Chris C's Blog Post
Have you ever been in a meeting in which someone suggests that the group start with an "ice breaker" question, such as "Tell the group something interesting about you?" I never liked that question. I grew up as a normal kid in rural Wisconsin, I played college football at a D2 school in northern Minnesota, I have been blessed with a beautiful wife and three awesome sons, and I work as a business sales executive for a general insurance agency. It's a great life but nothing overly "interesting" to tell a group in an "ice breaking" situation.
One day, I was in such a meeting and the question was posed to the woman sitting next to me. "About five years ago, I was on Wheel of Fortune. I won $5,000 and had a really great time!" she said. Everyone was so excited for her and had countless questions about her experience. But no one was as intrigued as me. I am awesome at that show, I thought to myself. That would solve my "something interesting about yourself" problem and wouldn't it be cool to spin that humongous Wheel?!? Needless to say, I spent the rest of the meeting daydreaming about hanging out with Pat and Vanna and winning that million dollar final puzzle... and, of course, spending my million dollar winnings! As soon as the meeting was dismissed, I power walked back to my desk to log on to the Wheel of Fortune website and fill out the online application. I knew that I was only one in over a million people who would complete the same application, but you can't be selected if you don't try, right?? And I must have had luck on my side, because about a year later, I received the call, inviting me to come to a local audition, and about three weeks after that, I received a letter informing me that I would be one of the lucky 600 people who were selected to appear on an episode. I would finally have something interesting to share about myself!
The experience of appearing on the show is much different than that of someone watching from the comfort of their own living room. As a contestant, when you are standing at the Wheel, you can see the puzzleboard, the used letter board and there is a screen showing everyone's game totals. It's important to keep track of all three. While taping, you also have to be mindful to smile and clap, spin the Wheel at your turn, watch where the wheel lands and buzz in during toss up puzzles. Not to mention you are standing in a studio set full of bright lights and cameras, with a live studio audience to your left. There is a make-up crew that comes in at every commercial break to offer you water and freshen up your make-up so you don't appear shiny on camera, and another crew that comes in to modify the Wheel at each break to accommodate for the upcoming round. Then top that off with the pressure of knowing that you are taping for television! And not just for a local or random daytime show in which very few people watch, but for a very well-liked, popular, nationwide television program. And, as a contestant, the money that you are playing for is real! It's easy to sit from your couch and blurt out a puzzle answer, because it doesn't really matter if you're right or if you're wrong. But when it's real money and real television, the pressure really cranks up!
The entire experience was pretty surreal. Before my taping, I had never before been on a television set or in a studio, so I was excited to learn about how the show is taped and to see all the behind the scene ins and outs of the production. Even though hundreds of contestants appear on the show each season, the entire Wheel of Fortune crew was so kind and accommodating to us, never making us feel like "just another contestant". Pat and Vanna, too, were really easy to talk to and made everyone feel so at ease. Vanna, in fact, without her hair and makeup done, came into the studio to greet us while we were practicing. I really admire her confidence in talking to us as a "real" person without being "TV ready" (although she's just as pretty without makeup). Vanna helped alleviate a lot of anxiety, as she was so friendly and relaxed.
In one day, Wheel of Fortune tapes an entire week of shows. Therefore, I was one of fifteen contestants to tape that day and our show order was selected by choosing a numbered golf ball out of a bucket. The first three shows taped back-to-back starting at noon then the last two taped after a short intermission. What surprised me the most about my taping experience was that although we were all trying to win money and prizes, there was no competitiveness between the contestants. Instead, there was a very friendly camaraderie between us, as we were all experiencing the same nerves and same excitement together. Of course we all wanted to do well ourselves but we all cheered each other on, hoping we would all go home with big winnings.
The most special aspect of my Wheel of Fortune experience, however, was the fact that my wife and oldest son were able to fly out with me and watch my taping from the studio audience. I am thankful to have been able to share that special experience with them and it is a trip that we will never forget. I am also grateful for the support and level of excitement that I receive when I tell people that I taped an episode of Wheel of Fortune. I typically get a reaction similar to if I had told them that I won a small lottery! Everyone is so intrigued to hear about the experience and is dying to know how I did. Therefore, to celebrate the airing of my show, my wife has planned a party for me at a local restaurant. Over 150 of our closest friends and family members are planning on coming to watch my 30 minutes of Wheel of Fortune fame. I have been very quiet about the results of my show, so it will be fun to watch it all together.
A big thank you to the Wheel of Fortune crew for providing me with my "something interesting" that I can now share with a group of strangers. Without a doubt, it was one of the most fun and memorable experiences that I have had a pleasure of having. I would encourage anyone who is interested to apply for the show. You never know what will happen!!