STAFF WRITER JENNIFER FIERRO
“Bryce Gage, you made a bad deal.”
That statement came from Howie Mandel, host of the TV game show “Deal or No Deal,” at the end of the Jan. 16 episode featuring the Marble Falls High School choir teacher.
Gage made a deal with the show’s “banker” for $69,000 — her sixth and highest offer that night.
At the time, only one major cash prize — $500,000 — was left, and Gage still needed to open four more cases. At the start of “Deal or No Deal,” a contestant choses from among almost two dozen briefcases, each representing cash prize amounts from 1 cent to $1 million.
The contestant’s case remains unopened next to them as, during the course of the game, they decide whether to stick with it or accept deals offered by the banker, a silhouetted woman overseeing the entire game. The contestant must open the remaining cases a handful at a time to see what dollar amounts are taken off the prize board as the banker offers her deals.
If they accept a deal, the game ends.
After Gage accepted his offer, the amounts in the remaining cases were revealed: No. 4 contained $25,000; No. 15, a penny; No. 13, $1; and No. 7, $1,000.
That meant the case Gage chose at the beginning of the game, No. 2, sitting on the table beside him, was worth half a million dollars.
Still, the choir director walked away with his head held high.
“I came with nothing and walked away with a year’s salary,” he said. “We really wanted to make a dent into house improvements and pay off some things and start college funds for our daughters (McKayla and Jennie Lynn). Seventy thousand dollars is a lot of money, and that can do those things.
“We never had it to lose it,” he added about the $500,000. “That was never ours. That’s part of the game, the chances and the risks. I didn’t want it to seem like I am greedy.”
Gage said he might have continued playing, opening one more case, No. 4 with its $25,000. At that point, the banker’s offer would have been $125,000. He said there’s no doubt he would have accepted that and ended the game.
“There’s no way I would have gone on,” he said. “I think there’s a lot of luck that plays into that. You walk in with nothing and walk out with something. How much risk are you going to take? I saw it as an opportunity to get ahead. It makes retirement more of a realization because of this.”
Gage was a big winner in other ways.
He had a long-distance basketball shooting contest with Orlando Magic forward Jonathan Isaac during the episode. The two each made a basket and received a 55-inch TV. That’s an upgrade for Gage, who said he had an 18-inch set at home.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the night for the teacher was what was happening in Marble Falls while Gage was in Orlando. Mandel showed Gage a live look at Marble Falls High School’s Max Copeland Gym, where many of his students and colleagues gathered to cheer him on during the taping last August.
Gage said that gathering was the doing of Chris Allen, superintendent of Marble Falls Independent School District, who sent emails and got student-leaders to fill the homestands.
“It was pretty emotional,” Gage said.
Then, Mandel handed the choir director a card with an official city of Marble Falls emblem on the back and asked Gage to read it.
Written on the card was that Marble Falls had officially bestowed upon him the title of Mr. Marble Falls, will have a Bryce Gage Day in the future, and will place a sign downtown declaring the city is the “Home of Mr. Marble Falls, Bryce Gage of ‘Deal or No Deal’ fame.” The teacher will also star in a show at the Uptown theater on Main Street titled “An Evening with Bryce Gage,” and Bill’s Burgers, also downtown, will have a Mr. Marble Falls burger on the menu in his honor.
While city leaders are working on their part of the commitments. And Amber and Max Cardenas, the owners of Bill’s Burgers, said they’ll donate $1 to the high school choir program from every Mr. Marble Falls burger sold during 2019.
Gage said that when he thinks of the ideal Mr. Marble Falls, he pictures these men: the Rev. Max Copeland, former pastor of First Baptist Church of Marble Falls; Martin McLean, former president of the Marble Falls Independent School District Board of Trustees; and former Marble Falls High School teachers and coaches Larry Berkman and Kyle Futrell.
Futrell, a close friend, was a member of Gage’s “Deal or No Deal” support trio — which also included wife Shannon and friend David Schubert.
“It’s just so overwhelming that Marble Falls would bestow that (title) upon me,” Gage said. “I’m probably the most undeserving person. I think of those men who trailblazed in Marble Falls. I’m very honored they’d consider me for that.”
The choir director received many well-wishes and congratulations in text messages, on social media, and by email. He stayed up until midnight Jan. 17 to reply and still couldn’t answer them all.
But he did mention one well-wisher whose words made him choke with emotion. Michael Rapstine, a 2006 Marble Falls High School graduate and current military member, congratulated Gage on his appearance (“Way to represent Marble Falls”) and called Futrell “the best coach in Texas.” The former student then said he was one of the original 19 choir members in Gage’s first year. Gage said on the show that he took a choir program of fewer than 20 students to one of 200 members. He has led them on stage at Carnegie Hall and will accompany them on a trip to Europe in March.
Rapstine epitomizes what Gage tries to do every day: put his students in the best position to succeed and be better than they were the day before.
In that sense, Gage said, he is a true winner because there is no dollar amount that can buy that kind of success.