Susi L's Blog Post
So… my baby sister and I hadn’t really spoken for a number of years…
For over 40 years we were so close we finished each other’s sentences, we knew each other inside and out, paragraphs of thoughts transmitted between us with merely a fleeting glance. But life brings changes and our relationship had morphed into not much more than obligatory hellos at obligatory family gatherings. I hear the beep of the phone – a message waiting. Though a bit trepid, it’s her still familiar voice… “Sus, Wheel of Fortune has the Wheelmobile in town this week… want to go?” I thought to myself, “No, not really… the whole city of Phoenix will be there. Everybody wants to be on Wheel of Fortune.” I dislike crowds and I especially dislike attention. But, she had reached out. “I HAVE to go,” I thought, “We will have a whole day together, just the two of us – it’s been forever since we’ve had that.” I returned the call the next day, “Hey Sis, I’ll go up to the Wheelmobile with you”, “Really?”she replied. “I wasn’t planning on it, but if you want to, I will.” “Sure, let’s go,” I said.
And WHAT a lovely day it was! Beautiful weather in an outdoor setting. Wonderfully witty and accommodating staff. Jokes, games, prizes. Excitement in the air. And a long, long overdue sister conversation. Not one to enjoy the spotlight, I kept thinking to myself…“Please, don’t call me up on stage, I’m just here to spend time with my sister.” But, alas, my name rang out over the loud speakers and the opportunity to reach the next step was upon me. My competitive nature took over and I had to give it my best shot. The joy of the day must have emanated as the interview in front of the crowd took place. My sister commented as I returned to my seat, “Wow! You sounded really GOOD!” Her words were heartfelt and laced with a sincerity I hadn’t heard in so long, and I couldn’t help but believe her. Everything just FELT so good!
Now, my whole family was out-of-state together, celebrating at a very special college graduation ceremony. The heavy, pouring Colorado mountain raindrops might just as well have been diamonds descending on the outdoor event. The phone call for the next audition rang in and simply added another gem to the celebration.
The audition came, the letter of acceptance, the long wait hoping to learn the tape date. Each step was filled with more excitement, more anxiety, and more pressure. In viewing the show, I seemed to be getting worse and worse in puzzle-solving abilities. The contestants on TV were blowing me away. Whoever was in the room with me was blowing me away. Thoughts ran through my head…“I was selected, I should be good at this, why can’t I solve a puzzle?” The stress was building. Rick is my rock, my other half, who decided the two of us should just get away for a couple days and take a vacation – forget about all this and relax a little. We planned for Monday and Tuesday in San Diego and would return to Phoenix Wednesday. A beautiful resort suite, pool time, theatre, rescue animals, great dining. Then came the phone call. “Your tape date is Thursday”. Wow! The stars had aligned. Our trip was already planned. Instead of returning to Phoenix Wednesday, we merely hopped on up to Culver City, completely relaxed and rejuvenated. Perfect.
The Wheel staff brought the fresh enjoyment to the next level. If there was one thing that really hit me about the whole experience, it had to be their attitude. Never was even an ounce of haughtiness present. I had falsely expected to deal with at least a bit of arrogance when being invited to play for thousands of dollars on a national show. Instead, the contestants were greeted with humility, with gratitude for showing up (can you believe that?), with respect and encouragement. There were 18 of us and 2 alternates, as six shows were taped this day. Each staff member had a job to do, and their work was cut out for them. They needed us “game ready” by show time. If they ever had frustration (which they surely must have!), it never showed. In the short prep time that morning, somehow, each staff member came to be more of a supportive friend than a Wheel instructor. Even Pat was a perfect example: The time came to spin the Wheel, it was my turn and the first puzzle was long with every letter revealed except two… and I STILL didn’t know the answer. A wave of feelings rushed through me – embarrassment, ignorance, “why am I here?” And just a few seconds later, when the round was over, Pat stepped behind me and whispered, “I’m feeling your pain, I’ve never heard of him either.” His words suddenly made everything okay, and I was ready to take on the next round.
Having a hard time playing at home was irrelevant. The day on Stage had nothing to do with living room play. Enunciate, clap, don’t bang your fingers on your arrow when you spin, enunciate louder, watch this board, remember the rules, watch this other board, clap more, move quickly, watch yet a third, fourth and fifth board, don’t let the cameras/lights/constant activity distract you, don’t pause, enunciate even more, watch your step so you don’t trip on the uneven platforms, forget that you will be on display in front of an audience, and oh yeah, in front of millions of viewers. Forget that you hate attention. Oh, and in the meantime, try to solve a puzzle. As contestants, we were all so amped up; the juice could have lit up LA.
The end of the show was bittersweet. I had had the time of my life and along with it came an unexpected and, obviously impossible, compulsion – “I WANT TO PLAY AGAIN!”
At one point, I looked at the audience and picked out my Dad, beaming with pride, my sister and niece (the recent graduate), and Rick (who was with me through it all and then, so selflessly, gave up his spot when we were informed that, in the unlikely event I would reach Bonus Land, the number of guests on stage would be limited to four). And then I spotted my baby sister, clapping away. I couldn’t help but notice that she and I had been, somehow, clapping together in unison.
Thank you Wheel, and big hugs to all of you, for giving me so much more than cash & prizes…