Justyna K's Blog Post
My obsession with Wheel of Fortune began as a little girl. When my mom first came to the United States from Poland, she loved watching the show because she could practice her English while marveling at Vanna’s beautiful looks. When she found out Pat Sajak had Polish roots and was from Chicago (near Brighton Park, where she and my dad settled once they got married) she became an even bigger fan. She passed along her love of reading, crossword puzzles, and Wheel to me, and watching the show with her became a nightly tradition for us. I became quite good at solving the puzzles, and by the time I was in third grade I started telling people I would one day be a contestant.
Twenty years and dozens of online applications later, I heard the Wheelmobile was coming to Rosemont, IL to find contestants for Chicago Week. I was full of hope and excitement as I slowly made my way through the pouring rain to the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center on a dreary Saturday morning. I had no idea what to expect, but I was still shocked by how many people were already waiting in line when I got there. “This is going to be harder than I thought,” I said to myself, as I looked at the hundreds of people ahead of me. I got in line, filled out a short form about myself, and waited anxiously to hear my name called for a mock game. It never happened. Disappointed, I went home and did not return for Sunday’s open auditions, though it was still a fun experience and I was happy I went.
Six months later, I received an email from Wheel of Fortune for an invite-only audition at the Palmer House Hotel in Chicago. I did not believe it at first, but after re-reading the email a few times, I realized this was the real deal! There were about 70 of us at the audition. We practiced calling out letters and solving puzzles, and then we were given a five-minute written exam. My name was not called for a follow-up interview, but the producers assured us there were people whose names were not called that did make the show. I was optimistic, but did not want to get my hopes up. They told us the contestants who made the show should expect to receive a letter within three weeks.
Three weeks came and went, and still no letter. I figured it was not meant to be and thought “better luck next time.” A few weeks later, I had just gotten home from work when I received a call from an unknown number with a “310 area code.” It was Teddy, one of the producers from the invite-only audition, congratulating and informing me that I had made the show! Apparently, my acceptance letter was returned to the studio (I had moved into an apartment building a weeks earlier, so I never received it). My first phone call was to my mom. I asked her if she was sitting down, because I was going to be a contestant on Wheel of Fortune and she was coming with me to California!
On the day of the taping, Vanna came into the contestant room as we were getting ready. She introduced herself, wished us luck, and reminded us to have a good time. She was warm and gracious, and the moment just reminded us that – win or lose – this was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Six shows were being taped that day, and we didn’t know which one we were on. I kept telling myself, though, that I did not want to be on the first show. Sure enough, my teammate and fellow contestant, Willie, picked out the number 1 and off we went.
The actual taping of the show was a whirlwind. I got to solve the first puzzle, which was a headline about the Chicago Cubs winning the World Series (I am a HUGE Cubs fan, so that was especially cool)! I also solved the Prize Puzzle and, before I knew it, I was going to the Bonus Round.
The category of my puzzle was “THING,” the category I least wanted because, in my opinion, it’s the most difficult. I chose the letters “D, C, H, and A.” To my amazement, several squares kept lighting up for Vanna to reveal. I knew the puzzle – “Package Deal” – before she even walked to the end of the puzzle board! When Pat said I won $34,000 I was beside myself with excitement. The best part was getting to share my excitement with my family, who came rushing out with outstretched arms and huge smiles on their faces.
Two months have passed since that wonderful day, and I still cannot believe my dream came true. The reactions of my family and friends after the show aired been overwhelming in the most positive of ways. In fact, the entire process has been so surreal I sometimes pinch myself and ask “Did this really happen?”
My Wheel of Fortune experience has truly been the greatest of my life, and I am so very thankful to have been given this opportunity. It was the thrill of a lifetime, and I will cherish the memories forever. Thank you, Wheel!