“Deal or No Deal” premiered in the Netherlands in 2000, and became a European sensation before launching in the US, on NBC, in 2005. But it was perfected in America — with the addition of 26 female models holding briefcases that contained money amounts from 1 cent to $1,000,000.
Seductive, cheeky and cheerleader-like, the so-called “briefcase girls” were as integral to the game show as host Howie Mandel. Among their ranks: Chrissy Teigen, who later played a banker’s henchwoman on the show: Claudia Jordan, who went on to a season of “Real Housewives of Atlanta“; and Meghan Markle. The future Duchess of Sussex played Briefcase Girl #24 during season two in 2006.
Last week, Markle stirred up controversy on her “Archetypes” podcast when she talked about being “objectified” and how she “didn’t like feeling forced to be all looks and little substance.”
As others from the show, which aired its last episode on CNBC in 2019, refute her attitude, here is the true history of the briefcase girls, told exclusively to The Post by those who were there.
Prior to the American debut of “Deal,” executive producer Scott St. John and his team were charged with creating a signature look for the show.
Scott St. John: “Our objective was to make an expensive-feeling environment. We wanted it to feel like a high-end casino. That came down to us trying to figure out the sexiest way to do it … a group of 26 attractive women. But there were episodes with all male models. There was one with Howie’s daughter as a model. We brought a contestant’s sister up there and [the contestant] did not recognize her. The [briefcase girls] were fantastic visually, but they added heart and warmth. Their empathy with contestants was a big part of the show.”
Lisa Gleave, briefcase girl: “For the casting audition we had to wear heels and a shortish skirt, so the casting person could see our legs. After all, they are what come down the steps at the start of the show.”
Dina Cerchione, wardrobe stylist: “The network was very clear — they wanted the models to be in gowns. I felt gowns seemed too serious and this should be fun, fresh and lively. Plus, stairs can be tricky in long dresses … For the first dress rehearsal, we put the ladies in short dresses. I’ll never forget when the models came over the top of the stairs in those cobalt blue dresses. It was a real moment and everyone felt it. It was like seeing the Rockettes.”
Sonia Vera, briefcase girl: “The steps in the back were really steep. The objective was to look elegant and, most importantly, one wrong move and you go down the stairs. The one thing on everyone’s mind was not to trip.”
Gleave, on Markle saying she was told to “suck in” her stomach: “We were all told to suck it in: ‘Suck it in, smile and do your thing.’ We had to be in shape and stay in shape. That was the job. And it was the best experience of my life. ‘Deal’ was like a family … Some of the crew guys, though, they were intimidated about talking to us. They didn’t want to come across as creepy.”
Patricia Kara, briefcase girl, responding to Markle’s comment that the briefcase girls were “solely about beauty, and not necessarily about brains”: “We rooted for the contestants. We interacted with them. We talked to Howie and the contestants and were involved with the process. When we got off stage [after their briefcases were selected], we continued watching the show on a backstage monitor. We would scream at the TV and be told to quiet down.”
Tomorrow Rodriguez, one of two contestants to win $1 million, on the briefcase girls: “Their attitudes and smiles kept me going. When I saw one of them, Marieka Arteaga, number eight, she reminded me so much of my daughter — they both seem like lions — that I kept her on the stage. I felt that the suitcase models really wanted me to be successful. After I won, some of them came out from backstage and hugged me.”
The show created tension with a “banker” who offered contestants buy-outs: walk away with what you’re offered, or gamble by choosing another girl and briefcase. It was, of course, all orchestrated.
St. John: “I was the control-room banker, out of sight and deciding on what the offers would be. The banker, who was visible on the show, he’d be on a headset, hearing what I was saying and acting accordingly. If the banker acted frustrated, it impacted the mood of the game and decisions made by the contestant. [The banker was played by Peter Abbay,] a bartender with a great profile. For the audition, we put him in a dark room and looked at his silhouette.”
The banker was accompanied by a “henchperson,” as St. John described the role. Expressionless and fierce-looking, Chrissy Teigen would suddenly appear with financial updates. Some have characterized the role as a “banker babe.”
Claudia Jordan: “The banker babes looked like the girls in the Robert Palmer [‘Addicted to Love’] video.”
Cerchione: “I loved working with Chrissy, she was always really sweet. Her main role on the show was to bring snarky offers from the banker to the contestants. She was great at it and had a fantastic poker face.”
Teigen (in an Instagram post): “I never understood when I was supposed to make the sad face [as a briefcase girl]. I think that’s why I was gently replaced.”
Though the sums of cash marked in the briefcases were chosen at random and were surprises to the models, some seemed luckier than others.
Vera: “There was a running joke that I would crush the contestant because I [often had] high numbers in my suitcase [which, when exposed, took those sums out of the running for contestant to win]. I thought I was jinxed. I’d feel nervous opening my briefcase. I would be surprised to have a small number. Sometimes I got called early. You would want to be called early. That meant you could get off stage and rest for a little bit. If you got called last, you would be standing there for hours in high heels.”
Kara: I would not take my heels off between episode tapings [often three per shooting day] because it would be hard to put them back on. Your feet swell up! Straight from shooting, I would go for reflexology and massages.”
Markle described a breast “padding station” and pressure to tan. Others on the show remember things differently.
Jordan: “Don’t s–t on ‘Deal or No Deal’ for making you wear lashes or get a fake tan — which they wouldn’t make you do, but they provided it. We all know the importance of the aesthetic.”
Kara: “Some of what Meghan said was not truthful … We never had a padding station. I don’t know why she said that. There was a beauty station, where we got touch-ups before going on stage.”
Gleave: “I don’t remember [a padding station]. But padding is common on a lot of sets. The ‘chicken cutlets’ [padding to enhance cleavage] are helpful for achieving the look. The dresses we wore were boobiliciious. You were on a game show and acting and playing a role. If it can help, it helps, and some of the models used them.”
Wendy St. George, director of hair and makeup: “What I remember about Meghan is that she was a very sweet girl. I don’t remember her not being happy. I was the mama bear, since I was older, and the girls came to me with problems. Meghan never complained about anything. I never even heard her say she was tired. I don’t understand where her [badmouthing] is coming from. When I heard about her engagement to [Prince] Harry, I was so happy. Her talking badly about our show, which helped launch her life with Harry? That’s rude.”
Vera: “How she feels may be valid. But how she expressed herself had more to do with how she felt about herself [than what happened on the show]. I don’t know of anyone else who felt that way. That show gave us opportunities and a way of earning a good living. If she didn’t want people looking at her, she should have chosen a different career. Nobody got miked on the show so they could talk about world issues.”