Mom says “deal,” wins cash to pay for FS tuition

Tammy Fuller did not have enough money to send her daughter to Fresno State. But thanks to a big win on “Deal or No Deal,� she can now afford it.

Fuller read online about an open casting call in Fresno for the hit NBC game show. The Visalia resident auditioned, then waited to hear back.

Eight months later, Fuller got the phone call that would change her family’s life. She would now be a contestant.

“I was screaming down the hallway,� Fuller said. “My husband thought something was wrong.�

Fuller, a longtime fan of “Deal or No Deal,� wanted her daughter, Amanda Kuball, to be a Fresno State Bulldog, just like her husband. Appearing on the popular network game show seemed like her best chance of making it happen.

But she would have to keep her goal in perspective.

The lure of big money keeps millions of regular viewers like Fuller coming back for the excitement, suspense and drama of the big-money quiz show.

The popularity of the contemporary quiz show may have started with “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,� which premiered on ABC in August 1999. Researcher Robert Thompson, from the Center for the Study of Popular Television, told USA Today in 2000 that “Millionaire� was “the equivalent of crack cocaine.�

Viewers just could not get enough.

Fresno State junior Lisa Jensen said she likes “Deal or No Deal� for the built-in drama.

“People might leave with more than they came with,� Jensen said.

Dr. Lisa Weston, an English professor at Fresno State, said drama is the key quiz-show ingredient.

“The plot line is that they want people to win,� Weston said. “The drama is part of manipulation.�

Big-money quiz shows airing in the United States have often grabbed high ratings and loyal followings based on their dramatic style. Factors may include a TV-focused culture or people’s addiction to attention.

Fresno State psychology professor Dr. Paul Price said many people motivate themselves easily to be on the shows.

“People want to win money and want the excitement of being on television,� Price said. “It could also be that people feel that their chances are better than those of the contestants that they see.�

Philosophy professor Dr. Warren Kessler believes people go simply to have fun.

“They have energy. They want to be in the center of attention. They want to get caught up in the euphoria,� Kessler said.

But good, old-fashioned greed for prize money might be the biggest factor.

Fuller started on “Deal or No Deal� by picking a suitcase that she thought had $1 million inside. But there was no guarantee.

Then, after picking the first suitcase, she picked six more suitcases, trying to keep the perceived $1 million in play. After she picked the suitcases, the “banker� (host Howie Mandel) offered a deal to stop playing.

Fuller’s goal was to save the suitcases with the largest amounts. If she eliminated the smaller amounts, the bank would offer her a higher deal.

Round after round, Fuller kept opening suitcases and declining the banker’s offers. Late in the game, Fuller got an offer that a football fan would love: she was offered a New York Jets season tickets package. But she turned it down.

At one point, she received an offer for $202,000, the biggest of the game. She hesitated, but gambled. She turned it down and continued playing.

At the end of the game, with only one suitcase remaining, she was given an offer for $186,000. She could run the risk that her last suitcase had nothing, or she could take the offer and send her daughter to Fresno State.

Fuller stopped and took the $186,000.

Mandel, in his role as banker, then played the spoiler. After Fuller had stopped her run, Mandel opened up the final suitcase. It had the most sought-after prize on the show — $1 million — and Fuller had given up the chance to win it.

Kuball said her mother almost lost it on national TV when she realized she’d missed out on the $1 million.

“She went on and on about how she had the $1 million,� Kuball said. “We assured her that the money she won was plentiful and she got excited.�

Kuball, who attended a Fresno State open house last fall to check out the campus and the dorms where she’ll be living next year, praised her mother’s selfless act of taking the $186,000 for her education.

“It was kind of crazy,� Kuball said. “We all knew she wasn’t going to go on.�

In the end, Fuller didn’t let greed get the best of her. Many other contestants, though, go all-out with their 15 minutes of quiz-show fame.

Fresno State information systems professor Dr. Rafael Solis said greed can get the best of even the nicest of people.

“People want to double their money. It’s like the stock market,� Solis said. “Greed is caused by hope. If one person has some money, why not me?�

Price said the greed factor is very personal.

“Greed comes into play in different ways. Some people value money more than others,� Price said. “An increase from $50,000 to $100,000 can be hugely important to some people, but not that much to others.

“I think that part of what happens in ‘Deal or No Deal’ is that as long as there are some high numbers still out there, people focus on those and have an exaggerated sense that their chosen box is one of those,� Price said.

Fresno State student Becky Wheeler agrees.

“It’s a cheap way to get rich,� Wheeler said, who added she has dreamed of being on “The Price is Right.� “You have nothing to lose and a lot to win.�

As an added consolation, New York Jets player Curtis Martin, a fellow fan of “Deal or No Deal,� called Fuller at her home a week after her appearance. He offered to fly the family back East to see a Jets game, after she’d turned down the tickets package during the course of the show.

It wasn’t a million bucks, but it was a nice gesture.

“The whole thing was fabulous,� Fuller said. “It was a real exciting time.�

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