Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

True Life: I was on Wheel of Fortune

wheeloffortuneOne can only succeed as far as their luck can allow him or her to go, but with one action as simple as a click of a mouse, his or her life can change for the better or for the worse in an instant. Mine changed last May. It was the time of year that when big dreams meander into a strange purgatory between inevitability and just another reverie of the season. This year, however, my big dream would actually amount to something.

Nothing to lose

My friend Dan and I were deeply engaged in a philosophical discussion about a very important subject matter: game shows.

I won’t bore you with our points and reasoning, but we came to a unanimous decision. With difficulty, prizes and show popularity into consideration, we concluded that Wheel of Fortune was definitely the best game show for the average person to be a contestant on.

With that, I went back to my dorm room and sat down before my laptop. After a short while of stumbling through the Internet, I found myself on the Wheel of Fortune web site reading about the process to become a contestant. I eventually filled out a short application, and just like that, I was into their potential contestant database.

Most people who find their way onto the show must go to a “Wheelmobile event,” which is usually held at a huge shopping mall. The Wheelmobile travels the country and gives anyone a chance to apply in person to be a contestant. Names of applicants are then picked at random to go up on stage in front of the large crowd and play the game. Of the people who are picked, only the ones who leave good impressions with the contestant coordinators get invited to come to a much more exclusive audition in which the field is narrowed even further.

Luckily for me, I got to skip that process. I received an email on July 27, 2009 that began, “Congratulations! You have been selected to attend a WHEEL OF FORTUNE contestant audition (by invitation only) for ‘College Week’.” I was told that I would need to be at the Lennox Hotel in Boston on Aug. 11 to audition for the show. I thought about it for a minute, and realized I would be a moron to not at least try. So I called the number they provided and confirmed that I would be attending the audition.

The audition

The big day crept up on me, but I certainly made sure I was prepared; playing a handful of online Wheel of Fortune games, doing various types of word puzzles, and even splurging $5 to buy the official Wheel of Fortune iPod game.

I was among the first to arrive at the hotel ballroom and quickly made acquaintances with the other hopefuls that arrived shortly after me. What seemed to be over 100 people filed into a medium sized ballroom, and I made sure to grab a seat in the front row. Each person in the room was either a college student, or as I soon found out a recent graduate. Those in attendance who were no longer in college were not eligible for College Week, but were encouraged to stay and use this as an audition for the regular show. My “competition,” if you will, was drastically cut down with that fact alone as I was there to audition for College Week and I immediately became more optimistic than outmatched.

The audition process was simple. There was a projector screen that displayed a puzzle board just like the one from the show. The contestant coordinators gave each hopeful contestant a chance to call out a letter and play the game two times. I was caught off guard both times they called me, and chose letters that were not in the puzzle. I was one of probably a dozen or so that got a third chance to stand up and play, and capitalized on the extra chance. I didn’t end up solving it, but I got to call out a few letters and gave them more of a feel for who I am.

Once this part of the process was over, we were each handed a test. We had five minutes to complete as many of the 16 given puzzles as we could. Each puzzle was almost wholly blank, revealing only a few letters. I’m pretty sure I got about eight of them, with some other scattered random words that were probably wrong. The five minutes went by so fast; it was a textbook cliché when I looked up to see that I was finally starting to cruise as the clock ticked down from 10 seconds.

The coordinators collected the tests and left the room to correct them. When they came back, they would be reading a list of people they wanted to stay for the final portion of the audition.

While they were gone, everyone discussed how they did and I was blown away to hear a few people around me saying that they got “about 13 or 14.” It’s pretty clear to me that they were full of it when they were promptly sent home after the coordinators came back into the room over a half hour later.

Needless to say, my name was called. I had made it to the final cut, and to be honest, I had no idea how close I was to actually being on the longest-running syndicated game show in American television history.

This round was structured more like the actual game. We stood up in front of the room in groups of four, spun an imaginary wheel, and competed against each other. I solved one puzzle (“welcoming committee”), and just had fun.

I went into the audition intending to just be myself and more importantly, to be interesting, but when it actually came down to playing, my personality was on auto-pilot as I focused on being calm and well, remaining focused.

As I left the room at the end of the audition, I went to each of the coordinators and thanked them for the opportunity to try out.

If I had made it, I would receive a phone call in two weeks.

The call

Just after 5 p.m. on Aug. 24, I received a call from Culver City, Calif. I knew what it meant, and couldn’t stop staring at the city name. I couldn’t believe it. It was really them. I had been thinking about it non-stop for two weeks, replaying how I did, calculating my chances. I picked up the phone expecting some sort of prank, but sure enough, it was Cassandra, one of the coordinators.

I had been selected as an alternate for the College Week shows that would be taped in Boston at the Convention Center on Sept. 4. This meant if any of the contestants whom were actually chosen for the shows could not play for whatever reason, I would be replacing them. If I didn’t get to play on Sept. 4, I would be put into the regular contestant pool and compete in a future taping of the show.

I brought my whole family to the Boston tapings, but as expected, I did not get to play. What I did get to do is watch five live tapings of Wheel of Fortune, and go through all the motions that a regular contestant goes through. I knew this experience would be valuable in the future, and it was to say the least.

On Oct. 21, I got my second call from Culver City. This time it was Shannon, another one of the coordinators. I was in class so she left me a voicemail and asked if I could fly out to L.A. in two weeks to appear in one of the Nov. 6 tapings. I thought about it for a little while, taking into consideration that mid-terms were right around the corner, but ultimately called her back that night and told her that I would be there.

I booked my flight and hotel, reserved a rental car, informed my professors and began to practice.

I developed a series of statistics based on previous Bonus Round answers with which I found the most logical three consonants and vowel to choose if I were to make it that far. I continued playing the iPod game, and solved countless cryptogram puzzles, which I truly believe are the closest type of puzzle to those used on the show. Simply put, you are given a quotation written in code where each letter represents another letter in the alphabet. By piecing together smaller words, you reveal pieces of longer words and just like on WOF, you have to use context and logic to fill in the missing letters to solve the whole thing.

Spinning the Wheel for real

I flew into LAX with my sister Brandy early on Nov. 5, the day before my taping. We landed around 11 a.m. Pacific time, and had all day to get acclimated with the area and hit up a nearby mall. That night in the hotel room, we watched WOF at 7:30 and even before the Bonus Round, I had fallen fast asleep.

I woke up around 5:30 a.m. and since I went to bed so early, I was wide-awake and ready to go. The contestant shuttle bus departed from the hotel at 7:15 a.m. sharp. Meeting the other contestants was rather unique. It was hard to befriend too many of them, because after all, they were my competition, but at the same time, this bus was full of people living a dream. Ultimately, my competitive nature went dormant, and I opened up to my fellow contestants.

When we arrived at Sony Studios, the little nerves I had completely disappeared. I was just as comfortable in the studio as I would be in my living room or in class. The morning went by quickly as the coordinators went over rules, legal information, etc. Before I knew it, I was sitting in a director’s chair getting a quick spray tan and makeup caked onto my face. Neither of which I am proud nor ashamed of.

I was scheduled to be in the third show of the day, which will air on Dec. 30, 2009 at 7 p.m. (it can be seen locally on WBZ-TV38). Without trying to seem arrogant or pretentious, being up on the stage felt natural and not for one second did my heart pound or my brain scatter. I did gaffe up my words while talking to Pat Sajak once, and actually thought to myself, “You idiot, now you look nervous…”

And for the record, believe me, at 52 years young, Vanna White is without question one of the most beautiful women in the world.

I cannot, however, delve further into the actual taping of the show until it airs, but I can say that it was nothing less than surreal, and should prove to be one of the most important half hours of my life. If not for actually being on the show, for what it took to get there.

It was the little things from sitting in the front row at the audition, shaking the coordinators hands, and simply cheering for the other hopeful contestants that added up. This holds true for literally everything in our lives. It might have been how I did on the test or how I played the game in the callbacks, but had I not simply had that conversation with my friend, none of this would have happened. This article would not exist and you would be doing something else right now.

These little things add up quickly. For me in this one instance, it was in some spending cash, but in the large spectrum of our lives the little things shape us. If I gained any wisdom or knowledge from the experience, it was not how to solve a puzzle in front of a live studio audience; rather live every moment like it could turn into something big. As college students, now is the time for us to utilize every tool that is put before us, and never miss an opportunity to do something that could be our big break. Who knows? You just might get to take your own spin of the wheel of fortune.

Justin Gagnon is a Collegian columnist. He can be reached at [email protected].

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  • F

    Franz TeiserFeb 9, 2010 at 3:30 am

    Millionaire is better! Bad article

  • K

    Kim Doyle WilleDec 29, 2009 at 12:25 pm

    Glad I followed the “Tweet” from WOF in Twitter. GREAT writing and article Justin! I will be glued to my seat watching you tomorrow night. Reading the last paragraphs of your column, I could feel how the Law of Attraction worked for you. Way to go in manifesting your idea, capturing your experiences so vividly and conveying them so well to us the readers. Congratulations Justin on all you’ve accomplished!

  • D

    Dianne YoungDec 7, 2009 at 10:17 am

    Justin, we are so excited for you. Manny and I watch this every night and we will look forward to seeing you.

  • A

    Auntie SueDec 4, 2009 at 5:43 pm

    Great article Justin, Looking forward to watching the show.

  • M

    MultimediaDec 4, 2009 at 9:19 am

    Great article, Justin. Look forward to watching your show!

    – Chris