I CAN’T BELIEVE I AM GETTING TO WRITE THIS POST! I don’t have a Bucket List, but I may create one just so I can check off appearing as a contestant on The Wheel of Fortune! I am so blessed because one million people each year apply to be on “America’s Show,” the WHEEL OF FORTUNE! Only 10,000 of those folks get auditions, and then less than 600 people actually make it on the show as contestants! I am a blessed woman because I am one of the million who made it through, by God’s great grace! Just last month, on Friday, January 8th my friend Jan Leary and I were in Culver City, California at the fabulous Sony Studios to appear as contestants for a Girlfriend Getaways themed week on the Wheel. So technically, we are two in a million! Below is our “official photo” on the set of Wheel of Fortune! Meet TEAM JAN! JAN SQUARED!
I have a daily prayer calendar on my desk that I have owned for many years. It never grows old to me. One of my favorite authors, Elisabeth Elliot, compiled it. It is called KEEP A QUIET HEART On the morning of our taping, this was the thought for the day…I shared it with my friend Jan. “It is His providence that has put us where we are.” Of course that’s true every day as we know the Good Lord orders our steps. But it was a comfort to read and press in as we were heading to California! Our individual journeys began years ago as we both applied to be on the show, way before we even knew each other. On a beautiful June day in Atlanta in 2013, Jan invited me to accompany her for a Wheel of Fortune contestant audition when she discovered they were looking for “teams.” My getting on the show was ALL grace, Jan received the official invitation. I am forever thankful she picked me to be her teammate! Woohoo! TEAM JAN was formed that day. We did really well and made it through to the final cuts. We had to play several mock games and then take a written test. Even us being there was part of God’s plan as my husband Gary had an appointment in Atlanta a few blocks from where the taping was. He literally dropped me off and came back to pick me up! After each round of auditions, they would “weed out” people, and Jan and I would hold our breaths! We made it down to the final few left standing out of a large group of over 100 contestants, so we already felt like winners! Several months later we got an email asking us to fly to California for a taping! WE WERE ECSTATIC! We made our reservations and then the snowstorm of Atlanta in January 2014 hit. It was a mess! Our flights cancelled and our trip to spin the wheel was postponed. Jan was on her way to the airport and became stranded on the interstate. She had a very scary experience, she now calls it Wheel of Fortune PTSD. It was rough. Talk about hope deferred. The wonderful Wheel contestant producer who kept in touch with us, Ms. Shannon Bobillo, assured us she would get us back on one day. Now almost to the day two years later, January 8, 2016, our dream was realized. This is the picture from June 2013 when we made it through the Atlanta auditions. I wanted to journal my adventure story, as much for myself as anyone. One day I can come back and re-live the absolute BLAST Jan and I had appearing on America’s Game. So here goes! A memory from my earliest school days resurfaced a couple of weeks ago. I started first grade as a 5-year-old and fell in love with books and reading. I just had a wee problem. During times when we took turns reading aloud if a classmate hesitated or stumbled while sounding out a word…I would blurt it out. The teacher would scold me and if I did it again, she would draw a circle on the blackboard with chalk (yes it was 1963) and I would have to put my nose in the circle as punishment. Well, it was liberating to yell out letters and words during my time on the show! And believe you me, I didn’t yell out any answers if someone stumbled. I had learned my lesson and was in this for the win! I love the show and have been a Wheel-Watching fan for over 30 years. In fact, when my son Jonathan, now 31, was not even 2 years old, I realized he knew all his letters. I had no idea! One day while standing near a bulletin board at our church, he started pointing his chubby little finger and correctly calling out the letters. He was a Wheel-Watcher from his playpen and I didn’t even realize! A family tradition had begun.
The reality of the event set in for me the day the FED-EX package arrived with all the paperwork! Lots of paperwork! There were rules to learn, contracts to sign, puzzle categories to study, suggestions for what to wear, what NOT to wear, airline tickets to purchase to Los Angeles, hotel recommendations for Culver City, CA, and a really encouraging letter from Pat Sajak. I am such a Pat Sajak fan and loved meeting him! To me, he makes the show. I love his quick wit (totally unscripted)! For years I’ve watched him help contestants out of embarrassing moments by saying just the right thing at the right time. Meeting him just confirmed what I had watched on TV all these years. He is truly kind and very funny, two great qualities. Vanna is as gracious and beautiful in person as she is on TV, very genuine. She spent some time talking to the audience and they loved her too!
When we boarded our flight in Atlanta on Thursday morning, January 7 and got seated, this “WINNER TAKES ALL” picture was on the back on the seats in front of us! Jan and I both decided it was a definite YES and purposed to be WINNERS all the way. We decided NOT to share that we were going to Wheel of Fortune until we were on the way home. We each had several close friends praying, but did not want anything out on social media. My friend Beth was sent me a fun yet inspirational voice message. She said she was calling it the “Wheel of Favor” because we are “Women of Faith.” I loved it! That thought resonated in our hearts and Jan and I carried it the entire weekend. We wanted to savor this trip and then exhale when it was over! No more hope deferred! We had great flights to Los Angeles and stayed at a nice hotel in Culver City, California, not far from SONY STUDIOS where the Wheel of Fortune tapes. We were within walking distance of a nice mall and several restaurants, so we headed out to eat supper and take a long walk. It felt so good to walk after that five-hour flight from Atlanta. The weather was a bit cooler than normal, but it felt great to us! As we were walking to the restaurant, I stopped to take a picture of the “Culver City, California” sign. We were finally there and it was such a relief. We were on our way! The time difference made for a long day, so we went to bed early because the Sony Studios shuttle would arrive at 6:30 AM the next morning . Woo-hoo! It was fun to see all the women there in the lobby the next morning for the Girlfriend Getaways themed week. We talked to some women from North Carolina, Texas, Illinois, Hawaii and Washington. When we arrived at Sony Studios for our actual taping, contestant producers Shannon, Gary, Alex and Jackie made sure everyone was prepared. They are the best at what they do – very organized at keeping everything moving along; building in our confidence during a very long, exciting day. We met in the Jeopardy studio all morning for our training and going over the legal contracts prior to walking over to the Wheel of Fortune Studio 11 for practice rounds and more Wheel of Fortune School! Everyone signed their legal paperwork, got their makeup tweaked a bit, practiced our “Pat Chats” introductions, and then we were finally ready to walk over to the Wheel of Fortune studio, Stage 11. With all the technology of the puzzle board, we actually went old school with two things: determining which show we would tape, and where we would stand. A representative from each group of six women reached in a bag and drew out a golf ball. Jan drew out #3 which meant we would be the third show and it stood for Wednesday. I then drew a marble out of a sack to determine where we would stand. I drew out #3 and that meant the third position at the Wheel, the far right. It was exactly where I wanted to be! This old fashioned way to do this actually gave me comfort that it was all above board. All 30 contestants could see it going on in front of us! So fun! I could hardly wait to see that WHEEL! Some fun trivia we were told is that the actual studio where Wheel of Fortune is taped is the same studio the famous tornado scene from the Wizard of Oz was filmed some 70 years ago. It was actually the Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer studio then. Here is TEAM JAN outside the studio with the big puzzle board painted on the wall! We saw a Porsche parked there as we were leaving later on that day and the tag said “BONUSRD,” which I’m quite sure stands for Bonus Round. How fun! Wonder if it was Pat’s or Vanna’s vehicle? I quickly learned that being a contestant on the show is way harder than playing from my sofa at home. I owe an apology to every player I’ve yelled at from my sofa for buying vowels, spinning again, calling a letter already called, or otherwise just messing up. So much happens simultaneously when it’s your turn: watching the used letter board, trying to solve the puzzle, having only 3 seconds to either spin, solve, or buy a vowel. What a rush! Helpful advice I have for future contestants is to pay close attention to the specific puzzle category while you are playing. Practice, pray and prepare to play [Same Letter Puzzle]! After a little flub or two, Jan and I quickly got ourselves in sync. Jan kept me calm (or she tried to) most of the entire time we were at the studio that day! She was an excellent wheel spinner and I watched the used letter board and whispered letters in her ear to call and helped her work on solving the puzzles. The Wheel weighs 2,400 pounds and I really had difficulty spinning it. We made such a great team. The puzzle board is really big. There are 52 spaces on the board, 4 rows of 12, 14, 14, and 12 spaces respectively. Another thing to remember is unlike viewing from home, you can see the board the entire time. So you can work on the puzzle even when it’s not your turn. That was a bonus as well – even though it seemed our turn came around pretty quickly each spin!We met some really nice girls from Hawaii and enjoyed playing the game with them too. They were actually on our episode. We took a picture with them and with the Pat and Vanna cardboard cutouts before we left. My oldest son Jeremy gave me some great advice before I left home. He said “remember it’s a game, Mom, and just have fun, enjoy yourself.” I heeded his advice and Jan and I made some special memories. It was also a blessing and a special gift to be there with my awesome husband of 38 years, Gary! He was our biggest supporter the entire time. I didn’t want to miss a moment. I love this quote, “Wherever you are, be all there!” Remember me mentioning the author Elisabeth Elliot above? That quote is attributed to her husband, Jim Elliot, Christian missionary and martyr. I was there! Woo-hoo! A contestant on the Wheel of Fortune, America’s game! And the added grace to come out on top and win the Bonus Round? It just doesn’t get any better. And to spend the day with a wonderful friend named Jan? More grace!
Jan agreed for me to spin the little wheel for the Bonus Round since she was the big wheel champion spinner during the game. I spun and the flapper landed on the “C.” Jan Leary then handed Pat Sajak the envelope which contained our unknown prize. [This is an overhead picture of the Bonus Round Wheel below.] We found out within seconds that our puzzle would be a “phrase.” Three words popped up on the board: the first had two letters, the second had four letters, and the third had seven. Contestants are given the customary R-S-T-L-N-E and only two N’s filled in…not much help! Jan Leary leaned over to me and whispered, “call out the letters.” She later told me that the Lord told her to do that so she did. I believe her because I had no idea what letters we needed. So I asked for D, M, P, and then chose O as the vowel. Pat Sajak said, “well the good news is all those letters are in the puzzle!” When the letters began to fill in, I started jumping up and down! We knew immediately the answer was “IN GOOD COMPANY” and so we shouted it out. And yes I was in good company! So thankful that Jesus is ALWAYS with me every moment, my fabulous friend Jan, my wonderful husband Gary in the audience, and much support from home! I repeated the verse from 2 Timothy 1:7 all weekend…”For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” He gave me peace without fear, power to play, love to share with others, and a sound mind to solve puzzles! This experience will definitely be in my mind and on my heart for a long time. I had so much FUN! Thank you for taking time to read my great Wheel of Fortune Adventure. I hope wherever your next adventure takes you that you will “BE ALL THERE!” In fact, be all there wherever you are – around the table for a good meal with your family, in the quietness of your home, shopping at the grocery store, worshipping with your church family, riding a ferris wheel with your grandchildren, or taking a walk through the woods. All of life is a great adventure! I’m so thankful I had the privilege to be a Wheel player, it was a great adventure for this old gal!