This Week's Contestant
|Theme:||Sears Secret Santa Sweepstakes|
POSTED on Saturday, November 24th
The day for taping my episode of Wheel of Fortune was like a blur! My husband Rick and my in-laws Barbara and Sonny had traveled to Culver City, California with me the day before a long plane ride from Kentucky. No time for sightseeing! I was out the hotel door at 7:15 Thursday morning for a shuttle to Sony Pictures Studios. My family would join me later in the day as audience members. About ten of us boarded the hotel shuttle, each of us carrying a hanging bag with our "back-up" clothes in case we spilled anything on our outfits, or in case the camera didn't like our wardrobe choice.
Driving on to the studio lot and walking through the door that said "Closed Set" was exhilarating for this Kentucky girlI couldn't believe I was actually going to be on my favorite game show! Seventeen of us (two were stand-by contestants) were ushered into a meeting room to hang up our clothes, grab a snack (like I could really eat anything with my crazy nerves!), and fill out forms about rules of the game and legal matters. The contestant coordinators team briefed us on how to play the game and what to expect. I'm so glad they talked us through everything! I'm a teacher, so I'm a planner; I needed to know what to expect before I ever walked onto that stage.
In the middle of listening to tips for playing the game well, a side door opened and in walked Vanna White! All of our jaws dropped and you could have heard a pin drop for about 3 seconds, then we all busted out in applause. She wished us luck on the show, and hurried off for her own pre-show preparations. Wow! This was so cool!
We learned that the week of our show dates would be "Secret Santa" week. That meant that someone in the viewing audience would win what we win. How exciting is that! We even took turns taping special promos to announce the special week. We practiced saying our parts over and over again, and did our best to smile and show enthusiasm. Thankfully the camera didn't catch my shaking knees!
"Spin-the-wheel" practice was a surpriseI mean, who needs to practice that? Well, boy, I did. That wheel is so heavy! We learned how to hold our hand a certain way, with our thumb up, and how to grip the railing for leverage. We were told we needed dry hands, but goodness me, my hands were clammy from nervousnesshow was I going to manage that? I don't think I was ever able to get that wheel around a full spin even after trying dozens of times! I do remember a contestant coordinator asking us repeatedly to say what we landed on. "Ummm, $450." I mean, did he think we couldn't see what we landed on? (That sentiment would come back to bite me during the actual show!)
During our time on the set after practicing our spinning, we each taped a promo for our local television station. One other contestant was from the same area as me, so we both did a shout-out for WLKY-TV in Louisville, KY. We learned about the used letter board, where to stand, how to clap (not in front of your microphone!), and even how to hold our hands and what to do with special prizes from the wheel, like a car signs and jackpot signs. So much to remember!
Back stage, we drew numbers to see which day of the week our show would be aired and which spot on the stage we would stand. I was chosen to draw the number for the three-person group I was in with Erin and Russell. I grabbed a number and revealed it to the group: 5! That meant the three of us would be on the last show taped that day. I also drew the number 2 for my stage spotperfect! That was the yellow spot, and my favorite color is yellow. Was this a sign of good things to come?
Makeup, then game-playing advice, then time for the first show to be taped. Since I was on show number five, I had the opportunity to watch four entire episodes taped. I took lots of mental notes. In the audience my fellow contestants and I cheered for our new friends who were playing and groaned when some of those friends landed on bankrupt or missed a puzzle answer. We knew that could be us! My husband and my in-laws were in the audience, too, but in a section on the far side of the studio. I wasn't allowed to wave to them or talk to them. They didn't know I was on the last show being taped, so I knew they were anxiously watching every new set of three contestants who approached the stage.
Finally, the time came for my show's taping. Erin, Russell, and I paced the floor backstage as we waited to be called on to stage. We got last minute touch-ups on our makeup, got microphones in place, and said our final well wishes to each other. I remember walking to my yellow spot in the middle and immediately looking for my family. I gave them a big grin. I knew they were so excited for me!
Then, those famous words from the audience, "Wheel . . .of . . . Fortune!" I could feel the electricity in the air. Pat Sajak and Vanna White walked out and one of the most exciting events of my entire life began. I remember smiling constantly. I couldn't NOT smile! I was so thrilled and proud to be playing my all-time favorite game show. I missed the first two toss-ups. Those are tough! Especially with cameras aimed at you and a live audience watching. Whew! I hoped that wasn't a sign of things to come. Russell and Erin seemed so calm. I was sweating buckets, though! During taping breaks, I gulped water and fanned myself and listened intently to words of encouragement from contestant coordinators. That water and that encouragement kept me from fainting! !
I remember Pat Sajak asking me about my family during the introduction time, but I was so nervous I don't even remember what all I said! I know I gave a shout-out to the school where I teach: Heritage Elementary School in Shelby County, Kentucky. I knew the students and staff there would be cheering me on! !
Puzzle after puzzle came and went, and I wasn't having much luck at all. And that snarky comment I had about wheel spinning practice and being asked repeatedly what I landed on? Well, lo and behold, I spun and thought I landed on something I didn't because I was looking at Russell's wheel spinner instead of mine! How embarrassing. By the second commercial break, I hadn't solved any puzzles. I was a bit disappointed, but so thrilled to be on the show, I just kept smiling like a Cheshire cat. I even clapped when I hit bankrupt! !vThen came the prize puzzle. Contestants are supposed to try to guess the prize puzzle as early as possible. As we each took turns spinning the wheel, I started piecing together the puzzle. But one word was elusive to me. It just didn't make sense. I had control of the wheel, and even when the puzzle was down to just a couple of letters, I had to keep spinning! Oh, my goodness, the pressure! Looking back, the answer was so obvious! I know my friends and family watching will be scratching their heads wondering why I kept spinning on a prize puzzle when nearly the entire puzzle was already solved on the board! But, I took a risk and guessed, and gave an answer with a question in my voice at the end. It was right! When Pat announced that I was headed on a cruise through the Panama Canal, I nearly cried with joy! My first solved puzzle, and it was a prize puzzle! Yay! !
The rest of the show flew by. I managed to snag the last toss-up puzzle and won $3,000 to add to the prize puzzle winnings. Somewhere along the way I won a $1000 gift card for Omaha Steaks, but I don't even know when that happened! By the time of the last puzzle, I wasn't sure who was in the lead. We were told to watch the earnings board, but between that and watching the puzzle category, the puzzle, the used letter board, and the wheel, I had no clue my standing. I heard the "Final Spin" sound, and Pat spun the wheel. A thousand dollars added to that number meant it was anyone's game at this point. The category was "Around the House." I remember the last word being four letters and ending in "th." Could that be "bath?" When it was my turn, I guessed "B." Then Pat said those hopeful words, "Please, audience, no help!" I knew that meant an obvious-to-most puzzle once those letters were shown. Four "B's" were revealed. "Bubble Bath!" I exclaimed! Four letters meant enough money to move me to the leader category. I was headed to the Bonus Round! !
A contestant coordinator had me practice introducing my family. I was so terrified; I couldn't even remember their names! He calmly asked me to try again, and this time I managed to say it correctly. Before I knew it Pat was next to me and it was time to spin the wheel for the Bonus Round. My knees were shaking. I couldn't believe this was happening to me. My grandmother who I had watched Wheel of Fortune with all those many years would have been so proud of me. I knew my brother who had passed way just weeks before was cheering me on from heaven. And my husband Rick and his parents were smiling away in the audience, proud of me as well. !
The usual letters (R, S, T, L, N, E) were shown on the puzzle for the category "phrase." I chose my three consonants and a vowel, but jeepers! This was going to be tough! The seconds ticked away and I just knew the first word had to be "vote" for some reason. Why, oh, why did I get fixated on that? We had been told over and over again to go through the letter board from beginning to end. And I had already had good luck with the letter "B" in the last round. If I hadn't been stuck on the word "vote," I might have won the car that was waiting for me in the Bonus Round. "Bite Your Tongue" is a phrase I will never forget!!!
$16,000 in cash, a $1000 gift card from Omaha Steaks, and an 8-day cruise through the Panama Canal certainly is nothing to complain about! I am thrilled beyond belief to have experienced the joys of playing America's Game Show, and I will remember my day in Culver City, California spinning that wheel for the rest of my life. Thank you, Wheel of Fortune, for the adventure of a lifetime! !