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A man who lost his business after 9/11 just won $285,000 on 'Deal or No Deal'

Shawn M. Carter

A windfall — the kind you can get if you win the lottery or score big on a game show — can be life-changing, especially if the amount in question is $285,000, or 24 times what the median U.S. household has in savings .

But Joe Verriotto, who won six figures on the CNBC premiere of "Deal or No Deal," says winning the money wasn't even the highlight of his night.

"Yeah, I really haven't even thought about it," he tells CNBC Make It . "Most people would think about the money … And believe me, I need the money . Let's face it."

Still, he's more wrapped up in the overall experience. "I don't think there's enough adjectives," he says. "It was just everything I anticipated and then some. Being in front of the live audience, having my wife and my childhood friends on set, meeting Howie Mandel — the whole bowl of wax was something I'm never going to forget."

"And who knows, maybe some other doors will open from this."

'A part of the story a lot of people don't know'

In 2001, Verriotto owned a booming business near the World Trade Center. When the towers collapsed, everything changed.

"I lost the company," he recalls. "This is a part of the story a lot of people don't know."

But while Verriotto ended up losing that business, he kept his perspective and his focus on how lucky he was. "I had a lot of family in those two buildings who, thank goodness, got out," he says. "I get emotional even talking about it. … It wasn't easy."

When he got the call for "Deal or No Deal" almost two decades later, he wasn't "looking for any handouts," he says. "I was just trying to go with the flow" and enjoy the experience with the people closest to him.


How he took home six figures

Verriotto didn't have a strategy going into the game: "I was basically picking numbers out of left field — pulling them from heaven." And "when the game started going the way it was, I couldn't believe it." Again and again, he eliminated briefcases containing small amounts of money.

"As we were getting closer to the million-dollar briefcase," he says, "I really thought I was taking down the jackpot. I really, in my heart, was starting to believe that I was going to either have the million dollars in my case or have at least a three-quarters-of-a-million type offer."

He didn't quite make it there. With just a few cases left on the board, Verriotto says he didn't want to risk throwing away a good offer, so he took a deal from the banker worth $285,000.

At first, "I had in my heart to keep going," he says. But "at that point of the show, I was having such a good time. I was dancing, I was with Howie Mandel, I had my wife by my side, my two friends — I just said to myself, 'You know what, $285,000 is all in a day's work. I'm happy.'"

That strategy of being conservative with money and only taking calculated risks is one endorsed by Mandel himself, the host and executive producer of "Deal or No Deal."

"I don't gamble with money," he tells CNBC Make It. "In my mind, if I showed up for 10 minutes and somebody said, 'The banker is now offering you $15,000'? Deal. There's a chance I could tank on the next couple of openings, there's a chance I'll never see the million dollars."

He'd rather stick with a sure thing.


'It couldn't have played out any better'

For Verriotto, one thing is sure: His life, and the lives of his family members, will be better for his having been on the show .

"The enormous positive feedback I'm getting from people I know and from family ... it's unbelievable," he says. "It really is."

He says he plans to use the money to help pay for his daughter's upcoming wedding, make a few home improvements and expand his current business, AAA Transportation, a traditional- and luxury-transport service based out of Hazlet, New Jersey.

His advice to anyone who comes into a windfall : "Try to keep yourself grounded as best you can because it's very easy to soar way over 800,000 feet with this whole thing. And that's what I'm trying to do. I'm just trying to stay humbled and grounded."

And while Verriotto didn't end up with the $1 million case , he says he still feels like a million bucks. "It didn't work out that way where I won the million," but "money aside, I got the six-figure win."

"The show itself is worth a million dollars," he continues. "It couldn't have played out any better."

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Video by Mary Stevens