Karen C's Blog Post
Monday, October 14th, 2013
I have been watching Wheel of Fortune since I was a kid in Beverly, Massachusetts back in the late ‘70s. I can remember sticking a thermometer over a light bulb one day, so I could fake a temperature, stay home from school and watch game shows all morning. My mother is an English teacher, and a Scrabble whiz, and she encouraged me to sharpen my mind by doing puzzles of all kinds. I would imagine myself spinning the Wheel, solving puzzles and choosing fabulous prizes. I probably overdid the pink sweater and jeans look in the 90’s after seeing Vanna looking fantastic in a similar outfit.
I’ve been working for an aerospace company here in Tucson for years I would come home and watch Wheel on KGUN-9 while getting dinner ready. After a while, my family stopped watching the show with me. I would frustrate them by solving puzzles with only a few letters on the board, and I may have given my on-screen opponents a hard time (once or twice...). I decided to register online for the Wheel contestant database, and the waiting game began.
I remember the Wheelmobile visited southern Arizona back in 2009, but unfortunately we had a family emergency that week. But in April 2013, I received an email about Wheel auditions being held in Scottsdale. I filled out an application, which included a mandatory 1-minute video explaining why I thought I would be a great contestant on the show. Before I knew it, I received another email inviting me to audition on May 23. I made sure I arrived very early it’s 120 miles from Tucson to Scottsdale, but the traffic can be awful and thankfully I had some time to relax before the audition. I found myself in a hotel ballroom with about 75 people. Puzzles were shown onscreen, and each of us was called upon at least twice to stand up and play a few turns. We were also given a 5-minute written test. Picture a bunch of half-completed Hangman puzzles. Following the test, our papers were collected and the contestant coordinators disappeared to confer. They came back and read the names of 19 people they wanted to remain, and I was thrilled to hear my name called! There were 13 singles and three couples, and they had us play several simulated games of Wheel of Fortune.
When the coordinators had seen enough from a contestant, they would move the spinner on the wheel to ‘Bankrupt’ and it would be on to the next person. We also were asked to spend a minute talking about ourselves work, family, hobbies, and interesting stories. One woman made up an entire cheer for Wheel! After this, the coordinators conferred again, and asked four of us to play an additional round. I made my way up front and managed to solve a puzzle. We were told that we were potential contestants, and that we would hear from Wheel within two weeks if we’d been chosen to play. I raced home from work each day to check the mailbox, and found nothing but junk mail day after day.
Finally, exactly two weeks after my audition, I was playing slow-pitch softball for my company when I got a text message with a picture of the envelope from Wheel of Fortune! I was thrilled, and more than a little nervous.
Just a few weeks later, I got an email from one of the contestant coordinators asking if I could be in Los Angeles on Friday, July 12 to tape an episode of the show. The theme was “Weekend Getaways.” I was elated, and immediately asked my mother if she’d like to fly to LA to meet my family there.
I spent the next few weeks studying up... playing Wheel on the PlayStation, doing crossword puzzles and watching the show more carefully than ever before. Eventually, our big “Weekend Getaway” arrived... we drove out to southern California, met my mom at LAX, spent an evening at Santa Monica pier, and the next morning, it was time to get down to business... Watch me play Wheel of Fortune on Friday, October 18th!
Saturday, October 19th, 2013
I’ll just start off by saying that my taping day at Sony Pictures Studios was a fantastic, surreal experience that I’ll never forget. I could hardly sleep the night before, and I went through four outfits at 5am before I decided on one that felt right. I arrived at the studio and waited with a few other contestants until one of our Coordinators met us. We weren’t allowed to have any contact with our families until after the taping.
We spent the first couple of hours signing forms and learning the ins and outs of the game. One of the coordinators held up the Wild Card, the Mystery Wedge, the Million Dollar Wedge and the Car License plates, discussing how each works. Being a class clown, I asked her if the license plates were made by Wheel of Fortune prisoners. No, I won’t be giving up my day job for standup comedy anytime soon.
I met a GREAT group of people who were as excited as I was to be contestants. We chatted with each other, told stories, and discussed how we were chosen for the show. One of my cohorts turned out to be a former karaoke champion in Aruba! The beautiful Vanna White even stopped by our room to wish us all good luck. My stylist did wonders with my hair, and my make-up gal told me I had amazing cheekbones. I figured if I didn’t manage to solve a puzzle, at least I could tell my friends that a Hollywood make-up artist thought I had perfect cheekbones!
Next, we had to pick numbers out of a hat to determine which game we’d be playing and where we’d be standing during the show. I soon found out I would be playing in game 5, and I would be Contestant 3. Yay, the blue wedge! It would match my blouse
Next, we all had a chance to spin the wheel, which was surprisingly heavy. I’ll get back to that later. It seems smaller in person than it appears on television.
All of us who were from out of town were asked to film a promotional announcement for our local TV station I nailed mine on the first try. “Hi, I’m Karen from Tucson watch me play Wheel of Fortune on KGUN-9, On Your Side!” We then played a couple of practice rounds of the game, and people began to file into the audience.
After the first three games, we broke for lunch gourmet pizza! And before I knew it, game 4 was ending and I was on my way down to prep for my taping along with the other contestants, Chris and Cindy. I have to tip my hat to Cindy, who nailed both toss-up puzzles. During the third puzzle I landed on “Lose A Turn”, and suddenly I felt like this opportunity was quickly slipping through my fingers. But I ended up getting another chance, and solved the puzzle without spinning again. Whew!
Pat Sajak was super nice, making me feel relieved and ready for more. During each commercial break we were treated to hair and make-up touch-ups and bottled water I could get used to that! I spun first during the fourth puzzle. It felt like I spun the wheel a dozen times, and it seemed to get heavier each time! I even felt my pinky finger go a little numb at one point. I landed on both halves of the car! I knew all the words in the puzzle except the first S_I_ _. It just wouldn’t come to me, so I spun again, and naturally I hit Bankrupt. Ugh!! Goodbye car. But once again I managed to get another shot, and by that time, I’d figured out the first word. It’s much easier to study the puzzle board when it’s not your turn! So I solved the puzzle (‘Spicy salmon with caramelized onions’) for the $1000 minimum, and I figured I was building on my lead. But then, the Prize Puzzle came along, and what a job Chris did to solve it without ever losing his turn. Suddenly I had to play catch-up. I nailed the third Toss-Up with only a couple of letters on the board, and Pat gave the wheel a spin to start the final puzzle. On my third turn, the answer came to me just before the time buzzer went off. Not only did my mother teach me everything I know about word puzzles, she also made sure my sister and I had “Good Table Manners” Thank, mom!
Looking back, I made it through the whole game without guessing a letter that wasn’t in a puzzle. Suddenly I found myself in the Bonus Round, chatting with Pat about what was about to happen. My family gathered in the corner of the studio and I stared at a single word. I sounded out the letters that I had uncovered “_ar_s_c_ _r_”, and only one word sounded anything like it “Harpsichord”. Before I knew it, Pat opened my envelope and showed me I’d just won $50,000. I’m sure I looked absolutely ridiculous on TV, jumping up and down, hugging my family and trying to high-five my kids (and missing!). I wound up with a little over $62,000, most of which will be going toward sending my kids to college. And maybe that car I didn’t win. About a week after the show, just for the heck of it, we had spicy salmon with caramelized onions for dinner. Not bad!
I want to thank the Wheel staff especially our wonderful contestant coordinators. They were extremely kind, helpful, and encouraging, and genuinely wanted us all to do well. I don’t know how they keep their energy level on overdrive all day long! What an amazing experience! Like I said, it was totally surreal I walked out thinking, “wow, did that really just happen??” I’m sure glad it did. If you’ve ever thought about taking a chance and trying out for something, what have you got to lose? Go for it!