PALMDALE — After spending more than three years at Edwards, Idaho native Maj. Kevin Van Stone had visited the local theme parks, went to the beaches and saw a lot of what Southern California has to offer. But, with Hollywood just down the road, he still had never seen a celebrity in person.
[Earlier this year], a lot of things changed for the C-130 pilot and Mobility test director at the Air Force Operational Test and Evaluation Center Detachment 5. He signed up for a military appreciation taping of the popular show “The Price is Right” in March, just after he returned from a five-month deployment. Van Stone got the chance to meet comedian and “The Price Is Right” host Drew Carey on stage in front of an all-military audience, and later in front of millions of TV viewers when the show aired July 4.
“After we [military attending the show] were interviewed by the show staff, we moved to a staging area to wait before going to the live audience area. They were playing an episode of “The Price Is Right” on TVs in the area and I saw a guy bid on a home gym, it was about $1,500 I think,” said Van Stone.
That was the start of Van Stone’s lucky day.
During the first part of the show his name was called and he was ordered to “Come on down!” And low and behold, the item he was to bid on while on “Contestants Row” was a home gym.
“I guess I was lucky, I wondered if anyone else was paying attention to the TV in the staging area. I was sure someone was going to bid a dollar over me.”
Van Stone bid $1,500. The home gym turned out to be $1,750, but that was good enough to win it and get on stage to meet Carey and play for a prize.
“I actually had a pretty lengthy conversation with Drew, he was really nice and asked me what I did. They cut a lot of it out though for the actual airing.”
Van Stone was then set to play “Pay the Rent.”
The game is played using six grocery items and offers a top prize of $100,000. The main prop is a house with four levels.
After being shown the products, Van Stone had to select an item for the mailbox, which is on the first level, then two items for the first floor and two for the second floor; leaving the last item for the attic. The total of the product prices on each level must be greater than the total price from the previous level.
The first three levels pay $1,000, $5,000 and $10,000 respectively, with the contestant able to quit at any time or risk losing it all.
“I got married pretty late in life so I had to do a lot of shopping on my own so I’m fairly good at knowing what things cost. I knew the canned corn would be the cheapest and was sure the Breath Right Strips would be the most expensive,” said Van Stone.
On stage, Van Stone told Carey that he came there to go for it all. He guessed correctly on all four levels and became only the second contestant in the show’s 40-year history to win $100,000 playing “Pay the Rent.”
“It was pretty surreal. I just couldn’t believe it.”
As lucky as Van Stone was, he experienced a bit of bad luck after leaving the show and returning to Edwards.
“The taping itself took about three hours and there was a lot of paperwork to fill out afterwards. I had to sign a non-disclosure agreement and also some paperwork for the prizes. I didn’t get back on the bus until about 7:30 at night, which sort of got me in some hot water.”
Van Stone said members of the audience had to turn in their cell phones to the show staff during the taping.
“Well, the bus left around eight in the morning and the show is just down in Hollywood, so I figured Kevin would be back home around his normal time at around 5 p.m.,” said Van Stone’s wife, Melinda. “He also wasn’t returning my texts and he’s really good about returning texts pretty quickly.”
Melinda was concerned because she heard that there was a bridge collapse over a freeway earlier in the day.
That evening, she called his commander at AFOTEC to see if Van Stone’s car was in the parking lot. The commander checked and it wasn’t. Both he and Melinda didn’t know the bus left from another location on base.
She then called California Highway Patrol to see if there was any information on the bridge collapse and was told by a CHP employee that a “Kevin did die today.”
“I was freaking out. The CHP couldn’t find the last name of the Kevin that died, but told me they didn’t think the last name was the same. Still, you can imagine the thoughts going through my head.”
Finally, Van Stone called Melinda while on the bus heading back to Edwards. She asked where he had been and he told her it was, “confidential.” Melinda then hung up on him and wouldn’t answer the rest of his calls and texts the rest of the ride home.
“I work for the Air Force with classified things every day and I sign non-disclosure agreements all the time, so I take that seriously.”
Well, things have since cooled off and on July 10 Van Stone was presented with a giant check from CBS, figuratively and literally.
“‘The Price Is Right’ people were really great and treated all the military members really well. Everybody in the audience was treated to two free nights in Palm Springs so nobody left empty handed. I really appreciate what CBS did to honor the military.”
Van Stone said he’s going to use a portion of the money to take his wife on a long awaited honeymoon.
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