The Publishers Clearing House Prize Patrol stopped for flowers and to fix the balloons at Dillingham Square on Monday before swooping down on the home of Joan Geringer, a Lake Ridge resident who is now the recipient of $2,500 a week for the rest of her life.
“This is amazing,” said Geringer, after she answered the door. It was a complete surprise. There were contractors at her house redoing her bathroom, so Joan couldn’t hesitate. “I can now pay you,” she said, joking with the construction crew, and they told her now she needs to do the kitchen too.
The prize award team of Danielle Lam and Howie Guja were manned with the oversized check, flowers, balloons, and champagne. They smiled, offered congratulations, and took selfies to capture the moment.
Since it was the day before New Year’s Eve, “we’re going to have a big party tomorrow night,” Geringer added.
It was all part of the job for Lam and Guja, who do this all year round in different locations all around the country. They talked of a prize giveaway in Pennsylvania at a nuclear power plant where there were guards with guns, events in California, Texas and Jackson, Mississippi. “We’re on the road every week,” Lam said.
With all this traveling and money at stake, it would seem like a phone call ahead of time would be part of their agenda. But that’s not the way it works.
“Nothing’s staged. This is real reality television,” Lam said.
Everyone’s seen the prize patrol throughout the years on television, but few have experienced it first hand.
At the Dillingham Square shopping center off Old Bridge Road, there were lots of stares and inside Michael’s Flowers, the manager Chris Polychrones “didn’t even know why she was showing up,” he said.
One of their customers was taking in the scene. “I see you guys, I didn’t even know you were real,” he said.
There were also two cameramen there to capture the surprise moment. Everyone got in their cars and headed out like a caravan to the Geringer’s house.
When they arrived, they made sure to pull up past the house, stopping around the corner to sign the oversized check and get all the pre-event video done. Then it was up to the door for the surprise.
Geringer signed up for the sweepstakes online and had just done it again within the last few days. Her husband was all smiles too. “He retires next year, this will come in handy,” she said.
Ben Benita, who a contractor Wedge Construction working at Geringer’s house that day, was out front when the team arrived. “What are the odds of that?” he asked.
Everyone was taking pictures with cell phones, which included Lam for use on their website.
Publishers Clearing House was founded in 1953 by Harold and LuEsther Mertz as a multi-magazine subscription agency. No purchase is necessary to win the prizes, and the prizes are funded by company revenues.
The winner selection is random and unbiased, the company states, and there is an outside certified public accounting firm keeping an eye on the process. In 1989, they went from having winners notified by telephone to being visited by the prize patrol, and the late Ed McMahon was never part of it – that’s another company.
If the winner is not home, which Lam and Guja have experienced, they use all available methods to contact them, including neighbors and relatives. One time, they said, the winner was on the road and turned around and came all the way home to get the prize. This was a six-hour wait for the team, who went out and had dinner, returned and still had to wait several hours.