Exclusive: Army Veteran and Wife Given Opportunity to Win Millions

Niko Countouriotis, recipient of a Purple Heart and Bronze Star, along with his wife, compete on 'The Wall' for very big money

NBC’s “The Wall,” hosted by Chris Hardwick and produced by LeBron James, has put millions of dollars into the pockets of everyday Americans since it premiered last year.

The premise is rather simple. Two contestants compete to earn cash by answering trivia questions — and then sending a ball down a wall, where it can drop on various amounts of money. At one point, one contestant is put into isolation where he or she answers the trivia questions — and the person’s partner decides where to drop the ball on the wall.

Based on the answers to the given questions, contestants can earn big money — sometimes millions. When the person in isolation is brought out at the end of the show, he or she has to take a guaranteed amount of money. That, or the contestant must blindly say he’s sticking with whatever amount has been earned based on his answers to the trivia questions (he doesn’t know if he’s right) and how his partner played the game.

You’d be hard-pressed to find contestants more deserving of a big win on “The Wall” than Niko and Kassie Countouriotis. Niko Countouriotis is an Army veteran who served three tours in Iraq and earned a Purple Heart and Bronze Star. Today, the couple have a daughter and live in Gilbert, Arizona, where Niko continues to serve through his job as a firefighter.

We got a first look at the Countouriotis’ episode — though there will be no spoilers here — and Niko Countouriotis took some time to chat about his experience on “The Wall” and what exactly he would do with any money he took home from the show.

Question: How did you and your wife end up in the position to be competing on the show?
Answer: Kassie and I ended up with [this] opportunity through a combination of living a positive life, helping others, and just plain ol’ dumb luck. Once we saw the show on the air, we were instantly hooked. The premise was genuine and the excitement was off the charts! While watching my first episode, I asked aloud, “How do these folks get to compete on here?”

A quick Google search brought me right to the casting web page, so I filled out the application immediately after the show. The very next morning, I was contacted by the production company, who said they liked our story and were interested in getting to know Kass and I a little better. Apparently, the casting for the next season had been underway for some time, so we just barely made the cutoff.

“We always try to treat people with utmost kindness and help those in need whenever we possibly can, but we’ve never expected anything in return.”

Over the next few days, we spoke to many people (via phone, Skype, email), filled out some more information packets, and filmed some videos of ourselves. It seemed like a lot of work at the time, but we were on a serious time crunch to get everything completed and it was obviously all for good reason.

We always try to treat people with utmost kindness and help those in need whenever we possibly can, but we’ve never expected anything in return. The opportunity to go on this incredible adventure with [executive producer] Andrew [Glassman], Lebron [James], Chris [Hardwick], and all the wonderful people involved with “The Wall” has been completely surreal and more than Kassie and I could’ve ever dreamed.

Q: The show seems like an emotional roller coaster because of all the money on the line. As a firefighter and a veteran, did you find that your training helped you think a little more clearly in those situations and make level-headed decisions?
A: Honestly, I don’t think there’s any way to prepare for the emotional roller coaster and excitement of “The Wall” — because no matter how confident you are going out there, that thing is incredibly intimidating simply because of the amount of money on the line. I’ve been in a lot of stressful situations in my career, and training is definitely key because it gives you a solid base to fall back on when things start to go south.

There’s absolutely no way to train for “The Wall” — you’ll never get the opportunity to win millions of dollars again in your life. I do think that the training I’ve had and situations I’ve endured better prepared me to remain calm and level-headed; however, I still felt like I had such little control over the outcome, and we were at the mercy of [the show].

Q: It must be incredibly surreal to be on that stage, especially as that total goes up and up. Did it help having your family there and seeing a message from your former captain? Or were you still fighting to keep your head from swimming?
A: Being on that stage, in front of that 40-foot-tall wall, and several hundred people in the audience, I felt like I was in a dream. But having my dad and brother there brought me back to reality and helped me regain my composure immensely. Then, when I saw the message from Kiran [Niko’s former Army captain] pop up on “The Wall,” I knew this was nothing to be scared of or nervous about, so I stood proud on that stage and had the time of my life.

Q: What do you plan to do should you win?
A: No spoilers here, so … if Kassie and I were to win a substantial amount of money, we’d definitely want to place some in a college fund for our daughter, donate some to organizations we care deeply about, then maybe have a nice nest egg to dip into so we could spend more time as a family and help those in need. I’d say, “Work less or retire,” but I honestly love going to work and getting to spend my day helping not just people in need, but people having the absolute worst day of their life. Being a firefighter and paramedic is such a rewarding career, I don’t know how I could ever walk away from it.

Update: Niko and Kassie Countouriotis won big on Monday night’s episode of “The Wall.” They went home with over $740,000.

(photo credit, homepage and article images: NBC)