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Tales of a Contestant on "Wheel Of Fortune"! Part Two
Time to Play!
The cameras rolled, the music played, the crowd cheered, and our episode of "Wheel of Fortune" finally began taping! I was surprised to feel my nerves settle down right away. It was time to play, and I was determined not to be distracted by the lights, the cameras, the crowd, Pat, Vanna, or anything.
What a load off our shoulders to solve the first Toss Up! TUNNEL OF LOVE Our goal for the day was to solve at least one puzzle and not become that pathetic couple at the end of the show who receives a merciful pittance along with Pat's condolences. The way I saw it, everything else after that was gravy. But first we had to get past the contestant interview. We had filled out cards with what we wanted Pat to ask us about, and what we didn't want to discuss. I regret being somewhat subdued during my interview, answering Pat's questions with relatively short responses while grinning like a goon. It all happened so fast!
After Pat chatted with the other two couples, it was time for another Toss Up worth $2000. It was a very fortuitous puzzle which I proudly solved after only 2 letters appeared. I'M A BELIEVER, the song by the Monkees, also made famous in the movie Shrek, is a favorite of mine and a hit I sang with my high school rock band in the 80's. What are the odds that a song I was so familiar with would be the solution to a puzzle? A more current song by the likes of Justin Bieber or Lady Gaga would have left me clueless. As it turns out, this would be the first of several lucky breaks we would receive.
A half hour show in 1:09
Spin the Wheel!
Surprisingly, the big wheel is not very easy to spin. It seems strange that contestants have to bend way over, grab a metal post that has no knob or other grip assistance, and, as it was explained to us, reach as far as you can to pull toward then push away. I would think there would be an easier way, especially since watching people bend over again and again doesn't make for great TV. I read somewhere that the producers considered different wheel formats initially, but for some reason they decided on this arrangement which hasn't changed since the show began. The platform for each contestant (or in our case, each pair) can be raised or lowered to make spinning the wheel as easy as possible. My pregnant wife squished her tummy against the railing and gave it a spin, but we guessed an incorrect letter.
Game play continued to couple number one then to couple number two. The middle couple solved most of the puzzle before hitting BANKRUPT. We knew there were three L's to reveal, and after another mighty spin by my wife we were READY WILLING AND ABLE to solve the puzzle. But first, Pat made a silly comment about whether I wanted to make my pregnant wife spin once more, which triggered a good laugh from my wife and from the crowd. I've often wondered if Pat was actually sending a signal to the production crew, because during the following commercial break we were told that my wife couldn't spin anymore. The contestant coordinators were cordial and helpful, but they were also very insistent about the pace of the show. Don't ask "May I have a 'T' please," just blurt out "T"! Don't wait for Pat to ask you to spin when it's your turn, just spin! And, apparently, pregnant ladies slow down the game too much. So we had a sip of water, they applied a bit more make-up to my shiny forehead, and we went on with the game.
The second segment of the show came and went without us even having a chance to spin the wheel. After another commercial break (and another touch-up to my overly reflective forehead), it was time for a Prize Puzzle. The middle couple, Marvis and Stephenie, went on a tear! After spinning 5 times and purchasing all the vowels, they had amassed a cash total of over $3000 along with a cruise vacation. And then...BANKRUPT. We had to spin only once, ask for an N, and happily say HIKING IN A TROPICAL RAINFOREST! We had no cash, having landed on the WILD CARD spot with our one spin, but we won a $6000 trip to Costa Rica. During the subsequent commercial break, the middle couple was understandably upset. Marvis was visibly peeved, prompting one of the contestant coordinators to state firmly "Let it go!" I asked Stephenie, and she confirmed that they didn't know the solution, which is why they kept spinning.
My wife and I felt a bit guilty for capitalizing on the other couple's misfortune, but that's the way the cookie crumbles. Or, should I say, that's the way the Wheel of Fortune spins? If they had solved the puzzle, they would have been on the fast track to the Bonus Round, and we would have silently endured another round without even getting a turn. It wasn't until we watched the show on TV that we realized the extent of our good fortune at Marvis and Stephenie's expense.
Another commercial break followed by another Toss Up. My wife and I each had our thumbs on the button ready to solve the puzzle. As soon as the J in TOMATO JUICE appeared, we both pushed. Without time to hesitate, as instructed by the vigilant contestant coordinators, I spoke right up, making it appear as though I solved all the puzzles. But believe me, my wife and I were a true team!
A wave of relief rolled over me when that little bell rang and Pat took the Final Spin. There have been episodes where Pat's spin lands on the $5000 space, the contestant in distant third place guesses multiple letters in a large puzzle, and that contestant miraculously goes to the Bonus Round. Luckily for us, Pat's spin landed on $350, so I knew we couldn't be caught. Couple number one, Allison and Greg, solved the puzzle, and, in the end, all three couples won some money.
During the commercial break before the Bonus Round, we were escorted down to the prize wheel and instructed what to do. I suppose it is meant to avoid confusion and prevent any accusations of impropriety (and potential law suits), but we were told to grab the envelop with two fingers from the upper corner and hand it to Pat. I was quite impressed with Pat Sajak's genuine nature, putting us at ease, making small talk about my wife's pregnancy like we were at a bus stop or waiting in line at the bank. He's been at this a long time, and a cynical person might suggest he is accustomed to "faking it." I just think he's a nice guy.
When the puzzle was revealed, I was happy it wasn’t one word. One word puzzles are more difficult. I remember almost asking for a B, which would have made the puzzle easier to figure out. And I assumed the single letter had to be A. When I watch the show at home it seems like people either know the Bonus Round puzzle or they don’t, but I had to contemplate this one. Almost immediately after Pat revealed our cash prize the reality of what just happened sunk in. Not only was I able to fulfill a lifelong dream of appearing on a game show, but we WON! It's easy to say in hindsight, but I honestly would have been happy just to be on the show, especially for Sweethearts Week with my loving, ever-supportive wife by my side.
After the show, we were treated like celebrities! First, we had to go backstage for the paper work. Various production crew members said “Congratulations” as we found our way to the exit. We were exhausted and on cloud 9 at the same time. We funneled out into the general population to find our way to the parking garage, with our name tags still on. People cheered as we walked by and offered sincere kudos. One guy said he bet on us in a friendly wager with his friends! A gaggle of pre-teen girls who had attended the tapings screamed and asked to take a picture with us!
The experience quickly faded, especially since the show hadn't aired. Honestly we had no proof we were actually on the show! We informed friends and family to mark their calendars for the following February, but for the most part life went on. Two months later my wife gave birth to a beautiful boy, who we didn't name Pat, despite my objections. My wife wouldn't even approve "Sajak" as a middle name! We adjusted to life with two kids, the holidays came and went, then the New Year. Was it just a dream?
As Valentine's Day neared, I was overjoyed to hear that my family back East was planning a big viewing party at a local tavern. We never told anybody the results of our episode, so they might have gotten together to see us lay a big goose egg! I'm glad we kept it a secret for them. I had visions of taking my wife and kids on a trip to surprise everyone at the viewing party, but we wouldn't receive our prize money until after the show aired. Also, that money was already earmarked for more vital purposes such as diapers and credit cards. My wife and I quietly watched from home, answering phone calls, text messages and Facebook posts. It had been 7 months since the taping, and many of the details had been forgotten. That summer, with the babysitting help of my wife's Mom and Dad, we were able to take the trip to Costa Rica we had won. Oddly enough, our episode aired as a rerun while we were out of the country!
I watch the show in a different light now, especially sympathetic to the contestants on the Friday episode. It makes me smile to think that every night, somewhere across the country, there is a group of family and friends gathered around the TV in support of some lucky contestant. Who knows? In twenty years or so, my son may get his own chance to appear on the show! Hopefully Wheel of Fortune will still be on the air.