers began to come off, too.
"I picked two numbers in a row and called them," she says. "I was like, 'Penny, boom. Five, boom.'" Then there were just four options left.
Iniguez could take a $350 deal from the banker, counter with a higher amount that could be rejected, choose the last case on the board or stick with case No. 26, which she chose at the start. She opted for No. 26. The value was $500. The last case on the board was worth $10.
While Iniguez says she isn't disappointed that she didn't win more, she says she did learn two things about herself from the experience. First, she discovered that, unlike host and executive producer Howie Mandel, who says he'd be one of the show's "worst contestants ever" because he doesn't like to gamble with money, she's more prone to take risks.
"I did not know that" before, she says.
The second thing she learned about herself, she says, is that "I'm not psychic, and I really, really thought I was that day."
Still, she wouldn't change how the game played out. That's because it was "probably the most incredible experience I've ever had," she says. "Start to finish. There was nothing lost."
In her daily life, Iniguez says, "I'm not a person who gets super bummed or down when something doesn't go exactly how you planned. I'm a type of person that believes there is a plan and this is the way it was supposed to work out. And I'm OK with that.
"Of course, I would've liked to go home with more money," she says, "but that's OK. It was a game, and I took a risk." Plus, the show "made me feel awesome, and let me share my story."
At the time of the interview, the Miramar scholarship had more than 20 applicants. Iniguez says she'll chose one based on merit: "I'm just really going to see something that touches my heart."
For instance, "I want to know why it's important for someone to go to school. Not because, 'My mom wants me to go.' Not because, 'It's the next step in my life.' I want to know what you want to go for and what your goals are. So I really want to find the story that touches my heart."
Considering that more than 44 million Americans currently hold a whopping $1.5 trillion in student debt, Iniguez says $500 is not "chump change." A lot of people "may not think $500 dollars is a lot … but to me it is; for a scholarship it is." The money can go toward expenses like textbooks, she says, or be used for dorm and living expenses.
Next year, she wants the pot to be even bigger. The money will come from friends: "I said, 'All you people here that came to watch and cheer with me, bring your money next year.' We can all donate a little bit and have a scholarship every year."
And hopefully, she says, "it gets bigger and bigger and bigger. This is a great start, but it's a legacy we want to leave behind."
Her advice to anyone who comes into a huge windfall: Be responsible, and be kind.
"I would say be smart with your money. You want to have a portion that you can treat your family to and gift, or a trip," but "do something that can help, not just one time, but over time. " In short, "pay it forward," she says. "That's all I want to do."
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Video by Helen Zhao