Josh P's Blog Post
I grew up watching Wheel of Fortune with my family every night after dinner. Never did I ever imagine that I would one day be a contestant on the show! I have always been good at solving the puzzles and would typically be able to figure them out before anyone else in my family. For years, my mom encouraged me to try out for the show. I got as far as filling out the online application once only to realize that I needed to also submit an audition video, which prevented me from applying. Years later, after getting married and watching the show nightly with my wife, she too began to frequently encourage me to audition for the show. Knowing that we were expecting our first child later in the year, I ultimately decided that if I truly wanted to be a contestant, now would be the time to apply as our lives were about to get a little more hectic. In late June, I finally made a video (which, after many outtakes, took much longer than expected!) and submitted my application, not really expecting anything to come of it.
One month later, I got an e-mail inviting me to a closed audition in Detroit in one week. I couldn't believe it (honestly, at one point the skeptic in me thought it was fake and someone was trying to scam me. Thankfully I came to my senses!). The audition was on a work day and two hours away from my small hometown in Northwest Ohio. The e-mail stated that they discourage people from taking long trips as it is very hard to get on the show, but I knew this would be the closest chance I would ever have at becoming a contestant. I had to go.
There were about 50 other hopefuls at the audition. We took our seats and eventually played a simulated version of the show. When the contestant coordinators randomly called our name, we were to stand up and call consonants or buy vowels and try to figure out the puzzle while they spun a mini-Wheel. I was the first person called in our audition. I remember nervously thinking to myself, "Holy crap, that's my name!", as I jumped out of my seat. Luckily I was still able to think clearly and fairly quickly solve the puzzle, winning a Wheel of Fortune hat. Phew. Everyone had two opportunities to play and in my second round I called a letter that wasn't in the puzzle and my turn was instantly over. Drat. So many thoughts rushed through my mind, second-guessing if I had done enough to show I would make a good contestant. Next we took a written test, trying to complete as many of the 16 partially completed puzzles as we could in 5 minutes. Prior to the audition, I thought the written test would be cake as I was a good puzzle solver, but boy was it humbling! Five minutes went way faster than I anticipated and I was only able to finish about half of the puzzles. Yikes. We took a break as the contestant coordinators scored our tests and I was able to talk with some of the other hopefuls, a couple who commented that they hoped they didn’t end up on the same show as me, which made me feel a little more confident. When the coordinators returned, they called the names of a few people they wanted to see more of. If our name wasn't called our audition was finished. My name wasn't called, but they guaranteed that a few people leaving would still be on the show. If we were selected, we would get a letter in the mail in two weeks. If we didn't get a letter, better luck next time.
For two weeks, I stalked the mail like a panther. Fourteen days passed and no letter. Bummer. I thought my Wheel journey was over. With an ounce of hope remaining, thinking the letter might be late, I checked the mail again on day 15. No letter. Crap. But as I checked my personal e-mail later that day, I went to clean out my junk folder and was shocked to find an e-mail from one of the contestant coordinators asking if I could be in L.A. in two weeks to tape the show. I couldn't believe it! I was so excited I couldn't even process the rest of the e-mail. (My letter did end up coming in the mail the following day, day 16.) I quickly made arrangements to fly to L.A. and I was glad that my mom (who had never flown before) and wife (who was 34 weeks pregnant) -- the two people who endlessly encouraged me to try out for the show -- were able to go with me and support me.
The day of the taping was surreal. I couldn't believe it, that a guy from a small town in Ohio was actually going to be a contestant on Wheel of Fortune. Things like that don't happen to people where I am from! The morning of the taping went quick as the contestant coordinators took us through the rules, legalities, and a lot of practice. Their advice and energy throughout the day and during the actual taping was incredible and I cannot thank them (Shannon, Teddy, Jackie, & Alex!) enough for the experience. Throughout the day we got surprise visits from Jim Thornton and Vanna, who in plain clothes and no makeup mind you, was so sweet as she wished us all luck and encouraged us to buy vowels. Surprisingly, I was a little star struck! Being able to spend the day with the other contestants from around the country who, like me, were huge Wheel of Fortune fans was just awesome. Their excitement was infectious and we were all supportive of one another. We soon learned which contestants would be taping together and randomly drew which show would be on. My group drew show number one. Things got real, real quick! I was initially nervous to go first, but quickly realized that this was a blessing just so I didn't have to sit and stew in my own apprehension. Thankfully, the fellow contestants on my show were incredibly encouraging and reassuring.
Before we knew it, it was time to tape our show. I tried to stay calm and, after several prayers, realized that this was seriously the coolest experience of my life, just to have fun and not to ruin it by being too nervous. My goals were to (1) at least solve one puzzle and (2) not make a fool of myself during the interview with Pat. Both goals were quickly met as I solved the first Toss-Up and Pat brought up an easy subject for me to talk about during my interview: my love of peanut butter (yum!). I was eventually able to solve all three Toss-Ups, the prize puzzle (!!), and the speed up round. I was about to solve the puzzle during the first round but decided to spin again after realizing there were four "G"s in the puzzle, only to land on the dreaded bankrupt! I have no regrets about that...I came to play! I would have done the same thing again in a heartbeat and I was genuinely happy that it gave my fellow contestant a chance to win some prizes. Before I knew it, I was off to the Bonus Round. I had envisioned this very moment and couldn’t believe it was happening. Once I solved the final puzzle, my mind went blank and I barely remember Pat opening the envelope. I couldn't believe it. I was in shock. I think I am still in shock!
I certainly have a new-found respect for the contestants on the show. I used to be the first one to criticize contestants who didn't know the puzzle or for calling certain letters over others, but the experience is far more intense as an actual contestant. Not only are you focused on trying to figure out the puzzle, but you must spin the Wheel (at 2400 pounds that beast is heavy!), pay attention to the used letter and score boards, remember to smile, clap (but not too loud!), enunciate, and, oh yeah, try not to focus on the fact that you're on national television! I had my fair share of "duh" moments during the show and my days of shouting at the TV are over!
Words cannot express how grateful I am for my experience on Wheel. I cannot wait to be able to share my experience with my children and watch the show with them as a family, just as I did growing up. Speaking of which, my wife gave birth to a beautiful baby boy on October 26, 2016. He shares a birthday with Pat Sajak.