IT CO_LD HAP_EN - Wheel of Fortune

This guest post is from my daughter Fanny's childhood best friend John Bower. He appeared on Wheel of Fortune on December 12, 2011. This is his story of his moments on the show where he won $46,000! 

Outside the LA Studios of
Wheel of Fortune
I spent countless evenings watching “Wheel of Fortune” growing up.  For some reason, “Wheel” (we’re on a first-name basis now) would be broadcast at 7pm in my bedroom on my antenna TV while JEOPARDY was on downstairs on the satellite TV at the same time.  So every night when 7:28pm rolled around and the final puzzle was solved, I would make my way downstairs to the living room where my parents were yelling at the contestants during the Final JEOPARDY round: 

“For God’s sake, it’s ‘Who is Queen Elizabeth II’ you nitwit!”  

Now, seeing as I had just watched the exact episode 30 minutes prior, I obviously cleaned up on all of the “Wheel” puzzles over the next half hour much to my parents’ amazement.  Never did I think I would get the chance to actually be a contestant on the show and spin the “big” wheel – only this time, I wouldn't come in knowing the answers.  

Why me? 
A snapshot from the video audition
In late September I got an e-mail from the “Wheel Watchers Club” (yes, I, along with every Medicare receiving AARP member in America, have a valid ‘spin ID’) announcing a “Face of the Fan” contest where residents in the Boston area could make a short video explaining why they wanted to be on the show.  Needless to say, I whipped out my iPhone and filmed myself with Lyric (my yellow lab)  and with as much fake energy as I could muster up at 11:45pm (15 minutes before the deadline), talked all about how my dreams would become reality if I were chosen. 

I sent in my video on September 19th, was chosen for and attended the live audition in Boston on September 29th (Rosh Hashanah – day off of work – woo, thanks to the Jewish people!), and on October 9th got a call from Contestant Coordinator Alex Reeves asking me to fly out on October 27th for Wheel’s “Golf Week.”  I asked my boss for the day off (which, again, was already a day off because of parent conferences – can we say fate?) and my wife and I flew out to Culver City, CA on Wednesday evening the 26th (which, coincidentally, is both my biffer Fanny Slater and Pat Sajak’s birthday.  You can’t make this stuff up!)    
Hair and Makeup
The day started with an early wake-up call at the Culver Hotel then a nice, leisurely walk down Culver Blvd. to the Sony Picture Studios.  The other contestants and I were briefed on the rules of the game, reminded of the various categories and what they meant, filled out contract after contract and I probably signed my life away without even knowing it – I was too excited to actually read them.  In groups of three, we were taken into “hair and make-up” – let’s be honest, my coif needed no professional help, and according to the make-up artist, I had “silky smooth skin.”  Who knew?!  While in the make-up chair, a familiar face walked in, caked with make-up and decked out in exercise clothes.  Oh yes, ‘twas Ms. White herself who also commented on how nice my skin was as she touched my cheek.  Never. Washing. My. Face. Again.

Wheel of Prison
She said her “hellos” and “good lucks” to each of the contestants then went on her way for a costume change.  Now when I say “contestant holding area” I really mean prison.  We couldn’t leave the room without being escorted by a staff member, all cell phones had to be off and put away – we had no way of contacting our friends in the audience to let them know which of the 6 episodes we would be on.  Fortunately, I randomly drew show number 3, so we ended up getting out of there before too long.  “John, Monica, Cathy, you’re up!  Let’s go!”  BAM! someone spills a cup of coffee on my pants.  After a minor freak out, the wardrobe crew took care of the stain and before I knew it I was up there behind the wheel looking out to an audience of 200, including my wife, Samantha, and of course Fanny.  As much as I’d like to say I felt comfortable and relaxed up there, I was remarkably nervous. 

Perky Cathy
After missing both toss-up rounds in the beginning, I was nervous that “Perky Cathy” was going to run away with the game.  She was quick to solve and I knew she was a pro based on the practice rounds we had played earlier that morning.  Once I got through my introduction without saying my name wrong or stuttering like I was afraid I might, I started to feel much more at ease. 

“A Come From Behind Win” couldn’t have been a more perfect first puzzle for me to solve.  Once I got that first guaranteed sum of cash, all my worries vanished and I was just there to enjoy the experience.  And watch Vanna.  The second puzzle I totally cleaned up on.  I was clearly torn as to whether or not to risk the money by turning over the 10,000 wedge – I mean, how many opportunities do you have a 50/50 shot at making $10,000? 

Going for it! 
Of course, in the moment you aren’t thinking that way – your mind is telling you “what if this is bankrupt, you lose everything!”  Naturally, I said “F it” and went for the cash! 

I think the funniest moment watching the show back came when poor Monica hit her bankrupt after racking up over $12,000.  Now, don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t funny that she had made all that money and it was taken away from her in a flash – I would’ve been in tears.  But what WAS funny is that I remember distinctly in the moment telling myself to make a face that looked like I felt really bad for her when it happened.  Much to my surprise, I wasn’t quite making the face I thought I was…nor was Perky Cathy:

Perky Cathy and I should be sad 
Perky Cathy went on to solve that puzzle and also won a trip to Jamaica.  She then won the final regular round puzzle, but it wasn’t quite enough to oust me.  In fact, the $50 difference in our scores couldn’t have been any closer without it being a tie.  Once again, my expression tells it all:
 _ T    _ _ _ L _     _ _ _ _ E N

It Could Happen. 
The bonus round left me with a phrase:  _ T    _ _ _ L _     _ _ _ _ E N.  Clearly the first word had to be “it” or “at” but I had no clue what the second two words were.  I’d like to say I had a well thought-out reason for choosing C, H, M, and I, but they literally were the first letters that came to my head.   
IT  C _ _ L _    H _ _ _ EN   

Now, some people are convinced that Pat gave away the answer just before my time started.  I didn’t notice until watching it the 14th or 15th time that he does, in fact, say “I happen to believe you could solve this,” but a. I didn’t notice it in the moment, and b. I highly doubt it was intentional.  Nevertheless, I got the answer before the time started and walked, nay, jumped away with $46,000 and memories for a lifetime. 

Sam (on left) and Fanny (on right)

Fanny does the Wheel of Fortune 'raise the roof' dance
$46,000 later
The 22-minute game went by so quickly I hardly remembered what happened until watching it air in December.  I had a viewing party at my place in MA, my mom hosted a party in Raleigh, and millions of viewers across the nation watched me play my favorite game show.  The day after it aired, I took my chorus to perform at the local senior center – I was a freakin celebrity!  People keep asking me what I’m going to do with the money.  Honestly, because of taxes, I’m not even sure how much I’ll end up getting – probably half.  My wife and I have been looking at houses, so it will definitely help with a down payment.  Then, who knows – maybe we’ll take that trip to Jamaica with Perky Cathy.

The whole experience was worthwhile, not just because of the financial outcome, but because of how salient the message from that final puzzle was.  “It Could Happen.”  Take risks.  Put yourself out there – because you never know! 

Watch the last 2 minutes of John on Wheel of Fortune at this link.

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