Good luck for a change

Lisa Gardner

Photo By Larry Dalton

The week of November 14-21 proved to be quite a week for Sacramento resident Lisa Gardner. The 42-year-old self-described stay-at-home mom first flew down to Los Angeles to a taping of The Ellen DeGeneres Show, where she not only got to see her favorite star, but also was selected to play one of the in-house game shows the talk-show host is famous for. There she won $3,200 and two tickets to fly to see another taping of the show at the end of the same week—this time in New York City, all expenses paid. To top it off, between the two tapings, she and her husband, Bryan, had tickets to see the Paul McCartney concert in Sacramento on November 16.

The bubbly Gardner typically spends her days, she says, caring for her sons (2-year-old Aidan, 8-year-old Garrett and 10-year-old Jeremy) as well as operating a small before- and after-school neighborhood daycare and carpool service. SN&R caught up with Gardner the day she returned from the first show, two days before her departure to New York.

Would you describe yourself as a big fan of Ellen DeGeneres?

Oh, big fan, huge fan. I watched her nighttime sitcom. I’ve read her book, read her mom’s book. I tape her talk show and usually watch it after the boys go to bed when I can watch it without interruption and without commercials. I tried to get tickets to her show last year but was unsuccessful. This year, I had a choice of several dates, and I picked November 14.

What kind of process were you put through when you went down to the studio?

Well, it actually started before I left. A guy from the show e-mailed me and asked if I had a digital camera and asked if I’d take a photo of my living room but said he couldn’t tell me why. I did and sent it to them. Then he wanted me to videotape my living room, which I did—but I was still totally in the dark. I brought the video with me to NBC Studios. When I got there, two more guys asked me if I was chosen for something if I could act excited and if I thought I was good at game shows. I was like, “Well, yeah, I can act excited!” I was still totally in the dark. They wouldn’t tell me anything, except, finally, that it was down to 10 of us.

You were eventually chosen to play a game called Spend or Save, where you were given a credit card with $3,200 loaded on it, and your choice was to keep it or spend it on what was behind the curtain. Why did you save it, and are you happy with your decision?

Everyone in the audience was telling me to spend it … and Ellen was saying, “You can’t go wrong either way.” But I’m glad I saved it, because once I saw what it was—a high-definition TV system—it wouldn’t have fit in our living room! Turns out, they’d asked for those photos of my living room so they could superimpose the set in our house and show everyone how it would look if I had chosen that. When I saw it later, after the show, I saw we’d barely have room to walk!

You looked completely stunned when Ellen said you had won the trip to New York in addition to the money. How were you feeling?

I totally hadn’t expected that! I was more excited about that I think than the money! I haven’t been to New York for 20 years. I’m taking my friend, Judy, because she’s a big fan, too. Really, the whole thing’s just a shock. I mean, I’m fortunate I get to stay home with my kids. There are people worse off than me.

Do you have big plans for the money?

My boys are gonna get a really good Christmas! But, really, beyond that, it’s still not sinking in that I have this cushion, you know? We might start remodeling our house a bit earlier than we’d planned.

Did anything else happen at the show?

I got to talk to her mom. Ellen’s mom was sitting near me and said congratulations when I came back to my seat. She was sweet, asked me where I was from. I didn’t ask her for her autograph, though. She’s very reserved—nothing like her daughter.

Were audience members asked to adhere to specific rules during taping?

If we were called up onstage, we couldn’t bring anything up for her to sign. And I had brought her book with me, as well as her mama’s. But I didn’t bring them up onstage.

Have you ever had an experience like this one, or something remotely like it?

Oh, never. Kind of like that song, if it weren’t for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all. … Just kidding. But really, nothing like this. I won $100 five years ago on a local country radio station for being the 25th caller, I think. But nothing like this.