The Price Is Right is one of the longest-running shows in television history. Since 1956, lucky contestants have been called to "come on down" to test their skills at a variety of games.
Terry Kniess and his wife, Linda, were fans of the show who attended a taping hoping to be among the lucky few who get to play. Unlike most other potential contestants, however, they had a fairly complex plan in place.
Terry and Linda noticed that many of the games used the same products. Contestants had to guess the price, and since the products were the same throughout the years, the prices stayed within a highly predictable range.
Why was it his destiny to break a game that had been nothing if not predictable for half a century?
Granted, guessing the exact price has been done before, so if that was all that they did, this wouldn't be much of a story.
Terry and Linda took their plan to the next level.
They watched every single episode and memorized the prices. They made notecards. They studied. They didn't simply intend to get on the show; they wanted to win, and they understood how patterns could help them play more effectively.
Of course, the entire plan hinged on a quick preliminary bit of luck. Terry had to make it to Contestant's Row, which means his name had to be pulled randomly by a show's producer. Before the show, Terry filled out his registration card, dropped it into a collection bin, and waited and hoped. Sure enough, the producer called Terry's name. He was in.
And when Terry got called down to Contestant's Row, he was ready. Host Drew Carey asked Terry to bid on a Green Egg smoker, so Terry obliged—and nailed the price with a perfect bid of $1,775.
A premium grilling appliance would be a nice win for any The Price is Right fan, but more importantly, the bid got Terry into the Showcase Showdown. Terry nailed the price with a perfect bid.
At this point, his plan relied on a second bit of luck.
Since the prizes for the showcase differed each episode, there was really no way to memorize how much these packages might actually be worth. Still, Terry recognized a pattern: He noticed that the value of each prize package fell into a predictable range.
It wasn't random.
When the time came for his bid, he offered an apparently random number: $23,743.
It wasn't random, however; Terry knew that the packages were generally worth around $24,000, and he wanted to make sure he didn't go over, so he started with $23,000. The $743 came from a combination of his wedding anniversary (7th of April) and his wife's birth month of March (3). He just hoped luck would get him close enough to win.
He did better than come close—he got the bid exactly correct.
He was the first contestant in Price Is Right history to get the bid right on the nose. Not only that, but because he was within $250, he won both showcases.
When revealing Terry's winning bid, Carey didn’t really celebrate; he was sure that the man had cheated. Footage of the moment shows Carey's uncharacteristically subdued reaction.
This was a historic moment on The Price is Right, and longtime fans would expect the host to flip. Instead, Carey grit his teeth while announcing success that seemed too good to be true.
Luck, Skill, and a Lot of Preparation
As Carey must have asked himself that day in the studio, who exactly is this Terry guy? Why was it his destiny to break a game that had been nothing if not predictable for half a century?
The answer takes us back to the epicenter of chance and fortune: Las Vegas, Nevada.
Decades before Terry's historic The Price Is Right win, he was predicting the weather on the local news in Las Vegas. Trained as a meteorologist, he developed an unparalleled ability to predict future weather patterns. He began to see patterns everywhere.
His wife, meanwhile, was the numbers person. Linda got a job running scheduling for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, an extraordinary task of arithmetic and organization. It was almost as if Terry and Linda were training their entire lives to take on The Price Is Right.
By the 2000s, Terry had left his job as a meteorologist, although he left with some hardware: two Southeast Regional Emmy Awards.
"Other than The Price is Right, winning those [awards] was probably the biggest moment of my life," Terry told Esquire.
Staying in the business involved too much moving.
He and Linda loved Las Vegas, and they didn't want to chase promotions around the country—something that TV presenters need to do in order to keep their careers on track.
Terry found his home (where else?) at the casinos. He worked in surveillance, sealed in a room high in the building surrounded by video monitors.
There, he looked for patterns that would give away the card sharks: telltale bets, counting cards, eyeing the dealer's hand, and other giveaways. Terry was good at that, too, and his uncanny attention to detail helped him find success in his new career.
There was another member of the Kniess family in those days.The couple doted on their dog, a Maltese named Krystal. Sadly, in 2008, Krystal's health began to decline, and Terry and Linda made the difficult decision to put her down.
Years after the events in this story, Terry teared up when discussing Krystal with a reporter from Esquire. "Oh, such a special little dog," he said. "She could walk backwards, you know."
The Kniesses wanted to find a goal to focus on, something that would help them get through their grief. They didn't know what, but they needed something. Then one of Linda's friends from work returned from a trip to California.
She couldn't stop talking about how much fun it was to appear in the audience of The Price Is Right. Soon, they'd found a new obsession.
For months after that, Terry and Linda studied tapes of the program.
That's when Terry's pattern-seeking mind made the discovery that led him to his historic win.
The show cycled through the same pool of products. The prices of the products didn't vary. All Terry and Linda had to do was memorize prices for every product featured on the show, and they would have cracked the code. The game would be theirs to exploit.
If Terry spotted a gambler enacting a plan like this one while he was at work at the casino, he would have to notify security. Still, there was nothing in the rules of The Price Is Right banning preparation. What they were doing was totally legal, despite later accusations of "cheating" and, presumably, the unending ire of Drew Carey.
In the end, Terry took home a package of prizes worth $56,437.41. It included four luxury vacations—to South Africa, Scotland, Chicago, Canada. The Kniesses sold a camper, a pool table, and a karaoke machine to cover the taxes on their prizes. They kept the smoker.
They no longer watch The Price Is Right, which has changed since Terry's appearance. Prices are much more random now, and the prizes are also more upscale and less familiar to the ma-and-pa core of the show’s audience.
At any rate, the days of gaming The Price Is Right ended with the Kniesses. The producers now change the brands of products that they use and alter small details that will affect prices (for example, changing a stereo package in a car can boost or lower the sale price). Fans can still study the show to get an idea of how much things cost, but memorizing the prices is now almost impossible.
There's a long history of gaming game shows.
Terry Kniess wasn't the first person to exploit the vulnerabilities of a popular game show.
I was extremely fortunate.
In 1984, a contestant named Michael Larson famously memorized the pattern on Press Your Luck to win more than $100,000 in cash and prizes.
CBS actually refused to pay Larson at first, claiming that he had cheated. However, there was nothing in the show's rules that technically prevented a contestant from memorizing the board patterns. Larson received his prizes, but soon after, the show altered their patterns to ensure this couldn't happen again.
Even in skill-driven games like "Jeopardy!," strategy can play an enormous role in a contestant's performance.
Arthur Chu began an impressive streak on the long-running trivia show in 2014 by using unorthodox techniques—buzzing in when he didn't know the answers to prevent other contestants from winning money, choosing his "Final Jeopardy" bid to increase the chances of a tie, and ruthlessly capitalizing on his opponents' mistakes.
Then there was Matt DeSanto, a Wheel of Fortune contestant who racked up a record-breaking $91,892 by solving puzzles with incredibly limited information. In one case, DeSanto solved a puzzle with only a single letter revealed.
"The wheel definitely worked in my favor," DeSanto said to TODAY.com. "I was extremely fortunate." True, DeSanto had watched the show since he was 5, but he insists that he didn't undertake any special preparation regimen.
Sometimes, a complex strategy isn't necessary—at least, not when you've got luck on your side.