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‘AFV’ Winners Reflect on How Show, Prize Money Changed Their Lives

The experience is unforgettable. The cash prize, in some cases, proves to be life-changing.

Hundreds of families have made the trek to the “AFV” studio in the hopes of collecting a $10,000 or $100,000 cash prize when the audience votes at the end of each episode. The series has handed out more than $14 million in prize money since its inception in 1989.

The money has been a windfall for many families, allowing them to buy homes, pay off bills, credit card debt and student loans. For some, the money was a godsend that helped them get through lean times. For others, the check from “AFV” became seed money for trust funds and college savings accounts.

Here’s a where-are-they-now look at five past “AFV” winners:

The Mathias Quadruplets
2001: Won $360,000

Among the most well-known winners is the infectious clip of a South Carolina mother laughing along with her infant quadruplet daughters. The 2001 clip garnered a total of $360,000 in prizes from three “AFV” competitions. The exposure from the show helped the Mathias quads land a Target commercial, a Discovery channel documentary, and other media opportunities.

Today, sisters Anna, Mary Claire, Emily, and Grace are 16 and all are members of their high school orchestra in Lexington, S.C. The prize money helped the family move to a bigger house and cover other expenses. “We have very fond memories of the whole ‘AFV’ experience,” says father Steve Mathias.

Jacob Chesney
2002: Won $10,000

Jacob Chesney was 3 when his grandmother shot a video of him falling asleep while eating an ice cream cone. He’s now a freshman at Trine University in Angola, Ind., studying civil engineering. Most of his winnings went into a college fund to pay his tuition.

When he arrived at the school for orientation, Chesney and others were asked to name something interesting about themselves. His “AFV” win was a conversation-starter.

“Somebody pulled it right up and within an hour of being on the campus, 50% of the people knew he was the ‘America’s Funniest Home Videos’ kid,” says Jacob’s father, Don, of Kirklin, Ind.

Kailyn McLean
1991: Won $100,000

The McLean family of Edmonds, Wash., was going through a tough patch in 1991 when they won for a video of daughter, Kailyn, 3, falling off her tricycle (she tearfully asks her father to “kiss my butt” to make it better).

“Things were slow for us,” says mom Frances McLean. “We used it for practical living expenses, and we put some of it in the bank for college.”

Kailyn is now 29 and a kindergarten teacher in South Korea. She still gets comments on the clip thanks to “AFV” reruns. “Friends are always excited to see it when it comes up,” McLean says. “She has a good sense of humor about it.”

Levy Merrick
2007: Won $100,000

Lexy Merrick’s feint with the Tooth Fairy helped her single mother pay off the family house and obtain health insurance. In the video, the 6-year-old tells her mother she plans to trick the Tooth Fairy into taking a fake tooth because she wants to hold on to the real one.

Lexy is now 16 and in high school in Keller, Texas. “It was the thrill of a lifetime” going to “AFV,” recalls mom Christy Merrick Tuggle. “It’s a neat thing for [Lexy] now when it reruns. Her friends on Facebook are always posting about it.”

Meghan Lamontagne
2004: Won $10,000

Meghan Lamontagne of Pelham, N.H., was 8 in 1996 when she was captured losing her mind with excitement after receiving a cat as a present. But the clip wasn’t selected for the show until 2004, when producers were assembling an animal-themed episode.

By the time Lamontagne and her family made the trek to the “AFV” stage, Meghan was old enough to appreciate the experience. “I was definitely a small-town girl learning to dream big,” Lamontagne says. “I landed in Hollywood and I thought, ‘This is where I’m meant to be.’ ”

The “AFV” experience sent her on the path to study broadcast journalism and she wound up working as a production assistant on “AFV.”

Today, she’s an on-air personality for Defy Media’s Clevver TV. She also co-hosts the “Pretty Little Liars” after-show for Stream.TV, and she’s done work for Fox Sports and digital assignments for “AFV.”

“For so many ‘AFV’ is a wonderful, fun experience,” she says. “For me, it was so much more. It was the start of the rest of my life.”

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