I am so thrilled to finally be able to share that I was a contestant on ‘America’s Game’, Wheel of Fortune. In this post, I want to provide helpful information for future contestants and also give fans an idea of what a day in the life of a contestant is. This post is long but I am sharing as much as I can about this incredible experience. Please note that I was a contestant during COVID so depending on when you read this some things will have changed.
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On the LA Dreaming Podcast, my friend Bruno and I talked about our experiences being contestants on Wheel of Fortune. At the moment you can listen to the podcast through Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Amazon Music, iHeartRadio, Stitcher, or Podbean. We are working on making it available on more platforms.
Back in February, I went to a taping of Wheel, though that taping was not my first time on the set. I took the Sony Studio Tour and saw the set several years ago. But, I had never been to a taping so I decided 2020 was the year to go. It had been a long time since I watched the show. During the taping, I realized that I was quicker than some of the contestants during the toss-ups and figured out the puzzles quickly too.
When you go to a taping you are the audience for three shows. By the third show, I was saying to my friend that I couldn’t believe that I have never thought about being on the show. I went home that day and set up all future episodes of Wheel to record on my DVR so that I could practice.
I then put “audition for Wheel of Fortune” on my to-do list but then the pandemic hit and taping stopped. I kept telling myself that now was the time to go ahead and make my audition tape so I was ready when they reopened. I also joined the Wheel Watchers Club which put me on their email list.
Over the summer I got an email from the show saying that they were looking for contestants that were within driving distance from Los Angeles. I submitted my application immediately. They say that making a video is optional, but here is why I think it makes a difference. The video gives you a chance to show your camera presence and your personality. A friend of mine also applied for the show but did not include a video as I did. I was the only one out of the two that was invited to audition.
I heard back from the show within two weeks of submitting my application. The email had a link where I could sign up for my Zoom audition. My audition was supposed to have three potential contestants but the third person never showed up. The other potential contestant and I Zoomed with a producer who talked us through what we were going to do.
We started with some toss ups and had to use pens as our pretend toss-up devices. After that, we each had our own private assessment where we had a limited time to solve puzzles. They were set up similar to the final round where they had a limited amount of letters and we had to guess what the answers were.
Even though I did not get every single puzzle correct I knew I did well enough that my chances of getting on the show were good. I solved enough to show that I was good at the game but I also kept guessing the ones I was unsure of. They don’t want players to stand there quietly instead of talking out loud with their guesses. Talking out loud while you figure it out is really something that they want to see.
Four days after my audition I got an email offering me a chance to be on the show! I knew my chances were good since they needed local contestants but I was still so overwhelmed and excited. It was a very emotional moment for me.
The email had the taping date that they wanted me for but they did let me know they would reschedule me if I couldn’t make it work. Luckily, I was able to make that date work with my schedule so my next step was getting a COVID test. I got a lot of paperwork ahead of time and had to email my little ‘chat with Pat’ info. The paperwork they send contestants has helpful information for the taping and a bunch of forms that you have to fill out. Because of COVID, I knew I wasn’t going to be able to invite anyone to come to support me at the taping but I had a great system of support that helped me prepare.
This is when I kicked up my preparation for the show to the next level. I started Googling Wheel of Fortune tips so that I could step my game up. There are articles, blog posts, and even a podcast with information to help contestants out. You’ll see tips like GHPO are the most common letters used in the final puzzle, eat irons is a good guide for letters to guess in most rounds, and that knowing how the categories work is important. But, in this post, I want to focus on the overall experience so that you know what to expect. Most of the other articles tell you how to play but don’t go into detail about what your day will look like.
However, even though I came in as prepared as I felt I could have been, I also knew there was luck involved. Not only do you need luck with the wheel itself but also with the contestants you play against. So I knew that only so much was in my control.
My call time for when I had to check-in at Sony was 7:00 am. I knew I wanted to wear a color that would pop on camera and also followed their wardrobe guidelines. All of the contests waited in a holding area in the parking garage until we got moved for prep in the Jeopardy stage.
On our way into the stage, they let us take pictures with the Wheel wall. Due to COVID I didn’t really want anyone touching my phone so I figured I would use my pictures from when I came to the taping earlier this year.
So much happened when we were in the Jeopardy stage. We were all given a little bag that had a mask and all the things that we might need to get us safely through our day like hand sanitizer and wipes. Next, they checked the spelling of all of our names for the name tags and did a few different clarifications with each contestant.
Then came the moment everyone was waiting for. They announced which of us would be in which episode. Six episodes were taped that day. My name was called for episode two which I loved. I was thrilled that I wasn’t going to have to sit through five games before playing. Then they drew a color for each of us. I got the blue position which was perfect for me.
We had a Zoom session with a lawyer who went over a few different parts of the show with us. Then one of the producers went over the different rounds, puzzle categories, and such. They really prepare you for the show and drill into your head how important it is to buy vowels. Guess who is kicking herself now for not buying vowels when I had the money during the prize puzzle round?
We then took a trip to the Wheel of Fortune stage to practice spinning. I had heard the wheel was heavy but my goodness was it hard for me to spin it. Even though they were able to raise the platform I think being short really makes spinning the wheel trickier. This practice round is to get you used to spinning and talking loud enough to be heard on camera.
None of us had any idea what time it was as we couldn’t have our phones with us. I couldn’t use my Apple Watch so when they took us out for lunch I thought it must be close to 12:00 pm. Nope. It was 9:00 am. They gave us lunch as breakfast and then we got a second lunch later. It was weird but it’s free food so it’s all fine. They tell contestants to bring snacks but I never needed mine because they kept us well feed. We had two meals and a snack break where you could pick what you wanted from the snack bar.
Once we returned to our holding area in the Jeopardy stage, it was time to start going through hair and makeup. For those of us who would be filming before lunch, we had to get mic’d up. It was during this time that we got our name tag, something I will always keep as a fun memento.
At this point, I was getting anxious. I wasn’t nervous to be on camera or anything like that. I had put pressure on myself because I wanted to win big and be able to give myself a good financial boost. I was so nervous to let myself down. And I was nervous that I might make an embarrassing mistake. Plus, I wanted people to realize that I was good at the show. There was a lot that I put on myself that caused my nerves.
We then returned to the Wheel of Fortune set and did practice rounds. My group didn’t get to practice a toss up but we practiced spinning and guessing. They want you to move quickly. If you aren’t spinning you should be guessing or buying a vowel. Keep the game moving!
Eventually, it was time for the show to begin. I was in the audience playing along but also trying to stay calm and focused. After the prize round the second show was called downstairs. They went back over our ‘chat with Pat’ cards and gave us last-minute advice.
Once we stepped up to the wheel we could take our masks off. I had a little ledge to put my white thing on for spinning. They filmed us clapping and then Pat and Vanna appeared. Once Pat was at the wheel I had to grab the toss up device. They told us that you cannot have your thumb hovering over the device which is good to know when you are practicing at home.
You will most likely have an idea of what the theme of your show is ahead of time. I knew from the paperwork I got that the first five games had a shopping spree theme and the sixth game was America’s game. The first toss up puzzle is typically related to the theme. I had looked up phrases involving shopping and popular American cities.
When our toss up appeared, I knew almost instantly that it was “BARGAIN SHOPPER”. I was so happy to be the first one to buzz in and know that I was leaving with at least $1,000 that I earned from a win! That also meant that I was the one that Pat interviewed first.
For the second toss up, I tried buzzing in after Kathy buzzed in but didn’t say anything. James beat me out by half a second. My biggest takeaway from the toss ups is that the second you have an inkling jump on it.
In practice, I tried being a good team player by paying attention to the other players and cheering them on. I had a producer come up to me and tell me to keep my eye on the puzzle and the used letter board the whole time. So I tried to clap and be supportive but also stay focused and prepared should the round get to me. I knew the answer to the third puzzle halfway through, so of course, I was hoping it would get to me. It didn’t, but I was ready when the next puzzle did.
Every commercial break we would put our masks back on and step away from the wheel. We could sip water and listen to the producers while someone changed spaces on the wheel. You do not get any downtime. The second the camera is not rolling you have someone talking your ear off about what you should have done or should do next. It is so hard to get out of your head and relax when you don’t have a moment to just breathe and think.
When we came back for the prize puzzle round, I started off spinning. I really wanted to win the prize puzzle so I could get a honeymoon. This round was trouble for me between there being no n’s, the first letter I guessed and getting bankrupts and lose a turn. When it came back to me I should have bought more vowels, but “BREEZE” was not popping into my head. I was thinking Greece might be the last word of the puzzle so when Cathy guessed g and it wasn’t up there I didn’t have any time to realize it was breeze before I lost my turn again.
For the triple toss ups, our category was ‘Around the House”. Early on in the first one, “living room couch” popped into my head but I thought I’d wait for one more letter to confirm. I knew “living room table” would have fit too so I hesitated, Matt buzzed in and was correct. That one haunts me because I knew it before anyone buzzed in and I cost myself an extra $2,000 for hesitating. Honestly, if I had been wrong I don’t think anyone would have made fun of me. I cannot stress enough how much I recommend buzzing in the second you think you know it. Even if you are wrong the odds are worth it and I wish I had been given that advice.
The other two toss ups I realized the answer a half a second too late. Then it was our final puzzle. The answer for this was just not coming to me early enough and that happens sometimes. Had Kathy not gotten it when she did I would have guessed it correctly at that point but since she got it right, it was too late for me to win that one.
Do I wish I was the big winner? Of course! Everyone there wanted to be the big winner. But, I won two puzzles and left with the most amount of money that I have ever made in 18 minutes.
Backstage, I started filling out my post-show tax information. We watched James with the final puzzle and I wish he had gotten it. Watching the other shows was a bit hard. We all had to stay to be the audience for the other episodes. It was hard to think that with certain groups you might have performed better and it is a bit of a mind game at some point. It’s also really hard to watch a game where you know the puzzle and it takes the contestants much longer to figure it out. But, it is 100 times easier when you are not actually playing the game because you have more time to think.
That is honestly how watching the show is just going to be for me for a while. It is so hard to not imagine how you would do with a different group and different puzzles. But it is what it is and at the end of the day I am very proud of myself. I know I’m good at the game and I got a great amount of prize money… and an all cash prize at that!
It was about 5:30 or 6pm when we finally got to leave the studio. It was such a long, exhausting day, and keeping the secret of how I did on the show has been hard. I am so happy now to be able to share all about my experience.
I want to end this by sharing my biggest takeaways from my experience.
How to Become a Wheel of Fortune Contestant
If you apply online, make a video. Explain why you would be a good player and briefly talk about yourself. Show personality!
Be familiar with the different types of puzzles the show has so you are properly prepared for your audition.
In post-COVID times, go to a Wheel Mobile audition if there is one in your area.
For me, it made all the difference in the world that I was a local contestant during the pandemic. I got on the show on my first try. I have seen people online say they have been trying to get on the show for years. I am very aware of how blessed I was to get the opportunity.
Tips For Wheel Of Fortune Contestants
Buy vowels – this will get stressed so much during the taping. Buying vowels is helpful because it can buy you a moment to think and potentially help you to know what letter to buy next. I got roasted a bit on twitter for buying an extra vowel on the second puzzle I solved but to me it was a safety vowel to confirm I was right.
Buzz in on a toss up the moment you have an inkling of what it is. If you’re right you get money and if you’re wrong I doubt anyone will make fun of you. I hate that I was too worried about what people would think if I buzzed in and said the wrong thing.
Pay close attention to the used letter board. Do not be that person who loses their turn for calling a letter that has already been called
Practice for the final round. I would have my boyfriend show me a final puzzle and I would guess my letters. He would fill in what I guessed and count down from ten seconds. It really helped me think outside the box and think quickly.
Download the wheel app and play or get the Wheel of Fortune Wii Game or Switch Game.
Most importantly watch the show and become familiar with how certain puzzles work.
Think of possible puzzles with the theme of your show.
If you have always wanted to be on the show please apply. Someone has to be on the show and that might as well be you.