A Forest Lake youth pastor came within one suitcase of becoming the first person to win a million dollars on the hit TV show "Deal or No Deal" before choosing to walk away with half that amount.

Katie Henslin, 28, said she did not want to be greedy and risk her daughter's future by losing the $449,000 offer made by the game show's notorious banker. Henslin competed in the show about two weeks ago but has had to stay mum about the outcome until now.

The episode featuring Henslin, youth pastor at Willowbrook Community Church, aired Monday night. She and about 300 family members and friends packed a Maplewood restaurant to watch the show on big-screen televisions.

"It was just like reliving it all over again," gushed Henslin, who said she's been on a whirlwind since Feb. 5 when the show's producers called her and invited her to fly to Los Angeles to be a contestant on the show's special episodes, dubbed the Million Dollar Mission.

The object of the game is to try to guess which of the many gleaming, numbered suitcases held by beautiful models contains a million dollars. Contestants choose a suitcase in the beginning, which they hope contains the million dollars. Then they shout out the numbers of other suitcases they want to eliminate, hoping to weed out the lower amounts.

For the Million Dollar Mission game, Henslin and the other contestants walked in with better odds than usual of becoming a millionaire. Of the 26 cases, 13 contained a million dollars.

As she went down to the wire, only two cases were left.

Henslin's chances of becoming a millionaire were 50-50 once more.

If she chose to keep playing, she would either win the million or win the remaining amount, $200.

The phone rang, and the banker made her an offer: $449,000.

Henslin consulted her friends and family. Brad Reis, pastor at Willowbrook in Forest Lake, told her to take the deal. So did her brother, Tyler. And her father. And her aunt, Deb, who had originally auditioned for the show.

Only her husband, Peter Henslin, advised her to go for the million.

Katie Henslin took one look at her 18-month-old daughter, Maja, and knew what she wanted to do. "I knew I had to take the deal. I couldn't risk losing a half-million dollars. It would have been absolutely the dumbest thing I'd ever done."

After she made her decision, the remaining cases were opened. Hers, Lucky No. 8, did indeed contain the million dollars.

Henslin says she has no regrets. "I'm so glad still to this day that I took the deal."

Now that she's back in Forest Lake, she's been hearing from old high school friends, neighbors and others who say they saw her on TV. "It's been absolutely surreal," she said. "Finally, now that the episode aired I've been able to talk about it. It was by far the funnest thing I've ever done. You can imagine how hard it was to keep it in."

She said she and her husband will give some of their winnings to their church, save some for Maja's college fund and use the rest to buy a bigger home in Forest Lake. Currently, they live in a two-bedroom home and want to have more children, she said.

The money was more than she dreamed of winning, Henslin said, but the experience and memories are what she really treasures. The intriguing host, Howie Mandel, was really genuine and warm, she said. The models are stunning, and the banker is as mysterious as he is nasty.

"He's super crabby," she said. "No one can see him. I did talk to the banker on the phone. He's kinda raspy. I just envision him smoking a cigar, drinking a brandy."

Henslin says she knows where she'll be tonight. Glued in front of her TV watching another contestant compete in the show's final installment of the Million Dollar Mission. "I can't wait to see if someone actually wins the million," she said, breathless.

Allie Shah • 651-298-1550