FOLLANSBEE - As a result of a show business quirk, a Follansbee man has returned from the taping of a game show $215,000 richer and will get to relive all of the excitement when four episodes of the show are aired over the next four weeks.
Jay Mitchell's first appearance on the Ohio Lottery's "Cash Explosion" game show will air at 7:30 p.m. Saturday on WTOV-TV, with the others to follow at that same time on Feb. 23 and March 2 and 9.
Mitchell said the experience is one he will never forget, and he's grateful for the great windfall he's received through it. But he also doesn't expect it to change his daily life dramatically.
"I'm in no way rich. I'm just a local guy who was lucky enough to be on the show," said Mitchell, a personnel administrator at Eagle Manufacturing in Wellsburg.
He said he'll use his winnings to visit Walt Disney World with his fiancee, Shawnda Ignat, and children, Jaycee and Tyler; and set up college savings funds for them as well as pay off various bills.
Mitchell said he was surprised when James Carothers, contestant coordinator for "Cash Explosion," called to tell him he would be a contestant on the show.
He explained Shawnda's father, Joe, frequently buys Ohio Lottery tickets and writes the names of family members on them to be entered into a drawing for the show's contestants.
After hearing the news, Mitchell said, "There were several nights I would wake at 4 a.m. unable to sleep because I was so anxious for this experience."
He recalled watching the Feb. 2 episode of "Cash Explosion" with his son and rooting for Betty Ledford, a retired librarian, to win.
He didn't know then that Ledford would advance to the program in which he was set to compete.
Mitchell said when he and his family arrived in Columbus for the show's taping, "My son asked, do you think Betty will be here? I told him I wasn't sure but we shall see. Because of the recording delay, she would have had to win the show that was to air Feb. 9 in order to be on that show's taping."
Mitchell recalled that during a practice round before the taping, "I was so nervous my legs were shaking uncontrollably."
Asked if he had any "shout-outs," he stuttered as he thanked everyone in the Ohio Valley for rooting for him.
"I asked, 'Can I say that?' and "Do I sound OK?' The producer laughed and said yes," he said.
Mitchell said the producers encourage all contestants to show their excitement.
"They also tell you to forget about the money and just play the game. Well, that is impossible from my perspective," he said.
Mitchell said during a short break before taping, he met Ledford.
"I told her my son and I were cheering her on and congratulated her. She was an absolute sweetheart," he said.
During two semifinal rounds of the game, each of four contestants has an opportunity to press a button to stop randomly circulating lights on a 36-space game board to reveal monetary winnings ranging from $1,500 to $5,000.
Those who uncover a "Double card" randomly stops on one of the letters in the word "Explosion" above the game board. The top scorers of the two semifinal rounds go on to compete against the returning champion in the Cash Challenge round.
Mitchell said while playing, "They (the show's producers) hide your total so you don't think about it or concentrate on it. They said 'Going to the Cash Challenge is Jay Mitchell from Follansbee, West Virginia. I almost hit the floor. I couldn't believe it."
While awaiting the Cash Challenge backstage, he saw Ledford, there to defend her status as champion.
"I tapped her on the shoulder and said jokingly, 'Betty, I'm taking you out.' She turned and hugged me and laughed and wished me luck," he said.
When he won the Cash Challenge, with $50,000, Ledford again hugged him and congratulated him, saying she knew he would be the next champion.
"I could have cried. I asked her to say hello to my son, who was in the audience behind us. He thought she was a star," Mitchell said.
Mitchell said while the next show was to be taped the same day, it was to air on another week.
"They film two shows per day, four over two days, for a whole month," he explained.
Because of that, he thought he should wear another shirt, so he got the only other shirt he brought from the luggage in his van.
For the fourth taping, he enlisted his family to buy another shirt.
After winning $100,000 on the second show, he encountered Ledford again at the hotel.
"I thought, what are the chances of that? I figured all the contestants from the first show just went home. I yelled, 'Betty," and she turned to me and smiled and asked how I did. I said I won, and she hugged and congratulated me. I introduced her to my family," Mitchell said.
"I think Betty is kind of like a godsend to me," he said.
Mitchell went on to win $215,000 in the fourth show.
"At some point I thought, while backstage running through all of this yet again, my luck has got to run out. You can't just keep winning, and I was completely fine losing," he said, adding he considered himself fortunate.
Before the first day of taping, while sitting outside the studio, he had prayed to God, giving thanks for the blessings he'd received and the chance he was given to appear on the show, he recalled.
When he was defeated by another contestant in the fourth show, he hugged her and wished her good luck, he said.
Mitchell said he hopes, while watching the show with family and friends Saturday, he won't be too embarrassed.
"I just hope I look and sound OK. You don't want to look like a jerk on TV," he said with a laugh.
(Scott can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)