Mike H's Blog Post
If you’re reading this, I can only assume you’re a HUGE Wheel of Fortune fan (or you’re a member of my family). I’m writing this BEFORE my episode airs, so if I get some of the details out of order, I sincerely apologize. What matters most is that these events ACTUALLY happened - to ME - in REAL LIFE!
When the day (finally) arrived to tape my episode of Wheel, I felt as ready as I could ever be, especially since I had been preparing for this day my entire life! After hours of orientations, rehearsals and friendly conversations with fellow contestants, it was finally my turn to play. As the theme song played and Pat and Vanna walked out from behind the puzzle board, I confidently picked up my clicker for the first toss-up puzzle. I tend to do well with toss-ups when I watch at home, so I was hoping these would be “easy money” for me. I didn’t want to get cocky, so I focused on my breathing, cleared my mind and studied the puzzle as the letters came up. Then, something happened that I will never forget - Pat Sajak called my name (because I had buzzed in), and I solved the puzzle. That’s right! I SOLVED A PUZZLE ON WHEEL OF FORTUNE! But that’s not all. I solved the next toss-up too - a feat for which Pat called me “Mr. Toss-up” (which seems like a great nickname and something I may or may not have considered putting on business cards and handing out to strangers). But I digress…
After solving the first two puzzles and putting $3000 in my account, I was feeling on top of the world. That lasted right up to the point that the player next to me landed on the $7000 gift card space and the $10,000/BANKRUPT space (which to everyone’s enjoyment and my dismay was worth $10,000) and then solved the puzzle. I was actually very happy for her, especially since the orientation and rehearsal process had given all of the contestants a chance to get to know each other a bit and led to us cheering one another on throughout the day. Still, when she finished the round with close to $20,000, I immediately felt like I was playing for second place. Of course, the contestant supervisors (who are amazingly talented and encouraging people) kept telling us to stay focused and keep playing because “you never know what’s going to happen.” Still, I’ve watched enough Wheel of Fortune to know that while “anything” can happen, usually a big lead like that is enough to carry a player to the bonus round. I decided to stay positive and keep playing, though, because as disappointing as it might be to miss the bonus round, I was getting to live out a dream and still had a chance (however slim) to stage a comeback. Little did I know this positive attitude was going to be extremely helpful because EVERYTHING was about to change…
As the next round (a prize puzzle) started, I spun the Wheel and hoped for a big number. Instead of cash, though, I landed on the EXPRESS space. With a five-word puzzle and no letters showing, I had a HUGE choice to make. Do I take the risk of calling a bunch of letters but going bankrupt if I call one that’s not in the puzzle, or do I play it safe and just try to spin my way to victory? I felt totally prepared for this moment, so with no fear or hesitation I informed Pat that I was going to go for it. The crowd roared approvingly, and I was off. This was my puzzle:
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _
(WHAT ARE YOU DOING?)
Because the category was “What are you doing?” I knew that it was likely going to have an I an N and a G. This gave me a bit of confidence to get started, and I began by calling those three letters. There were four Ns, two Gs and 2 Is. That left me with this:
_ _ _ _ I N G _ N _ _ _ _ N _ I N G _ _ _ _ _
I still couldn’t solve the puzzle, but I was off to a solid start. Now, the best players know as much about which letter to call as they do about solving word puzzles, and I was going to need both skillsets in perfect balance to do this. I used my knowledge of letter calling and bought two vowels (because one in five odds are MUCH better that one in twenty-one… right?). I bought an E (because it’s the most common letter in the game) and an O (because the second word had two letters, ended in N and I had already used the I). To my utter joy and relief one E and two Os appeared, and I was still alive. My next letter was the only time that I was at all unsure. I called a T. When Vanna turned over two Ts, I quickly surveyed the puzzle and realized that I knew it!
_ _ T T I N G O N _ _ _ _ N _ I N G _ _ O E _
The first word must be PUTTING since it was followed by the word ON, and the O followed by the E in the last word told me it was SHOES.
So… PUTTING ON _ _ _ _ N _ I N G SHOES was in my head.
What am I doing? Well, Pat… I’m PUTTING ON MY DANCING SHOES! (Ironically, the contestant to my left - the one currently in the lead - was a dancing instructor.)
All that was left was to TRY to stay calm, CAREFULLY call the remaining letters and read the puzzle ACCURATELY - something that is SUPER easy from my living room and EXCEEDINGLY difficult on national television. I read the puzzle one word at a time, and the crowd erupted as Pat walked over to shake my hand. Meanwhile, I tried to comprehend what I had just done. As my head spun like that glorious wheel, Pat kindly reminded me that this was a prize puzzle which meant I had also won a trip! I nearly lost my mind at hearing this, partly because I had forgotten it was a prize puzzle and partly because this meant my total for that round along with the $3000 from the first two toss-ups had vaulted me into the lead! Not only that, but the way I had gotten there - by climbing aboard the Express with not a single letter showing and using all of my letter calling and puzzle solving skills to ride it all the way home - was as great a Wheel of Fortune moment as I could have hoped for.
The rest of the game was an absolute blur. I somehow solved the final spin puzzle to ensure my place in the bonus round. I embraced my daughter Maggie during the commercial break then floated over to the bonus wheel, waited for my cue, guessed my letters and stared blankly at a puzzle I don’t think I would’ve solved under any circumstances. While I missed out on $36,000 more, I finished my Wheel experience feeling like I had just done something even better than I had ever dreamed. Not only did I have an absolute BLAST, but when my BIG moment came to do the thing I’d been hoping for I took a chance, hopped on the Express and brought it home. I couldn’t have planned it any better (except maybe solving the bonus round puzzle and taking home even more money - but that almost seems greedy).
In my intro, I told Pat I was playing in memory of my grandmother who was a Wheel watcher and had recently passed away. I know she would’ve beamed with pride seeing her grandson on Wheel of Fortune, and I felt like she was there with me the whole time. Regardless of the result, I would’ve had the time of my life. In light of how it all went, though, I have a memory to cherish and a story to tell for years to come, not to mention $28,678 in cash and prizes to show for it. I’d like to thank everybody involved in the production of Wheel of Fortune for helping to make my dreams come true. I’d also like to thank my family for their unwavering support and encouragement as I pursued this dream. Finally, thank YOU for taking the time to read about my journey on the Wheel of Fortune EXPRESS!