This Week's Contestant
POSTED on Monday, October 22nd, 2012
I still can't believe I was on Wheel of Fortune! What a dream come true! I have been a Wheel watcher for as long as I can remember. I can recall the days when winning contestants had to spend the money won in a showcase of items. I remember a ceramic dog was the least expensive item and many ended up having to buy that whether they wanted it or not because they had to spend all of the money they won. I was so glad when that format was changed to cash and prizes from the wheel because you got to see more puzzles being solved. I also remember when Vanna, along with other beautiful young ladies were auditioning for her current role as hostess and letter turner. That was when letters actually had to be turned, not just electronically touched to be revealed. Okay, I am really showing my age. I was routing for Vanna to be chosen. She had such a beautiful smile and a very pleasing personality. Once she was chosen, the chemistry between Pat and Vanna was evident. They were and still are so much fun to watch. I love how they interact with each other. They make everything look like they are having so much fun and I wanted to be a part of that. Here is how it happened for me. Yes me, Debbie Zanetti from Elizabeth, a small suburb just south of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
I have a wonderful husband, Ron and 3 grown children, Kristy, Julie and Jeff. I hate to admit it but we are all very competitive. What better way to compete than watch Wheel together and see who can solve the puzzle first. So my children grew up watching Wheel of Fortune with my husband and I and I have to admit, they are all very good at it! When Jeff's friend told him that Wheel was having auditions at the Meadows Casino not too far from us, Jeff was ready to go. My daughter, Julie said she would go with him. I thought it was probably a waste of time and I would end up spending more money gambling after I didn't get chosen and honestly, I am not much of a gambler. However at the last minute Julie wasn't able to go so I told Jeff I would go with him thinking I would just enjoy spending the day with him and experiencing something that most people couldn't say they did: try out for Wheel of Fortune! My husband came along but spent his time in the casino while Jeff and I went through the process of registering. There were small forms we had to fill out with just basic information: name, address, hobbies, something unique about you, email address etc. Truly this little piece of paper about 5X6 inches gave me an experience I will never forget.
It was the day before Father's Day and it was smoldering hot. We were outside for the auditions. There was a platform set up with a letter board. Then "Pat and Vanna" stand-ins came out and explained to us that they were here to see people who had enthusiasm and personality. They randomly drew slips out of a basket in groups of 5. These people were asked to introduce themselves. Oh my, some of the things these people did to show enthusiasm amazed me: the singing and dancing and so on. It was very entertaining. When the first hour of auditions were over, Jeff and I filled out our forms for the second round and went inside to cool off and meet up with Ron. Soon, it was time for round 2. I had some money in a machine when Jeff said it was time to go. I said I was going to play off the money I had in the machine, go to the restroom and then join him. His friend had come so I didn't feel too bad sending him out without me. Not 5 minutes later Jeff called my husband's phone and told him they just called my name and Jeff told them I was in the bathroom to hurry me up and get me down there. I ran down and was placed in the group that was next in line. Jeff coached me and said, "Mom you have to do something to make you stand out." So when I was asked to introduce myself "Pat" said, "Oh yes you were the one in the bathroom!" I grabbed his hand to shake it and said, "Yes and in all the excitement I didn't get a chance to wash my hands!" He laughed and I went on with my interview. I gave Jeff a shout out and his son, my only grandson, Parker. On my paper that said something unique about yourself, I put that I was a teacher and I dressed in costume sometimes when I taught. He asked me questions about that and then on to the next person. There was a wheel with prizes on it that was spun and everyone on stage at that time won those prizes. I won a hat, a blinking Wheel of Fortune pin and a Wheel keychain. The game was played like the final round on the show. You called a letter, got a few seconds to guess then it moved to the next person. I called a letter that was there, but couldn't solve it. It was solved before it came back to me and off the stage I went. I was excited to have just participated in that not ever thinking it would continue from there. We were all told that if we were chosen, we would be notified and invited for the next round of auditions. Sadly, Jeff's name was never called and I really felt bad about that. Had it not been for him I certainly wouldn't have been there, and he is very good at the game. We were actually hoping that we could have been on a family week so we could have played together. We went home and shared this fun experience with many of our friends and family. Sure enough, a few short weeks later, I received an email with an invitation to the second round of auditions scheduled for July 19th. I was so happy and a little nervous. What would this next round of auditions be like?
On the morning of July 19th, Ron and I drove back to the Meadows to a hotel where the auditions were being held. I was nervous but I kept telling myself to just enjoy the experience and what happens, happens. It was an honor to get this far. We were ushered into a room that held about 100 people and I would guess about 80 people were there. The contestant coordinators, who were absolutely incredible, told us how the morning would go. Talk about enthusiasm! These three ladies were the epitome of personality and enthusiasm. It was contagious! You couldn't help but smile as these ladies led us through the auditions. They made up a seating chart of us and told us they were going to call us randomly. We should jump up with enthusiasm, smiling, clapping and have fun! We would solve puzzles that were displayed on a screen in the front of the room. One coordinator spun a wheel with amounts on it just like the real wheel. Another coordinator called out our names and wrote things down as people played and another gave out hats to those who were able to solve puzzles. They all gave us advice on how to play and told us they were looking for personality and how we played the game that this was not the time to show off our puzzle solving skills. They said that would be done later with a written test. I was the second person called. I called out a few letters and they were there and sure enough after buying vowels I knew the puzzle. I am pretty sure the coordinator who spun the wheel realized I knew the puzzle so she spun a lose a turn or bankrupt which of course ended my turn but allowed another to play. I was okay with that because I felt good about how I did. I was loud (yes a requirement), decisive with my letter calling. I know I clapped and I couldn't help but smile the entire time as everyone in that place got a turn. It was amazing how people seemed to truly want others to do well, I know I was routing for everyone! After everyone got a fair chance to play we were given a written test. I chuckled a little because every other person got a different test to take to keep those who had an urge to peek from doing so. I am a sixth grade Social Studies teacher and yes, this is a strategy I use in my own classroom! We were given 5 minutes and let me tell you that was the fastest 5 minutes of my life. I was able to solve 5 or 6 completely and had many partials which we were encouraged to do. Then we had a break while our papers were graded. After being outside and talking to Ron, I felt pretty good about the number I solved. Many were only able to get 2 or 3 solved. I told Ron that I felt pretty confident that I would make it to the next round. We were called back in to the room and they started to call out names of those who were to stay for the next round. As they went on and my name wasn't called I felt embarrassed because I had told Ron I thought I would make it. My name was one of the last of about 20 to be called and I was thrilled. We moved on to play the game in groups of six. We had to pretend to spin a wheel and play the game as if it was the real deal. We were told that they were looking for enthusiasm yes, but the ability to stay focused and call for logical letters. I was in the second group to play. Again, I felt pretty good about how I did. I kept on smiling and clapping and really was having fun. After everyone had two chances at playing in this type of round the coordinators stepped out again. This time when they returned they asked six people to play again and I was not one of them. I was disappointed but was very happy to have made it this far and I truly enjoyed the experience. We were told that if chosen we would receive a letter in about two weeks congratulating us on being chosen to be place in a contestant pool. This meant that we could be asked to play in 2 months or 2 years. We were told that we would be responsible for all travelling expenses and the tax on the prizes that we may win. We were asked if this would be a difficulty. No one said that it would be so we left not knowing if we were chosen or not. I told Ron about the extra round that six people played that I was not a part of, but I wasn't throwing in the towel quite yet. I would wait my two weeks and whatever would happen, would happen. There was nothing left to do. I had done my best and really felt lucky to have had the chance to go through the process.
I left for vacation the next day. My family travelled to Rehoboth Beach to visit my sister for a week. Tuesday evening (just 5 days after the audition) we went to a restaurant that was hosting a trivia contest. Yes, I told you we were competitive. One of the rules was you were not allowed to use your phones. This was so that people couldn't look up the answers on their smart phones. I don't have a smart phone, I have a dumb phone but I put it in my pocket none the less. About half way through the evening I felt it vibrating in my pocket. My whole family was with me so I couldn't imagine who was calling. I took it out and looked at the number. The area code was 310. I asked everyone where that are code came from. No one knew and I jokingly said oh that must be Wheel of Fortune telling me they wanted me to be a contestant. Everyone laughed and on with the game we went. Two hours later the trivia game was over, no we didn't win, and we were getting ready to leave. I saw that I had been left a message so I retrieved my voice mail. I was flabbergasted when it was one of the contestant coordinators letting me know not only was I chosen but they wanted me to be a part of "Teacher's Week" that was going to be filmed in 16 days. I was to call her back and let her know right away. My sonin-law and my sister were still with me when I heard the message. My mouth dropped open and the look of shock on my face had them worried. As the message went on I smiled so big that I heard them say it has to be good news not bad; she is smiling. I got off the phone and shared with them the news. We ran outside to tell the others. Jeff thought I was kidding and kept asking me if it was real. On the drive home out came the phones and everyone started calling their friends and the rest of the family to tell them the news. I was doing the driving so of course I couldn't call anyone. Just hearing the excitement in their voices gave me such a sense of pride that I was able to give them this moment of pure joy, tears welled up in my eyes. Then the realization of what was going to happen set in and the nerves came alive. The night before was unknowing to be my last truly good night of sleep I would have for the next 3 weeks. The next day I returned the call and said I certainly wanted to do this. I was given some information on the phone and was told that an e mail with more information would be sent but to go ahead and start making my travel plans. My daughter, Julie, got to work on her computer searching for flights. I called and reserved the hotel room. Ron and I decided to make it a four day stay. If we were flying all the way out there the flight wasn't any cheaper if you went for one day or four so we were going to make another mini vacation. Our kids wanted to go too, and I was allowed to have four guests. It was decided that all five of us would go and this was going to be first time just the five of vacationed together without other friends or spouses since 1993. It was going to be a very special experience for all of us.
The good news spread quickly and I was eager to start doing some research. After we left Delaware we were home for not even twenty-four hours before leaving for ten more days to our family's cabin for a family reunion. I had no television to watch Wheel and was worried that I would be rusty for my big day. My daughters and my daughter-in-law made up puzzles for me to practice. They went through many different types of puzzles and threw in many that were teacher related because it was going to be Teachers Week. As my extended family came in for the reunion, everyone was excited for me. Although I was enjoying my time there, I admit I was very nervous. Everyone kept saying I know you will win. You will be great! I started feeling the pressure of letting people down! What if I didn't do well! I had a dream that I hit Lose a Turn or Bankrupt every spin. I was the one Pat said, "Well the wheel wasn't very good to you but you will leave with $1,000." Believe me $1000 is great but I would be letting so many people down who expected me to do great! To win! The thought of being on television wasn't nearly as nerve racking to me as letting people down. So again I had to settle myself down and say to just enjoy the experience and be grateful that I was going to be part of a game that I absolutely loved!
Watch me on Tuesday, October 23rd to find out how my experience of lifetime turned out!