Dawn Sturtz hugs her daughter after winning the big deal on the daytime show “Let’s Make a Deal” with Wayne Brady. The episode aired on Tuesday, June 7.

Retired microbiologist headed on dream vacation to Galapagos after winning show’s big prize

A bit of boredom and a lack of internet led to a big win for a new Forest Lake resident on the daytime show “Let’s Make a Deal,” which aired on June 7. Dawn Sturtz, a recently retired FDA microbiologist from Iowa, ended up winning three prize packages totaling a $33,000 value, including a lifetime dream vacation to the Galapagos Islands. 

“I started crying,” she said about the moment she won, and said at the time, “Stuff like this doesn’t happen to me.” 

Sturtz moved from Iowa to Forest Lake in September to be close to her daughter and son-in-law, Minnetonka residents who were expecting their first child in early 2022. While she was waiting for internet service at her new house to get hooked up, she’d spend her free mornings watching daytime TV. She began to watch a childhood favorite: “Let’s Make a Deal!”

“I can remember as a kid when Monty Hall was on. It was always so fun. The people would have their purses and bags full of safety pins and Band-Aids to see if they would get called on. I was a fan when I was a kid,” she said. “I was up here with no internet, and it was winter in Minnesota, so I’m watching daytime television.”

On one of the shows, she saw a blurb flash across the screen, saying the show was looking for new contestants. She went to the website, and filled out the application, and quickly got a call back by a producer asking to do a virtual interview. 

“I didn’t even have internet yet,” Dawn said. 

On Oct. 1, 2021, she drove down to her daughter’s house in Minnetonka to do just that. 

“They said to dress up, act yourself, and be bubbly, and I kind of am anyway,” she said.

He asked her questions about what she did for a living, what are her goals now in retirement. Then he said he’d recommend her to be on the show. For a month, she didn’t hear anything back, and had mostly all but forgotten about the interview. 

In early November, she got a call asking her to be on the show. The show is filmed with contestants video-calling in remotely due to COVID-19 protocols, but even by Nov. 18, her filming date, she still didn’t have internet, so she wound up again at her daughter’s house — specifically in the yet-to-be-finished nursery, sitting in her daughter’s rocking chair.

With the help of another daughter, she dressed up as a vase with flowers (the show is known for having contestants dress up in costumes), and hopped online. She didn’t know for sure if she’d be picked to participate on the show or not, but she had her suspicions when producers kept checking in with her and asking her to speak for microphone tests. 

“I kind of had a feeling, but still, when Wayne Brady [called my name], everything went out the window and I was in shock,” she said. “They kind of tell you what to say, so you’re not just babbling. But of course I was babbling.”

She went on to play a game with two in-house audience members, and from there took that money to make a trade, which could leave her empty-handed or with a bigger prize.

“I think it was [that] I just wanted to play the show. … I was just so excited, and I remember that, and it was like ‘No, I want to keep going’ and if I go home with nothing, then I go home with nothing and it was still a fun experience. So I went for it,” she said, adding she’s usually a risk-taker.

She was excited to find out that she had just won a new kitchen upgrade, valued at $6,000. 

“I thought that was it, I got me a new refrigerator, a new kitchen set I needed,” she said. 

It was perfect, she said, because the home she had purchased in Forest Lake didn’t have newer kitchen appliances, so she thought she’d get a nice refrigerator and oven upgrade. 

Then came the time for the “big deal,” which is usually first offered to contestants who have won bigger prizes. They did, but all of those contestants passed on the opportunity to play for more. And so when they called Dawn’s name, she was shocked. 

“I had the deer in the headlights look,” she said, offering a laugh. She would have to trade her newly-won kitchen upgrade.

“What went through my mind was I got the fridge, I got the kitchen, I’m good. But also, what if there’s something back there and I want it?” she said.

She went for it, and chose curtain number 3, “because I have three wonderful children,” she added.

Curtain number one was peeled back to show a vault full of cash. She stayed with number three. Curtain number two was peeled back to show a glimpse of a game room. She stayed with number three.

What was behind curtain number three was an all-expense paid eight-day trip to the Galapagos Islands, what she considers a bucket list vacation of many years.

“When they opened up that final curtain and it was a trip, I just lost it,” she said. “I’ve been a microbiologist for 37 years, so of course I’d want to go there,” she said.

But, as a surprise, Wayne Brady then revealed she’d be getting the packages behind each curtain, including the game room and the vault full of $2,500 in cash. The producers, who only had talked to her to prep for technical needs, asked her if she was home alone. When she indicated she was at her daughter’s house, they asked her to go get her. 

“I yelled for her, and she came in,” she said. “Everything kind of turned into a blur. I think I said ‘I just won $33,000!’ She got on my lap and I’m hugging her and the show is still going on,” she said. 

What she plans to do with the game room is still up for debate, she says, and she will have to pay a portion of her winnings in California and federal taxes, though she might sell off some items from the game room to help subsidize that. 

What she is definitely keeping, however, is that trip to the Galapagos Islands, which she plans to take with her son early next year.

“That’s when the sea turtles come in to lay eggs,” she said. 

The pre-planned vacation package includes a stay on a catamaran on the ocean, and will include experiences like kayaking, snorkeling and exploring the islands. For a biologist, it’ll indeed be the trip of a lifetime, she said.

Hannah Davis is the Area Editor at the Forest Lake Times. You can contact her at hannah.davis@ecm-inc.com or (763)233-0709

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