The Price Is Perhaps Not Correct

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Shellani Jensen, a recent winner on the game show The Price is Right, talks about the joys of winning top prizes and the burden of paying taxes on them.

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NEAL CONAN, host:

You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. Come on down: Three simple words that carry a whole lot of promise. Lucky contestants on "The Price is Right" compete for fantastic prizes: a shiny new Chrysler, a Pulaski Edwardian dining room set or a Fleetwood trailer. A the winners go home happy -that is until they realize they're responsible to pay taxes on their windfall to the federal government and to the state of California.

Joining us now to talk about the burden of success is Shellani Jensen, mother of two, Bob Barker fan and recent winner on the "The Price is Right." She's with us from a studio in Phoenix, Arizona. Nice to have you on the program today.

Ms. SHELLANI JENSEN (Recent Winner on "The Price Is Right"): Thank you.

CONAN: And I understand all this got started because you're such a big fan of Bob Barker, who's on the road to retirement, and you wanted to see him in person before he left the show.

Ms. JENSEN: That's correct. I wanted to get down there and meet him before he retired and take my chance to come on down.

CONAN: Come on down, and so you went out to Los Angeles and camped out the night before on the sidewalk to make sure you could get into the studio audience.

Ms. JENSEN: Yup, that's correct. People started lining up about 7:00 the night before, and I got in line about 2:00 in the morning and slept on the street.

CONAN: And I understand this was time well spent, because some of your fellow people on-line had good advice on strategy to use in the event you became a contestant.

Ms. JENSEN: That's correct. You want to think about your prizes and try to know what the prices are before you go to the show and just calculate them up and hope try to - hope that they're pretty close so that you can win the showcase.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. It also helps if you're the last contestant to be asked. You know, I was reading a story about what you did. And on particular item, one contestant bid $500, and another contestant bid $1,000, and you figured out what?

Ms. JENSEN: I figured out my best chances would be 501. So yeah, it's definitely - the best opportunity to get on stage is to be when you're the fourth person to go. Think about your bid and make it right, because your chances are going to be slim after that.

CONAN: And as I understand it, what they do on the way in is they sort of interview all of the people in the studio audience to see who might make a good contestant. Did you have any idea that Bob Barker was going to say come on down to you?

Ms. JENSEN: I was hoping, but I had no idea. They interview about roughly 20 to 25 people at a time, I'd say. And they probably pick one person out of each group, and before you're even in the studio, they have the people picked already. They have their names written on cards. But you don't know until they actually call your name.

CONAN: And so you were pretty surprised?

Ms. JENSEN: I was very surprised.

CONAN: Now what did you win?

Ms. JENSEN: Well, when I got on stage - to get onstage, I won some Nataki(ph) remote-control cars. And then I played the game Coming or Going, and I won a trip to Puerto Vallarta.

CONAN: That's pretty good.

Ms. JENSEN: Yeah, that was pretty cool. I'm excited to go there. And then also for my showcase, I won an Edwardian - Pulaski Edwardian furniture set, Nataki(ph) china and also the baby grand piano.

CONAN: And then after a couple of weeks, I understand the prizes started arriving at your house - and also some bills.

Ms. JENSEN: Well, the prizes started arriving roughly around 40 to 60 days afterwards. We did get one bill for the state taxes, and we were told they were going to be 7 percent, so we definitely knew about that. As far as the other taxes, we'll be 1099'ed. And I knew before - like right after you win the prizes, you sign a piece of paper stating that you know there are taxes, and if you want to forfeit the prizes, you can, or you can keep the taxes - or keep the prizes and pay the taxes.

I chose to keep the prizes and sell one item to pay the taxes, and even if I had to sell all items, I was still a winner even if I had to pay taxes.

CONAN: Sure. I mean, the experience must've been wonderful.

Ms. JENSEN: Yeah. It was a wonderful experience, and it's a once-in-a-lifetime deal.

CONAN: And nevertheless, you got a $6,000 tax bill.

Ms. JENSEN: Yeah, yup. And that's okay because I've won $30,000 in prizes.

CONAN: And as I understand it, the prize you decided to see if you could sell was the piano.

Ms. JENSEN: Yup, starting off with the piano because I have two small children at home, and I don't really need that $9,000 piano sitting there for them just to crawl in and scratch up.

CONAN: I bet not. So how did you decide to sell it?

Ms. JENSEN: Well, we just decided that that would probably be the best thing to pay the taxes with. If not, we are going to donate it to maybe a musical school and just use the donation as a tax write-off, so that way - either/or, it'll probably be better just to write it off and donate it, as well, if we can't sell it.

CONAN: But did you put it up on eBay or an ad in the newspaper?

Ms. JENSEN: We have not put on eBay. We did put it in the Arizona Republic, and we did list it on Craig's List.

CONAN: And as I understand it, once that ad came out, piano - you know, won on "The Price is Right," we're not the only news media that has been interested in your story.

Ms. JENSEN: No, yesterday I got a call from Channel 5 and Channel 12, so I was on Channel 5 last night at 5, and tonight I'll be on Channel 12 at 5. So yeah, that was pretty exciting.

CONAN: And you got to kiss Bob Barker on the cheek.

Ms. JENSEN: I did kiss him. I kissed him twice. He's a very sweet man.

CONAN: That must've been pretty fun. And was it a fun - a lot of people come back from these experiences and say geeze, it was kind of a disappointment. Did you have a good time?

Ms. JENSEN: I had a great time, and I don't think I could complain about anything. You go there knowing that you're taking a great chance just to get in or just to get tickets. So if people - one advice - one thing I have for advice is if people want to go there and it's their dream, if they don't get in the first day, stay for the second day. You don't - you don't want to go there and say I didn't make in, and "The Price is Right" is this, and "The Price is Right" is that. It's like, if that's your dream, then try it two nights in a row.

CONAN: Well, Shellani Jensen, congratulations again, and good luck with your trip to Puerto Vallarta.

Ms. JENSEN: Hey, thanks a lot, and have a great day.

CONAN: Shellani Jensen joined us today from a studio in Phoenix, Arizona. This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. Ira's here tomorrow.

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