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Crunch time for $1M chip idea

Tyler Raineri poses for portrait with his many bags  Sriracha-flavored Lays PotaChips his home Lake Zurich Saturday February 23

Tyler Raineri poses for a portrait with his many bags of Sriracha-flavored Lays Potato Chips, at his home in Lake Zurich on Saturday, February 23, 2013. Raineri submitted his flavor idea to Lays and is one of three finalists who won. He has a one-in-three chance to win one million dollars if people vote for his Siracha-flavored chips. | Ruthie Hauge~Sun-Times Media ORG XMIT: CST1302232128115706

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Updated: April 29, 2013 2:17AM

Lake Zurich High School alum Tyler Raineri didn’t expect much of a reaction when he shared his affinity for spicy snacks with Lay’s Potato Chips.

Now he’s a finalist for $1 million through the company’s newest potato chip flavor contest.

Raineri was alerted more than a month ago that his flavor — Sriracha — was one of the three chosen out of nearly 3.8 million other flavor entries nationwide, yet he still can’t believe it actually happened.

“Like anyone else, you don’t think you’re ever going to win a contest like that,” Raineri said.

Several recent flights to and from Texas, California and New York, however, certainly helped make the experience feel more real.

Raineri and the other two finalists were flown out to PepsiCo’s Frito-Lay North American Headquarters in Plano, Texas, to meet the culinary team that created their flavors. The following day, they flew to Los Angeles for a photo shoot with actress Eva Longoria and celebrity chef Michael Symon. The next trip was to New York to ring the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange.

On Saturday, however, Raineri was back at home in Lake Zurich, buried under countless bags of his Sriracha-spiced chips.

The whirlwind started last fall when Raineri, a junior at Illinois State University, submitted his idea soon after hearing about Lay’s “Do Us a Flavor” contest. The company’s campaign allowed fans to pick what flavor they wanted to see next from the brand.

Raineri actually wasn’t the only one who submitted Sriracha sauce for the new flavor, but he won a tie-breaker because of the reasoning for his selection.

“I’ve been dipping food in Sriracha sauce for a long time,” he explained. “My grandma used to make homemade chips, and we always dipped them in Sriracha.

Raineri said the contest’s judges told him that story stuck out from the rest.

The biggest reward remains the $1 million prize, or one percent of their flavor’s 2013 net sales, whichever is the highest.

To win the cash, Raineri has to beat out Christina Abu-Judom from Phoenix, who entered a Chicken and Waffles flavor, and Karen Weber-Mendham from Land O’ Lakes, Wisc., who’s flavor is Cheesy Garlic Bread.

Consumers can vote for their favorite flavor once a day until polls close May 4. Voting can be in the form of a Twitter tweet, #SaveSriracha. Votes also can be cast on the Lay’s Facebook page, or by texting “VOTE” to 24477.

Raineri is trying not to get his hopes up about the $1 million, though he knows how he would spend it if he were to win.

“If I win, the first thing I’m going to do is pay for my college and get my master’s degree,” Raineri said.

He also pledged to donate some of the prize money to the Jimmy V Foundation and the Special Olympics.

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