Santa Claus smiled upon a Stockbridge family, which took home $50,000 for their stunning Christmas light display on ABC's "The Great Christmas Light Fight."
Twins Amy Jones and Jenny McDonald decorated their parents' home in late October, a month earlier than normal to compete on the show.
"We live on a busy street," said their mom Judy Tittiger. "People kept saying, 'It's not even Halloween!' All I could say is we were on a reality show but we couldn't say anthing more."
At first, the show was going to take the winners of the five episodes and have them compete in New York City for $50,000. But fortunately, they sweetened the pot so each episode, only four families competed and one of them would win $50K. On a Dec. 16 episode that aired this past Monday, the Stockbridge family was featured and ended up taking home the prize.
Judy Tittager said her daughters did most of the work and will get a bulk of the cash. They also plan to take a family vacation.
She said she looked at their rivals when the episode aired and was surprised they won since they had the fewest lights - "only" 76,000. Many boasted more than 100,000. She said they are on a fixed income and purchased almost everything used or below cost. The one indulgence: Judy bought the lit ferris wheel at retail price of $160 to fill in an empty spot.
What judge Sabrina Soto loved was how Jenny and Amy did so much of the hard work. (In the other cases, the guys tended to be the muscle.). She also loved how they made it interactive so people could walk through the yard. They created different zones, including one for misfit toys and another that focused on candy.
They competed against folks with more sophisticated lighting shows and one that featured a charity component.
Amy Jones said they have been decorating the yard for several years and are always aiming for a "wow" factor. At the same time, it's very traditional without all the high-tech doodads a lot of their rivals boast. A big light show with music would be a problem, she said, since the road is so busy. "We don't want people getting into wrecks or falling into a ditch," she said.
The family did not solicit the attention. ABC producers found them from a sight called tackylights.com. (Her brother had posted a video of their home from a previous year there.)
This coming Monday, Dec. 23, another local family is competing for another $50,000 pot in Decatur.
Tony Pardowski, a Delta Air Lines pilot, said the show gave them three weeks to put up their dis play in October. He said they normally take a month. "We called in the cavalry," he said. "As many friends and relatives as we could coerce. They came out in droves. It was bigger than ever."
He said they have been upping their game each year, first going to a computerized display in 2010. He harkened his l0ve for Christmas displays to a cool festooned home while growing up in Niagara Falls. "I remember thinking, 'I want to do that someday.' Fast forward 45 to 50 years." He looked at YouTube videos of crazy houses where the lights were sequenced to music. "I'm a bit of a computer geek," he said. He bought controller boxes and began fiddling. Then he saw a really cool home in Roswell with his wife, who was resistant to the idea of Christmas carols until he saw that home. "She gave me the green light and then some,' he said.
His home will have 115,000 lights, up from 75,000 last year and 15,000 his first year. Interestingly, as he has used more and more LED lights over the old bulbs, his electricity bill has gone down.
How much has he spent on displays? He won't say. "My wife has never asked me. So I don't say. Let's just say I probably spent more than I should have."
(I tried to get him to be more specific and he did narrow it down to this: "Not as much as a country club membership!")
Pardowski admits this is his true hobby - all year around. "I think about it all the time," he said. "When I'm not working on this year's display, I'm thinking about next year's!"
If he wins $50,000 he plans to take his wife on a real honeymoon, probably a family trip to Hawaii.
"This is our gift to our neighborhood and the area," he said. "One thing we ask people: make a donation to the ALS Association of Georgia.' (His wife's ex husband has ALS.)
They raised $500 two years ago and $2,300 last year and hope all this exposure will help them raise even more this year.
"We're pretty optimistic," he said. "We have a pretty high quality display. There's a lot of love and hard work that goes into it. We get a lo tof positive feedback."