James R's Blog Post
I have been a Wheel of Fortune fan since BP&V (before Pat and Vanna), all the way back to the original version hosted by Chuck Woolery. My family and I were living in Southern California when Pat and Vanna became the host and hostess ... and I remember watching Pat do the weather on a local news broadcast before he moved to Wheel.
We moved to Marin County, north of San Francisco, in 1985. One day in the late 80's or early 90's, I was coming down the stairs just as a new puzzle was displayed on Wheel. It was an "author and novel" puzzle and -- much to the amazement of my kids -- I knew the answer instantly, with no letters showing. It was "J. D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye", which I recognized, in part, because I had written my major English thesis in college on that very book.
From that moment on, I wanted to be a contestant on Wheel of Fortune. And, over the past 7 years, as my fiancée Candy and I watched Wheel every night, she often asked, "When are you going to get on Wheel?"
I signed up as a Wheel Watcher and then, in August of last year, received an email announcing a Wheelmobile event in Northern California, to be held at the Jackson Rancheria Casino Resort in Jackson, CA. About a two-and-a-half hour drive from home -- close enough!
So, on Saturday, August 17, 2013, Candy and I headed to Jackson, hoping that I would be selected for an audition to be a Wheel contestant.
The event was held in the casino’s convention hall, which holds just over 1000 people. They did three shows, during each of which names were selected at random from among applications placed in a big drum. They picked names in groups of five, for a total of about 50 during each show. So, about a 5% chance of being selected for an audition in each "show".
I was not selected during the first show, so back in line for the second. Once again, I was not selected, so back in line for the third show. This time, however, mine was the third slip picked in the first group of the show, so I got my long-shot audition (easily the most difficult part of becoming a Wheel contestant).
The Wheelmobile show’s "Pat Sajak" was a high energy guy named Marty Lublin and there was a substitute "Vanna White" named Morgan. Marty and the other Wheel people kept telling us that energy and enthusiasm (not my best personality characteristics) were important in the selection process, so I decided I needed to do something to set myself apart from the other contestants. Therefore, when it was my turn to be interviewed, I walked over and gave Marty a big hug, rather than shaking hands. He laughed and called it a “bro hug”.
Each group, after the introductions, played one “speed up” round puzzle. I was not the player who solved the puzzle, but the coordinators assured us that solving (or not) this puzzle would not be decisive as to who might be invited to a follow up audition.
We were then told that all of the auditions would be reviewed by Wheel’s producers and those selected for final auditions would be notified in two to three months. I felt pretty good about my audition and looked forward optimistically.
Just a few days shy of two months later, my optimism was rewarded when I received an email inviting me to a final contestant audition. I immediately confirmed that I would attend and, on Thursday, October 24th, it was back to Jackson Rancheria for Candy and I.
Contestants only allowed in the auditorium for these auditions, so Candy visited the casino while I, along with about 100 other would-be contestants, participated in a more intensive competition … followed by a further paring down to 30 or so for the final auditions and interviews.
During this audition, I had a pretty good run, solving two puzzles … a “Before & After” … “Cargo Deck of Cards” … and an “Event” … “Veterans Day Parade” … and was on a roll with a third … a “Movie Quote” which I knew to be "May the Force be With You" … when the hostess spinning the wheel intentionally bankrupted me to give other contestants a chance to play.
We also completed a written set of puzzles -- which proved to be more difficult than I expected -- I was able to solve only about half of them.
Nevertheless, I once again felt pretty good about my audition, but it was back to waiting, which they said could be as long as 18 months!
However, that proved not to be the case, as just a couple of months later I received an email from Contestant Coordinator Alexandra Reeves saying that I have been selected to be a contestant on Wheel and that I had a taping date of Friday, January 17, 2014 (coincidentally, my parents’ 69th wedding anniversary, a good sign, I thought).
So, time to prepare ... well, not really. I had been "preparing" for Wheel for more than 30 years and knew that "cramming" was not going to be much help. The only thing I did was review the capitals and other major cities of countries in Europe, in case one of them showed up in a puzzle.
Otherwise, I just watched the show every night and enjoyed the anticipation of being on it myself. Needless to say, my family and friends were excited and gave me all kinds of advice, such as "buy vowels," "don't guess letters that have already been played" and, most often, "win a lot of money!”
The day before my taping, Candy and I drove down to Los Angeles and checked in at the Culver Hotel, just down the street from the Sony Entertainment Studios. The hotel was built in 1924 and is a wonderful old, flatiron shaped building, with the result that our room had virtually no 90 degree angles, the walls coming together at a variety of acute and obtuse angles.
After having gotten up early for the drive south, I was tired and wanted to be well-rested for my Wheel appearance, so was uncharacteristically in bed and asleep by 10:00 pm.
The next day, I woke up promptly at 6:00 am and dressed in the outfit Candy had bought me for the occasion … black dress pants, long-sleeved grey shirt and solid gold tie … looked very spiffy!
Left the hotel at 7:00 to walk to the studio, which took about 10 minutes, so I was there well before the scheduled 7:45 arrival deadline. I was taking no chances on being late and getting scrubbed! Several other contestants arrived and we were taken to the contestant area, where we spent a couple of hours with the contestant coordinators (Alexandra, Gary, Jackie and Shannon) going over the taping procedures, legal requirements, game rules and playing hints, and getting hair and makeup done. Among the legal requirements was an agreement signed by each contestant not to reveal the results of the show until after it airs.
While all this was going on, Vanna White stopped by to say hello and wish everyone good luck … how exciting!
During this time, we also learned which game we would be playing and in what playing position … of the six shows being filmed, 5 were “European Vacation” theme shows scheduled for viewing the week of March 3-7 … and the 6th was an “America’s Game” show scheduled for broadcast on March 19th.
Of the 18 contestants that day, 6 were men and 12 women and we were divided into show groups of three each by the show’s producers. Not sure how they did that, but each group had one man and two women. Then one person in each group of three was called upon to select one of six numbered golf balls to determine which show that group would appear on. I was the “ball guy” for my show and picked #2, meaning we would be the second show filmed that day and would be playing in one of the European Vacation games, with a trip to Spain as the signature prize.
Then we had another selection process, with each person on our show selecting a small numbered ball to determine our position on the stage. I picked #1, meaning that I would be screen left, closest to Pat Sajak, during our show.