Eric S's Blog Post
My Wheel of Fortune experience began in front of a Sears department store in Dulles, Virginia. By chance, I had heard on a local news broadcast that the Wheelmobile was in town that July weekend to audition potential contestants. For years, I had watched Wheel of Fortune on TV, played the video games, and hoped to one day meet Pat and Vanna and spin the wheel for real. While I loved the game and wanted to play on the show, I was aware of the luck needed to even make it onto the stage. Against all odds, my name was chosen (for the last game of the final day). I went up on stage, introduced myself, and played a mock speed up round of Wheel of Fortune with four other hopefuls. I didn’t solve the puzzle, so I stepped off the stage and didn’t know what to make of my chances.
Two and a half weeks after the Wheelmobile event, I received an e-mail inviting me to final auditions. I was ecstatic! Two weeks later, I was in a hotel meeting room in Washington, DC with 70-80 other finalists, playing much more focused mock games of Wheel of Fortune. The contestant coordinators and support staff there were extremely helpful in giving us tips on how to do well during the audition, and making sure we had a great time playing. Despite the adrenaline rush, I was able to solve one of the puzzles during the mock games, and was also able to solve most of the written exam puzzles (after spending almost two minutes drawing a blank). After the contestant coordinators finished grading the written exams, I was dismissed. At that point I wasn’t sure if I would be on the road to Los Angeles, or if my quest to be a contestant had ended in the hotel meeting room.
Exactly 19 days after my final audition (you better believe I was counting them), I received a letter from Wheel of Fortune, congratulating me on being chosen as a contestant! The rush of excitement I felt was nearly unprecedented in my life. I didn’t know when exactly, but I knew I was going to Los Angeles. My wait to participate on the show was short – less than one month after I received my letter.
The day of the actual taping felt like a whirlwind. Six shows were being filmed that day, so 18 contestants and a couple of alternates were present. The excitement in the room was palpable. The contestant coordinators from the audition in DC were there, and really went above and beyond to make sure we felt special, understood the rules, and learned some tips and tricks on how to do well on the show. Vanna even came into the contestant holding room to congratulate us and wish us luck.
We had a chance to see the studio for the first time, practice spinning the wheel, and play a rehearsal game of Wheel of Fortune. As many have stated before, the wheel is actually a bit smaller than it appears on TV, but don’t let that fool you. It weighs over a ton, and it takes a bit of practice to spin it properly. During rehearsal, I got the hang of spinning down fine, but I flubbed one of the Wheel of Fortune Crossword puzzles, which was slightly embarrassing, since it happened just as the studio audience was taking their seats to prepare for the first show to begin. Before I knew it, rehearsal was over, and all the contestants were taken up to the far end of the audience seating area. Based on a drawing backstage, it was determined that I would be on the fifth of six shows being taped that day, which meant I had some time to experience the dynamics of playing the game in the studio, with the lights, the audience, Pat and Vanna, two other contestants, and a countdown timer just off camera (rather than playing in my living room, where it was always my turn). It was truly a great experience to see Wheel of Fortune from the studio, watching Pat, Vanna, Jim, the contestant coordinators, and all other staff work together to keep the show entertaining and moving seamlessly.
For my show, I stood at the wheel in the blue position. As Pat and Vanna were first walking across the stage, my legs felt like jelly. The Toss Up puzzles (one of which begins the show) seemed to give me the most difficulty when I played along with Wheel of Fortune at home. At that point, I remember thinking that all I wanted to do was not make a fool of myself on national television. Amazingly, I got the first Toss Up, interviewed with Pat, and solved the second Toss Up, which meant I started Round 1.
Round 1 went very well for me. I landed on the Wild Card, then $2,500. I guessed R, and there were four of them at $2,500 apiece. I used the Wild Card and found another letter in the puzzle. Shortly after, I solved the puzzle without giving up control of my turn. Looking back, what I found interesting was that the night before on Wheel of Fortune, the bonus puzzle was “Spicy Goulash,” which is a dish my grandmother was known for making. One of the other delicious dishes my grandmother often made was strawberry shortcake, which happened to be the puzzle for Round 1.
Round 2 was a Wheel of Fortune Crossword, which was the type of puzzle I flubbed in rehearsal. When I gained control, I landed on $3,500, guessed an L (there were two), bought a vowel, and solved the puzzle successfully. I was thrilled, and Pat gave some good-natured ribbing about how much I was winning (or at least, that is what I recall).
I did not end up winning any of the other rounds during the regular game, but I had made enough from the Toss Ups and Rounds 1 and 2 to advance to the bonus round. When we came back from commercial, I gave the bonus wheel a spin, picked up the envelope, and proceeded with Pat to the little mark that is on the stage floor for contestants. The category I chose for the puzzle was Phrase. R, S, T, L, N, E only yielded two letters, which left most of the puzzle empty. I really didn’t have much of a clue at that point, so I chose my three consonants and additional vowel, hoping they would yield some results. Unfortunately, Vanna only revealed one more letter, a D. I don’t think I was fully following what Pat was saying after this point, because I was frantically trying to figure out what possible letters could fit within all those blanks. I don’t know how it came to me, but the letter O popped into my head. That led to my one guess at the puzzle (“I Found Out”), which was all I had. There seemed to be this momentary pause, Pat said I was right, and I felt a big smile spread across my face. I was fully expecting to see $36,000 inside that envelope, so when Pat opened it to show $100,000, my excitement boiled over and I started jumping around the studio. Before I knew it, my family was on stage, Pat was shaking my hand, and I was being congratulated by Vanna. It was easily one of the most exciting and surreal experiences of my life.
I am very grateful for the opportunity to participate on Wheel of Fortune. The contestant coordinators were incredible, along with everyone else I encountered that day. They worked hard to create a fun and exciting environment for all contestants, and made the experience one to never forget!