Melanie B's Blog Post
Like millions of people, I grew up watching Wheel of Fortune. I remember watching Vanna actually turn the letters and enjoyed watching the winners shop for their prizes. (Loved that ceramic dog everyone seemed to purchase!)
After college, I lived with my Aunt Charlene, who is like a mother to me. We watched Wheel every night and we were both really good. We played along, competing against each other and against the contestants on TV, trying to be the first to solve the puzzles. Whenever we solved the bonus round, one of us would say, “What did we win?!?” and anxiously wait for Pat to open the envelope to reveal ‘our’ prize. I don’t think it ever crossed our mind that either of us might actually be on Wheel of Fortune someday.
To our surprise and delight, we discovered that we might actually get a chance. The Wheelmobile was coming to Atlantic City, only about 50 miles from our home! Could this be our shot at becoming contestants on our favorite show? We certainly weren’t going to let the opportunity pass us by. We were going to Atlantic City!
We quickly realized that the first hurdle in the process of becoming a contestant on Wheel of Fortune is to be lucky enough to have your name drawn from the thousands of other hopefuls attending the event. Unfortunately, Lady Luck was with neither of us that day, but the seed was planted; and becoming a Wheel of Fortune contestant became a life goal for me. Aunt Charlene realized that day that she wasn’t cut out for being on stage—she said she would just be too nervous—but she was convinced that I WAS cut out for it. She became my biggest supporter in my quest to be on Wheel and she just knew that one day, this dream of mine was going to come true.
Fast-forward 6 long years… My Wheel of Fortune dream took a bit of a backseat as I began my teaching career, got married and started a family. It became my husband, Matt, and my baby daughter, Josie, who I watched Wheel of Fortune with every night, and every night as I solved the puzzles, my husband would ask, “When are you going to get on Wheel?” Aunt Charlene was still convinced that one day that would happen, and she was the one to give me the exciting news that the Wheelmobile was coming back to Atlantic City! Once again, Aunt Charlene and I headed down to New Jersey, hoping I’d get lucky this time. Once again, my hopes were dashed.
Another 3 long years would pass before the Wheelmobile came back to Atlantic City in September of 2015. Would the third time be the charm or was I just wasting my time? (Spoiler alert: the moral of this story is DON’T GIVE UP!) Aunt Charlene convinced me that I had to try again, so AGAIN, we made the trip to Atlantic City, and this time luck was on my side. I was called up to the stage, introduced myself, and play a round of Wheel with four other potential contestants. The Wheel Team must have liked what they saw because I was invited to a final audition in Philadelphia a few weeks later. I was ecstatic! The only person who may have been more excited than me was my biggest supporter, Aunt Charlene. Of course, she was right there by my side for moral support when we went to Philadelphia for the final audition.
The final audition was a lot different than the Wheelmobile events. There were only about 50 or 60 people there, so the pressure was on! We introduced ourselves and we each got a turn to call out letters and play the game. Then there was a written test. The test had 16 partially filled in puzzles and we had only 5 minutes to fill in as many as we could. I filled in several, but definitely didn’t finish. I hoped this wasn’t going to be the end of the road for me. After the test, there was a short break and the contestant coordinators graded our tests. More than half of the group was then dismissed and we were told that if we were selected as future contestants, we would receive a letter in the next 2 weeks. I was among the group that was dismissed and was feeling pretty bummed because I thought I was cut. But the contestant coordinators promised that if we were let go at that point, it didn’t necessarily mean that we weren’t going to be contestants; any of us could receive a letter in the next 2 weeks. I distinctly remember Gary saying, “I guarantee that some of you who are leaving now will get letters!” So I held out hope that I’d be one of them.
Two weeks passed very slowly and on November 14, right before my birthday, I got my contestant letter! My husband came from the mailbox with a huge smile and the beautiful envelope with the Wheel of Fortune logo in the corner. Tears of joy sprung to my eyes! Ten years of tenacity had paid off—sometime in the next 18 months, my dream of being a contestant on Wheel of Fortune was going to come true!
Luckily, I didn’t have to wait 18 months. I got the email in mid-March informing me that I would be taping on March 31 in Los Angeles, and I would be a contestant during Philadelphia Week, when all the contestants would be from the greater Philadelphia area—too cool! Matt and I were very excited to go and of course, my Aunt Charlene, who had been with me every step of the way on my Wheel journey, would be coming with me too. Off to California we went!
Early in the morning on March 31, I caught the shuttle from our hotel to Sony Studios and my amazing day began. Shortly after arriving, we were escorted onto the Wheel of Fortune set and got to see the ACTUAL Wheel and puzzleboard! (Cue those tears of joy again!) My first impression was that everything was much smaller in person than it looks on TV. Speaking of exciting moments, Vanna also made an appearance early in the day; she came into the green room to say hello. Much to my surprise, she was in jeans and a t-shirt and didn’t have a stitch of makeup on—she was so down-to-earth! She chatted with us for a bit and was extremely sweet and encouraging to all of us.
We spent a lot of time that morning going over all of the legalities and rules of the game. The same contestant coordinators that we met at the final audition were with us through our taping, so that was a real comfort. They were terrific and gave us tons of great advice and really trained us on how to be good contestants. (Some advice for future contestants: Listen to what Alex, Gary, Jackie and Shannon are telling you! They know what makes a good contestant and they want you to succeed.) We were able to practice spinning the Wheel, which as everyone says, is a LOT harder than it looks—it’s really heavy! We also got our hair and make-up touched up, ensuring we were camera ready. We were put into groups of three, and we randomly selected numbers to determine our taping order and our podium position. I drew three and three: the third show of the day and the blue podium. Of course, I was really hoping that three was going to be my lucky number that day!! I was relieved that I was not on the first show because I was able to watch the first two shows tape before it was my turn. It was great fun watching the other contestants play. We’d all gotten to know each other and it was a thrill to cheer them on.
Before I knew it, I was up! The next 30 minutes went by so quickly, it’s hard to describe. One of the keys that makes Wheel of Fortune fun and exciting to watch is that it’s very fast-paced, so you can’t hesitate during your game, even for a second. Playing the game at home is VERY different than playing in the studio. For one thing, at home, it’s always your turn. When you’re actually playing the game in the studio, you might know the answer to the puzzle, but obviously, it has to be your turn in order for you to solve it—and you never know if you’ll get another turn. Also, you could be the best puzzle solver in the world, but you still need to have luck on your side when you’re spinning the Wheel. There’s so much to remember when you’re up there: watch the used letter board, watch the score board, grab the Wheel the right way when you spin, smile, clap, speak clearly, speak loudly, don’t fall off your podium, have FUN, eek! While you’re remembering all that, you also need to concentrate on solving the puzzle! It was a true whirlwind. Luckily, Pat is exactly like he is on TV. He was funny and encouraging and he really has an incredible knack for making everyone feel at ease.
Like I said, the experience went way too quickly, but after a few deep breaths and some kind, encouraging words from Pat, I was able to enjoy it and play the game I loved. Every second of my Wheel of Fortune experience was amazing and I feel so blessed that my husband, Matt, and of course, my Aunt Charlene were able to share this once in a lifetime experience with me. I think what I love most about my Wheel of Fortune journey, which really started more than 10 years ago, is that it is a wonderful demonstration for my daughter that with tenacity and the support of those you love, you can accomplish anything you set your sights on. Dreams do come true!