When Tony Oriente, a bingo enthusiast and substitute teacher from Chester, Pennsylvania, got the call that he'd be competing on "Deal or No Deal," he was over the moon with excitement. After all, he had a chance to win as much as $1 million.
But the game didn't work out that way. And now he's learned a valuable lesson as a result: He should have gone with his gut.
"There is so much going on and so many people talking to you," Oriente tells CNBC Make It. "It's difficult to concentrate, or at least, I found it to be. " When it came down to the last few cases, "my gut told my body I couldn't go on anymore. I couldn't take the pressure. But I didn't listen," he says. "I said, 'One more case,' and it began to unravel immediately."
Looking back, "I honestly wish I quit when I was going to," he says. But "I made the choice" to keep playing, "and it turned out to be a bad one."
The game didn't start off badly. In fact, Oriente had a streak of luck in the beginning. That may have been due to his strategy of randomly picking case numbers from a bingo cage.
As an elementary school student, Oriente volunteered as a soda bottle runner for his church's bingo program. "I always had a fascination with the game and, especially, the people," he says. "I made many great friends in the community," and "as I got older, I developed a love for playing the game itself."
Ultimately, he became a professional bingo caller and used some of what he learned to pick cases: "I had one objective once I was out there: randomly pick cases with the bingo cage and hope to keep more amounts on the right-hand side of the board than the left. "
That strategy seemed to work. Of the 11 cases left midway through the game, two were five-figure amounts, three were six figures and the $1 million case hadn't been eliminated. But then his luck began to run out.
On his next turn, Oriente eliminated the $1 million case and began knocking off more big numbers than small ones: first $300,000, then $5, $10,000, $75, $750,000 and $500,000.
"When the first big amount dropped off the board so late in the game, that feeling of dread was beginning to stir," he recalls. "I thought it could be the beginning of the end. And it was."
The banker offered a deal worth $10,000 but Oriente decided to play the odds with the four cases left: $50,000, $100, $1 and 1 cent.
The next one to come off was $50,000.
"The whole random numbers [system] got me to a great place," Oriente says, "but the luck ran out. Seeing how bingo numbers are called, and from working in the slots department of a casino, I can say that bingo and slots are random number generators. There is only luck and timing."
He accepted a subsequent deal for $70, and says this was a "lucky game that went wrong."
Although the outcome was hard to accept, Oriente says he still had a good time: "I was part of something really big that we shared with the live audience and now … the world."
There are times, however, when he regrets not taking an offer from the banker, he says, but like many other contestants, he agrees that you never know how much you could win "unless you try."
And while he and his husband are in jeopardy of losing their home due to a mortgage crisis, they're both staying in good spirits, and putting good causes ahead of themselves. Oriente will match the money he won and donate it to Justice Rescue, a Pennsylvania nonprofit animal shelter.
He plans to use what he learned on the show to teach his students about mathematical probability, too: "I intend to make a smaller version [of the game] to play with my students in the classroom."
His advice to future contestants: Have fun, but don't lose your head. That's co-signed by Jade Thomas, a former U.S. marine, who says keeping a level head helped her win $233,000, as well as by 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.
"Be yourself and share your experience with the audience, " Oriente says. But when you get that "gut-wrenching feeling of 'I just cannot go on anymore,' don't." That's when you know "it's time to take the deal!"
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