Sydney Roberts’ 15 minutes of fame just earned her a cool $20,000.
The South Ogden woman was attending an April 30 taping of “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” in Burbank, California, when she and two other women were called out of the audience for a chance to win up to $50,000 with one roll on a Skee-Ball machine. With her ball, Roberts hit the “20K” hole.
It was all part of DeGeneres’ “Million Dollar May” promotion, wherein the show is giving away $1 million “to deserving people throughout the entire month of May,” according to the comedian.
Earlier in the show, which aired May 1, DeGeneres gave a pediatric nurse who volunteers with children three rolls on a Skee-Ball machine to win money. She collected $25,000.
Then, near the end of that day’s taping, DeGeneres said: “Since we rented the skee-ball machine until 5 I thought it would be fun to give some more people a chance to win some money.”
DeGeneres said three Skee-Ball balls had been hidden throughout the auditorium, and instructed audience members to look under their seats. Roberts found a ball under her seat.
Roberts says she had an inkling that something might happen during the show, but she didn’t know what it might be.
“When we got there, a guy who works at the studios came up to me and my friends and said, ‘You look like fun people,’” she recalls. “He asked where we were from, and some other questions.”
Roberts said about 50 people, including her, were pulled aside and talked to individually. Then she and a dozen others were taken into a room on the studio lot and coached on what to do and not to do if they ended up on the show.
“We didn’t know what it was for,” Roberts said.
After that, they were taken into the studio, and Roberts was told to sit in a specific seat. It ended up being the seat with a ball hidden underneath it.
Roberts grew up in Ogden and attended Weber High School and Weber State University. She works in the College of Nursing at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, and she and her husband of four years, Parker, just had a baby boy four months ago.
The visit to the “Ellen” show was part of a whirlwind trip for Roberts and three friends.
“My one friend (Navy Butler, of Tremonton) put in for tickets and was planning on taking her mom and sister,” Roberts said. “What we’d heard is that you don’t normally get tickets the first time you try, so she just chose a random day. But she got tickets her first time, and it was such a random day that her mom and sister couldn’t go — so she invited me and two friends.”
The four women — Madi Keck, of South Ogden, and Morgan Thurman, of South Weber, rounded out the group — arrived at the airport on a Tuesday, dropped their bags at the hotel and immediately went to the “Ellen” taping.
“We were only in California for 24 hours,” Roberts said. “It was, literally, go for the show and come back home the next day.”
Even if she hadn’t won $20,000, Roberts said the experience would have been worth it. She considers herself a pretty big Ellen DeGeneres fan.
“Her motto is ‘Be kind,’” Roberts said of the comedian. “I like how generous she is, and she’s always helping organizations. I won some money, but she also gives money to so many people in need — which is what draws me to her.”
Roberts was so excited about meeting DeGeneres and being on the show that she doesn’t remember much about what happened.
“I didn’t even know how much I’d won until after the show,” she said. “I got back to my seat and told my friends, ‘I can’t remember what I said on live TV.’”
Roberts said her check from the show should come “any day now.”
“I’ll have to pay taxes on it,” she says, “but I’m still very grateful. I will definitely take $20,000. Of course, I would have been happy with 500 bucks.”
Roberts swore her three friends to secrecy, so when they returned to Utah the next day and her family got together to watch the show it would be a surprise. A “coming up” teaser before a commercial break showed Roberts on stage.
“My husband was kind of in shock,” Roberts said. “My mom is screaming and calling my grandma and everybody, telling them, ‘Turn on Ellen! Sydney is going to be on!’”
Roberts said she plans to save some of the money, but she also told her husband she thinks they should use some of the money for “a little vacation.” They’re in the process of trying to decide where to go.
“I’m a beach-type person — Hawaii, Mexico, something like that,” Roberts said. “And I feel like a get a little more say in where we go, because I won the money.”
Roberts joked that her three friends may be wanting to get something out of the deal as well.
“I think all of them expect a little cut,” she laughed. “I’ll have to see how generous I feel that day.”
“The Ellen DeGeneres Show” airs at 3 p.m. weekdays on KUTV Channel 2. A six-minute clip of the “Million Dollar May” segment can be viewed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=flsn_5W_QRQ. (Roberts’ appearance begins at about the 4-minute mark.)
“I think it was fun — a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” Roberts said of her visit to the show. “It was just cool to think that it happened to me, this ordinary person from South Ogden, Utah.”