Well, the big day finally came. My opportunity to be a contestant on WHEEL…..OF…..FORTUNE!!!
I got the call on Tuesday, January 20th, that they wanted me to come to do the taping in LA on Thursday February 5th (they don’t give you much notice). Joe was on the road, so I called him and we had to discuss and make a decision on travel dates and book ASAP. We debated whether to bring the kids, or leave them with Joe’s sister, or bring the kids and Joe’s mom too to watch them (as guests to the show have to be at least 8 years old.) In the end, we decided to take the kids and use a friend to babysit for the day. The contestant coordinator, Cassandra, told me that I would have to be there at 7:45am and could be there as late as 6pm as they were taping 6 shows that day. I learned later that they only tape 29 days out of the year - must be nice! They recommended a hotel to stay at that is close to the studio and gives contestants a cheaper rate, and provides shuttle service to the studio for contestants too. We booked flights to fly in Wednesday afternoon, we would do the WOF taping Thursday, and then take the day on Friday to play with the kids and go to the beach and enjoy the nice weather in LA, and fly home Saturday the 7th.
I was a little nervous but mostly excited about the opportunity. Pauline helped me pick out my outfit for the show before we left. A green (of course) J Crew argyle sweater, a dark grey skirt with some wide pleating at the knee (a little flirty and fun) and flats for comfort.
Day of show, I was up at 5am, Sammy was still on Michigan time, and I was excited too. I got ready and went downstairs at 7:15 to catch the shuttle and met up with some other contestants in the lobby of the hotel. Found out the theme for our week of shows was going to be Coast to Coast, we were from all over America: Hawaii, Florida, Arkansas, Louisiana, California, Georgia, etc. Some contestants had only auditioned a little over 2 weeks ago, and got the call right away to come out to be on a show. The local California contestants all have to come and be stand-ins for a day before they can actually be contestants on a show.
We were brought into Sony Studios and led to a small green room with legal forms and etc. to fill out. We were not allowed to have phones or cameras, and they told us to not bring any reading material either. There were 4 contestant coordinators, Gary, Shannon, Jackie, and Cassandra. The coordinators all took turns going over the details of the game with us. We went over how to pick up the wedges or prizes from the wheel, where to place the prizes after picking them up, how to use the wild card and free spin, how the jackpot round works, how the million dollar wedge works (you have to spin on it and correctly call a letter, then you have to win that puzzle, and you have to last the rest of the game without landing on bankrupt, then you have to be the highest money winner to go to the bonus round, and then you have to spin the bonus wheel and the million dollar prize will be 1 out of 25 prizes - whew!), and on and on and on with the rules and details of the game play. We were constantly reminded that we have to choose a consonant after every spin, no matter what you land on (except for lose a turn or bankrupt), before you can continue or pick up a prize. We were reminded to keep the game moving, buy vowels, call logical letters (knowing common suffexes - ing - ly and etc.) We were reminded to smile and clap and be enthusiastic and be LOUD when calling out letters. During all the game prep, we were all taking turns getting our makeup professionally done, which was a lot of fun. We got airbrushed and powdered and my eyeshadow looked awesome! Plus the talented make-up team totally got rid of my dark circles under my eyes (thank god!).
Once we entered the studio, we were basically on lockdown, we could only have contact with the other contestants, the contestant coordinators and the make up people. We were not allowed to even make eye contact with our guests or talk to camera men, or any of the behind the scenes people for fear that some sort of impropriety would be implied. We could not make or receive any phone calls or texts while we were there. Though I did get a tiny exception, because I had 2 small children with a babysitter, I talked to Shannon and she agreed to call the babysitter (Jill) and she gave Jill her personal cell number to call if there was any emergency with the kids. So, that was super nice of her, and it eased my mind a bit to make sure the kids were ok.
After a couple hours, we got to go into the studio to practice spinning the wheel and get a feel for the buzzers (for the toss up rounds). Each spot behind the wheel (red, yellow, blue) has its own riser that can be raised or lowered to accommodate the contestant’s height. We all took turns going up on the wheel, wearing a small microphone, and spinning and calling letters and trying to solve a bunch of puzzles. The contestants who were not spinning were all standing behind the wheel, and we were trying to figure out the puzzles too, with most people just whispering to those around them when they had the answer. I got almost every one before the people around me, and a few people even exclaimed “wow, you’re good!” “I don’t want to have to compete against you” and etc. It made me feel good and I was feeling really confident. While we were practicing spinning, Gary pointed out where the “used letter board” was, so we could make sure we weren’t calling out letters that were already called. They also had a screen to remind us of the category, and another screen that kept track of the money totals for everyone.
Around 11am, we were split into groups of 3, the people we would be competing against on each show. One person from each group was designated to choose which show we would be on (1-6). I was the designated person for my group, and I ended up picking ball #4, so we would be the 4th group to go. I was glad we weren’t 6th of the day, I didn’t want to have to wait that long. While group #1 got their make up touched up, and got their risers adjusted for the first show of the day, the rest of us got to sit in a separate area in the audience to watch the show.
One notable thing, the audience doesn’t actually yell “WHEEL OF FORTUNE” like you think at the beginning, it is pre-recorded.
The first 3 shows went by so fast. Then, it was time….
Group #4 of the day was up - my group. We went backstage to get our make-up touched up and to go over our information cards with Shannon. These were the cards that Pat would use when introducing us. I drew position #3 for my group earlier - the blue position - I thought that would be a good omen - GO BLUE! Gary and other contestant coordinators were there to hype us up, remind us to not look down at the wheel, only up at the puzzle, be loud when calling letters, keep the game moving, etc. while we practiced spinning the wheel a couple more times. Things that they were drilling us on all day long. Then it was time for “P and V” as they called them, and for the show to start. P & V came out from behind the letter board, Vanna was wearing a beautiful long, flowy, one shoulder purple dress with rhinestone detail on the waist.
We grabbed our buzzers for the toss up round, and the game was started.
The category was “Phrase” - some letters started popping up, T, H, R, L - My mind said “Hot off the Grill” and my finger hit the buzzer just as my mind registered that the second word was only 2 letters and an “N” had just popped up in the second word so I knew I was wrong - I said “Ohhhh” and then heard the “buzz buzz” of the buzzer and I was locked out, a few more letters popped up and the guy in the #1 spot correctly got “hot on the trail”. Oh well, on to introductions, starting with #1, moving to #2 and then on to me. I got to talk about my great husband Joe, my wonderful kids, Rosie and Sam, and then got to mention my grandma and how she won Queen for a Day and etc. and how I hoped to continue the winning family tradition. Pat said something about how I was Queen for a day anyway, and he was the prince, and then joked about the announcer Charlie being the court jester.
Toss up #2, I made a mental note to not be too quick this time with the buzzer. Category was “Place” or “Landmark” or “On the Map” I don’t remember. Letters popped up D, R, E, M - Contestant #2 beat me to the buzzer and solved “Hoover Dam”.
On to the puzzle, Proper Name
#2 gets to start spinning, she gets a few letters before either losing a turn or guessing incorrectly. Finally, my turn to spin, I lean over, give the wheel a good pull toward me and push away from me (as instructed and practiced) - I am not supposed to look down, so I clap (lightly, hands at waist as to not interfere with the microphone - also as instructed) looking straight ahead at the puzzle, deciding what letter to call. As I hear the wheel slow down, I look down in time to see my arrow land in the 1,000,000 slot!!!! and then click one more spot to BANKRUPT. Aww, man! Oh well, still lots of time left in the puzzle, it could still get back to me. Guy #1 gets on a roll though, and solves the puzzle before it can get back to me. Bummer, but that’s only round 1.
Commercial time, we have to step down from our spots and face away from the wheel while they change around the prizes and put new amounts on the wheel, we also get bottled water brought to us and our makeup touched up. We get reminded again about keeping the game moving, looking straight ahead and not down at the wheel, calling our letters loudly, etc. We also get told of the new prizes and amounts on the wheel for this round. I get told, “Don’t worry, there’s still lots of game left” as I am the only one who hasn’t won any money thus far.
Round #2 is a prize puzzle - there is an unknown prize for the winner after solving the puzzle. The category is “What are you doing” - a pretty easy one as you know there will be “ing” as the first word most likely. #1 starts off the spinning this round. I think he gets a letter or two and then loses his turn, then #2 goes and gets a couple letters (I think) and then it finally comes to me. I don’t totally know the whole puzzle yet, but I definitely know a few words and know what letters are up there and what ones I am going to call. I reach down, spin, hear the “click, click, click” of the wheel slow, and look down just as I hear Pat say something like “oh, that’s too bad” and see that I have landed on “Lose A Turn”. Grrrrrr
Now I am getting annoyed, I want to play, I want a chance to call letters and solve the puzzle and win some money. I try to keep my frustration from showing on my face and continue to smile and clap for the other contestants, and just hope it gets back to me again. #1 calls out a letter or 2 and then it moves on to contestant #2 and by this time I definitely know the puzzle and I am just hoping and praying that she doesn’t or that she lands on bankrupt or lose a turn. No such luck, #2 solves the puzzle before I can get another chance at it - and wins not only a few thousand in cash, but a trip to Puerto Rico.
Commercial time again, the usual primping and reminding, and I get another “Hang in there Chelsea, lots of money on the wheel this round, anything can happen”.
Round #3 - I think it is Jackpot round, and the category is “Before and After” - one of my favorites. I am excited that I get a chance to start things off. I spin and land on $500 - woo hoo! I call “R” and there is 1 R in the puzzle. I spin again and land on $900, I call “S” and - Pat sadly tells me, “There is no S”.
What the Hell? No S? Seriously? Ugh, I am totally bummed - but again, it’s early, so hopefully I’ll still get a chance. #1 spins and calls a “T” I think and there is no “T” - it moves to #2 and I am hoping she calls a wrong letter or gets a bad spin. She calls a few letters and I totally know the puzzle, I am praying it gets to me so I can solve it. #2 spins and lands on….. Bankrupt! I am cheering inside, I know the puzzle, I got this one…
I spin and…… Lose A Turn.
I cannot fucking believe it. It is all I can do to keep calm and keep a smile on my face. #1 spins and solves the puzzle.
Commercial time again, more makeup, more reminders, more nice people telling me I can still win this, $5000 space on the wheel for round 4, it’s anybody’s game.
Back from commercial, another toss up. Buzzer in hand, the category is “Thing” letters come up - W, R, M, E, V, - my brain registers …..something? mirror - and #1 buzzes in with “rearview mirror”.
Shit! I should have buzzed in, I could have had that!
#1 starts the spinning for round 4 - category “song lyrics” - one of my best categories, I know songs. Ok - I can do this, stay calm. #1 spins and correctly gets 2 letters, I am starting to piece together the puzzle and think I have most of it. Then, the dreaded sound, time’s almost up, Pat gives the wheel a final spin, and I know I am screwed. #1 gets to pick a letter and gets 3 seconds to solve - and ….he solves it. I don’t even get a chance in round 4.
Game OVER - I win nada. Zero. Nothing. No money.
It is really hard at this point to keep smiling and pretend like I’m not super bummed and pissed and frustrated and sad. Pat comes over and says something like “It’s sad when someone as nice as Chelsea comes all the way here to play and the Wheel just doesn’t give her the chance”. He announces that I will be getting the $1,000 consolation prize, which is nice - at least it is something (but the tickets to come out were almost $900, not to mention hotel, food, etc.). I have to go back up to the contestant section of the audience to watch guy #1 (the big winner of my game with over 16,000 - girl #2 got over 10,000) play the bonus round. I won’t spoil it for those of you who might watch the show, plus it’s not my story to tell. Both people I played with were super nice, and I am truly happy that they won and had a great experience, I just wish I could have joined them in the winning.
It was not the WORST possible outcome. The thing I was worried about mostly was making a really stupid mistake, like having $50,000 at stake and having only 1 or 2 obvious letters left and having a brain freeze and guessing a totally wrong letter, or adding an “s” or extra sound when solving a puzzle. (Watch the shows airing Monday March 23rd and Wednesday March 25th for some good examples of this). So, at least I didn’t look stupid.
I did have a lot of fun, and I know it is an experience that very few people ever get a chance to have. I was having a good hair day and the make-up girls made me look awesome! I got to mention my grandma, and how she won Queen for a Day - which I know will just make her the happiest she has been in a LONG time. I got an excuse to take a short vacation with my family, to eat some good food, spend some quality time with my husband and kids, go to Santa Monica pier and dip our toes in the (cold) ocean and ride the carousel. I know I live an incredibly blessed life, so it is hard to feel too sorry for myself.
But, dang it would have been nice to have all my debt and bills paid off. And to have the kids’ college funds taken care of. Oh well, I guess the universe has other plans for me.
The show airs Thursday, March 26.
** Just a disclaimer, I obviously didn’t memorize the exact details of the game, as far as the letters in the toss up puzzles, and the other contestants and what they spun and letters called and etc. I think I am pretty accurate with my recollection, but the actual details may vary some.
***Oh, and in case you are wondering - there is no binding contract preventing the contestants from disclosing the results of the game beforehand. I think it is personal preference, most people (winners) want it to be a surprise. I think it might be different for the million dollar winners, but they know they can’t really keep people from telling families and friends and etc.