This Week's Contestant
|Theme:||Wheel Was Here|
I arrive at Sony Pictures Studios around 7:30 a.m. on taping day, 15 minutes before the scheduled time, and sit and chat with a few other contestants. There are 18 of us, 12 women and 6 men, all so excited to have gotten this far. At the appointed time, we're ushered into a briefing room where we fill out and sign a number of forms. Six shows will be taped that day, and we're divided into 6 groups of 3 each. My group winds up fifth in a random draw, meaning we'll be on the fifth show. Another draw determines our position behind the wheel, and I wind up in the middle, between two attractive young women, Meagen and Erica. I'm the oldest contestant, and I feel energized in the company of the others, ranging in age from the mid-twenties to thirty-something.
Taping begins around noon. In the hours before, we have make-up put on and work intensely with the contestant coordinators. These coordinators are a marvelous bunch, thoroughly professional, upbeat, and give us pointers on how to speak loudly and forcefully and tell us to keep looking at the puzzle and not down at the spinning wheel. Their job is to coach us to be the best we can be.
The wheel is extremely heavy, weighing more than 1,000 pounds, and we get many practice spins. The padded railing allows us some leverage, but once we give the wheel a solid spin, we stand up straight and focus on the puzzle. Each group also gets a brief rehearsal just before taping to reinforce the lessons we learned earlier. While waiting for our turn we watch the other shows and get to see how the game is played for real.
Finally, at around 5 p.m., it's time for us to go on. I'm nervous but also have this feeling of unreality. "Am I really here? Is this really happening?" We're given a make-up touch-up and take our positions. The stage we stand on is divided into 3 sections, each adjusted independently to a comfortable height for each contestant. The show begins and Pat and Vanna walk out to our applause and that of the studio audience. Vanna makes her way to the puzzle board and Pat takes his position at the wheel. We grab our buzzers and it's time for the first toss-up. Meagen, to my left, rings in first and solves the puzzle. After the interviews I solve the second toss-up and think, "At least I won't leave with the $1,000 consolation prize."
I begin the first puzzle round, and after a couple of spins hit a bankrupt, so the turn passes to Meagen. She spins and lands on a trip to San Francisco and after a few more spins solves the puzzle. Time for a commercial break, and we step off the stage, get more coaching from one of the coordinators, and resume our positions. Meagen begins round 2a prize puzzleand loses her turn. Erica spins, loses her turn, and the wheel passes to me. I forget it's a prize puzzle and spin a few times to accumulate some cash and finally solve the puzzle. I win a pricey trip to the Caribbean island of Antigua. It's the kind of prize my wife and I have been dreaming about, and every time a prize like that shows up on Wheel we find ourselves saying, "Wish we could win that!"
At this point I'm in the lead, and Erica begins the third round. She's doing great and filling in the puzzle nicely, but loses her turn to me. I can solve the puzzle and reach to spin the wheel to try to get some cash, but at the last second I realize that I could lose my turn to Meagen, so with no money in the bank this round, I say to Pat, "You know what, I think I'll just solve," and I do. This gives me an extra cushion of $1,000.
Time for the third tossup, and I'm thrilled for Erica when she solves it. She's finally won something. For the fourth round, Pat gives the wheel a final spin. It almost lands on the $5,000 wedge, but stops instead on bankrupt. He spins again and I don't remember what amount comes up. Erica calls out the first letter, I the next, and so on, and I wind up solving that puzzle, too. I get to go to the Bonus Round!
Pat asks who's in the audience to support me, and I'm delighted to introduce my wife, Dorothy, my brother Phil, and my niece, Judy. I spin the wheel, pick up the prize, and hand it to Pat. The final puzzle is a "thing" with three words and only 8 letters total. The first word is a single letter, the second has 4 letters, and the third 3 letters. An L begins the second word and an S starts the third word. I choose F, G, and P as my three consonants and an A as my vowel. The only A that lights up is the first word. The P is the fourth letter in the second word. And that's it. I'm stumped. Ten seconds whiz by and the buzzer tells me I'm out of time. Then all the letters are lit, revealing A LUMP SUM as the answer. I don't win the Bonus Round prize of $30,000, but I do wind up with more than $15,000 in cash and prizes.
I am happy beyond belief at having the experience of participating in this great game, which has become a part of Americana. And I encourage anyone, of any age, who likes solving word puzzles, to audition for Wheel. You just never know what might happen.