This Week's Contestant
POSTED on Friday, April 26th, 2013
I was worried that I wasn't going to be able to sleep the night before my show, due to all the excitement. However, at 5AM on a cool California November morning, I found myself waking up relaxed, refreshed, and ready to play "Wheel of Fortune"! After showering, getting groomed and eating breakfast, it was time for the drive to the studio. I sent my last-minute "wish me luck" texts to friends and family, grabbed Oscar (my good-luck stuffed ocelot) and a change of clothes, then headed down to the lobby. Once we all gathered in the lobby, we started to chat and quickly became friends. After all, we were about to embark on the strangest, most exciting day of our lives!
Before long, we were on the shuttle to the studio. I sat in the very front, where the driver was able to see me, pick up Oscar, and use him to wave hello to everyone as he asked Who's ready to win big money on 'Wheel of Fortune'?! Of course, we all cheered! As we drove to the studio, I chatted with two nice young ladies who hit it off from the moment we met in the lobby, not knowing that they would be standing beside me at the podium that afternoon. When we pulled up to the studio, we felt like kids at an amusement park. Shouts of I can't believe this!, We're finally here!, This is amazing!, and others filled the air. I was so awestruck by everything; I don't remember what I said. Right after we arrived, we were joined by two of the show's contestant coordinators, who led us backstage.
Once backstage, I smiled at all the Wheel memorabilia that I'd remembered seeing from my childhood (remember the old $10,000 space?) that was now hanging in the Green Room. Once there, we took our seats. I was in the front row center, ready to take in all the action, as we filled out some lengthy paperwork (remember this...it will come into play later). Once we finished the contracts and press releases, we went on stage for a set tour. Unbelievable! I was able to recognize many of the California landmarks represented on set. The Wheel was right there in front of me, and I was about to spin it. We got to stand in front of the puzzle board, and we learned about the scoreboards and used letter board. Then, before we headed back to the Green Room, we were asked one question: Who wants to spin the Wheel? Well, yeah! That's why we're here, right?!
Spinning the Wheel was not easy. That thing weighs over one ton! I eventually got the technique down, but that didn't stop me from landing on LOSE A TURN on my first practice spin. Ouch. I hoped that that wasn't a sign of things to come. Once we got back in the Green Room, it was time for make-up. Remember how I said that I sat in the front row center? Well, if I had sat anywhere else, then this next moment wouldn't have happened the way it did. I took a seat in one of the chairs and removed my glasses so the make-up artist could work around my eyes. Wearing make-up for the first time was strange enough, but this is where it got really weird. As the make-up artist was working around my eyes, I felt a tap on my shoulder. I opened my eyes, glanced over, and tried to figure out who tapped me on the shoulder and why. Turns out that a new person had entered the room. Even though I wasn't able to see anything, I was able to make out a woman with blond hair and tanned skin...could it be? She walked into the next room, where everyone else shouted IT'S VANNA!!!! I was shocked! Vanna White, the woman who had been a face on my TV screen, touched me and my favorite blazer, and I didn't notice! Though I was starstruck, I can tell you that Vanna is just as gorgeous and sweet off camera as she is on camera. After all, you know what we say about Carolina girls: best in the world!
After a briefing on the rules, we chose our show numbers and podium positions. I found out that I'd be competing with Beth and Katie, the two young ladies who sat together behind me on the bus! Since they were nice ladies and strong game players, I was looking forward to a great match with them. I drew the yellow position for show 6, America's Game. I was hoping to see all the other shows, anyway, so this worked out well. Before long, we were back on stage for a dress rehearsal. I stepped up to the podium for the Prize Puzzle in our mock game, and on my first turn, I did the one thing I vowed not to do: call a used letter. Thanks, coordinators, for racing up to my podium and reminding me to watch the used letter board! To be honest, there was so much to remember, plus you had to keep smiling and clapping. The turn got back to me, though, and I solved the puzzle! Awesome! I had a renewed boost of confidence as the mock game ended, and we were given one last pep talk before we took our seats in the audience for the tapings.
The first three tapings went by well, and I was trying to play the games in my head, and doing a relatively good job (plus, I was able to hear myself cheering everyone on from the audience on the California Coast episodes). Then, I reminded myself that it's easier when you're watching the game in a comfy seat. The big winners from those games solved their bonus puzzles, so over lunch, the rest of us were getting pumped. Shows four and five went by, and I made a couple of observations: four of the five winners had been women, and four of the five winners came from the yellow podium. Time to represent the men and the yellow position! As the fifth episode ended, we were taken backstage for final preparations. Before the coordinators could wrangle us one last time, I took Beth and Katie's hands, wished them all good luck, and vowed to make this the best show of the day.
The game itself was a blur, but I remembered a lot of it! To be honest, I forgot that there were cameras and lights, and just focused on the game. After all, I had waited for 30 years to get this far, and we were all winners already, so we just made it count! For the first Toss-Up, I was anticipating a state name somewhere in the puzzle, since it was America's Game. I remember getting that puzzle quickly. Then, came the hardest part: interviewing with Pat! I didn't want to stumble over anything or sound stupid, and Pat did such a great job of putting everyone at ease that we just flew right through the interviews. The second Toss-Up took a while, as it was longer than we expected, and the right letters just weren't falling into place. I remember pressing my lock-out, hearing the ding, and being surprised when Pat called Beth to respond. Congratulations, Beth! She would start the Jackpot Round.
Because we got along great backstage, Beth, Katie, and I were cheering for each other at every possible opportunity, especially at Beth's strong start. It quickly became my turn, though, and when I took my first spin, I was so preoccupied with the puzzle, that I didn't look down until just before the Wheel had stopped...$2,500! What luck! I just called N, and got excited when Pat told me there were FOUR of them!!! I don't know about you, but I've never made $10,000 in a matter of seconds. My legs were shaking like a leaves on a branch afterward! Incredibly, I managed to keep it together, solve the puzzle, and take $10,850! My goal had been to solve one puzzle, and I expected to make about five or six thousand dollars. Never in my wildest dreams would I think to get five figures in the first five minutes! So, I threw my arms up in victory, and let out a wild yell. It felt like a weight was lifted off my shoulders. Now, I could just focus on having the time of my life.
The next two rounds were as emotional as the first. I was moving through the Mystery Round at a good clip, racking up over $8,000, until I said those fateful words: ONE MORE TIME! I wish I hadn't. As I took that spin, time slowed down as I watched the Wheel click over to Bankrupt! Had to get me sooner or later, right? The rest of the round was a bit foggy, except for my memory of Katie swooping in to solve that puzzle. Nicely done, Katie! I was anticipating the last two words of the Prize Puzzle, and filled in most of those letters. But, I think having the Car plate clouded my judgment, because I bought an ill-timed vowel, lost control, and never got it back. Congratulations, Katie! Enjoy Hawaii and send a postcard! I was happy that she won the Prize Puzzle, because Katie had mentioned to Beth and me that the one thing she wanted to win the most was a trip.
I got a little worried, since Katie made my massive lead not-so-massive. In fact, after I flubbed on the third Toss-Up (how embarrassing...I almost said THE INVISIBLE MAN, something that would've clearly been wrong), Katie scored on that and took the lead. This was it: I had dug myself into a hole, and I was determined to get myself out. My focus turned to getting back control and keeping it. Surprisingly, it quickly became my turn. At that point, I just wanted to solve and get back into the lead. I called all the letters that I thought were up there, but was confused because the letters weren't appearing where I wanted them to. Eventually, the Final Spin bells rang, and I had it! I knew that if I stayed focused, called the letter I wanted to, then solved carefully, I wouldn't have to be doing what the puzzle said to win the game. When the dust settled, I felt like Rocky Balboa going the distance and winning! One wild yell later, and I was on my way to the Bonus Round! Of course, to thank them for a well-played game, I gave Beth and Katie a handshake, and they returned the favor with hugs. I totally wasn't expecting that! Thanks again, ladies, for an awesome game!
Moments later, I was all alone on stage, ready to play the Bonus Round. Pat Sajak stood next to me and gave me a quick pep talk before we went back on camera. After introducing Shaheen and Leticia to the world, it was me vs. the puzzle board. I didn't get much help to start, but I immediately started thinking of -ET words, and most of them contained CK, so that's why I called those. Once the M's appeared, I was too thrown off and regretted my letter choices. There was no way I was going to get that bonus puzzle. In the end, I had been humbled, but I was happy! I played an exciting game with two wonderful ladies, made $17,250, got my friends on camera, and chatted with Pat and Vanna about what had happened that morning in the make-up room! I've never felt happier! As a nice epilogue to the story, as I was walking back to the parking garage to meet my friends, I saw Pat climb into his car. He stepped out, waved, and smiled at me. What a great way to end a great day!
My plans for the money are simple: save some, put a dent in some bills, donate some to an educational foundation I've worked with, fund a friend's film project, and treat my friends and family to a nice Christmas!
To conclude, I want to thank all the crew at Wheel of Fortune, especially the contestant coordinators, for their kindness, patience, generosity, and pride. I also want to thank my friends and family for being so supportive, and Shaheen and Leticia for being great cheerleaders in the audience! To Beth, you were awesome! Thanks for a great game and a great friendship! To Katie, you put me through the wringer and brought out the best in all of us! Enjoy your winnings and think of us while you're in Hawaii! Thank you, Pat and Vanna, for being such amazing hosts and for helping a lifelong dream come true! Lastly, thank YOU for joining me in my journey and watching Wheel...you are truly what makes this America's Game!