My long journey to Wheel of Fortune began with trying out in a Knoxville, TN farmers’ market, getting in trouble with my principal for missing work, getting on an airplane to LA, and finally, I would be taping my episode that day.
We contestants who had stayed at the same hotel (at the special WOF contestant rate) rode a tour bus over to Stage 11 at Sony Studios in the wee hours. I had barely slept, forced myself to eat breakfast since I had no idea when I could eat again, and practiced playing WOF on the app on my phone. Because nerves.
My whole body tingled—I knew today was an important day, and I hoped the adrenaline that had thus far helped me at tryouts wouldn’t be my downfall today.
We hustled quietly backstage after a greeter ushered us in. We didn’t talk much. I normally talk to walls and make friends everywhere I go, but not this morning. Any one of these people could be my competition, and I wanted to be intimidating and scary to my fellow contestants, yet fun and likable for the cameras. You know.
The same producers who had greeted my group in Knoxville stood before us again, and let me tell you, these people should ditch WOF and begin their own motivational speaking gigs. After they finished talking us up, I felt like I could go sack Peyton Manning at the Super Bowl. They checked our IDs and made sure we hadn’t been on game shows before.
Y’all, apparently there is a subculture of people in California who hang out on game shows. I don’t know these people or remember the rules about “if you’ve been on a game show before,” but I will say that I competed against a man and a woman, and one of them had been on more than one game show in her lifetime. I won’t say it gave her an advantage, but it probably didn’t hurt her chances either. Surely by now, she has reached her game show quota. Let’s hope.
The producers watched us introduce ourselves and went into a huddle in the next room to decide the trios who would compete against each other. I felt confident. I knew I could beat any person in the room as long as fortune was good to me. I also know the producers were doing their best to have a pleasing gender/race/whatever split amongst trios. It would be kinda boring to watch three white girls competing against each other.
We met our competition, drew our positions (red, yellow, blue…my grandmother hoped I would be a yellow, but I drew blue) and our days of the week for each episode to air. I drew “3” which translated to Wednesday.
Then we stepped into the studio.
Y’all, it was California beautiful 80-blessedly-non-humid degrees outside, but the studio was freezing (the lights are hot). If you’ve never been to a television set before, it is completely deceptive. Stage 11 was much smaller than it appears on television, and the huge crowd they pan over in the opening credits? Total bunk.
I could, to my relief, look up into the studio audience who was beginning to gather and see my little fan club: my husband, my mom, and my 92-year-old grandmother. I wasn’t allowed to communicate with them (or even have my cell phone with me), so I said a little prayer of thanksgiving that they’d managed not to be mowed down by LA traffic on the way over.
We warmed up by spinning the wheel, which weighs about 5,000 pounds, calling letters, and checking the letter board clearly displayed for us. I had dreamed about standing behind that counter and staring at the huge WOF board, and there I was. They showed us the little clicker things that you pushed to ring in for toss-up puzzles.
We were warned in advance to do our own hair (frightening), but WOF has makeup artists who work on contestants. And this is where I have to brag on my celebrity sightings a little. As I was having my makeup done and feeling very self-conscious about the gobs that eventually ended on my usually sparsely decorated face, Vanna White came in.
Yes, Vanna White. She is beautiful, kind, and so tiny I thought I might break her when I jumped away from my makeup artist and hugged her. Like a lunatic. And though Vanna is beautifully statuesque, she’s only about 5’2”. She was lovely, wished us luck, and was off to her star dressing room with gorgeous size-negative-zero gowns and her own hair and makeup people.
It was then that I looked at my own makeup artist’s nametag. Kimber Eastwood. Now, I may have just gotten off the plane from the country, but I know that last name. I tentatively joked, “I bet you always get the ‘Are you related?’ question, right?” Haha, so clever, Carrie.
Kimber smiled and said, “Oh yes, it happens when people read my nametag.”
“Sooooo…..are you?” I actually squeaked the last part.
“Yes, he’s my dad,” Kimber admitted.
“Hold the phone, sister. Your dad?!?” This beautiful woman who was doing her best to make me camera-ready…was Clint Eastwood’s daughter. Dirty Harry was her dad. And I said the first thing that came to mind. “Wow. I bet that was intimidating for your prom date.” Luckily, she laughed, and we were best buddies the rest of the day.
We watched episodes 1 and 2 of the day in tense agony/ecstasy. We watched a woman from Pennsylvania receive the thanks-for-playing-$1,000 because the wheel of fortune hated her and bankrupted her every single time she spun. It was awful, and we all distinctly felt the pains of how far we had come and how it might not work out after all.
And then our trio was called to the stage. I had this awful feeling I would trip on the way out there, break my nose, and be unable to compete, but we took our places and blinked into the bright lights. We tossed the first puzzle “I’M A BELIEVER” and I knew it, but I wasn’t fast enough. Then Pat Sajak, ever the consummately charming pro, interviewed us briefly about ourselves. Then we went back to spinning, solving, and generally doing the best we could.
The Game Show Pro next to me received a “Food and Drink” puzzle, and while I knew the answer, she just kept spinning until she knew it too and won $27,000 in one round. And I thought, Well, shit.
I played well when I actually got the chance, and when the Game Show Pro finally relinquished control of the wheel (literally the only stroke of bad luck she had that day), I solved the puzzle “NEVER IN MY WILDEST DREAMS.” It was the Prize Puzzle, and I won it. Pat Sajak sauntered over to tell me that I’d get to spend a week in Maui. Maui. And then came the hilariously unflattering picture one of my friends took of her television and my mouth wide open in shock.
I was the second place winner that day, and after watching the good and bad luck be tossed around all morning, I felt so lucky to come out with a second amazing trip (the first was coming to LA!). I learned that I could be a good player, even a great player, but I was competing against other good players and, of course, the fickle Wheel of Fortune.
I couldn’t go home and tell the outcome of my show, but I told everyone it was “worth the trip.” And it was…