Joe F's Blog Post
Monday, July 15th, 2013
My wife's best friend, Elaine, forwarded to me the e-mail from "Wheel of Fortune" announcing an opportunity to audition to be a contestant. We originally planned to attempt to be on our favorite game show together; however, we did not act for three weeks. On the last night before the deadline, Elaine suggested that I apply alone. After I supplied the necessary information on the e-mail application, I could not send it without including a one minute video explaining why I should be given the chance to spin the almighty wheel. I decided to ask my wonderful neighbor, Margie, to help me with this process. It took us about 90 minutes to complete a catchy snapshot of me. "Hello Friends, I am Joe; and I live in the beautiful township of Belleville, NJ!" I announced. "I am grateful to be a first grade teacher in my tremendous hometown. I have been watching Wheel of Fortune' since the show was born; and I currently view our favorite game show every evening with my inspiring 91-year-young mother-in-love, Tessie. What would be better than me spinning the wheel with my magnificent mom and my beautiful wife, Denise, in the audience? I am a prolific puzzle solver and I am extremely enthusiastic. Let me show you!" We immediately sent my online application and the video to beat the midnight expiration. To my surprise, I received an e-mail the next day inviting me to audition in Brooklyn on Thursday, December 6th, which was the following week.
Everyone I told about the great news was very excited for me. Since I had to use a personal day for work, I advised my administrators, my colleagues, and my children about my once-in-a-lifetime gig. The buzz began. Since Margie is employed in New York, she offered to accompany me on the bus and to navigate our way on the subway to get to Brooklyn.
When we arrived at the Sheraton Hotel, we met other excited auditioners. There were about 75 people from different backgrounds and various age groups present. The amicable contestant coordinators made us feel at ease as we entered the room reserved for our audition and all of the others. I believe we were able to present a well-rounded representation of ourselves as each individual was afforded the time to play mock games of "Wheel of Fortune" and to take a written test. I continually smiled and clapped during the entire process. My written test contained 16 puzzles with four puzzles in each of the four categories, such as Phrases, Before and After, What Are You Doing?, and Television Shows. Some of the letters were given for the five minute exam. I did my best; and I hoped for the best as the contestant coordinators excused themselves to decide which 25 applicants would stay to play more to become possible contestants on the show. I nervously took a trip to the bathroom and a brunch break while chatting with my new acquaintances. We wished each other well. When the contestant coordinators came back, we were advised if your name was called, you would stay; otherwise, your participation was very much appreciated. After about 22 people being selected, "Joe" was pronounced. "Della Ferra?" I asked, since I knew there was another Joe in the room. "Yes," the contestant producer replied. I jumped out of my chair as I yelled, "I don't believe it!" I held back tears as I wanted my mother-in-love to experience "Wheel of Fortune" live.
The 25 keepers played more mock games; and we introduced ourselves to everyone in the room. I was hoping that my personality would be noticed. Finally, the contestant coordinators shared that we would receive a letter in the mail during the last two weeks of December if we were going to be a contestant, after all. The anticipation of hopefully getting the call to be a contestant was getting insane. As a former letter carrier, I was concerned with my confirmation possibly getting lost. The suspense was getting to me as I was aware that one of my new friends was asked to go to California for a taping. Fortunately, my worries were for nothing.
On Friday, December 28th, mom advised me that a letter with WHEEL OF FORTUNE for the return address had come. "Hurry up," she ordered. "Let's see what the letter says." An unbelievable feeling came over me as I read to mom, who has macular degeneration, the notification proclaiming me as a participant. We hugged; and I cried this time. I phoned Denise at work; and I started calling anyone who I thought would care. This was an excellent way to end one year with the thought of an exciting experience in the New Year. I had to patiently wait for a phone call or an e-mail during the week of February 18th, 2013, to firm up a specific date in mid-March at the Theater at Madison Square Garden in neighboring New York. I waited until February 20th, mom's 92nd birthday, to call to inquire; even though I am a very patient person. I had hoped to give her the best news on her birthday, but it had to wait until the next day. I informed her that we were definitely going to "Wheel of Fortune" on Friday, March 15th. Watch me spin from The Big Apple on Monday, July 15th!
Tuesday, July 16th, 2013
First, I want to thank the contestant coordinators of "Wheel of Fortune" who selected me to participate as a contestant on my favorite television show. I also appreciate everything everyone affiliated with the taping of the show did; and I, too, want to recognize the kind staff at The Theater at Madison Square Garden who accommodated my family and friends for this special occasion.
Riiiiiing, riiiiiing, riiiiiing! My alarm clock is blaring for me to awaken after only four hours of sleep for game day. I had been hoping for this experience to happen for the past 30 years. I was shaven, showered, dressed, and out of the house by 6:30 a.m. I did not have to be at the venue until 9:00 a.m., but I wasn't taking any chances with anything unforeseen possible driving from New Jersey to New York. Since I was having a surreal feeling as I came out of the Lincoln Tunnel, I mistakenly pulled into the bus only area at Port Authority Parking Garage. Officer T. G. immediately stopped me as buses continually passed us. I explained my situation; and the nice officer wished me luck after documenting the information he required from my driving credentials.
After parking my vehicle, I was the first contestant to arrive at about 7:50 a.m. Fourteen other contestants and two alternate contestants eventually came for the tapings of the first five shows for New York City Week. We excitedly talked outside as we waited for the contestant coordinators to accompany us inside. We spent most of the morning being versed in the rules and the roles we would be playing when we participated. The contestant coordinators were very friendly, patient, and great cheerleaders. Once onstage, we all circled the wheel like it was a shrine. I couldn't wait to actually spin the "Wheel of Fortune." It was smaller and heavier than I expected; however, it was an honor to be a spinner. Directions on the proper way to spin the wheel were given. The set was awesome! The Statue of Liberty was standing tall; and the skyscrapers towered over us. I curiously softly touched some of the designs. My two game partners and I filmed promos for our local affiliate television station, ABC7, to advertise our particular show. George, the producer, enjoyed my enthusiasm.
After a delicious lunch, we returned to the stage to practice and play a little bit more. Our group was to play the first of the five taped games determined by a draw of numbered golf balls. Most of the people in the audience had been ushered into their respective seats. I believe there were about 3,000 "Wheel" fans in attendance. I felt like a rock star! Kimber had already applied my makeup. I had seen Simon and Garfunkel, Dennis DeYoung of Styx, and Blondie on the same stage. Two of the contestant coordinators acted like they were Pat and Vanna to enable us to get a feel for the toss up controls and that phase of the game. I felt warmed up and ready to rock and roll. Minutes later, announcer Jim Thornton was introducing Pat and Vanna to everyone in The Theater. The host and the letter turner looked fantastic in person. Vanna, dressed stunningly in a silver gown and matching silver heels, gave us a wave. I certainly waved back to her.
Pat then started the game with a toss-up puzzle. With an f as the second letter in the two letter second word and a t as the second letter in the first word, the solution seemed to pop into my head. A surprised Pat called out my name; and I responded by yelling out, "Statue of Liberty!" I correctly solved the puzzle with only two letters revealed. I was ecstatic!
As Pat interviewed me, I was extremely excited. I could not contain my emotions. I announced, "I live in Belleville, NJ, with my inspiring, 92-year-young mother-in-law, Tess, and my wonderful wife, Denise. I have an awesome son, Joe III, who is 25. I'd like to shout out to everyone in the Belleville Public Schools. Go Buccaneers! I also want to say hello to all of my friends at School Number Four, especially to my fantastic first graders. Hi boys and girls. Pat suddenly was next to me to remind me that I had a microphone. "My wife told me that I would have to tone it down," I offered. "Be yourself," Pat retorted. Of course, I hoped to solve a puzzle; however, I also expected to model good sportsmanship for my children. I was happy that each of the contestants won more than the minimum of $1,000.
Actually playing the game is a lot different than sitting in the comfort of your living room. There isn't any wheel to spin; and you use everybody's turns to solve. A special moment occurred after our game. As Denise and I returned into The Theater with mom, Jim Thornton was in the audience looking for me. The timing was perfect as I answered, "Here I am, Jim!" A spot light was now on us as Jim asked me to introduce whoever was with me. After recognizing my family with the popular announcer, I introduced Elaine, Margie, and our newlywed neighbors, Greg and Jess. I explained that my first graders could not be absent from school because they had to take a Spelling test. I plan to use some of my winnings to pay my student loans. I am grateful to have experienced an amazing time on "Wheel of Fortune!" Thank you!