Eighteen years ago, newly hired by Northwest Airlines and with travel benefits burning a hole in her pocket, Nancy Tepley-Mimbach did what any sensible person would do: She flew to Los Angeles with her sister for a taping of The Price is Right.
“My sister [who also worked at Northwest Airlines] was of the opinion that I should start traveling,” says Nancy, a Simley High School graduate who now lives in Hastings. “She thought she needed to initiate me.”
Not only was Patty Bledsoe also a Northwest employee, she was a Price is Right veteran who quickly got hooked after her first visit to the show (and has since been in the audience 30 to 35 times, by Nancy’s estimate). So Nancy and Patty flew to Los Angeles, accompanied by their mother, cousins and aunts.
The short story: Nancy made it up onstage in 1994 (though she didn’t win big).
LONG STORY SHORT
But here's the sequel: Last month, by invitation, Nancy and Patty returned to Los Angeles to tape the show’s 40th anniversary reunion episode, which airs Sept. 4.
“It was much more fun this time,” says Nancy, who got so hooked on The Price is Right after that first trip that she has been back a dozen times and has established a family tradition to take each of her five children there to mark their 18th birthdays.
“Everyone in the audience had been there before; we’d all been contestants and we’d all won something," she said.
Nancy’s road to the reunion show began on an October morning in 1994, when her group arose at 4 a.m. so they could be in line outside the studio by 5:30. They sat through the taping without receiving an invitation to “come on down” and were on their way out of the studio when a producer stopped them.
“He said they were short of audience members for the second show, and did we want to stay for it?” Nancy remembers. “I was all for it, but my aunts said, ‘No, no, we’ve had enough sitting and waiting.’”
But Nancy and Patty did their best sales pitch, and convinced the group to stay. “We told them that the hard part was over,” Nancy says. “We’d already stood in line and gotten our name tags. We finally won them over.”
So they sat through the second taping, once again without hearing any familiar names called. Finally, against any imaginable odds, Nancy heard her name – the very last person summoned to contestants’ row for that show.
“Rod Roddy (the late Price is Right announcer) told us in the audition that when your name gets called, your brain will turn to mush,” Nancy remembers. “He was not kidding. When they called my name, I felt so shaky. I thought I’d trip and fall and make a fool of myself.”
BIDDING & BOB BARKER
Nancy was asked to bid on an armoire, and her bid won. So she climbed the steps to the stage with knees that felt like cooked spaghetti and stood beside Bob Barker, whom friends had advised her to kiss if she got a chance to meet him.
“I looked at him and thought, ‘No way,’” Nancy says. “He was so standoffish and had on so much makeup, he looked like he was wearing a plastic Halloween mask. It was so gross. I thought, ‘I’m not kissing that.’”
Nancy had proclaimed far and wide before her trip that if she managed to get onstage, she hoped she would get to play the dice game – and her wish came true. “They use Styrofoam dice,” she says. “They were weird, and they don’t toss like dice should toss.
“I couldn’t think. I looked at my sister, and I took her advice, but I didn’t win.”
Her luck also ran out when she spun the big wheel, which she remembers as heavy and awkward. In the parlance of the show, she “went over.”
When Nancy got home, her prize armoire was delivered by a local furniture company. She eventually found bedroom furniture to match it, because “I knew I’d never get rid of it,” she says. When one of her daughters moved away from home, she asked to take the furniture, but Nancy couldn’t part with it.
FAST FORWARD TO 2012
Regular trips to Los Angeles to be in “The Price is Right” audience followed. Then, earlier this year, her sister Patty heard that the show’s producers were seeking previous contestants to appear on the 40th anniversary show.
“They wanted people to write and tell their contestant stories,” Nancy says. “I kept putting it off, and my sister kept bugging me, asking me if I’d written in yet.”
When Patty went in for eye surgery, Nancy drove her to and from the hospital and stayed with her afterward. Patty pointed out that it was the perfect opportunity for Nancy to tell her “Price is Right” story. She wrote it and hit “send.”
[Click this link to read ]
A few days later, Nancy got an e-mail from the show’s producers, asking to talk to her about the reunion show, which would be by invitation only. Nancy eventually got the invitation, which allowed one guest, and she chose the only possible candidate: Patty.
In the weeks leading up to the taping, there was much speculation about what to expect on the reunion show. Would Bob Barker make a return appearance? Would there be celebrities? Extra-special prizes?
A DIFFERENT EXPERIENCE
Nancy and Patty showed up on the appointed day and found that things were different – not only because of the special show, but because of its relatively new host, Drew Carey, who took over in 2007. “We didn’t have to stand in line for tickets this time,” Nancy says. “But we did have to be there at 8:30 a.m. for the 12:30 p.m. taping.”
Things were also different inside the studio, which has been extensively redecorated in “Drew colors” since Carey took the helm, Nancy says. She says Carey himself is much more personable than Barker and has more interaction with the audience.
During the wait, each previous contestant was interviewed, and Nancy – as a “Price is Right” veteran – could tell immediately that the show’s producers had already made up their minds which contestants would be asked to come on down. Among them: a man who won the showcase on the very first show in 1972.
“It became obvious pretty quickly,” she says. “And it made sense, I guess: The people who were bigger winners made for better TV.”
Contestants were ushered into the studio to the strains of John Sebastian’s 1976 hit “Welcome Back.” Audience members were encouraged to dance and clap, and Carey came out into the crowd and hugged some of the older members of the crowd.
A BETTER EXPERIENCE
“When they announced Bob Barker’s retirement, I remember thinking that I had to hurry and get my older kids out there, because I didn’t know what would become of the show,” Nancy says. “And when they said that Drew Carey would be the new host, I thought, are they nuts? What were they thinking?
“But it’s a better show now. It’s more fun and more relaxed.”
In the interest of suspense, we won’t reveal whether Nancy was called onstage, or whether she won.
Suffice it to say that this year’s Price is Right experience hasn’t dimmed her enthusiasm for the show, and hasn’t altered her plans for return visits. “It was a cool experience the first time, and it’s always a cool experience,” she says. “I’ll keep going until I can’t go anymore.”