Downstate Delaware family wins big on the “Feud”

“Family Feud” host Steve Harvey stands with, from left, Sarah Starkey, of Felton; Jodi Skocypec, of Lewes; Meaghan Ellwanger, of Milford; Jami Jackson, of Lewes; and Pam Jackson, of Dover. The family members, all Dover natives, competed in April on the long-running syndicated game show. Their episodes were televised this past week. (Submitted photo)

“Family Feud” host Steve Harvey stands with, from left, Sarah Starkey, of Felton; Jodi Skocypec, of Lewes; Meaghan Ellwanger, of Milford; Jami Jackson, of Lewes; and Pam Jackson, of Dover. The family members, all Dover natives, competed in April on the long-running syndicated game show. Their episodes were televised this past week. (Submitted photo)

DOVER — It started, as many things do these days, with a Facebook post.

“I love game shows and ‘Family Feud’ is my favorite one,” explained Sarah Starkey of Felton.

“A friend of mine saw auditions for the show were coming up in Philadelphia and tagged me in the post, saying ‘You should try out.’”

That simple suggestion, which went out in late December of last year, began an odyssey that put a Downstate family in front of millions on the long-running survey show this past week, making them more than $40,000 richer.

Thinking the idea of appearing on the game show wasn’t half bad, Ms. Starkey emailed her mother, Pam Jackson, of Dover; her sister, Meaghan Ellwanger, of Milford; and her cousins Jami Jackson and Jodi Skocypec, both of Lewes.

“They all immediately came back saying ‘Yes’ and I replied ‘Seriously? Do you really think it sounds cool?’” Ms. Starkey recalled.

All positively agreeing, the women immediately got together to produce a video extolling the virtues of Delaware with the hopes of getting an audition when the “Family Feud” folks came to Philly.

Knowing the odds were long — only a few hundred get the opportunity to audition out of 7,000 to 8,000 families who submit tapes — the gang, who competed as the Jackson family, persevered.

“With every step we took, we just said ‘Let’s see what happens. If nothing else, it will be a fun and crazy experience,’ ” Ms. Starkey said.

They did end up getting that audition and in January competed in two mock rounds against another family up in Philadelphia.

“It was less about good answers and more about your personality and energy,” Ms. Starkey said.

Members of the Jackson family, all Dover natives, say the experience on "Family Feud" was an unforgettable time in their lives and say they hope to return in 10 years when they are eligible. (Submitted photo)

Members of the Jackson family, all Dover natives, say the experience on “Family Feud” was an unforgettable time in their lives and say they hope to return in 10 years when they are eligible. (Submitted photo)

Soon after, a postcard arrived in the mail saying that the Jacksons, all Dover natives, were in the pool of families that had a shot to compete on the show and, in March, an email arrived with a list of dates, asking the family if they were available for any of them.

“We thought ‘Are you kidding’ We can do any and all of them and a week later, they gave us April 22 as a taping date,” Ms. Starkey recalled.

“So we all went shopping and bought coordinated clothes and went from there.”

Weeks of practice followed with Ms. Starkey buying a “Family Feud” desk calendar and each day she would send her teammates a question and they would text her the answers.

The April date came and flights and hotel rooms were booked by the show for their trip to Atlanta where “Family Feud” is filmed. Their husbands tagged along and a few family friends also attended.

Once they got there, they realized they had one more hurdle to overcome.

“We didn’t realize that even though they have paid for your hotel and airfare, you’re not guaranteed to get on the show until you pass one more audition in the studio with the lights and music,” Ms. Starkey said.

So they did another couple of mock rounds and took their seats in the audience for the beginning of the taping of four shows.

After the first episode of the day was completed, their name was called and they sprang into action.

“It was such an exciting, stressful and surreal feeling. We just barely had time to change our shoes, touch up our makeup and use the restroom and then it was show time,” said Ms. Starkey, who is the family ministry director of Calvary Wesleyan Church in Harrington, where a viewing party was held during the family’s first night on the show on Oct. 6.

On their first episode, the Jacksons defeated the four-time defending champion family and then Ms. Starkey and her mother Pam won $20,000 in the show’s Big Money bonus round.

Two hard-fought victories followed with another $20,000 bonus win during their third win.

The taping day came at the end of the show’s work week and the Jacksons were flown back home for the weekend and then back to Atlanta the following week.

On the fourth show, the family’s dream ended as they lost in a sudden-death round when neither team scored the required 300 points by the end of the show

“It hurt just as bad watching it on TV (Wednesday) night as it did that day,” said Ms. Starkey, who was the family’s team captain.

All told, the family won $40,805 for their efforts. They won’t get the cash for about another six weeks.

“It will be great Christmas money,” Ms. Starkey said.

That first taping day was a long one. Each episode takes about an hour and a half to film. The family was picked up from their hotel at 8 a.m. and didn’t arrive back until after 6 p.m.

Ms. Starkey said the show’s host, Steve Harvey, helped greatly in keeping them up and relaxed.

“He was so genuine. That’s the word that always comes to mind. He’s the same person you see on the show, always laughing and having a good time,” Ms. Starkey said.

“He talked to each and every one of us on the stage and really seemed to enjoy his job. When you think about how many families he sees every day and he makes every one feel extremely special. There’s lot of conversation that’s edited out of each show.”

Ms. Starkey said families can return every 10 years and they plan to do just that.

“My mother joked that she might have to do the show on a walker,” Ms. Starkey said.

It was an improbable journey that started 10 months ago and ended officially this past week when their episodes were finally aired.

“Every round we got through, I think we were all in such disbelief. We were kind of amazed that they actually liked us small-town girls. We are all so close. I think they could tell that it wasn’t contrived,” Ms. Starkey said.

“We’re great friends. We’ve always been great friends and I think they could sense that chemistry without us even saying anything.

“It was really such a special time to spend with family. And that’s what it is really all about.”

Reach features editor Craig Horleman at chorl@newszap.com

You are encouraged to leave relevant comments but engaging in personal attacks, threats, online bullying or commercial spam will not be allowed. All comments should remain within the bounds of fair play and civility. (You can disagree with others courteously, without being disagreeable.) Feel free to express yourself but keep an open mind toward finding value in what others say. To report abuse or spam, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box.