Dustin A's Blog Post
Monday, June 3rd, 2013
My journey to Wheel of Fortune officially began in the Fall of 2009. My wife and I attended a Wheel Mobile event in Oklahoma City while I was stationed at Vance AFB, OK. We were both called up on stage to participate in separate rounds that day. This was my first audition among 1500 other hopefuls. It was all about personality, personality, personality. This was my chance and I gave the biggest smiles, the loudest voice, and tons of energy. My wife and I both got the invitation to come back for a second round of auditions. Unfortunately, some mandatory military training prevented me from attending the next round. I thought, "Oh well, there goes my once in a lifetime opportunity." However, my wife made it on the show and made up for that let down with a big win. I thought that was the end of my Wheel of Fortune journey lived out through my wife. I could live with that because she deserved it.
Fast forward 3 years, where we were stationed at Dover AFB, Delaware. I received an email invitation that the Wheel Mobile was on its way to the Philly area. I honestly didn't want to give up my day off on a Saturday to deal with another potential letdown. Thankfully, my wife convinced me to change my mind and attend the audition.
I arrived in Atlantic City, NJ to a crowd 3 times the size of that in OK. It was fun to relive the audition process with the Wheel Mobile folks. Yet this time, I didn't get the chance to participate on stage. I cheered for the others and enjoyed my time as an audience member, but thought I was done and headed home with little hope for a call back. Yeah, yeah, supposedly they invite a few folks even if they didn't make it on stage. All they had on me was a card filled in with some personal info, and I left there believing my bucket list dream of playing on Wheel of Fortune was buried.
A few weeks later, an email popped up with an invitation to come back for the second round of auditionsWhat? Was this for real? Did they really mean the whole, "we choose a few folks even if they didn't make it on stage." Just like the first invite, I had some military training that required my attendance, and I thought I might not be able to attend the audition again. Just because it might be a once in a lifetime event to me, it might not be to my commander. This time, I was excused from training and made the second round of auditions - thanks boss!
I recorded and watched Wheel of Fortune every night with my wife and played the IPhone game more times than I can count with my oldest son. My wife would pause the DVR at key times to explain a specific rule or strategy, or quiz me on things like, "which letters would you call?" or "do you spin or solve?" I was well prepared for my next audition. The 4,500 hopefuls from the Wheel Mobile event were reduced to about 100. I listened closely and I heard a theme over and over again project with your big-boy voice, smile, and clap. Perhaps it was my military background, but when somebody tells you something more than twice, it's best to follow instructions. I smiled, clapped a lot, and pretended I was cheering for my favorite sports team. Like other blogs, we played a few rounds to practice and ease the jitters, then the test! It was the most important hang-man style test I'd ever taken.
At the end of the day, we were narrowed down to 50ish and told our appearance on the show was not guaranteed. If they wanted to use me, I'd get a letter in the mail. If you don't get the letter in about 2 weeks, then you've got your answer. Let's just say 13 days came and went with no letter. I'll never forget walking to my mailbox in my pajamas on a cold, sunny Saturday to check the mail. Junk mail, bills, more junk mail, coupons, and what's this? A white letter from California? Could it be? It was! But, it still wasn't official until I got the call for the official invite to appear on the show. The call came about 3 weeks later during a much needed nap while I had some down time. The phone rang. Urrgghhh, whos calling and waking me up? Culver City, CA area code? I perked up just a little. :)
The date of my taping was timed perfectly too. I was scheduled to deploy late January 2013, but it was cancelled due to another assignment and move back to Oklahoma in early 2013. So, I was free for about a 4-week window before moving and my Wheel of Fortune tape date was right in that window. It truly is amazing how things worked out!
A few weeks later, my wife, son, mom and sister loaded up for Los Angeles. We arrived 2 days early to site see in LA and ensure I wasn't rushed for my special day. We stayed at the recommended hotel and I met up with 12 other contestants the morning of the show. We jumped on the hotel shuttle, and I remember thinking "this could be a really good day."
Once we arrived at the studio, we were greeted by our contestant coordinators and makeup artists (thanks ladies for helping us look good). After a few legal briefings and introductions, we filled out some paperwork and visited the makeup room. It was especially humorous when we were greeted by a surprise visit from Vanna, although I think we surprised her more. She didn't know she was walking into a room full of men since it was Dad's Week. I think we caught her off guard a little, but she was super nice and set us at ease with a little pep talk.
We practiced spinning THE Wheel (it's smaller and heavier than you think), then more makeup. I was selected to appear on the first taping of the day, so things came fast after an intro to the stage and Wheel. I scarfed down a quick lunch in the contestant holding room, then it was time for placescue the music "Ladies and Gentlemen, Pat Sajak and Vanna White." Here we go, it's showtime! Watch me play on Monday, June 3rd.
Tuesday, June 4th, 2013
Perhaps my attention should've been on the game, but I was immediately drawn to something that caught my eye as I walked out and took my place behind the red position. It was the Dalmatian. You remember the Dalmatian from the early Wheel of Fortune days when contestants purchased prizes after each round? There was a Dalmatian on stage, and this was that Dalmatian, just sitting off to the side like it was there watching the game. Something about that dog set me at ease and made me smile. It reminded me of watching the show as a kid with my mom. This was it, and it was real! Cue the music "Ladies and Gentlemen, Pat Sajak and Vanna White." Here we go, it's showtime! Here comes Pat walking up to me, getting closer, closer oh yeah, get ready and play the game!
The first Toss-Up was a blur, and I had to remind myself I wasn't watching my TV. I actually had to press the button on my device. I was too late with that one. During the first puzzle, I knew the answer early, but was trying to "play" the numbers game and it almost bit me. I had a long pause when it was my turn to guess a consonant. I tried to rack up some money, but almost drew a blank on which letter to call. Thankfully, I got the letter off and threw away the rest of my nerves. I solved the puzzle, and reminded myself to have fun! It was a good feeling to get one under my belt.
During the commercial breaks, Pat was SUPER personable. He reminded us the hardest part was over and now it's time to have fun making some money. We got some water to drink, some more touchups from our makeup artist, and a few encouraging words from our contestant coordinators. Round 2, Round 3, another toss up in there somewhere, but I specifically remember the Prize Puzzle. I promised myself I wouldn't forget it. So, I guessed a few consonants and intentionally played the numbers game this time and it worked. I saved the big letters for the most money. "PERFECT, PARALLEL, PARKING.”
I waited for the bigger bucks to call the R, L, and P, then solved to get the Prize trip to the Caribbean. I was on a roll with the puzzles and the letters just seemed to pop out at me. I don't remember all the puzzles, but I remember Pat joking during a commercial break to the other Dads to grab their devices for the final Toss-Up. "Go ahead and grab your detonators there so you can blow this guy up." I felt a little bad for taking the spotlight, but my bucket list dream was coming true!
On to the Bonus Round. I remember seeing that Dalmatian again on my way to the Bonus Wheel with Pat. More water, more makeup, and more coaching. Then, it was one on one with Pat during the commercial break. I told him about how my wife was on the show 3 years prior and won, so the pressure was on me to do better than she did. I told him I couldn't let her earn more money on Wheel I'd hear about it the rest of my life from everybody. He genuinely laughed.
Bring on the puzzle, I'm ready! I spun the Wheel. I love the sound of that Wheel spinning. I practiced a gazillion times at home which letters I'd call. I stuck with my guns and called something other than C, M, and D. I remember the P and the life saver was the vowel. I called an i' and boy am I glad I did. I struggled the first few seconds, but then it came to me. "BIKINI TOP". I remember thinking that and saying no, that can't be it. That seems odd for National TV. But I shouted it out and got it!
My wife, son, mom, and sister came running out to celebrate the $30,000 prize. How fitting I got a huge hug from my son for Dad's Week. But the thing I remember most was Pat looking at my wife and asking her, "Did he beat you?" "Oh, Yeah," she replied! Mission Accomplished! After the bonus round, I briefly visited with Pat and Vanna. I remember them telling me how rare it is to have a husband and wife appear on the show separately, let alone both win the Bonus Round. Then, I was whisked away to sign my prize paper work. Normally, my hands are calm and steady from my training as an Air Force pilot. However, I could barely sign my name on the papers because they were shaking so much. It was so surreal to me. The show started promptly at 12:00 and I was walking out of the studio by 12:38. My life was changed in such a short timeframe. I can't wait for a great getaway with my wife to the Caribbean and being completely debt-free when we receive the money. What a day, what a journey, and what a blessing! Over $48,000 in cash and prizes. Dream come true - check! Bucket list item - check! Thanks to my contestant coaches, the makeup artists, and the best coach along the way-my wife!