Come on Down! How Terry Kniess Outsmarted The Price Is Right

For 38 years, there was never a contestant on The Price is Right, who guessed the exact values in the Showcase Showdown. Well, that is until Terry Kniess came on down and changed everything. Unlike other contestants, Terry was prepared. But there is such a thing as being too perfect, and that was Terry’s demise.

Terry looking excited with ‘Double Showcase Winner!’ written across the screen / Ted standing behind the podiums with his arms spread
Source: YouTube (left and right)

After the episode aired, tabloids around America called Terry a cheat and claimed that the show was rigged. And then there’s “that guy” who was sitting in the audience, supposedly helping the other contestants win. So, what really happened that fateful morning in September 2008? And how did Terry come up with his exact bid of $23,743? Let’s find out!

Terry Is Different

Today, Terry is seventy years old, with grey hair and glasses. He started his career as a local meteorologist in Las Vegas. While many people like to say that meteorologists don’t know what they’re doing, Terry was different. He understands how the weather works.

Terry Kniess holding a sign with his name
Source: Pinterest

Although his friends often teased him about predicting the weather in Nevada (“It’s going to be another sunny and hot day today!”), Terry was able to see patterns and predict sudden and violent storms. He had a way of knowing when the rain was coming when no one else could. But it wasn’t just the weather predictions that Terry was good at. He was good at being on TV.

The Unstoppable Weatherman

He had a deep, strong voice and a friendly face. This combination of good looks and accuracy made him unstoppable. Soon, he and Linda began bouncing across the country in search of bigger and better jobs. The couple first moved to Waco, Texas, and then across the country to Springfield, Missouri, before Terry was finally offered a spot in Atlanta.

Terry Kniess when he was younger
Source: Flickr

His job at the Top Ten market did Terry well. While he was posted in Atlanta, he won two Southeast Regional Emmy Awards, back to back, in ’93 and ’94. The former weatherman proudly displays the statues on his fireplace mantle. Besides winning The Price Is Right, Terry says that winning those Emmys were some of the best moments of his life.

Back to Vegas

Even though Terry was doing well professionally in Atlanta, he and his wife had a hard time in the city. They never felt the same connection to Atlanta as they had with Las Vegas, and they were about to be trapped there because of Terry’s success as a meteorologist.

A billboard for Terry Kneiss, the weatherman
Source: YouTube

So, Terry did what not many people would do and quit TV. The couple packed up all their belongings and moved back to the desert, where there was loads of sunshine and plenty of possibilities. Linda eventually found work at the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, where she oversees 260 part-time staff and their hours. She has a head for numbers and arithmetic.

The Perfect Pair

Just as Linda is good at math, Terry is good at patterns. So, where do people who are good at patterns go to work in Las Vegas? That’s right—casino surveillance. The former weatherman worked the night shift at Circus Circus, where he watched over the main floor through dozens of monitors.

Terry and Linda sitting on a couch
Source: Facebook

During his countless months of training, Terry learned how to spot people counting cards and cheating the system. It didn’t matter how good these people were; their routines gave them away. Each cheater had a pattern, and Terry was really good at figuring them out. He could see these routines and patterns come through the way the person ordered a drink, which tables they chose, and their body language. Nothing got past Terry.

Turning Imagination into Reality

Card counters don’t exactly cheat; It’s more of an exploitation of imperfections. Seeing how Terry’s brain works, he soon found himself sitting at his kitchen table, teaching himself how to count cards. It didn’t take long for Terry to get really good. He could turn over a whole deck at a time while keeping a perfect count.

An aerial view of people playing a card game in the casino
Source: 123rf / rawpixel

The former weatherman imagined himself sitting at an actual blackjack table and placing a stack of chips. Well, his imagination soon turned into reality. Before he knew it, Terry finally found himself walking into a casino to take a seat at the blackjack table. He always took a seat to the card dealer’s right, just in case the dealer accidentally flashed his cards.

Blast from the Past

Walking into The Price Is Right studio in Los Angeles is a surreal experience. After 48 seasons and more than 9,000 episodes, nearly every piece of the set is oddly familiar. It’s almost like walking inside your TV set, and everything is where it should be. But there are other items on the set that TV viewers don’t see.

A bunch of games from the Price is Right backstage
Source: Pinterest

Backstage, the 73 pricing games that have been used since 1972 are all lined up in tidy rows. There are piles of cables and drawers with masking tape. There are the flags from Hole in One and the prize tickets from Punch a Bunch, all organized in cubbies. In-person, the set of The Price Is Right looks more like a traveling fair that can be torn apart in under five minutes.

Quite the Masterpiece

But like that, the studio fills up with people, and the air becomes electric. From frat boys to housewives, there’s a strange mix of audience members who all yell in unison over the price of Chips Ahoy! For years game show designers have talked about what a masterpiece The Price Is Right is.

Bob Barker pointing to the camera with a large audience behind him
Source: Twitter

It has a high wins-per-minute ratio, a perfect combination of luck and skill, and, most importantly—anyone can win. “The more you’ve lived life, the better you’ll do here,” says executive producer Mike Richards. “Boom, you get picked, and boom, you walk out of here with $50,000 worth of stuff. It’s insane.” This type of experience was exactly what Linda and Terry needed.

The Perfect Challenge

In May 2008, Linda and Terry had to put their dog, Krystal, down. To get over the loss, the couple decided they needed something to put all their efforts into. The couple actually got the idea to go on The Price Is Right from one of Linda’s friends from work, Arica.

A woman playing the Grocery Game on the Price is Right
Source: YouTube

She had just come back from the show and couldn’t stop talking about how fun it was. This was the perfect challenge, the couple thought, especially because of how their brains worked. They soon became obsessed with the idea and began watching the show nonstop. Terry and Linda knew that before they set foot in Studio 33, they needed to be prepared.

Finally Catching On

For four long months in the summer of 2008, Terry and Linda watched recordings of the show every night before going to bed. But it wasn’t just casual watching. Terry looked for patterns while Linda did the math. It didn’t take very long for the couple to find their strategy. Why is that? The Price Is Right survived for decades because it never changed.

A photograph of the big green egg opened up with steak and vegetables grilling

Even when Drew Carry replaced Bob Barker as host, he still used the old school, skinny microphone. Behind the screaming fans and excited contestants was a precise order. According to Terry, the first time he noticed this pattern was when the Big Green Egg came up for bid repeatedly. Every time, without fail, it was $1,175.

Press Your Luck

Back in 1984, there was an ice-cream salesman by the name of Michael Larson, who was a contestant on the show Press Your Luck, which also aired on CBS. Just like Terry, Michael was good at patterns. At the center of the game was a “Big Board” that had 18 squares on it. Each square lit up and when a contestant pressed the button, the lights stopped flashing, and the player landed on that square.

Michael Larson behind a desk with his guess on it
Source: YouTube

Behind that square was either a cash prize or a Whammy, which erased the player’s earnings to that point. He figured out that there was never a Whammy behind Square 4 or Square 8. So, Michael pressed his luck and won round after round, always landing on 4 or 8. He collected a whopping $104,950 in cash, a sailboat, and trips to Hawaii and the Bahamas.

Finding Patterns in Chaos

Just as Michael studied flashing lights, Terry studied prices. He noticed that every single price on the game show repeated. He and Linda recorded these values and memorized them, the same way he had learned to count cards. After months of studying, the couple felt ready and headed to California.

Michael Larson playing the flashing lights game
Source: YouTube

Terry and Linda woke up in the early hours of September 22, 2008, and waited outside the gates at Television City in Los Angeles. Only three people were waiting in front of them: an older couple named Frances and Norbert, and a man from Texas named Ted. At exactly six o’clock on the dot, the metal gates flew open, and Terry and Linda finally entered the studio.

Come on Down!

Most game shows have the contestants go on a journey. For those who are familiar with The Price Is Right, know that each episode ends with the Showcase. This is the end of the road for the final two contestants, who traveled from the audience to the Contestant’s Row, then onstage, onto a pricing game, and then past the Big Wheel.

A woman spinning the wheel while another woman stands under 75 cents and Drew Carey standing on the side
Source: YouTube

When the players finally make it to the Showcase, two prizes are presented to them and each contestant must bid on one—the closest bid without going over the price wins. But if a contestant comes within $250, he or she wins both prizes. Sound like a dream, right? Well, flash forward a few hours. Terry suddenly found himself in that exact position.

The Very Exact Bid

It was all down to Terry and a woman named Sharon. The first Showcase opened with a karaoke machine, a pool table, and a 17-foot camper. Sharon passed on that group of prizes, which meant that it was Terry’s turn to place a bet. He looked out towards the audience, leaned into his microphone, and said his bid as if he had practiced it a million times: $23,743.

Terry and Sharon behind their stands while they guess a price with Drew Carey
Source: YouTube

“Wow,” host Drew Carey said. “That’s a very exact bid.” Then, it was Sharon’s turn to place a bid on her showcase: trips to Chicago, Banff, Edinburg, and Cape Town. Her bid was $30,525. “We’ll be right back, folks,” Carey said. “Don’t go away.” And then the show came to a sudden halt.

Something Is Off

Even before Sharon and Terry got to the Showcase, there was a feeling amongst staff members that something was off. The Price Is Right actually pays out of pocket for most of its giveaways, meaning the prize budget is fixed. If the show begins to give way too many expensive prizes, such as cars or exotic trips, then it’ll start using some of its harder pricing games, like That’s Too Much or the Range Game, to balance the books.

A man named Adam looking excited while him and others stand around a nice car on the Price is Right
Source: CBS

The games aren’t rigged, but they do rely on people’s natural tendency to guess an amount somewhere in the middle. Contestants either stop the game too early or too late, so the more extreme the prices are, the less likely someone will win. However, on that morning, everyone was winning, no matter the game, the price, or the prize.

Everyone’s a Winner?

The show started like this. A young guy named David kicked the string of winnings off by winning a car playing Any Number. He nailed the price with his last guess. Then, another young man, Zachery, won $2,000 playing It’s in the Bag. Then Terry won the Big Green Eggs with a perfect bid. Interestingly, Terry lost one of the show’s easier games, Switch?, because he thought an Apple computer was more expensive than a pair of stationary bikes.

Terry standing in front of the green egg grill
Photo by Jeff Minton / esquire

But after Terry hit 90 cents on the Big Wheel, every contestant swept on through. Sharon won a car, and another woman named Julie won an entertainment center after changing her guess at the last minute during Pick a Number. Something was fishy.

Change Is the Enemy

The first person to get a sick feeling in her stomach was former producer Kathy Greco whose job was to hold the sacred book containing the winning prize values. These winnings came at an especially bad time. Newcomer Mike Richards was now the executive producer, which meant that long-time producer Roger Dobkowitz had to be let go.

Drew Carey standing on stage with four contestants standing behind the podiums in front of the audience
Source: Reddit

Then Drew Carey replaced long-time host Bob Barker, and a whole new cast of young models came to switch out the familiar, but aging ones. Basically, The Price Is Right fans were feeling uneasy with all these changes. They complained on online forums and blamed everything on Carey since he was the new face of the show. Carey meant change, and for these devoted fans, change was the enemy.

The Drama Unfolds

Now, Greco thought, someone, rigged the show. The already disappointed fans were going to be furious. Some people whispered backstage that this was somehow Dobkowitz’s revenge for being replaced. Then Sharon and Terry placed their showcase bids. This was the final straw for Greco.

Terry about to give his guess for the showcase on the Price is Right
Source: YouTube

She walked behind the curtain to the left of where Sharon and Terry danced, oblivious to the drama unfolding in front of their eyes. Carey noticed that a lot of people were winning on that day, but he likes it when that happens. The gameshow’s host, who likes to gamble, knew something was amiss the moment he asked Greco if Sharon or Terry won. “She was white as a sheet,” he said.

There’s No Way

Greco told Carey that Terry’s bid was the exact amount of the prize package. She also said that this had never happened before in the history of The Price Is Right. Carey remembers asking if the show was going to air this episode, and no one knew how to answer him. “I thought somebody had cheated us, and I thought the whole show was over,” the host said in 2010.

Terry looking excited with ‘Double Showcase Winner!’ written across the screen
Source: YouTube

“I thought they were going to shut us down, and I thought I was going to be out of a job.” But while all this commotion was going on backstage, Terry and Sharon were still dancing to music in front of a cheering audience.

You Win Both Showcases

The host announced Sharon’s bid first. The actual price of the overseas flights was $31,019. Sharon’s bid was off by only $494, which was remarkably close. Flights and trips are notoriously difficult to guess, making them budget savers. Then came Terry, who bid $23,743. “Actual retail price, $23,743,” Carey said through his teeth. “You got it right on the nose. You win both Showcases.”

Four screenshots of Terry guessing the correct amount
Source: Pinterest

Today, Terry says that he had seen the prices of all the prizes before. He knew that the karaoke machine was $1,000. A pool table usually went for anywhere between $2,800 and $3,200, so Terry chose $3,000. The rule of thumb for campers, Terry says, is around $1,000 per foot.

A Lack of Enthusiasm

Terry misheard the length of the trailer. He thought Rich Fields had said 19 feet, not 17 feet. So, $19,000 for the camper, which gave him a total of $23,000. The final stretch, Terry says, was just pure luck. He picked 743 because that’s the number that he and Linda use for their PINS, security codes, and bets. Why?

Drew Carey with a microphone standing with a woman who is excited about where she landed on the wheel
Source: CBS

It’s a combination of their wedding date (the seventh of April) and her birthday month (March). When the show finally aired in December 2008, Carey was ripped apart by fans and tabloids alike for his lack of enthusiasm when he announced Terry’s perfect bid. Carey hadn’t acted the way Bob Barker would have acted, they claimed.

What About Ted?

Former host Bob Barker would have made Terry feel as if he were the greatest game show contestant that ever lived. “Oh, I would have run with that, you bet,” Barker told reporters in 2010. Here was a man, a disciplined man, who had spent his entire life finding patterns and being accurate. A regular Joe who had been a bit lucky and finally won a game that was meant to be won.

Four screenshots of the same product being used with the price of $749
Source: YouTube

It should have been celebrated because that easily could have been anyone, including you or me, up there winning bid after bid. “Yeah, but that’s not what happened,” Carey said. So what happened? “There was that guy, in the audience,” he says. “Ted.”

A Knack for Numbers

Ted Slauson is a 44-year-old northern California native who writes math problems for standardized tests for a living. Ted first started watching The Price Is Right when was he was a little kid. By the time he got to high school, Ted had noticed that the prizes repeated themselves, and he began keeping track of their values. Although he was good with numbers, he found that his memory worked best when he had visual cues.

Ted Slauson with his name tag on propping up an autographed photo of Bob Barker with his winnings and name tags laid out on the table
Photo by Billy Calzada / San Antonio Express-News

So, just like Michael Larson (the ice-cream salesman and 1984 winner from Press Your Luck), Ted bought a VCR and began memorizing the prize amounts. From 1989 and 1992, Ted was an audience member at over 20 tapings, but he was never chosen as a contestant, well, that is until July 15, 1992.

The Magic Moment

Ted was sitting in the audience when he was finally called to “Come on down!” His name tag read Theodore, and he couldn’t stop pumping his fists. Bob Barker recognized Ted immediately. “You made it! You made it!” Barker said. “Theodore has been a Loyal Friend and True. How many times have you been here?” The answer was 24 times.

Ted standing behind the podiums with his arms spread
Source: YouTube

It wasn’t long before the Berkline Contemporary Rock-a-Lounger come up for a bid. It was a magical moment because Ted knew the exact price. He had spent years preparing for this. Ted leaned into his microphone and said, “$599.” The bell rang, which meant he had a perfect bid. “One of you is exactly right!” Barker said.

Betrayed by Luck

The other three contestants began jumping up and down, wondering if they were the ones with the perfect bid. Ted, on the other hand, was perfectly still. He knew that he was the winner. Then Ted went on to play Punch a Bunch, which he played perfectly. His winning streak ended at the Big Wheel, where memorization was not needed. He needed luck on his side.

Ted giving a guess to Bob Barker on the Price is Right
Source: YouTube

Unfortunately, Ted ended up with 50 cents, while the other contestants got 75 cents. Ted was eliminated, and his dream was over. Well, that is until the show changed its contestant eligibility requirements. Under the new rules, a contestant could play once every ten years. So, in 2002, Ted came back to Los Angeles.

Lending a Helping Hand

By 2002, Ted updated his training techniques. He began using capturing stills from the show to make electronic flashcards on his computer (a huge feat for 2002). Ted got so good that he could rattle off the prices of 1,300 prizes in just under an hour. Then, in May 2002, something peculiar happened.

Ted using one of the weights he won on the Price is Right
Photo by Billy Calzada / San Antonio Express-News

Ted helped a stranger named Brandon, whom he had met in line before the show began filming, hit a perfect bid. Branding was playing Contestant’s Row and bidding on a Ducane gas grill. He looked at Ted, who signaled $1,554 with his hands. The perfect bid bell rang, and Brandon began jumping across the stage. “Have you seen that prize on the show before?” Bob Barker asked him.

Beating the Game

Brandon said no, he had taken the bid from someone in the audience. He pointed at Ted, who gave a thumbs up. Within four minutes, Brandon was the proud new owner of a car. He never gave Ted a cut of his winnings, but Ted didn’t care. He found happiness in helping others win, and he liked being perceived as an expert.

Ted at his dining room table holding a photograph of one of the models from the show with his nametags and winnings sprawled out across the table
Photo by Billy Calzada / San Antonio Express-News

“It was like being a celebrity,” he told Esquire magazine in 2010. Fans raved about him online and called him the best player the show had ever seen. Ted kept going to the show’s tapings in hopes of finally beatin the game. If he couldn’t beat it, he would help one of the other contestants, that is, if they seemed friendly enough.

Did Ted Help Terry?

On September 22, 2008, Ted put his nametag on for the 37th time. He was wearing jeans and a light blue T-shirt. An older couple named Frances and Norbert sat to his left. On his other side sat another couple, Linda and Terry. Ted liked them immediately. Today, Terry says that he didn’t know that Ted had memorized all of the prices.

A spreadsheet of items and prices that Ted put together
Source: YouTube

He also says that there is no way he could have heard Ted’s shouts above anyone else. Moreover, he wasn’t looking at Ted. Terry says that he was looking at his wife, who confirmed his math by holding up her fingers. He also says that Linda was irritated that he gave away their PIN numbers.

Being Too Perfect

He also referenced his passport and wedding certificate to explain how he bid the exact bid of $23,743. “I have no regrets,” Terry said, “but there have been times I’ve wondered, ‘What have I done?’” In the past, other players had come close, just missing the mark by five or eight dollars.

Contestants guessing the price on the Price is Right
Source: YouTube

Even if Terry had bid $23,700, he would have won both his and Sharon’s showcases, and no one would have accused him of cheating. His only mistake, Terry says, was that he was too perfect. When Ted walked back onto the set for the afternoon taping, the show’s producers moved his seat so that the other contestants couldn’t see him.

We’ll Never Know

Ted also says that he’s heard from unofficial channels that he has been banned from the Bob Barker Studio. Well, Ted wasn’t the only one who suffered consequences that day. Several casinos apparently asked Terry not to sit at their blackjack tables. Today, neither Ted nor Terry watches The Price Is Right anymore. The games are more luck-based, and the show’s producers began adding luxury items that the everyday Joe wouldn’t know the price of.

Ted holding a signed sheet of paper announcing who are the first four contestants with a signature from Bob Barker
Photo by Billy Calzada / San Antonio Express-News

“It’s just not much fun anymore,” Ted said. “It’s just guessing now. The prizes might as well be a million dollars.” As for the prizes, Linda and Terry sold the karaoke machine, the pool table, and the 17-foot camper, but they went on the overseas trips and had a blast. Between Ted and Terry, I guess we’ll never know who was telling the truth.