Steve M's Blog Post
My name is Steve Meyer and I’ve been asked to do a blog on my experience with Wheel of Fortune. I appear on the November 20th show, but I’m writing on the 10th; some of what I’m writing is from memory and that might be a bit foggy, but you’ll get the gist.
To start, a bit about myself. I’m 55 years old. I was born and raised outside Toronto, Canada. I went to college in the city and then earned my doctorate at The University of Alabama. I met my wife, Lori, in Tuscaloosa and we have a son, Thomas, who is president of his junior class in high school (we are very proud of him). I teach 8th grade Individuals and Societies (Social Studies) at Northview, an I.B. World School, in Statesville, NC. When I’m not teaching, I act a bit, I sing a lot in my church choir, I read, and I write. I recently published a novel called Honor and Destiny about a man who looks back on how his life was shaped by his youth in the 1812 War.
Ignoring Chuck Wollery, years of Pat and Vanna, and the Wii game, my Wheel experience began in May 2016. Thomas found out the “Wheel Mobile” was coming to Charlotte. He had seen that I could often solve puzzles long before they were solved on the show; so he suggested I try out. I was skeptical, but promised I’d go. When the Sunday came, I hemmed-and hawed, trying to get out of it, but because I’d promised I put on my colorful shirt and drove to Charlotte, wondering what I was getting myself into.
I arrived at the NASCAR Hall of Fame and saw the set up. I was impressed by the organization and how they intended to move a lot of people through the process. I also got the vibe: this was an audition. I was an aspiring actor in my earlier life, even attending the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. I knew how to audition. I listened to the emcee intently, hearing what he wanted and figuring out how I could give it to him.
There are two points about auditioning: keep the energy up and give them something worth noticing (but remember it’s Wheel, not Let’s Make a Deal). The emcee mentioned singing; so I planned to sing a chorus of “The Battle of New Orleans,” a song we sing in my class. When I got my chance, I mentioned I liked to sing and the emcee jumped on it. The chorus was just right: fun, upbeat, and short. The crowd clapped in time and cheered when I finished. I was off to a good start.
After the song, five of us lined up and did a puzzle. Again it was about energy, but now it was also about demonstrating I know the rules of the game. It wasn’t important to win the practice game, but I did. The puzzle foreshadowed what was on the line later: “CASH AND PRIZES.”
I was elated with the audition. I could not have done any better. I drove home knowing I had a good chance of being called back.
Now the waiting started.
On September 30th, at about the time I was giving up on being picked, I got the email for a call-back at a hotel in Charlotte in two weeks.
The second audition did not go as well, or at least it lacked the exuberance. I only got one chance to speak in the practice rounds. The big event of the call-back was the test, seeing how many of 16 puzzles you can solve in five minutes. Pat scored 100%; I didn’t; I got 14 of them. I had no idea what to think of that. I didn’t want to ask others how they did and no one was offering their results; so I just let it go. After grading our tests, the Wheel staffers came back and asked for some people to stay. The rest of us left, knowing only that if it were a ‘yes’ then we’d get a letter in 2 weeks. I drove home thinking I did the best I could with the opportunity I was given, and hoping my first audition was enough to keep their attention.
Now the waiting continued.
After fourteen days with no letter, I was about to give up. Then on the 15th day the letter came. “CONGRATULATIONS!” it read, “You have been selected as a contestant for Wheel of Fortune. … The taping schedule is usually not firm until about 14 days in advance. This is about as much notice as we can give you. … When you are contacted about your tape date, you will be given all the information you’ll need to know.”
Hallelujah! Now the waiting really began.
When they asked us what game we might want to be on, I answered “Teachers’ Week.” It turns out “Teachers’ Week” is taped once a year in preparation for the first week of the new season. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was in for a very long wait. I would not hear from Wheel again until the week of July 4th 2017.
I flew to Los Angeles on July 26th for my taping the next day. Now, teachers in North Carolina are not particularly well paid and we didn’t have a lot of excess cash, so I flew out alone. Before I left, I watched shows I had taped and realized how pathetic it would look if I got to the “Bonus Round” and didn’t have a guest. Luckily, before I left, I ensured my L.A. cousin Laurie could get off work to join the audience. Laurie loves family and, given the show’s outcome, I am so happy I had a chance to share it with her.
I got to the hotel, ironed my shirt, and had dinner. I was still on East Coast time and went to bed after watching the Wheel at 8:30. I woke up at 3:30 and readied myself for the show. I decided to take a quick look at the Sony Pictures website to see if there were any movies that could be a puzzle. Spiderman: Homecoming seemed to be the big picture. I filed the knowledge away. (There was a Spiderman: Homecoming puzzle, but not in my game.)
We got picked up at the hotel Thursday morning to go Sony Picture Studios in Culver City. There was only one other contestant at the hotel. She was also an I.B. teacher; so we chatted about school on the way. The contestants at the other hotel loaded up the bus and when its doors closed we all started talking excitedly about our experiences so far and our hopes for the show; the only universally proclaimed hope was not to embarrass ourselves.
At the studio, we were greeted by our handlers. They were a great group: upbeat, unfailingly professional, respectful, and accommodating. We went through the legal work, the rules and other pertinent info, and then we toured the studio. We practiced with the big wheel. I’m sure everyone who has ever spun it has remarked on how heavy it is; it’s not hard to work it, but it does take a bit of practice. I got to practice the bonus wheel, too; I hoped it wasn’t a jinx, like touching the Stanley Cup before you won it.
Vanna appeared during our tour and greeted us before she went to makeup and wardrobe. She looks great even without the makeup and the lighting.
We had lunch and had our makeup done. We got our co-contestants organized and randomly picked which place we’d be in and which episode we’d be on. I was going to be on episode 6, the last show taped. My wait continued, but this was more fun because I got to drink in all the experiences of the show.
Game 6 was not going to air during “Teachers’ Week.” (More waiting.) That was too bad from one angle, because I was ready for puzzles like “No More Teachers’ Dirty Looks.” I asked what date our show would air and when I heard November 20th, I thought “Thanksgiving.” (A very good thought.)
A new audience came in for the last three shows. It was dominated by a group of Trinidadians who were in L.A. for a wedding and decided it would be fun to see a taping of Wheel. They were right. They had a blast and made the second part of a long afternoon high energy and a lot of laughs.
Finally, our taping came. I wasn’t nervous as much as kind of in a fog. The first Toss-Up category was “On the Map.” I love this category because it’s something specific. Unfortunately, I am used to it being a city and state structure and when the first word was obviously “COLORADO” I was baffled long enough to be beaten on the buzzer.
Then came the “Pat Chat.” We had a chance to practice before the show, but I still messed it up, forgetting to mention my schools’ name, (“Northview Nighthawks … Northview Nighthawks”).
The second Toss-Up came and I knew it was “BRAND NEW something,” but “SNEAKERS” is not a word I grew up using in Canada; so I was beaten again.
Next the First Round puzzle came: “The ‘80s,” right up my alley. When I got a chance to spin, my first spin hit Bankrupt!! I began to wonder if I’d flown across the country and spent all that money and now wouldn’t be able to play the game. I focused on the puzzle and waited my turn. I figured it out within a letter or two of my first spin and began to relax. I could do this. If the wheel got me, that’s just the luck of the draw. My left hand had been itching for more than a year. I was feeling lucky.
The Second Round puzzle was a “Book Title” and I got the first spin. It was obviously “THE … OF …” just looking at its structure; so I picked a few consonants and bought a few vowels, got some money and a “WILD Card.” but when I picked “S” there wasn’t one in the puzzle. I waited for another turn and when it came I pounced. The second word was certainly “AUTOBIOGRAPHY;” so I picked the first available consonant, “B”. There were two B’s. If I’d been playing at home I’d have seen that “N” would have been a better pick because there were 4 of them and I would have wondered why the player didn’t pick “N”. I don’t think that way anymore. It’s hard to focus and keep control of the game when you’re worried about hitting “Bankrupt” or “Lose a Turn” and there isn’t time to think strategically. When a second B came in, I knew it was “THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF BENJAMIN FRANKLIN” and solved the puzzle. I left a lot of money on the board, but all I wanted was to get a win and to try to relax. I got a chance to shake Pat’s hand and took a deep breath, delighted that my trip had not been in vain.
The rest of the game was crazy and foggier still. I kept hitting big money and knowing the puzzles. When I won the “Prize Puzzle,” I told Pat that Belize would be really interesting. In that puzzle I hit the $3500 wedge and picked “X”. It was a crazy pick, but it was the first consonant my eye came to. Luckily, I had the “WILD Card” and turned 3 N’s into $10500. In the last “Toss Up” I knew the first word was “THANKSGIVING” from the get-go and waited a couple of extra letters just to be sure of “RECIPES” ($3000). There was another puzzle which I don’t remember, except that I hit the $5000 wedge and I solved it with only a few letters.
By this time, I could only shake my head. I wasn’t in control of anything. It was just happening around me.
The “FINAL SPIN” round was wide open. When the second word showed “_ _ T S _ N” I began going through every Jetson character I could think of (“George, Jane, Judy, Elroy, what was that dog’s name???”). The J got picked and when it wasn’t there I realized the puzzle was “DOCTOR WATSON,” picked the “D” and solved.
I had won about $54,000 in “CASH AND PRIZES” and was heading to the “Bonus Round.” When I picked my letters, Pat seemed to laugh because he knew I’d solved it. I was standing there and the lights started counting down. I asked if it was my turn to go. I wasn’t being a smart aleck, I really hadn’t understood his cue. Luckily, there was still time to say “BEAUTY PAGEANT.” Pat opened the card and I’d won the Mercedes. Crazy!!
The producer had told Laurie to be ready to haul me over to the car because I clearly was in la-la land. We went to the car and I got in and began waving like a lunatic, hopefully the show has good editors.
Finally, I stood with Pat and Vanna at the end of the show. I told Vanna how much Thomas enjoys playing putt putt in North Myrtle. Pat exclaimed, “Myrtle Beach again,” and laughingly walked away. What a spectacular experience and an overload for the senses.
After the show Laurie and I had a great meal and a great talk. I visited with a buddy the next day and flew home that night. What a trip!!
Good things come to those who wait.