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Front Page - Friday, September 15, 2023

Thornton’s avid fandom lands family on ‘Feud’

Colley team trained regularly for game show

Steve Harvey looked expectantly at Abigail Thornton as he waited for her to answer his question. Meanwhile, Thornton’s head was swimming in the aura of Harvey’s celebrity, and nothing was making its way down to her lips.

“I’d never been that close to a star,” Thorton, 24, a legal assistant with Patrick, Beard, Shulman & Jacoway, says of her upcoming appearance on the game show, “Family Feud.” “I was looking at his voluptuous mustache, his beautiful bald head, and the fabulous suit he was wearing, and all I could think was, ‘I don’t know what to say!’”

Thornton eventually said the first words that spilled down and then watched Harvey’s trademarked grin stretch his cheeks.

It might not have been the best answer in the history of “Family Feud,” she admits, but her family applauded and cheered as if it was.

“The producers told us to act like every answer is the top answer on the board, even if it’s the dumbest thing we’ve ever heard,” Thornton laughs. “So, we’d be shouting, ‘Yeah!’ as our eyebrows were going, ‘What did you just say?’”

As an avid fan of “Family Feud,” Thornton thought she knew what to expect while competing, she says, but there’s a world of difference between producing answers while sitting on the couch at home and conjuring replies while roasting under the studio lights and Harvey’s waiting gaze.

“I can spout something stupid at home, and my mom will say, ‘Abigail, that’s not on the board,’ but while we were taping the show, I felt like she was going to turn and give me the mom eye.”

Thankfully, Thornton continues, the producers give the contestants tips beforehand to help them get their heads in the game. She welcomed them.

“They told us to think like the person who answered the survey. If the question asked what 100 married men said, then I had to think about what my brother-in-law would say, not what I’d say.”

Thornton was at a loss for words well before Harvey asked her a question. As she and her family – including her stepfather, Drake Colley, her mother, Susan Colley, her sister, Liz Persinger, and her brother-in-law, Nick Persinger – stepped onstage at Trilith Studios in Fayetteville, Georgia and saw the bright lights and brighter colors, their jaws dropped, she says.

Thornton pointed to the back of the studio, where a spanking new red Ford Explorer was parked, waiting for a family to win five games. As they oohed and aahed at the shiny vehicle, the audience was dancing to the show’s catchy theme song.

“We felt like celebrities,” Thornton says with a smile.

A native of Columbia, Tennessee, Thornton also felt a long way from home in the studio, even though she was only 140 miles from Chattanooga, where she lives and works.

But as the title of the show signifies, the experience is about family, and she was with hers, so she believed everything was going to go well, she says.

If it didn’t, it wouldn’t be due to lack of preparation, Thornton remembers thinking in the months leading up to the taping. She and her kinfolk had watched “Family Feud” every night since she’d been in middle school. It was fun, she says, as well as a time of bonding.

“We’d laugh at Steve Harvey’s antics, spit out answers and brag about how we could do it.”

Thornton’s mom and stepdad eventually decided to stop boasting about how they could do it and set out to prove it. Although they doubted the producers would choose them, they applied to be on the show in early 2020. Over a year later, they received a request to audition. As part of that process, everyone played a practice round together over Zoom.

Thornton says they cleared the board.

“We showed the producers we were super energetic and ready to play. We were saying, ‘Good answer!’ even though we were on a Zoom call. We wanted them to see we know how the game works.”

As Thornton’s family waited another year – first to learn if they’d been picked and then to schedule a date to appear – they readied themselves. Drake purchased the “Family Feud” card game and texted two questions a day to his teammates; Thornton bought the “Family Feud” release for the Wii home video game console; and everyone visited the show’s Instagram page daily to see what the most recent questions were.

“We knew they wouldn’t ask the same questions, but we were trying to get our heads in the game,” Thornton explains.

The Colley clan taped their appearance in February of this year. As expected, Harvey was as much fun in person as he is on the show and engaged in a lot of “super hilarious” behind-the-scenes shenanigans, Thornton says.

The celebrity treatment continued, with everyone enjoying access to a private trailer, where snacks were waiting for them, and being dabbed with extra makeup during commercial breaks.

Thorton says she and her relatives dove headlong into the full “Family Feud” experience while taping. Her mother flirted with Harvey (who rebuffed her, saying her husband was “big as hell”), they crossed their arms in the shape of the letter “X” as the other team tried to come up with a key answer, and they waited with bated breath as the producers debated whether or not to accept an answer.

Thornton says one of the best parts of her “Family Feud” experience was the time she spent talking with the members of another family on the bus ride from the hotel to the studio. “They had sought asylum in the U.S. and then made a life for themselves in North Carolina,” Thornton remembers. “Meeting them was special. We cheered each other on while taping our episodes.”

Thornton adds that her mental scrapbook would have been forever incomplete if she hadn’t been courageous enough to do one last thing: ask Harvey for a hug.

“I didn’t know if I should or shouldn’t, but we were all clapping at the end, and when Steve turned to me and said, ‘You did great,’ I said, ‘Can I please give you a hug?’ He said, ‘Yeah, girl, come on,’ and he hugged me so tight. I hope it’s in the episode.”

To see whether Thornton and her family won or lost – and whether the hug made the edit – watch “Family Feud” on Thursday, Sept. 28 at 5:30 p.m. on Fox Chattanooga.