I will be a contestant on Wheel of Fortune on Monday, Jan 30 at 7pm est. If you don’t have local channels you can catch it on YouTube TV.
That is really all you need to know. Set a reminder to watch next Monday.
But if you are wondering how I got on the show and what it was like to meet Pat Sajak and if I saw any famous people. Grab a hot cup of coffee and read on.
It all began with COVID
Our family began to consistently watch Wheel during the COVID lockdown. Since we didn’t have to drive the boys to practice in the evenings, we would pull out a board game (Rumi Kube, anyone?) and turn on Wheel of Fortune. We all played and watched together, once Jeopardy came on, the kids would go to their own corners to play video games and Mike I would watch Tiger King or whatever was trending on Netflix.
I caught on pretty quickly with the patterns of Wheel of Fortune.
The Toss Up round puzzles are all very much related (most of the time you could guess the next puzzle based on the first one) and The Prize Puzzle followed the same pattern of Adjective/Verb + some vacation activity, like, Breathtaking Sunset Views or Exploring Underwater Caves.
Every night there was a call for new contestants for the show. Since they were no longer able to do live auditions (because of COVID) they were now asking to-be-contestants to send in a video about why they would be a good contestant on Wheel.
Sometime around January of 2021, I pulled out my phone, made a video and sent it. It was very spur of the moment, I didn’t even review the video before I hit send.
I didn’t hear anything, not even a confirmation that they received the video. But still every night they asked for to-be-contestants to send in videos. So, I made a few more. They were all very spontaneous, unplanned, unrehearsed, I just hit record, said something and sent. I think that I made 9 videos in total.
One random Tuesday, I got an email from WoF telling me that they wanted me to do a zoom audition the following Wednesday.
The audition was just like the show except it was on Zoom and instead of clickers, we were asked to use pens to “click in”. There were 3 people in the audition, we had to solve puzzles and we had to talk about ourselves, otherwise known as the Pat Chat. More on the Pat Chat later.
At the end of the audition, they said we would hear from them anywhere from 2 weeks to 18 months as to whether we will be accepted on the show. First you get accepted then you get a filming date.
And that was it for a while.
Then on April 28, 2022, I got another exciting email from Wheel congratulating me for getting accepted to the show.
There was a zoom meeting the following week where I would get more details and they would answer questions!
It was all quite thrilling.
During this zoom call, they mostly told me (and other to-be-contestants) about what to wear on the show or more specifically what not to wear.
No long necklaces.
No rings on your right hand.
No dangling earrings.
No tank tops.
No wide neck tops.
No polka dots.
No patterns of any kind.
And, absolutely no sequins.
Basically we needed to wear a solid color top and pants that were either navy, gray, or black.
We were also given a bundle of rules about what and when we can tell people. One thing about Wheel of Fortune is there are a lot of rules.
Once we got a filming date, which could be anytime within the next 18 months, we would have approximately 2 weeks notice to fly out to Culver City, CA and book our own hotel.
And that was it for a while.
Then, without warning on October 20, 2022 I got the email.
I had a date to film the show, November 2, 2022.
They were going to film six shows on that day. The first five would be themed “Weekend Getaways” and the sixth would be a un-themed show they would use to fill in as needed.
The Weekend Getaways episodes would air December 19-23 and the extra show would be aired on January 30.
It was really happening.
The weekly themes for Wheel of Fortune determine how the set will look and there are prizes on the actual wheel related to the theme.
I was PUMPED at the Weekend Getaways theme. In the past, the prizes on the actual wheel were fun trips like skiing in Utah, a wine tour in Napa and a trip to NYC staying at the Plaza!
Now, I can’t tell you what the trips were for my specific show, but they were NOT skiing, Napa or NYC.
I needed to be there on November 1 in the morning to get a covid test at Sony Studios.
We arranged for Mimi to watch the boys. Mike and I booked plane tickets to LA the evening of Oct 31.
Once the air and hotel logistics were done. I began to study.
There are websites that record every single WoF puzzle ever. They are organized by themes and dates and it is really quite helpful for a to-be-contestant.
I scoured the puzzle archive for Weekend Getaways puzzles.
I also noticed that when the shows aired the week before Christmas that a lot of the puzzles were holiday related. There were puzzles like “Walking in a Winter Wonderland” or Constructing a Gingerbread House.
I also studied the stats.
People in the Yellow position win more than any other. Red is the second winning-ist color and Blue is last.
Most people spin at least one Bankrupt and it is very hard to get to the bonus round if you get a poorly-timed Bankrupt.
My game plan was to win all of the Toss Up puzzles for a total of $13,000 (and not depend on the Wheel) and then to win the Prize Puzzle, if that happens I will most likely go to the Bonus Round.
For the Bonus Round there is an insane amount of data online to comb through.
As an example, did you know that M is the most commonly called letter but appears the least in the bonus round puzzles.
Recommended consonants based on years of data are C, H, G, B and the number one and only choice for the vowel in the Bonus Round is O.
So that was my plan. To win the puzzles that didn’t require spinning the wheel, to win the Prize Puzzle, to get to the bonus round and choose the letters C, H, G and O.
Fast forward to October 31
Mike and I land at LAX around 7:30pm and head straight to In n Out Burger. Let me tell you, it was not only a feast to eat but also for the eyes. Nearly the entire (very crowded) restaurant was in an elaborate costume. Everything from Greek Gods, to Video Game Characters, to scary ghouls to princesses. It felt very LA.
The next day, we arrived at Sony Studios early. Mike and I got our COVID tests and then headed out to explore the area. LA is a hard city to explore, it is so big and so spread out. But we had fun, we went to Venice Beach and checked out the famous skate park. The best part of the day was dinner at Mozza, a Nancy Silverton restaurant that was insanely delicious.
The night before the taping I hardly slept.
I needed to be at Sony Studios by 6:45am. Mike, since he was just hanging in the audience, needed to be there by 11am.
Fun Fact: No one was allowed to wear a watch or bring their phone to the studio.
There were 20 contestants total –18 for the 6 shows and 2 extras just in case.
Between 6:45am and the first taping that was set to begin at 12 noon, the 20 of us contestants went to Wheel of Fortune 101, as I call it.
Wheel of Fortune 101 was set in the JEOPARDY Studio!
There were lots of lawyer-type of discussions regarding everything from what we are allowed to say, to what happens if we win something, to COVID safety precautions.
There was also a representative from the California Gaming Commission that explained the consequences of cheating. He was a very serious dude.
After the all-business, no-fun lawyer stuff the Wheel of Fortune team talked to us about actually playing the game. These people were super fun and got everyone really excited for the day.
The show really wants people to win. When people win lots of money, the show gets better ratings because it is more fun to watch people win than it is to lose.
The team helped us by giving us insights into letter combinations and the importance of buying vowels and they explained the ins and outs of the different categories. It was all very fun, but at the same time they were giving us so many things to remember, my brain was very full of details.
At this time we also got to practice spinning the wheel, which is a lot heavier than you would expect.
Spinning the wheel requires a fair bit of coordination. All at the same time you need to lean, spin, remember to clap, remember to look at the board and absolutely not at the wheel, to pick a letter that hasn’t yet been called and to not fall over. Also you must smile.
Fun Fact: There are risers at the set so that all contestants appear to be about the same height.
Throughout the information deluge of WoF 101, we would get breaks.
Breaks took place in a nearby parking garage where plenty of food and chairs were set up for us. It was during the breaks that the contestants got to know each other. I liked all of them.
There was Ricky who really wanted to win big money because he was in a tiny NYC loft with his wife and new baby. He wanted to win so that he could afford an apartment that had walls.
There was Stephen, he was really into cars.He has a collection of 13 cars that he rebuilt over time, including the first car he bought when he was 16.
There was Jayne from North Carolina who brought several girl friends with her and they had a full week of fun activities planned in California.
The guy I talked to the most was Robbie, he is a winemaker and owns a winery in Napa.
Fun Fact: Next to our break area, in the same parking garage, was the costume department for Apple TVs The Morning Show! There were racks of clothes and crazy numbers of shoes and purses! I watched people come and go all day, but didn’t spot Reece, Jennifer or Michael Scott. There was one time when I was leaning over the parking garage wall to admire all of the shoes and got yelled at by a security guard. I sat down after that.
The morning was over and we were nearing time to tape the show!
The next stop was hair and makeup.
Fun Fact: the lady who did my makeup did Alex Trebek’s makeup for over 20 years!
It was getting real. The WoF team announced how the contestants were going to be divided up.
I was not selected to be on the first 5 shows. I was not going to be on Weekend Getaways.
I was going to be in the fill-in-the-schedule episode with no theme and I was selected for the Blue position.
I completely panicked.
This means all of the studying I had done for Weekend Getaways AND for holiday related puzzles was not relevant.
It also meant that my show wouldn’t start taping until 6pm, nearly 12 hours after I got to the studio.
Since we didn’t have phones, I had no way of telling Mike that he was about to sit through 5 hours of taping before it was my turn!
Of course it all worked out and was fine.
I got to sit, watch and unravel my nerves during the taping of the other shows. I also had time to practice my Pat Chat many times.
Then I put on the microphone, had my hair sprayed with de-frizz gel and got a fresh coat of lip gloss.
And this is where I will hit pause. To see what happens next you must watch Wheel of Fortune on January 30 at 7pm either on your local station or on YouTube TV.
UPDATE: Want to watch the full episode, here you go!