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Circa Survivor millionaires detail stress, exhilaration of wins

Every Circa Survivor winner has his own story, but they all share certain emotions.

Unbelievable stress. Exhilaration. And, finally, relief — relief that a long season ended not with heartbreak, but more than $1 million.

Five entries made 20 straight winning selections to share the $7 million in prizes in the Circa Survivor contest, in which contestants pick one straight-up NFL winner each week but can use each team only once.

Michael Sax said he fell to his knees and cried after the final game.

Chris Piper stayed calm with his family by his side.

Marc Perlman fired in hedge bets and partied with his friends.

“I’ll probably never be here again,” Sax said. “This was a once-in-a-lifetime chance.”

A field of 4,080 entries paid $1,000 each, and Circa added another $1.92 million to the prize pool to reach the $6 million guarantee. Three players shared an additional $1 million bonus for waiting until the final week to use either of the preseason Super Bowl favorites, the Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Sax was one of them. After a long season of close calls, he had to sweat out one more when the Chiefs trailed the Denver Broncos 21-20 in the fourth quarter. Denver drove deep into Kansas City territory, but linebacker Nick Bolton returned a fumble 86 yards to give the Chiefs a 28-21 lead.

The Chiefs eventually won 28-24, and Sax could celebrate what turned out to be a total haul of $1,533,333.35. Billy Chippas also won with the Chiefs and was seen hugging Circa casino owner Derek Stevens on social media.

Another winner, Jeremiah, who declined to give his last name, also got a part of the bonus and a total of $1,533,333.35 by taking Tampa Bay over Carolina in the final week. (The Buccaneers won 41-17.)

Piper and Perlman each received $1.2 million after winning in the final week with Washington and Tennessee, respectively.

The winners pointed out multiple times when they could have been eliminated, and all said a crucial moment was not saving the Dallas Cowboys for the Thanksgiving selection. (The Raiders beat Dallas 36-33 in overtime.)

Sax, a 55-year-old school psychologist from Ohio, nearly lost on the first night of the season, when Tampa Bay kicked a field goal with two seconds left to beat Dallas. Sax said that was the first of five games he won on kicks in the final seconds.

Sax said he would use the money to pay off $53,000 in graduate school loans and take a nice vacation.

“I’ll continue to be a normal guy, but I’ll have some peace of mind,” he said.

Piper, a 62-year-old retiree who lives in Las Vegas, shared one of Sax’s close calls, when Minnesota kicked a 54-yard field goal on the final play to beat Detroit in Week 5. He said he plans to help his children and grandchildren financially and travel.

Perlman, a 37-year-old investor from Florida, said his biggest stress came in Week 16. When Atlanta got an interception against Detroit in the final seconds, Perlman said he yelled out “Yes!” and ran through the Caesars Palace sportsbook.

He said he’s not sure what he will do with the money, but he’s excited to meet all the other winners at an event Friday at Circa.

After all, they’re now bonded in a way.

“I love the fact that I’m one of the survivors,” Perlman said.

Contact Jim Barnes at jbarnes@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0277. Follow @JimBarnesLV on Twitter.

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