Five lucky East Valley residents are asking the same question: "Will the chimp make me champ or a chump?"
The five sweepstakes winners are among nine Arizonans so far who have been selected to participate in the "Pepsi Play for a Billion" contest, which will culminate in a showdown for $1 billion against a numberpunching chimpanzee on live television.
Cassie Williams of Chandler, Ed Zeitler of Queen Creek, and Mesa residents Aubrey Bloom, Bob Hanks and Brian Deaver will join an expected 1,000 contestants Sept. 14 in Orlando, Fla., for a game show, hosted by comedian Drew Carey, in which one player will win a guaranteed $1 million — and get a shot at $1 billion.
How much is a billion? Well, Pepsi-Cola North America, the division of Pepsico sponsoring the contest, is worth $4 billion.
Most details about the game are being kept secret, but the buzz is that the original 1,000 will be narrowed down to 10 finalists, who will then compete in a challenging and possibly embarrassing game of chance.
The ultimate winner will then choose a three-digit number, as will Pepsi’s tamperproof numerical selection device — the one with the big ears and banana cravings.
If the numbers match, the winner gets $1 billion — sort of.
Hanks said Pepsi representatives told him the money could be paid out over a 40-year period, starting at $5 million per year. As years go by, the annual payment would increase, ending with a final balloon payment of about $700 million. Hanks, 60, said he would choose a second option, an upfront payment of a mere $250 million.
"That would be enough to choke a goat," he said.
Williams said her young daughter actually popped the winning bottle cap in her household and already has laid claim to the money.
Deaver said the odds of winning the top prize are literally one in a million, so he cautioned his fellow contestants not to get "too worked up about it." Still, every contestant gets a free trip to Florida and $100 spending money, a total package valued at $1,700.
"People would be wise to keep the $100," Deaver said, "because they’re going to have to pay taxes on (the trip)."