Tenacity pays off for ‘Deal’ contestant

BY MIKE SHERWIN, STAFF WRITER

Persistence, a bit of chutzpah , and some smart self-promotion paid off for Debbie Montgomery, in her quest to be a contestant on the NBC game show Deal or No Deal.

Montgomery, 49, said her initial reaction to the show was less than positive.

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“When I first saw it, I thought it was the stupidest show ever, but then, I got addicted to it,” she said. “During dinner time, I’d watch the show and just feel compassion, and wonder what they were going to do next.”

So, in January 2006, Montgomery told her husband, Jory, that she was going to find a way to be on the show.

“My husband said, ‘Yeah right. You and everyone else in the country,'” she recalled.

So, Montgomery set off to find the unlisted phone number for the show’s producers. She tried a different television show, and managed to get the person on the other end of the line to give her the number she wanted.

“I finally got through to a live person, and I said, ‘Is John there?’ I just made the name up,” Montgomery said.

“The woman said, ‘do you mean John Sinclair, the casting director?’ and I said ‘yep.'”

After getting her foot in the door, the producer suggested she send in a five-minute tape of her herself and her supporters.

Montgomery gathered some family and friends and went to Yia Yia’s restaurant to make a tape, interviewing diners about their opinions of the show — and of Montgomery’s potential as a contestant.

As a salesperson for 23 years with Sprint, Montgomery has developed a keen sense of approaching and quickly relating to people.

“I’m definitely not shy,” she said.

Montgomery also bought a cake from Sam’s with the face of the show’s host, Howie Mandel, and the inscription, ‘Debbie says no deal,’ she went back to the producers, who eventually let her skip the regular casting call, and head directly to the first call-back location, with about 90 other people from the St. Louis area.

After about two hours of talking with the producers, she and her supporters had to play a mock game. At the game’s conclusion, they were told she had to pick from one of two suitcases: one said ‘yes,’ and one said ‘no.’

“I hid my eyes,” Montgomery said, “and I picked the first suitcase…and it said ‘yes.’ And we just went crazy.”

“But guess what — they told us later that both cases said ‘yes,’ but they wanted to see our reaction opening the case,” she said.

After the interview, Montgomery didn’t hear from the show for a while, but she continued to call the producers, and sent them a care package with a suitcase with a cell phone and one shoe from a brand new pair, with a message to the top producer, reading, “After my last interview, I thought I was a shoe-in, I was all pumped up, and in my sole I knew I would be a good fit. But now I feel like a heel because I told everyone I would be on and I haven’t heard from you…pick up the phone and call me so I can make a match with my other shoe.”

Two weeks later, in October, Montgomery got the call to come to L.A. as an alternate. For five days, she and her supporters waited to get on the show, but to no avail.

After not hearing back for a couple of months, she once again sent the producers a friendly reminder, this time in the form of an oversized fortune cookie, with a poem inside about her life and her desire to be on the show.

In January of this year, Montgomery’s father, Norman Nachman died, and she said she thinks her father may have lent a helping hand with her effort to get on the show.

“My father was always saying, ‘Debbie, be patient.’ Well within about a week after my dad passed away, I got a call from the show,” she said.

Finally, Montgomery heard that she would, for certain, be a contestant on the show, and she, along with her supporters: her husband, her mother, Margie Nachman, and three friends, trekked out west to be on the show.

Although Montgomery can’t speak about the show’s outcome until it airs (the first part on April 9, and the second half of her appearance on April 16), Montgomery obviously made an impression: the show invited her back for a “50 best contestants” reunion show, which has already been taped, and will air later this month.

Montgomery has already been courted by local and national media, appearing on 102.5 FM and KSDK-TV Channel 5, and she has been talking with Jay Leno and Howard Stern about appearing on their shows.

Whatever the outcome, she said that it was worth all of the effort.

“For one time in your life, you actually feel like a movie star,” Montgomery said. “It was wonderful.”