Seth N's Blog Post
Monday, December 16th, 2013
Where to begin? It was the best of times, it was the….Hello. My name is Seth Neidhardt and I am from Staples, Minnesota. I have always loved games of all sorts, but word games such as Hangman, Scrabble, Upwards, and crossword puzzles have always ranked highest on my list. Growing up, there was no network dedicated to game shows and most aired during the day when I was at school. However, Wheel of Fortune was on TV at night and I loved watching it with my family. Even as I have grown older, I still enjoy the show and have often thought I could do just as well as those playing on TV.
I had moved to Florida in the fall of 2012 and was working part-time with the Salvation Army and Give Kids the World in Kissimmee. I was also trying to do and see as much of Florida as I could. I was always checking events taking place in the state and saw that the Wheelmobile was making a stop at St. Petersburg’s Mahaffey Theater on Sunday, 12/9/12. I thought, “I’m going to give this a shot!” I showed up with probably another 2000 people or so for the audition process that Sunday. I waited in line, filled out a short form that asked for my contact information and gave me a spot to write in interesting stuff about myself. I knew my “hook” to be unique for the WOF talent scouts would be to show them my love for and participation in festivals. One big love of mine is going to festivals, fairs, and events – the more grandiose, off-beat, or wackier – the better. I wrote that I had played underwater poker, raced an outhouse on skis, did some mashed potato wrestling, and hurled cow chips at a cow chip throwing contest.
I came dressed up with shirt and tie, and entered the theater for a chance to make it up on stage. Five names were drawn at random and those people got to audition in front of the crowd, getting interviewed and playing a final speed-up puzzle. There would be enough time in each hour-long session for maybe five groups to be called up. For the third round, I was the third one called up. (This number 3 will figure in later, too.) I joked with Marty (WOF’s traveling audition host) about my cow chip throwing experience and the crowd seemed to get a kick out of my story. The puzzle category for my group of five was “Before and After”. When my chance came around to guess a letter, I knew what the puzzle was – “Free Throw Rug”. I whooped and hollered and pumped my fist in the air after shouting out the answer in a nice, loud, clear voice. We crossed the stage to pick up some prizes for our auditioning, and a talent scout from the show asked me if my Minnesota address I listed was accurate. I told her that I was now living in Florida, and hadn’t changed my address yet. She asked if I could make it to a final audition that would take place in the same geographical area. I said the Tampa-St. Petersburg area was 1 to 1.5 hours away, and I would definitely make the trip back for a final audition if contacted. Having had this conversation, I felt pretty good about my chances for making it to the final audition since I didn’t recall seeing any of the other four persons on stage with me talking with a WOF staffer.
I watched a lot of WOF, played a lot of WOF online, and read a lot of WOF contestant blogs after this initial audition. Most bloggers had their final auditions, it seemed, within 1-2 months after their respective Wheelmobile events. I waited one month for a phone call, letter in the mail, or email. Nothing. Two months passed by. Still nothing. Three months came and went. At this point, I resigned myself to the fact that I had a wonderful experience at the Wheelmobile event, but that was probably the extent of it. The show promoters at the event did say that getting on stage and even solving the puzzle on stage were no guarantees of being invited back for a final audition.
Having procured a new job in Minnesota, I returned there and got into the new routine of things. Then, out of the blue, on April 29th, 2013, I received an email in my inbox from WOF! I was being invited to participate in the final audition in Clearwater Beach, FL on May 8th! Luckily, I had some frequent flier miles saved up so my trip from Minnesota to Florida at the last minute only cost me $75. I am still very grateful for my family friend, Susan, for picking me up, taking me out to eat, letting me stay overnight, providing an iron for my audition clothes, and driving me to the final audition!
During the first part of the final audition, individuals had to stand up after being called by contestant coordinators. We could be called to play the game at any point – the beginning, middle, or end of puzzles. When my turn came, I didn’t immediately spring from my seat like others had, since I thought the contestant coordinators had said “Beth” (another person in the room). I was thinking “I sure hope they don’t hold that against me!” I called out some letters, bought some vowels, and solved the “Living Thing” puzzle – “Chocolate Labrador Retriever”. Again, I was to earn some sweet swag for solving a puzzle. I was given a choice between an autographed picture of Vanna and a WOF baseball cap. I looked at my fellow audition members with a smile and said, “That’s easy. Of course, I’ve got to go with Vanna!” Everyone laughed, and the contestant coordinators said “For answering correctly, you get both!” Sweet!
The next part of the final audition process was a 5-minute, 16-puzzle quiz. I got 14 right in that time. I felt pretty good about my chances since many bloggers who had made it on the show had reported getting fewer puzzles correct. I knew it was a combination of puzzle-solving ability, smart game play, a good personality, and clear, loud, and concise letter calling that would get me on the show. After a lunch break for the contestant coordinators to score the quizzes and go over their notes, they cut down our field of audition members from 70 to 30. I made that cut and we remaining audience members all had our pictures taken. I was told by a staff member to remember to “smile”. I was thinking, “Oh no, maybe I’m too focused or serious. I have to lighten up or I’m not going to get any further!” We played some mock games in the front of the room, fake-spinning an imaginary wheel in front of us. I knew what all three puzzles were and never had to buy any vowels, but the contestant coordinator purposely landed me on “bankrupt” and “lose-a-turn” and I never got to solve. I was hoping they were doing this since they figured I had solved the puzzle, saw I was calling smart letters, and they wanted the chance to evaluate other audition members. Or was it because they thought I was a poor player and not buying any vowels? I wasn’t sure.
After our mock play, we got to talk about ourselves for 30 seconds or so. I brought up my festival experience again – in particular, running with reindeer, an Alaskan spoof on running of the bulls. My confidence level surged a bit when the coordinators asked me more about that, and also about my work. (They must have been trying to confirm my show eligibility and interest in me, I hoped).
The day ended with the show’s contest coordinators informing us that we would receive a letter in the mail two weeks later if we were selected to be a contestant on the show. Yet another grueling waiting game! Well, exactly two weeks later – on May 22nd – I went to get the mail and there in the mailbox was my letter from Wheel of Fortune! I would have to wait for the taping date, but I was in the 18-month pool of contestants. I called up and texted my friends and family, and let them know that I had made it!
Months passed, and at the end of October (the 21st, to be exact), I checked my email to see another WOF email. My taping date was set for Thursday, November 7th. I got off from work and made flight arrangements. My sister, Lara, made plans to go to Los Angeles, too, to watch me as a member of the studio audience. I planned a 10-day vacation in Los Angeles and Las Vegas, with the WOF taping kicking it off. I figured that if I only walked away with the show minimum of $1000, at least this trip was essentially paid for.
Arriving in Los Angeles the night before the taping, I had to wait over two hours in line to get my rental car. I thought, “Man, this is not the way to begin this vacation.” When I got to the counter, the agency didn’t have my rental car, so for my inconvenience they upgraded me to a convertible for a small fee. I drove from my place of lodging (I stayed with friends, Nicole and Luis – thanks, you guys) to the Sony Studios to time out the drive-time for the morning. It took 20 minutes. I figured if I gave myself an hour for traffic the next morning, I would be okay. My sister and I had supper that night at a Thai restaurant, and I tried all their insect platters – scorpions, ants, crickets, and silk work pupae. We joked that I would get sick and wouldn’t be able to play the next day due to getting insects pumped from my stomach! Luckily, that never happened. I woke up on Thursday feeling fine. The anticipated drive to the studio took…20 minutes. I was the first contestant to arrive in the morning! I spent that time re-reading the puzzle categories and game rules and suggestions all contestants received before making the trip.
Once in the contestant room, the contestant coordinators reviewed the eligibility rules, legal forms, and game play with us. We never went hungry as both breakfast, and later, sandwiches, were provided to eat. Vanna made a stop in our contestant briefing room during the morning. She wasn’t wearing make-up or a sparkling gown yet, but she looked stunning nonetheless. She reminded us all to buy vowels and wished us luck!
We got to visit the set (it is quite chilly before all the lights are on and people in the audience are there). We saw the big wheel and the puzzle board. Man, this was all so surreal. I got to film a “hometown shout-out” that could be aired on my local TV station, and practiced spinning the wheel (a pull-then-push motion) – it was heavy – approximately 2400 pounds! We called out letters, tested our toss-up question button devices, and got used to looking at the puzzleboard, used letter board, and contestant scoreboard. Back in the contestant preparation room, all contestants got make-up. We then found out which show we would be on that day out of the six being taped. I was told I would be in group 3. We then drew numbers to determine our spinning position (in relation to Pat) and I drew a “3.” We went back out to the studio, Pat and Vanna came out, and the first two tapings took place. I felt I was doing a pretty good job solving those games’ puzzles from my seat. Then I was called back to the contestant room for one last make-up touch-up, I chugged some bottled water, and I prayed to God that He would calm my nerves, let me enjoy the moment, and win or lose graciously. I stepped onto the set on my platform behind the wheel. The lights went up, the show’s theme music came on, Pat and Vanna came out, and I got ready to play! Watch me Wednesday, December 18th, to see how I do!
Thursday, December 19th, 2013
The biggest thing I remember from my Wheel of Fortune taping was just how fast it went! The approximately 22-minute show was a whirlwind. I remember picking up my toss-up device and Pat saying the category was “On the Map.” I felt good inside since I am pretty good with geography, and seconds later, after hitting my button, I proclaimed “Montreal Canada” and had $1000 in my bank! Generally when I play Wheel of Fortune at home, I struggle with the toss-up puzzles, so solving this right off-the-bat was a huge confidence booster for me and calmed my nerves. Pat interviewed me, and I hope I didn’t embarrass myself too much. I remember giving a shout-out to my nephew, Kody, and my niece, Kailey.
My fellow contestants, Amy and Lisa (both smart, nice ladies), were interviewed and we picked up our toss-up devices once again. I knew the puzzle, but Lisa buzzed in first. When she missed, Amy also had me beat, and she got the puzzle correct - “Seat Belt Buckle”.
The first round puzzle (Before and After) came up. Amy started but lost control of the wheel to Lisa. While Lisa was calling out letters, I solved the puzzle in my head – “Apple Pie a la Mode of Transportation”. A few letters later, however, Lisa solved the puzzle. I never even had the chance to touch the wheel! As we went to commercial break, I could see that I was now in 3rd place, behind Amy and Lisa, who were both tied with $2000.
My biggest concern came from something a contestant from the day’s second taping had said to all of us after his taping had concluded. He said that he knew almost every puzzle, but if you never get control of the wheel, it doesn’t really matter. I thought to myself, I sure hope I will get a chance to play the game! Well, I shouldn’t have worried. The rest of the game went my way. I gained control of the wheel on the second round, solved the puzzle (What Are You Doing?) – “Climbing to the Top of Mount Everest”, and even won a trip to Rome in that round! I got to wiggle the trip wedge in my hands before placing it down on my ledge in front of me.
I was now in the lead by a decent margin. I felt good about the next (3rd Round) puzzle coming up - “Food and Drink” - since a great portion of the online puzzles I had practiced solving before coming on the show were in that category. I knew it was a prize puzzle (usually a trip) so if I got this, I knew I’d have a great chance of making it to the bonus round. I struggled a bit with the second word, throwing around “Canadian” and “Hawaiian” before realizing it was “Jamaican”. I had a good cash total built up and I knew the puzzle.