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Escondido resident wins $265,585 on ‘Press Your Luck’ game show

"Press Your Luck" contestant FaLawna Barton of Escondido on the Aug. 18 show.
“Press Your Luck” contestant FaLawna Barton of Escondido presses the button on the Aug. 18 show as host Elizabeth Banks watches.
(ABC/John Fleenor)

FaLawna Barton, a single mother of a teen and a tween in Escondido, won more than a quarter of a million dollars with the push of a button last May.

Winning a life-changing jackpot on a prime-time game show was difficult, but keeping the outcome secret for nearly three months was almost as challenging.

FaLawna Barton, a single mother of a teen and a tween in Escondido, won more than a quarter of a million dollars with the push of a button last May.

Finally, her episode of ABC TV’s “Press Your Luck” aired last Thursday, freeing her to share the happy news with her two young daughters, her ex-husband and friends.

“It was the most difficult thing on the face of the planet,” she says of her pledge of silence. “How do I not say anything to anyone? I was so excited.”

Barton’s first appearance on the show more than a year earlier had ended badly. Contestants answer trivia questions for the chance to earn a spin that stops on one of a sequence of lighted squares on the Big Board. Their fervent hope is that the final square is a win (of money or merchandise), not a “whammy.”

Four whammies and you are out of the game. That’s what happened to Barton initially. “It was so traumatic,” she recalls.

So, when “Press Your Luck” producers invited her and two other losing contestants to return to compete in a “redemption” round, she was in disbelief but quickly accepted.

The episode was packed with enough screaming and crying for a church revival meeting and, when it was over, Barton collapsed to the floor sobbing in exhaustion and shock. Her prize? $265,585 in cash (before taxes) and a digital camera that raised the total to $271,084.

FaLawna Barton jumps for joy en route to a $265,585 win on ABC's "Press Your Luck" show. Host Elizabeth Banks cheers her on.
(ABC/John Fleenor)

She beat Sandy “Lucky Hands” Chesnut, of San Ramon, and Mark Tshuma, of Dallas. And she went right back to work.

Barton is a worship pastor at the San Marcos campus of The Rock Church. She isn’t ordained but works in ministry as a licensed deacon.

Did she have a good luck charm? “I had Jesus. That’s all I had,” she laughs. And, as it turned out, that was all she needed.

“I prayed during the show: ‘Keep me calm; give me peace; please be with me, calm my soul.’ There were short bursts of prayer throughout the taping.”

The stress was palpable when Barton made it to the bonus round with lots of whammy squares on the board. “If I hit a whammy, my life is destroyed. I will lose everything,” she remembers thinking, but she tried not to dwell on that scenario.

Barton does not consider herself a lucky person. Her life has been full of frustrations and setbacks — most recently the divorce from her husband with whom she had moved here from Atlanta in 2017.

When they split, she found herself a single parent living in one of the most expensive cities and states in the country, with growing inflation boosting the cost of living even higher.

“The money could not have come at a better time,” says Barton, who knows exactly what she will do with it — and a trip to Disneyland isn’t in the cards. She and her daughters have been living in Escondido with a co-worker and her husband.

So Barton’s dream is to put her winnings toward the purchase of a house, a town home or a condo with the help of a government program that aids first-time Black homeowners. She already is surveying the market.

During the taping, she was asked to bring a couple of supporters with her, so Barton invited her mother, Wilhelmina Ingram, who was flown in from Augusta, Ga., and her dear friend and co-worker, Lenette Mendiola. As the winnings spiraled up, they became nearly as emotional as she was.

When Barton crumpled to the floor, overcome by emotion, her mother ran over, knelt, and hugged her.

“I had my head down, and I was just praying,” her mother told me later. When Ingram heard the crowd roar, she looked up and realized FaLawna had won. “I wanted her to quit, but she told me, ‘I’m going to press my luck.’ She deserves every penny she’s getting.”

Barton explained that her mother also was a single, working mom. “I went through hard times. She knows of the sacrifices, tears and struggles. She knows of the traumatic things that have happened.”

The previous show taping had taken place during the pandemic with no studio audience beyond a few family members and friends of contestants. In the episode that aired Aug. 18, the seats were packed.

“The audience brought such energy. It was amazing,” Barton recalls. She also praised the enthusiasm of show host, Elizabeth Banks. “She looked me in my face as I was crying and tears were rolling down my face and said: ‘You’ve got this! You can do this!’ She connected with my desperation. She wanted me to win.”

And win, Barton did, loudly chanting: “Prize-a-palooza; No whammies; Prize-a-palooza; Stop!”

Afterward, Banks asked the importance to her and her girls of winning that amount of money.

Through her tears, Barton gasped: “You have no idea how much this means to us. I don’t have to wonder. I don’t have to struggle. I don’t have to figure things out and make the ends meet. This is such a blessing for me and my family.”

Last Thursday, Barton hosted a watch party for best friends and family at her house. She says her daughters’ jaws dropped and they went into shock when she won because she had kept the outcome from them.

“I don’t think I ever want to do another game show,” Barton says. “My heart can’t take it.”


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