WAIT! First read PART I and then check out our TPIR episode from 5/13 online for the next 5 days for free on CBS.com or afterwards with CBS Access. I guarantee you’ll be entertained!

Also, they confiscate your phones during the taping. All pictures are screenshots of somewhat variable quality (the wifi in Kalispell, Montana where we streamed this was not the best we’ve ever had) from the online episode at CBS.com.


TPIR - come on down

“Cole Donelson, come on down!”

5:05PM – Ecstasy: That’s my name! I jumped towards the aisle so quickly that I was gone before Elizabeth realized what had happened. I bounded to my spot on contestant’s row high-fiving and hugging strangers like I had just won the high school football state championship, Publisher’s Clearinghouse sweepstakes and national spelling bee all at once.

5:07PM – Guilt: The last two spots on contestants row were filled with much jumping and screams. To my amazement, one of them was Minnie, the friendly older lady from Georgia in our group. I gave her a huge hug. The fond feelings didn’t buy her any mercy from my bidding strategy though. On the second item up for bid Minnie went $1300 and I topped her at $1301. The price was a few hundred lower. So not only did I not win, but I had shown I was willing to ruthlessly cut off a sweet, innocent friend from winning. Feeling very guilty, I apologized with a smile and a hug. Then my mind was blown, if possible, even farther. The next name called was, Kristen, from the mother daughter pair in our small group of 8.

TPIR - contestant's row


5:18PM – Destiny: The third item up for bid caused everyone to turn and look at me. It was a hiking prize package complete with 2 Camelbak day packs and hydration reservoirs, 2 pairs of Merrell boots, 2 Fitbits and 4 water bottles. It was beautiful. Amazed, I stuck out my shirt to the camera. It read “Visiting 59 National Parks… and The Price is Right… in one year of crazy!” with a big image of a tent. And I bid last! This time I didn’t even pause before outbidding my friend Kristen with $751 for the highest bid. I instantly knew it was in the bag because the value was well over $1,000 – in fact, it was $1,216. I mean c’mon, this is destiny! 


5:20PM – Horror: Of course outdoor gear is always more expensive than people imagine. I was confident, but that didn’t make winning the bid any less amazing. I scrambled up the steps and onto the stage in a whirlwind to a big glad-hand from Drew Carey. All the sudden the announcer was telling me my hiking gear will be put to good use ” on your trip to fabulous Patagonia!” It was destiny round 2! I told Drew that Patagonia was literally #2 on our life list of travel destinations (funnily enough, we daydream about future travel often on our trip and Patagonia is only topped by New Zealand). But to get there I had to win the famous Squeeze Play game. I knew it well. My TPIR studying offered a little advice on how to approach it, but the game, though one of the simplest, is somewhat luck. You get a 5 or 6 digit number, in my case 114032. Your goal is to remove one of the middle numbers so that the remaining numbers can squeeze together to be the price of the prize. On stage, time seems to move at light speed. The crazy stimuli of the crowd cheering, cameras swooping and microphones being put in front of you leaves little room to think. The only thing I could think clearly about was the horror of choosing the wrong number and having that guilt consume me for the rest of my life. Have I mentioned this day was a little dramatic?

TPIR - shake hands with drew

TPIR - show off shirt to Drew


5:22PM – Joy: When I watched TPIR I always silently made fun of contestants straining to read the indiscernible jumble of signs and signals delivered by the eager crowd. Now I knew their feeling. I looked straight at Elizabeth and saw her holding her hands up to make a big ‘O’. Yes, I thought, I was between 4 and 0, but 0 sounds best. I’m going with $14,432. If I had chosen otherwise it would be a long 5 more months of our trip. The bell went off, the lights flashed. She nailed it. I couldn’t contain my joy as I pretend hiked around the stage. We’re going to Patagonia!

TPIR - squeeze play

TPIR - Eliza shows 0

TPIR - squeeze play winner showing shirt

TPIR - winning patagonia


5:26PM – Invincibility: I didn’t have much time to rest before the spinning the big wheel at the Showcase Showdown. I thankfully gulped a cup of water from an attendant, (my mouth felt like the middle of the Great Sand Dunes) and hustled to center stage. Being the big winner of the first 3 contestants, I spun last. The first person got 80 cents of a possible $1.00 – a tough number to beat. Both the first and second missed $1.00 by a single notch of the wheel. I gave it one mega macho spin (I had a lot of people to say hi to ;)). When it landed on 95, it felt like I was invincible. I was headed to win the big money at the Showcase!

TPIR - spinning big wheel

TPIR - winning big wheel


5:55PM – Surprise: Another 3 contestants (including Marcus, the LA birthday boy from our group, which means half our group of 8 filled the 9 contestant spots!) and 30 tantalizing minutes later and I was up on stage again for the final Showcase portion of te show where the person to bid closest to the price of their given collection of large prizes without going over wins. My counterpart was Irvin. He was super friendly and excited as he constantly mopped sweat from his forehead with a tissue provided by the crew. Before the cameras rolled, Irvin’s big group of family in the crowd and a few others started chanting his name. From somewhere a smaller group countered with chants for me. I really appreciated the gesture, but I just smiled and tried to act like it wasn’t a competition. Although inside I felt like we were opponents at the podium, like two presidential candidates. Since I was again the big winner of the two of us, I exercised my option to pass on the First Showcase. It was a huge advantage since the First Showcase is usually the lightweight of the two. Then came mine… with a twist. It was Let’s Make a Deal/TPIR “mashup week”, so my showcase started with a choice between doors 2 or 3. I chose 3 and was stoked to see door open to reveal a new Kia Rio. Unreal! My current car (which I haven’t driven since starting the trip in August) is a faithful 1995 Nissan pickup, which I bought from the estate after my grandpa passed. The cloth bench seat and rusted spots on the bed held plenty of sentimental value… But not a new car’s worth! Then came the surprise. When I said no to trading it in for door 2 (“I need that new car!”), they “threw a curveball” as Drew said and opened up door 2 anyway. The second part of my showcase was a brand new Chevy Spark. I’d never heard of the latter, but had almost bought a used version of the former a few years ago. I quickly calculated, sparing no time to register the shouts of the audience. Guesstimating based on the $24k for a new Ford Escape we bought a year previously, the fact that new cars are always more expensive than I imagine, that TPIR cars (that may be outfitted with upgrades) are even more so, and that I thought Irvin had made a smart bid, I overrode my knowledge that the average showcase is $26k. I bid an ambitious, yet in my mind slightly conservative $34,800 (estimating $17k for one and 18k for the other).

Winning The Price is Right


5:56PM – Regret: Immediately after my bid I regretted it. I almost told them, “Wait, no! For the love of Bob Barker can I take it back?!” But 5 seconds turned to 10 to a commercial break. I had a sinking feeling that I overbid. A giant TPIR no-no. Right before the cameras came back Drew wished us luck – he had chatted with us here and there and seems like a really personable guy who really enjoys his job. He then moved from my podium to Irvin’s where he took out the “actual price” envelope. What does that mean? Am I announced second to dramatically reveal the winner?! Irvin bid $21k and his actual retail price was $26k. A surprisingly large difference of $5k. I bid $35,800. My actual retail price was… $32,280. An overbid by $3,520. We shake hands and smile as Irvin’s family floods the stage.

6:00PM – Disappointment: It wasn’t so much that I was disappointed with myself for being wrong, but rather I was disappointed in how I had been wrong. Feeling the pressure of bidding and the glare of the cameras, I had gotten both cocky and undisciplined. Cocky because I hadn’t remembered to at least look at the crowd for input (particularly Elizabeth, who told me she had held up $31k for a short second). Undisciplined because I had bid too fast without allowing for proper cushion by determining and adding the minimum conceivable price for each car. Although I knew it wouldn’t help anything, I couldn’t keep from torturing myself with every possible woulda, shoulda, coulda over the next few days as we trekked across the pristine Channel Islands.

6:40PM – Gratefulness: Once Drew wished me well on our future travels, I got through the prize claiming paperwork and said goodbye to all my new TPIR friends, I was so relieved to see Elizabeth’s beaming face again and unload about everything that happened. The bottom line is that I had an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime experience. And for that (and my trip to Patagonia) I’m incredibly grateful.

And as for not winning two new cars… sometimes I catch myself saying, “if only we had this it would make our financial life so much easier.” But when we get the this I’m like, “if only we had that it would really help our financial situation.” It’s easy to say, but hard to remember: new stuff and more money is no surefire path to happiness. That’s one of the biggest reasons we chose to prioritize crazy adventures and new experiences over making money during this year of travel. And hopefully for the rest of our lives.


If you are interested in my tips for TPIR success, go to our Facebook page and send me a message. I’d be happy to share more details of my experiences and what I learned with you. Because I had the time of my life, and I think you could too.

Written by Cole

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7 Comments on "GETTING ON THE PRICE IS RIGHT: The most dramatic day of my life (Part II)"

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Mary Macklin

So happy for you
Very proud of you and your lovely bride on this amazing journey. I have learned so much from all of your posts


I have been waiting all weekend for this half of the story! You did great. I would have buckled under the pressure. That is so cool that Patagonia is on your bucket list. Congratulations to you both!


So happy for you. It was great watching the show. As soon as I saw that you would bid on camping/hiking equipment, I knew you had it.


Good luck!

Diane Strom

I am a cousin of your father. It is amazing to read your stories!

Do they ask certain people to purposely bid another bidder up $1, because otherwise it is such a negative thing to do. if i wait in line for hours, then miraculously get called up, then get maybe one chance to bid, i would not only be very upset, but very discouraged if someone bid me up $1 instead of thinking of their own number to bid. Even if it’s $20 dollars, at least you’ve given them a chance too. You’ve just killed all that person’s joy. This is the number #1 reason i have never gone on the show. I… Read more »