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Local man wins big

Canyon Country resident plans to put his prize toward a down payment on a house

Posted: August 15, 2009 8:41 p.m.
Updated: August 16, 2009 8:00 a.m.

Canyon Country resident John Pastora, left, stands with game show host Mark Walberg on the set of "Make Me a Millionaire," from the California State Lottery. Pastora won $48,000 on the shows random-play game, "Safe Cracker." The show aired Saturday night.

 
For years, John Pastora tried his luck at lottery scratchers.

He'd win a couple of hundred dollars here and there, the Canyon Country resident said Thursday.

And though he often and faithfully uncovered the numbers and words behind that silver lining, he never expected he'd be watching himself win $48,000 dollars on the California Lottery game show "Make Me a Millionaire."

"I've watched it before but I never thought I'd be on the show," said Pastora, 37, who viewed his victory moment on TV at home in Canyon Country Saturday night with his wife, four children and friends.

It was a sweet moment indeed. The apartment the family has called home for half a year - since they lost their home to foreclosure - likely won't be home much longer now.

"We're thinking of putting that money as a down payment for a house; we're going to take advantage of the market," Pastora said, calling the winnings a "second chance."

"This was really a blessing for us."

It all began when Pastora purchased five Fantasy 5 scratchers months ago. One of those tickets revealed a second-chance draw.

According to the California State Lottery's Web site, players purchasing $5 or more of the $1 Fantasy 5 scratchers in one transaction will receive an entry coupon for a second-chance draw for a chance to appear on the show.

"I mailed in the second-chance coupon and then (it) got selected as a winner to go on the show," he said. "My wife received the letter and she told me, ‘Hey, you got a letter from the lottery.'

"I couldn't believe it. I was stunned," Pastora said.

Come the night before show taping on June 14, Pastora tried to keep calm and not put too much pressure on himself.

"They (California Lottery officials) gave us a stay at the Hilton hotel (in Universal City). My wife and I had dinner and strolled the shops," he said. "I tried to distract my mind because I was too excited."

It wasn't until Pastora was in the studio the next day that he learned he'd be playing "Safe Cracker."

After selecting various safes from 10 choices, with amounts ranging from $1,000 to $20,000, Pastora had accumulated $19,000.

"The other contestant got two strikes before I did," Pastora said. "Once he got two strikes, he basically eliminated himself. They gave me an additional $5,000 for winning the first round."

The show host then asked Pastora if he wanted to move on to the second round, risking half his earnings thus far, or to just walk away with his $24,000.

"I made the spontaneous decision to compete," he said. "My wife was telling me not to, but at that moment I wasn't even looking at my wife in the audience."

Looking back, Pastora said he might not have elected to go on if he'd thought about the risks.

In the second round, Pastora had the chance to choose one out of five safes. Four of those five safes were empty.

"I picked number five because it's my month; I was born in May," he said. "At that last moment, I was scared and excited. My mind wasn't all there."

Once again, he found himself in disbelief - he picked the one safe representing double what he had won thus far.

"I couldn't believe it," he said, "that I let myself continue and won so much money."

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