Debbie Z's Blog Post
POSTED on Monday, October 22nd, 2012 I still can't believe I was on Wheel of Fortune! What a dream come true! I have been a Wheel watcher for as long as I can remember. I can recall the days when winning contestants had to spend the money won in a showcase of items. I remember a ceramic dog was the least expensive item and many ended up having to buy that whether they wanted it or not because they had to spend all of the money they won. I was so glad when that format was changed to cash and prizes from the wheel because you got to see more puzzles being solved. I also remember when Vanna, along with other beautiful young ladies were auditioning for her current role as hostess and letter turner. That was when letters actually had to be turned, not just electronically touched to be revealed. Okay, I am really showing my age. I was routing for Vanna to be chosen. She had such a beautiful smile and a very pleasing personality. Once she was chosen, the chemistry between Pat and Vanna was evident. They were and still are so much fun to watch. I love how they interact with each other. They make everything look like they are having so much fun and I wanted to be a part of that. Here is how it happened for me. Yes me, Debbie Zanetti from Elizabeth, a small suburb just south of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I have a wonderful husband, Ron and 3 grown children, Kristy, Julie and Jeff. I hate to admit it but we are all very competitive. What better way to compete than watch Wheel together and see who can solve the puzzle first. So my children grew up watching Wheel of Fortune with my husband and I and I have to admit, they are all very good at it! When Jeff's friend told him that Wheel was having auditions at the Meadows Casino not too far from us, Jeff was ready to go. My daughter, Julie said she would go with him. I thought it was probably a waste of time and I would end up spending more money gambling after I didn't get chosen and honestly, I am not much of a gambler. However at the last minute Julie wasn't able to go so I told Jeff I would go with him thinking I would just enjoy spending the day with him and experiencing something that most people couldn't say they did: try out for Wheel of Fortune! My husband came along but spent his time in the casino while Jeff and I went through the process of registering. There were small forms we had to fill out with just basic information: name, address, hobbies, something unique about you, email address etc. Truly this little piece of paper about 5X6 inches gave me an experience I will never forget. It was the day before Father's Day and it was smoldering hot. We were outside for the auditions. There was a platform set up with a letter board. Then "Pat and Vanna" stand-ins came out and explained to us that they were here to see people who had enthusiasm and personality. They randomly drew slips out of a basket in groups of 5. These people were asked to introduce themselves. Oh my, some of the things these people did to show enthusiasm amazed me: the singing and dancing and so on. It was very entertaining. When the first hour of auditions were over, Jeff and I filled out our forms for the second round and went inside to cool off and meet up with Ron. Soon, it was time for round 2. I had some money in a machine when Jeff said it was time to go. I said I was going to play off the money I had in the machine, go to the restroom and then join him. His friend had come so I didn't feel too bad sending him out without me. Not 5 minutes later Jeff called my husband's phone and told him they just called my name and Jeff told them I was in the bathroom to hurry me up and get me down there. I ran down and was placed in the group that was next in line. Jeff coached me and said, "Mom you have to do something to make you stand out." So when I was asked to introduce myself "Pat" said, "Oh yes you were the one in the bathroom!" I grabbed his hand to shake it and said, "Yes and in all the excitement I didn't get a chance to wash my hands!" He laughed and I went on with my interview. I gave Jeff a shout out and his son, my only grandson, Parker. On my paper that said something unique about yourself, I put that I was a teacher and I dressed in costume sometimes when I taught. He asked me questions about that and then on to the next person. There was a wheel with prizes on it that was spun and everyone on stage at that time won those prizes. I won a hat, a blinking Wheel of Fortune pin and a Wheel keychain. The game was played like the final round on the show. You called a letter, got a few seconds to guess then it moved to the next person. I called a letter that was there, but couldn't solve it. It was solved before it came back to me and off the stage I went. I was excited to have just participated in that not ever thinking it would continue from there. We were all told that if we were chosen, we would be notified and invited for the next round of auditions. Sadly, Jeff's name was never called and I really felt bad about that. Had it not been for him I certainly wouldn't have been there, and he is very good at the game. We were actually hoping that we could have been on a family week so we could have played together. We went home and shared this fun experience with many of our friends and family. Sure enough, a few short weeks later, I received an email with an invitation to the second round of auditions scheduled for July 19th. I was so happy and a little nervous. What would this next round of auditions be like? On the morning of July 19th, Ron and I drove back to the Meadows to a hotel where the auditions were being held. I was nervous but I kept telling myself to just enjoy the experience and what happens, happens. It was an honor to get this far. We were ushered into a room that held about 100 people and I would guess about 80 people were there. The contestant coordinators, who were absolutely incredible, told us how the morning would go. Talk about enthusiasm! These three ladies were the epitome of personality and enthusiasm. It was contagious! You couldn't help but smile as these ladies led us through the auditions. They made up a seating chart of us and told us they were going to call us randomly. We should jump up with enthusiasm, smiling, clapping and have fun! We would solve puzzles that were displayed on a screen in the front of the room. One coordinator spun a wheel with amounts on it just like the real wheel. Another coordinator called out our names and wrote things down as people played and another gave out hats to those who were able to solve puzzles. They all gave us advice on how to play and told us they were looking for personality and how we played the game that this was not the time to show off our puzzle solving skills. They said that would be done later with a written test. I was the second person called. I called out a few letters and they were there and sure enough after buying vowels I knew the puzzle. I am pretty sure the coordinator who spun the wheel realized I knew the puzzle so she spun a lose a turn or bankrupt which of course ended my turn but allowed another to play. I was okay with that because I felt good about how I did. I was loud (yes a requirement), decisive with my letter calling. I know I clapped and I couldn't help but smile the entire time as everyone in that place got a turn. It was amazing how people seemed to truly want others to do well, I know I was routing for everyone! After everyone got a fair chance to play we were given a written test. I chuckled a little because every other person got a different test to take to keep those who had an urge to peek from doing so. I am a sixth grade Social Studies teacher and yes, this is a strategy I use in my own classroom! We were given 5 minutes and let me tell you that was the fastest 5 minutes of my life. I was able to solve 5 or 6 completely and had many partials which we were encouraged to do. Then we had a break while our papers were graded. After being outside and talking to Ron, I felt pretty good about the number I solved. Many were only able to get 2 or 3 solved. I told Ron that I felt pretty confident that I would make it to the next round. We were called back in to the room and they started to call out names of those who were to stay for the next round. As they went on and my name wasn't called I felt embarrassed because I had told Ron I thought I would make it. My name was one of the last of about 20 to be called and I was thrilled. We moved on to play the game in groups of six. We had to pretend to spin a wheel and play the game as if it was the real deal. We were told that they were looking for enthusiasm yes, but the ability to stay focused and call for logical letters. I was in the second group to play. Again, I felt pretty good about how I did. I kept on smiling and clapping and really was having fun. After everyone had two chances at playing in this type of round the coordinators stepped out again. This time when they returned they asked six people to play again and I was not one of them. I was disappointed but was very happy to have made it this far and I truly enjoyed the experience. We were told that if chosen we would receive a letter in about two weeks congratulating us on being chosen to be place in a contestant pool. This meant that we could be asked to play in 2 months or 2 years. We were told that we would be responsible for all travelling expenses and the tax on the prizes that we may win. We were asked if this would be a difficulty. No one said that it would be so we left not knowing if we were chosen or not. I told Ron about the extra round that six people played that I was not a part of, but I wasn't throwing in the towel quite yet. I would wait my two weeks and whatever would happen, would happen. There was nothing left to do. I had done my best and really felt lucky to have had the chance to go through the process. I left for vacation the next day. My family travelled to Rehoboth Beach to visit my sister for a week. Tuesday evening (just 5 days after the audition) we went to a restaurant that was hosting a trivia contest. Yes, I told you we were competitive. One of the rules was you were not allowed to use your phones. This was so that people couldn't look up the answers on their smart phones. I don't have a smart phone, I have a dumb phone but I put it in my pocket none the less. About half way through the evening I felt it vibrating in my pocket. My whole family was with me so I couldn't imagine who was calling. I took it out and looked at the number. The area code was 310. I asked everyone where that are code came from. No one knew and I jokingly said oh that must be Wheel of Fortune telling me they wanted me to be a contestant. Everyone laughed and on with the game we went. Two hours later the trivia game was over, no we didn't win, and we were getting ready to leave. I saw that I had been left a message so I retrieved my voice mail. I was flabbergasted when it was one of the contestant coordinators letting me know not only was I chosen but they wanted me to be a part of "Teacher's Week" that was going to be filmed in 16 days. I was to call her back and let her know right away. My sonin-law and my sister were still with me when I heard the message. My mouth dropped open and the look of shock on my face had them worried. As the message went on I smiled so big that I heard them say it has to be good news not bad; she is smiling. I got off the phone and shared with them the news. We ran outside to tell the others. Jeff thought I was kidding and kept asking me if it was real. On the drive home out came the phones and everyone started calling their friends and the rest of the family to tell them the news. I was doing the driving so of course I couldn't call anyone. Just hearing the excitement in their voices gave me such a sense of pride that I was able to give them this moment of pure joy, tears welled up in my eyes. Then the realization of what was going to happen set in and the nerves came alive. The night before was unknowing to be my last truly good night of sleep I would have for the next 3 weeks. The next day I returned the call and said I certainly wanted to do this. I was given some information on the phone and was told that an e mail with more information would be sent but to go ahead and start making my travel plans. My daughter, Julie, got to work on her computer searching for flights. I called and reserved the hotel room. Ron and I decided to make it a four day stay. If we were flying all the way out there the flight wasn't any cheaper if you went for one day or four so we were going to make another mini vacation. Our kids wanted to go too, and I was allowed to have four guests. It was decided that all five of us would go and this was going to be first time just the five of vacationed together without other friends or spouses since 1993. It was going to be a very special experience for all of us. The good news spread quickly and I was eager to start doing some research. After we left Delaware we were home for not even twenty-four hours before leaving for ten more days to our family's cabin for a family reunion. I had no television to watch Wheel and was worried that I would be rusty for my big day. My daughters and my daughter-in-law made up puzzles for me to practice. They went through many different types of puzzles and threw in many that were teacher related because it was going to be Teachers Week. As my extended family came in for the reunion, everyone was excited for me. Although I was enjoying my time there, I admit I was very nervous. Everyone kept saying I know you will win. You will be great! I started feeling the pressure of letting people down! What if I didn't do well! I had a dream that I hit Lose a Turn or Bankrupt every spin. I was the one Pat said, "Well the wheel wasn't very good to you but you will leave with $1,000." Believe me $1000 is great but I would be letting so many people down who expected me to do great! To win! The thought of being on television wasn't nearly as nerve racking to me as letting people down. So again I had to settle myself down and say to just enjoy the experience and be grateful that I was going to be part of a game that I absolutely loved! Watch me on Tuesday, October 23rd to find out how my experience of lifetime turned out! POSTED on Wednesday, October 24th, 2012 Well the day for my filming came very quickly. My family of five all arrived safely in LA and took in some of the beautiful sights. The morning of the taping I took the shuttle provided by the hotel to the studio. In the shuttle were 15 other teachers all there for the same reason. We started to introduce ourselves; where we were from and what we taught. Everyone was very nice and friendly. We were taken to the studio and led into a back door to the studio. We gathered in a room with about 25 chairs, a fridge full of drinks, and a table with snacks. We had all received instructions on what and what not to wear. I was very surprised by the instructions and never really paid much attention to what people wore on the show. Each coordinator came into the room and went through different instructions and helpful hints on how to play the game. We were then taken into the studio and all I can say is WOW! It was breathtaking. The bluest of blue floors shone like glass. The lights, the wheel, everything was amazing! I was surprised that the studio wasn't larger. I brought my glasses but was happy that the letter board was large enough that I didn't need to use them. The used letter board was pointed out, as well as the board that kept track of everyone's winnings. Then we were able to practice spinning the wheel. I was shocked how heavy it was and how difficult it really was to get a great spin. It was not as large as it looks on television but every bit as colorful and bright. After everyone had a chance to practice we returned back to the holding room. Make-up artists had come and we all were to get our make-up touched up by them. How cool is that! As they took us back two at a time, others were practicing promos for the hometown television stations. As I was getting my make-up done, I heard a squeal and applause. I asked the woman doing my make-up what was going on and she said, "Vanna just came in." I was disappointed I couldn't see her but sure enough, she walked into the make-up room and said hello to us. She had not a bit of make-up on and was in sweats and a tee shirt and let me tell you, she was still a very beautiful woman! She wished us luck, gave a few pointers, and then she was gone. After everyone had their make-up done, we were told who we were going to be teamed up with on the show. There were six teams of two ladies and one gentleman. I was teamed up with Tina and Tony. One person from each trio was asked to pick a golf ball with a number on it out of a bucket. Tina chose the number I most wanted, number 2! I really didn't want to be first, but I wanted to be early so nerves wouldn't get the best of me. We were told that we could submit a photo of our school kids that will be shown on our show. Then we had to pick out of a small bottle to choose the position around the wheel. I got the third position. I didn't have any strong feelings one way or another about the position. Tina, Tony and I sat down and started talking. We shared that none of us felt we were very strong at the Toss Up puzzles that you have to buzz in for. We joked that the whole words would have to be revealed before we would know it. After going over many papers and signing some release forms it was back out to the studio. Now there were many people on the set. We had to take turns again at the wheel spinning and guessing letters so we got used to looking at our flippper on the wheel and to see what the letter board looked like lit up. Again I was surprised by the weight of the wheel. We were reminded to be loud, decisive and enthusiastic. We were told to clap at our waist so we didn't clap into the microphone. We were told how to pick up the special prizes on the wheel (1/2 car etc) turn them back and forth, then set them to our right. If we landed on a part of the wheel that was a wedge placed over a money amount, we were to hold it up and shake it back and forth then set it face up on the ledge in front of us. It is really fun to me now to watch everyone do these same things we were instructed to do when they spin the wheel. I looked into the audience and saw that people were being let into the studio. I spotted my family and blew them a two fingered kiss to let them know I was on the second show. We were not permitted to use our phones while in the studio so there was no way to communicate with them. The first trio was taken and we were put into the audience. I was so glad we could watch the others play. I made some friends quickly and was happy to know I could watch some of them play. The first show taping went great. Everyone won something. Then it was my time. We were taken to the wheel and were sized up. Each piece of flooring contestants stand on can be adjusted to make all contestants about the same height so everyone can spin the wheel fairly. I never noticed that in all the years I watched the show that everyone was about the same height. My make-up was touched up and to the wheel we went. We were told to practice buzzing in so that we knew the buzzers all worked. Then the moment of truth arrived. Pat and Vanna, of course looking great, came out from behind the letter board. We picked up our buzzers for the Toss Up round. Out came the letters and sure enough I drew a blank. Many letters were revealed and I wasn't quick enough to buzz in. Tony solved it and then Pat started the introductions. Tony was first then I was next. When I went to introduce my family, I said my husband's name, my eldest daughter, my middle daughter then had a brain freeze. I couldn't remember whose name I just said. Did I say Julie or had I said Jeff. I thought quickly and said I usually address them in their birth order so I said JJJJJeff. I felt bad. He really was the reason I was on this show and I stuttered on his name. Boy let me tell you, he has not let me live that down yet! Then we did the second Toss Up round and sure enough almost every letter was revealed before I realized it was Billings Montana. I wasn't quick enough and didn't get the second puzzle. Tony got it again. Tony got to spin first for the first puzzle. He got a few letters correct and I really don't know what happened but I know it came to me. I was so focused on the puzzle that I really didn't pay much attention to the wheel. I know I called for a few letters that were there and bought a few vowels then hit the Jackpot wedge. I really felt I should have known it by then but I couldn't get it. I think if I had been at home I would have been able to solve it but it is so much more difficult to play on stage than it is at home. I felt I was letting America down and my family. I had to spin, got a letter, and bought the final vowel, the "u", and then I knew what it was. Let me tell you, Pat, Vanna and all the contestant coordinators all gave the same advice. If you don't know it, don't be afraid to buy the vowels. The vowels can help lead you to the correct consonants. The most you would spend is $1250 if you buy every vowel but the puzzles can be worth so much more. That strategy worked for me! When I solved the first puzzle , "Public display of affection," I was so relieved! I had won over $6000 and knew I wasn't going home without having solved a puzzle. The relief was tremendous! I could hear my family cheering for me and I didn't know whether to laugh or cry! I actually cannot recall much about what the amounts were that I spun. Pat came over to congratulate me and I don't remember much. I think I said something like everyone in America probably knew the puzzle when I hit the Jackpot and I felt a little stupid because I didn't know it. He comforted me by saying it was much different here than at home and he is certainly right! I started the second puzzle. I know that a trip to China was on the board at some time and I hit it but didn't get a letter correct. At some time I hit the car and I picked it up, shook it back and forth and put it on my right, just as I was told! Tony solved the second puzzle. Then it was the time for the puzzle I was most waiting forthe Prize Puzzle. My son, Jeff, had told me if I get a chance to solve the Prize Puzzle to solve it because it is worth a lot of money so just solve it! I was unfortunately the third one to spin on this puzzle. Honestly I don't know what happened to the others but it was my turn and I knew it! Jeff's advice went through my head and here was my chance. Ok this isn't my proudest moment because I asked Pat if I could solve it even though I didn't have any money. He said it was a prize puzzle and it may be a good idea. I don't know why I asked him that. I knew that was what I wanted to do and what I could do. Incredibly, I said the phrase correctly, "Beaches that will take your breath away." I did it! And now the moment of truth where was I going? It was Maui! This was amazing! Ron and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary in Hawaii and always wanted to go back. We will celebrate our 35th wedding anniversary next year and guess whatwe will be going to Hawaii again! I was so moved again I didn't know whether to scream out in joy or cry those happy tears! There was a break in the filming and I was able to catch my breath. When the filming began again it was another Toss Up round. Buzzers in hand, I am determined to get this right. The letters come up one at a time and sure enough I cannot get it. Sadly and frustrating for my girls, it was actually a puzzle they had me practice before I came to LA. It was "bulletin board." How did I not get this one? Well Tony solved it AGAIN! Now it was time for the last puzzle. Tony got to start it. He got a few letters then it was my turn somehow. I got a few letters, I think, then it was time for the final spin. We took turns getting letters without solving it. Then I see that the first word is restaurant. But what is that last word? I know I lost sight of the categorya person. Once I guessed the "r" restaurant was all but revealed and most of the second word. How do I not know this? I was buzzed and I am very happy that Tina solved it. I was so happy for her. We all solved a puzzle! Then it hit me as I looked at the board. I was the big winner! Had Tony solved it, he would have beaten me and made it to the final round. But it was me! A commercial break came and the small wheel was brought out. It is pretty neat how it is placed onto the floor. There is an outside entity that watches to make sure everything is on the up and up. When filming restarted, I was allowed to introduce my family and this time I got all of the names right! During the commercial break I was asked if it was ok if Pat held my hand as he led me to the puzzle board. I said I was looking forward to it! Are you kidding me! So I spin the smaller wheel. Pat points to the letter I spun, I pick up the card and hand it to him and then yes, he holds my hand and leads me to the infamous mark I hear him refer to on the show all of the time. Really it is simply a piece of tape on the floor. I stand on the mark and the common letters are revealed. I am asked to give the others. I had done some research and asked for the ones suggested. NOTHING! Oh my, I really had no idea. My ten seconds started ringing so loudly in my ears: beep, beep, beep and nothing came to me. The buzzer sounded and sadly I didn't solve it. If I would have, I would have won a convertible sports car. I can honestly tell you my disappointment was minimal. Look at what I got to do! I participated on a game show I love, I won money and a wonderful trip to Hawaii and I made it to the final round. I got to meet Pat (who is so funny) and Vanna (beautiful and kind), see the inside workings of the studio, and share it all with my family. I am so blessed! It has been about 2 months since I filmed. I am anxious to see my show. There is so much I don't remember and it will be fun to relive it all over again. I must admit I had about a week of sleepless nights about "restaurant manager" and "bulletin board!" But you don't get do-overs and I have to accept I will get some ribbing by my friends and family over them. I am surprised at how easy it was not to tell people about how the show went. It was fun disclosing some of the behind the scenes things we experienced. So many people were interested in all of those details. But it will be fun to watch them watch me. We are planning to have a Wheel event to experience the viewing with my extended family. We will all watch it together. A group of my coworkers are planning to get together to watch it and of course all of my students will be watching. I am proud that I will be able to give them the opportunity to see themselves on television as well. I would like thank everyone who made this possible, from the first round auditions to the filming. I met so many incredible people, contestants and Sony Studio employees. It is certainly a time I shall never forget. I will enjoy every moment in Maui and will enjoy spending every dollar. The cost of the trip to LA for the five of us will consume most of my cash winnings so I figure I won two vacations from Wheel of Fortune: one to LA and one to Hawaii. Not too bad for filling in for my daughter on a sunny, and warm Saturday afternoon. If you ever wonder about whether these contestant searches can turn out to be a reality, remember, I was a nonbeliever once. And I now I tell all of you, "Go For It!" It can happen! I am living proof!