This spring, when Sandra Lathrop Niedojadlo of Waterford saw that Foxwoods Resort Casino was holding tryouts for the television show Family Feud, inspiration struck.
“I immediately thought my family would be perfect for this,” Niedojadlo said. “What a blast this would be. And I knew I could immediately get my family to do this.”
Well, she was right. She and four of her cousins tried out, got picked, and went on a “roller coaster ride” that hasn’t stopped since.
“It feels like one of those rides that you don’t want to get off,” Niedojadlo said. “It has been pretty incredible.”
In May, Niedojadlo and the rest of the Lathrop clan shot three consecutive episodes of Family Feud in Atlanta, and then had to wait in silence. Finally, last week, the three episodes ran, revealing the Lathrop’s had won two shows, more than $20,000 and an experience they will never forget.
In March, Niedojadlo and her four cousins, Jeff Lathrop, Megan Whiton, Alyssa Lathrop Pendelton and Megan Andrews Loeffler, tried out for Family Feud at Foxwoods. While they were hardly the strongest team (they lost their round), they more than made up for in enthusiasm.
“We just had fun with it,” Niedojadlo said. “And we were asked to do another audition on the spot.”
That audition went well, and two days later the family found out they were headed to Georgia for the Family Feud in May. Still, even there, they had no guarantee of getting on the show.
The next two months of their lives was spent training for the big event. They built their own buzzers and stands and every weekend would play game after game after game of Family Feud, practicing everything from Fast Money to what they would say when host Steve Harvey interviewed them.
“We took this contest seriously,” Niedojadlo said. “We committed to getting together every weekend.”
In May, the team flew down to Atlanta with a slew of other family members. And on May 3rd, the team had their big day in the studio, where they were one of ten teams that would try to make the show.
They ran through an audition, and were selected as the first team to go against the champion from the day before. They defeated that team and moved on to Fast Money, where they would make their “history-making moment.”
In Fast Money, two team members (in this case Whiton and Loeffler) are asked five questions each, and the two have to combine to score 200 points. With just one question left for Loeffler, the team had scored just 151 points, meaning it needed at least 49 for victory.
The question was, “Name a body part that people donate to somebody else.” Loeffler said kidney, and it was good for 52 points and $20,000.
“We just went crazy,” Niedojadlo said. “The producer, who was around since the Richard Dawson days, said she had never seen a comeback like that before… It was our history-making moment.”
The Lathrops would win another game, but lost in that Fast Money round, and would lost their last contest. All told, they won $20,000 for winning Fast Money and another $800-plus for winning two games.
And then there was the wait. The team signed a contract promising that they would not reveal what they won, and had to keep the victories a secret to their friends and the community.
After waiting and waiting, they got a phone call in August that their show would be on sometime in September. And then just a couple of weeks ago, they got another saying it would run on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday of last week at 10:30 a.m.
While each member of the team watched it on their own that day, they decided to have a big party to watch it together. So they organized an event for Saturday at The Lyme Tavern, where the show ran on a dozen TVs, with the team watching it with their family, friends and whoever else wanted to show up.
“That was incredible,” Niedojadlo said. “And then even when we got back home, we just watched it again… We laughed, and paused, and backed up, and laughed again.”
One of the people that went to Atlanta was Loeffler’s mother, affectionately known a BJ. BJ watched the Lathrop team in person win big in May, but a month later would die of pulmonary fibrosis.
The team decided to donate $500 of their winnings to benefit pulmonary fibrosis. Also, at The Lyme Tavern they passed around a hat to benefit pulmonary fibrosis, and raised another $1,600.
“We have so many wonderful memories,” Niedojadlo said. “And I’m glad we had so many of them in Georgia with BJ.”