Bill M's Blog Post
Monday, January 7th, 2013
I was raised by my mother in a house with my two brothers, one of them a twin, in Plainfield, Indiana. As an adult, I still live within a half-hour drive of Plainfield. For as long as I can remember, my mom has shared her passion for words with all of her children. I can recall her dictionary, sitting on the kitchen table with a bookmark, or seeing her reading the dictionary in her spare time. She was always writing down new words as she was reading or watching television, in order to improve her vocabulary and her ability to play Scrabble. Her excitement was contagious when she would look up a word and shout, "Alright! It has seven letters!" From the time my attention span allowed me to sit down for an hour, and my maturity allowed me to accept losing a board game, my mom could rarely resist an invitation to play Scrabble. If I wanted to stay up past my bedtime, one of the only ways to do so was to challenge my mom to a game of Scrabble. To this day, I doubt I've legitimately beat my mom at a word game more than ten times.
Another of our family pastimes was watching Wheel of Fortune together. We loved the friendly competition of trying to be the first one to guess the answer to a puzzle. Correctly guessing the final puzzle of the game was, and is still, a thrill. To this day, the only people in my life who can give me any real competition in regards to word play games are my brothers and my mom.
My wife, Vanessa, knows how much I love to watch Wheel of Fortune. One night, she encouraged me to get online and sign up to audition. I remember thinking that it would be so cool just to try out, even if I didn't make it onto the show. I didn't really expect to receive an audition invitation, but a few years later I got an e-mail during the summer inviting me to try out for an audition in Louisville, KY. Because my wife and I are both school teachers, we were on a school break. We decided to make a day out of it. We took my mother, who was very excited, and planned to have lunch at a well-known restaurant in the area and take in the sights.
At the audition, there were 50 people in the room. We took a written test, and the results were used to keep the top 25. From then on, we were encouraged to be enthusiastic, smile often, and to think fast as we were grouped to play quick rounds of the game in front of the contestant coordinators. By the end of the long audition day it must have lasted over 3 hours. I was feeling good because I'd won a few of the practice rounds and I wasn't having any trouble being enthusiastic and extroverted. At the very end, the contestant coordinators named three people, myself among the named, to come up and have photos taken. I was so excited when I left to tell my wife and mom how well the auditions went.
A few weeks later, when I was contacted by Wheel of Fortune to say that I was going to be on the show, I was elated! Before I flew to Los Angeles, my wife and I watched Wheel of Fortune every night and read strategy advice online. Auditioning and being invited to appear on America's Game has been so exciting! My wife has been super excited and supportive through it all, and my mom is proud to know that she has played such a big role in shaping my love of words. And, by the way, my mom still beats me at Scrabble just about every time we play! Watch me spin on Tuesday, January 8th!
Wednesday, January 9th, 2013
My day at Sony Pictures studios was an incredible, once-in-a-lifetime experience! We started the day early with the contestant coordinators, who reiterated the rules and had us sign their standard paperwork before sending us in to the makeup artists who prepared us to be, "HD Ready." My makeup artist was so friendly and professional, as well as enthusiastic and genuine. I felt like a real star!
Throughout the day, the makeup artist would be at my side to give me touch-ups. Each time I saw her, she would say something encouraging, too. The contestant coordinators provided us with a tasty breakfast and lunch. At various times throughout the morning, Pat Sajak and Vanna White took time to greet us personally. Pat was super witty in person, and Vanna was authentically nice and truly a beautiful person (even without makeup).
Before the show started, all of the contestants to be filmed during the day were given a tour of the studio along with having some practice games while spinning the Big Wheel. Visiting the studio in person was amazing! Seeing the technicians setting up the extensive sound and light systems, along with all of the high-tech cameras, and knowing that I would soon become a part of this very studio's history was almost overwhelming. My desire to see it all made it hard for me during the practice rounds. After I guessed the letter X twice in one round, they assigned an employee to stand behind me to remind me to pay attention and focus on the game. Later, my wife who was watching the practice rounds in the audience said she was praying that my practice performance wouldn't be an indicator of my actual performance.
Getting to know my fellow contestants throughout the day was also a lot of fun. I really enjoyed that, by the time we got to actually play the game, none of us felt like we were competing against each other. It was more like each of us was competing against the wheel. My favorite moment during the day was watching a fellow contestant during an actual game. She got confused when she spun the wheel and it landed on a stationary lighted segment. As she bent down to pick it up, Pat Sajak startled her by exclaiming, "Don't touch that!...the whole wheel might explode!" We all laughed so hard!
When it was my turn to play, I was surprised by the game's pace. The contestant coordinators had been telling us all day to keep the game flowing at a brisk pace. Watching the others play was completely different than actually playing, though. The first few rounds were tough for me. I didn't buzz in fast enough on the first Toss Up round, and another contestant buzzed in to guess the first puzzle before I'd even solved it.
During the first commercial break, we all had to step down from our platforms while technicians changed some of the wheel's prize segments. At this time, my makeup artist told me to take a deep breath and relax. I took her advice, and when gameplay resumed I was able to successfully answer the next two Toss Up rounds, and I startled myself by guessing a few of the remaining puzzles quickly. Things moved so quickly that I felt like I was in the audience and watching myself yelling the solutions to the puzzles.
At the end of the last round, I was SHOCKED to realize that I'd scraped by the other two contestants and that I would be getting a chance to solve the final puzzle. I saw my wife being led down from the audience to stand on the side of the set, ready to run onto the stage. I proud, excited, nervous, and relieved (to have made it this far) all at once. Pat told me to really give the wheel a good spin, so I did. A few of the letters I guessed were in the puzzle, and I'm sure everyone thought I had it in the bag. Unfortunately, standing in the spotlight made it much harder for me to focus. With only 1 second remaining on the clock, I shouted a desperate and absurd answer, "Just spy the dork!" Unfortunately, I missed out on winning the Ford Mustang convertible. I'm still finding time in my day to kick myself about that! Either way, I won some money, made my friends and family proud, and had an awesome experience that we'll never forget!