Part of that routine included watching the previous nights’ game show roundup on the Armed Forces Network cable channel. During my daughter’s nap time, I would sit in my recliner and try to solve the Wheel of Fortune puzzles before the contestants could. In my competitive spirit, I would find myself saying things like “take that, guy in the yellow space! I didn’t need that extra vowel to solve!” Sad, but true. Talking to my TV and solving word puzzles about dinner plates and vacation destinations was the epitome of my morning adult “interaction.” Insert sigh here.
At the same time, it’s been a pattern in my life that when I’m fed up with how things are going, every bit of angst and pent-up energy seem to come bursting out like a shaken champagne bottle (minus the celebratory part). Give that cork just a little bit of extra pressure, and the sucker goes off. For me, this “burst” either came in the form of a massive tear-filled meltdown, or doing something slightly ridiculous and way out of my comfort zone. In this case, I chose the latter (but in case you are wondering, I have since worked on healthier coping mechanisms).
Typically the time I would get up for a second cup of coffee was when the little blurb about becoming a contestant came on the screen. Some days, I would ignore it, and others I’d look at the TV and mumble “yeah, right." Call it some sort of game show divine intervention, but one day, that wasn’t my first thought. I paused and wondered what was really standing in the way of doing something so freaking cool and out of the ordinary. Out loud, I said “why not me? They have to choose someone, so why not me?” Now keep in mind that at the time, my “I am woman, hear me roar” moments were very few and far between, so I was ready to capitalize on this moment. My momentary belief in what seemed like the impossible sent me straight to the Wheel of Fortune website. I flew through the contestant application, and for the video, tried to figure out the appropriate balance of facts, comedy, and the ”I’m so cool, you’ll totally want me on your show” vibe. Before I could change my mind, I clicked “Submit.”
20 months went by. Yes, 20 months. June of 2016 rolled around and I was still couch-ridden from a liver surgery the previous month. Tired of binge-watching Fuller House on Netflix, I opened my computer to see an email from “Wheel Watchers” with the subject line “We Want You to Audition!” I laughed. Surely this wasn’t real. To be honest, I had forgotten all about my application. Still, I had been selected to attend an invitation-only audition in Brooklyn, New York exactly three weeks later. We had already been planning a vacation to my hometown in Connecticut that summer, so why not just scoot the timeline up a bit? Not ideal, but this is Wheel, friends. You make it happen.
I went to my audition in Brooklyn with zero expectations. I wore the cutest outfit I could piece together, and grabbed the only pair of heels I owned (my stay-at-home-mom footwear mainly consisted of mismatched flip-flops and a worn out pair of flats—heels had become a foreign concept). When I entered the room of roughly eighty other hopefuls, I felt pretty intimidated. Everywhere I looked, there were groups of happy, peppy people ready to put their best foot forward. But as nervous as I was, I gave myself an inner-pep talk, and again said, "why not me?" Easing my nerves a bit were the unbelievable contestant coordinators who were running the audition. If I could bottle up all of their energy and pour it in my coffee every morning, I may actually be able to get through the day without falling asleep in a pile of laundry or getting ketchup in my hair. Oh, the possibilities!
After starting the audition with an upbeat video about the show, we played a mock game of Wheel of Fortune. The staff would spin their small cardboard wheel and call a name at random to stand and shout a letter at the puzzle on a projector screen. Now when I say they told us to shout, I mean they told us to SHOUT. When you see the people yelling letters on TV and you wonder why they're practically screaming, it’s because from the get-go, they are told to be loud and clear. Let's be honest, the last thing the show has time for is for Pat Sajack standing there, asking Betty from Des Moines whether she wanted a “B” or a “P.”
This stand-up-and-shout-gig was the impression they had of your personality and excitement. Luckily for me, the former cheerleader inside was a fantastic yeller. When my name was called, my stomach fell to the floor. Nonetheless, I shot up from my chair with confidence and shouted the loudest consonant I ever had in my life (not that yelling random letters is an everyday hobby of mine). I vaguely remember getting a few consonants and vowels in the puzzle correct before missing one and sitting back down. Next was a five minute timed test of fill-in-the-blank word puzzles. Not to sound tacky, but I knew I had solved more than the average Joe (we all "compared notes" afterward), and that those mornings in front of the TV just might have paid off after all.
The coordinators then thanked us for attending, and just like that, it was over. All in all, I felt great about my audition. I felt like I had done my best and stayed true to my personality. On top of that, I was pretty stoked about the souvenir “I auditioned for Wheel of Fortune” pencil. It’s the little things, I swear! I felt so good about everything that I really had no intention auditioning again if it didn’t work out.
But here’s the plot twist: two weeks later, a letter came in the mail saying I was selected to tape a show three weeks later in Los Angeles. Son of a biscuit—it was happening! From there, everything was a whirlwind. I had a few phone calls with my contestant coordinator, was sent a huge stack of paperwork, figured out what to would wear for show-day, booked plane tickets, and made arrangements to crash with a girlfriend in Burbank. Three weeks later, my husband and I were on our way to California!
We arrived mid-afternoon and made the typical sightseeing rounds. It was my husband’s first time in Los Angeles, so we made our way to Santa Monica Pier, braved the madness of Hollywood Boulevard and checked out a beautiful lookout spot where we could see the Hollywood sign. It was all kid-free vacation bliss until the next morning rolled around. After little sleep, I was up at 5AM with the most nervous stomach I’ve ever had. It probably didn’t help that the day before, I wolfed down a double-double animal-style burger with animal-style fries at In-N-Out Burger (because where else do you go when you first land at LAX?). Side note: I would never recommend doing this after having your gallbladder removed two months prior. Not my brightest life-decision, but we live and learn, right?
After arriving at CBS studios, myself and other Wheel hopefuls were met by a contestant coordinator who brought us into the building. Reality set in quickly when we started to see all of the Wheel of Fortune photos and memorabilia on the walls. We were led to what would be our waiting area for the morning, where we had our hair and makeup touched up, talked about the show, and got a briefing from the shows legal team. Then, out of nowhere, the door opened and in walked a woman wearing workout sweats, no makeup and damp hair pulled into a ponytail. I did a double-take before realizing it was Vanna White stopping in to say hello and wish us luck. To answer the question I'm sure you’re all wondering: dressed up or not, she is absolutely stunning, and has the sweet personality to match!
From there, we were brought into the studio where we all looked like kids in a candy store. We were each led onto a game-space platform where we took a promotional photo (seen here) and were coached on how to spin the wheel. Yes, there is a special pull-push method, because man, that thing is heavy (approximately 2,400lbs)! We rotated through a few practice puzzles, taped little video blurbs for our local TV stations and tested microphones before heading back to our waiting area. There, we were told who would be together for each taping, and someone in each group drew a number to find out which of the six shows they would be assigned. After that, we drew for the color space where we would stand (I was slightly bummed that I got blue rather than yellow, but oh well!).
Filming started just before lunchtime, and all of the contestants were led to a designated seating area in the audience to watch quietly. I sat next to a man named Lawrence from Albuquerque, and we tried to solve all of the puzzles (at a whisper, of course) and chatted between commercial breaks. My episode was the fifth to be taped that day, and his the sixth, so we would be there for a while! We talked about our families and interests, and it really helped the time pass quickly. Before I knew it, 4:00PM rolled around, and it was my go-time. I remember walking out onto the platform and praying my only pair of heels wouldn’t fail me. I stood under the bright lights, heard the intro music, and saw Pat Sajack about five feet from me. What was happening?!
We started with toss-up puzzles, and I was feeling confident. Toss-ups were my jam—at least from my living room they were. Unfortunately, I hesitated on my buzzer, missed the first two toss-ups, and the first puzzle was solved before I even had the chance to spin. It came time for the second puzzle, which was titled “Before and After.” After a few correct letter guesses, I was able to say those magic words, “I’d like to solve the puzzle, Pat!” The answer was “MAGIC CARPET FRESHENER,” and I stashed away $1,900. The third puzzle only gave me one turn to spin, and I completely blanked on the final toss-up puzzle. Time flew by, and the last puzzle turned into the round where each contestant guesses a letter. I eventually knew the answer to the puzzle, yet it wasn’t my turn. That has to be the most frustrating part about playing the game in-person. Unlike when you are sitting at home, you can’t just yell the answers all willy-nilly. You may think that you are the Wheel of Fortune guru from your couch, but it all changes once you're actually playing on stage! All in all, the wheel didn’t quite work to my advantage, and my hesitations on the toss-up puzzles cost me.
The twenty minutes of play came and went in a flash. I stepped off stage and went to sign the legal papers for my winnings, all while feeling a massive pit in my stomach. To put it simply, I was disappointed. I put on a smile as I walked past the audience and found my husband. He asked if I wanted to stay for the last showing, but to be honest, I just wanted to leave. Realizing I forgot my change of clothes in the contestant room, I walked back downstairs to find my new friend, Lawrence, getting ready for his show. He immediately saw the disappointment on my face, and could tell I was trying to hold back tears. He gave me a hug, and I wished him luck. Before saying goodbye, he told me how wonderfully he thought I did, and how I reminded him of his daughter (who was my age), whom he had been speaking proudly of all day. Whether or not he realized, he made such a difference in my day. I felt badly that I didn’t stay for his taping, but I later went on to watch his episode and see that he had won a trip to Antigua.
Over two years later, people still ask me about my time on Wheel of Fortune. I typically tell them about how genuine Pat Sajak and Vanna White were, about the little dance breaks we’d have during commercials, and how the studio and the wheel are actually much smaller in-person. But what I don’t usually delve into are those disappointed emotions I had when I walked off that stage. This is because I am usually, almost immediately told to just be grateful that I was chosen. Make no mistake; I never took my selection for granted. It doesn’t escape me that roughly only 600 out of tens of thousands of applicants are selected each year between both open-casting calls and invitation-only auditions. In fact, I had a lot of trouble figuring out how my feelings after my episode could differ so greatly from my post-audition narrative. After all, following my audition, I didn’t even care if I made it on the show or not. It was honestly never even about the amount of money I won or didn’t win; I just wish it had gone differently. Call it greedy, call it whatever you may—but when you get the opportunity to do something on your bucket list, you would ideally like it to be to the best of your ability. Whether it is in life, or on a nationally televised game show—when you feel like you’ve fallen short, it’s a bummer.
Since the day my episode aired, I have gained a great deal of perspective. I think back to that October morning in 2014, and realize what I opened myself up to by just saying “why not me?” Had I shaken off the thought and just poured my next cup of coffee, I would have missed out on what has become one of the coolest experiences of my life. Ive learned that the big, exciting things rarely ever just pop out of nowhere and take flight. For the longest time, I seriously thought they did, and I sat around waiting for my life to happen.
So here’s the question I pose to you: how beautiful would it be if once in a while, you chose to have a “why not me?” moment? How liberating would it be for you to momentarily let down your walls and be open to the possibility that maybe, just maybe, you could make something incredible happen for yourself? Give it a try—because your life is meant to be lived and filled with those crazy, joyful, “I can’t believe I just did that” experiences. You are not meant to sit back and watch everyone else do what you want to be doing—whether it be from a metaphorical sideline, or from the recliner in your living room.
So now, I ask this: why not you?