So after my adventures in California the day before, the morning of the actual taping, I was supposed to be there around 7:30 a.m. and when I had talked to Gary the Wheel guy, he had me all freaked out about Los Angeles traffic, so I ended up leaving the house around 5:30. Traffic was no problem, and I got there super early. So super early in fact that I was by far the first person there. I pulled into the parking garage and then… waited. It was somewhat awkward since I was not entirely sure I was in the right place. I mean I knew that I was at Sony Studios, and I could see the Wheel of Fortune mural painted on the side of one of the buildings, but I didn’t know if I needed to be in any particular place or not. I called the 2 phone numbers for the Wheel staff that I had been given, but nobody answered. There were some “regular folk” walking by, but it was one of those things where nobody wanted to make eye contact with me because they could tell I didn’t know what I was doing so everyone wanted to avoid eye contact so they wouldn’t feel obligated to help me . While I was waiting, I of course checked the vending machines in the parking garage – no coins (foreboding omen?!?!? )
Eventually 2 other contestants showed up. One of them was a “local”, so he probably wasn’t getting on. The way that Wheel does it for contestants that live in Southern California is that you have to come one time as an “alternate”. That way they’re covered if an actual contestant doesn’t show up or is not able to go on. So since there were 6 shows scheduled to be taped on Friday, there were 18 contestants plus 2 alternates. Eventually the Wheel cast folks showed up and they took those of us that had arrived inside the building.
Once inside, they made sure that everyone was there and then they started with all the paperwork. We had to show ID, sign papers, review the rules of the show, get talked to about “Game Show Scandals” to make sure that nobody tried to cheat, and then they took us all out to the set. At the set they did a few things. First of all, they had us all stand back on the contestant platforms and practice spinning the wheel. It apparently weighs about 4,000 lbs (!). While I was waiting for my turn, I tried to analyze where the bankrupts and lose a turns were, and where I might want to focus. For instance, I was assuming that a “regular” spin would go around maybe a bit shorter than 1 full revolution around. So I figured out if I looked maybe a quarter-revolution to my left, then that would be close to where my spin would end up. So my thinking was that if there were “bad” things there, then I’d need to adjust (spin harder or softer than normal). While we were out there, they also adjusted the heights of the platforms, so depending on each of our height, they’d know to make it taller or shorter, as well as show as what to do with the various wedges if you landed on them.
The other thing that they did was take a picture of us on the set to send in the press releases that they send out to the local newspapers, and also film what they call the “Hometown Howdy”. This is a 10-15 second video that they send to the local affiliate to air the day before or day of the broadcast. The idea is to let the masses know that there’s a local contestant appearing, on the idea that it would make folks more likely to watch (which seems reasonable). So I got up there and read “Hi, I’m Dan from Madeira. Watch me play Wheel of Fortune right here on FOX19″. It took me two takes – guess I’m not cut out for acting…. . The format is the same for everyone – but everyone has different hometown channels of course, and they each have different taglines. So it might be “Eyewitness 2 – on your side” or “Your Hometown station, ABC7″ or whatever. It was here that I first found out that Wheel was switching stations in Cincinnati. I was expecting to read a tagline for WCPO Channel 9, but the Wheel staff told me that it was switching to Fox19 in September (before my show aired).
While we were all on the set, Vanna White stopped by! She appeared to be just arriving for the day (it was maybe about 9:00 or 9:30). So if you’re wondering how Vanna looks with no makeup and not in fancy clothes…. I gotta say she still looked pretty good. Remember, she is 55(!) years old after all! She was also very nice – we didn’t get to talk to her at all individually but she did throw out some tips / suggestions to the group. After she left to get ready and we were all done, they took us back into the “holding pen”. While there it was my turn to get my “makeup” on – it wasn’t much – just some basic foundation stuff. I guess? I gotta say I’m not very used to wearing makeup
It was then that they decided who was going to be on which show. Up until then, all I knew was that there were going to be 6 shows taped during the day. At this point, the staff came out and announced the 6 pairings. I’m not sure quite how they decided who was going to be grouped with who. It may have been random, or they may have specifically chosen people based on geography / gender? In any case, they didn’t say anything – just announced it. I had actually been “scoping out” the competition (of course!) and there were definitely a few people that I did not want to be up against. I was in the first grouping that they announced, with two women – Bonnie and Tala.
After they announced the groupings, then they had one person from each group come up to the front and randomly select one of six balls from a jar. This was to determine which taping of the day the group was on. For some reason, the staff was really trying to play up the suspense of this – making everyone wait to look at their ball until everyone had one, and then doing them one at a time. I’m not really sure why that was, since it wasn’t really a big deal. Bonnie was the picker for my group, and she picked the 1 ball – we were the first show! After everyone had their show order, then each show was brought up and we picked a 1-2-3 to determine which spot we’d be in on the show. I picked a 2, so I was going in the middle in the yellow spot, or “Mister Amarillo” as my kids like to call it!
I gotta say – once I knew that I was going to be on the first show, the whole thing got a LOT more real for me. Knowing that I wasn’t going to have the luxury of watching any of the other tapings meant that I was definitely going to have to do things on the fly. On the other hand, going first meant that I would be done for the day much earlier, so I wouldn’t have to be stuck in the studio all day. Once everyone was all ready, the staff again took us out to the set, where they ran us through some simulated games. Since we were the first show, they started off with Bonnie, Tala and I behind the wheel. One of the staff members, Gary, simulated the role of Pat and we started off with the first tossup question – just like on the show. Bonnie buzzed in first but got it wrong, and I was right behind her with the correct answer!
Then “Pat” went through our contact details, just like on the show, and we had a 2nd tossup. Bing! Nailed it again! Then they had a puzzle put up and we went through it. The details are a bit hazy, but I believe I also solved a regular puzzle and then at some point after we had had a chance to all get used to the wheel and the setup, they rotated us out so that all 18 of us could have a turn. As we were out there, some of the audience started filtering in. The actual studio did not have a very large spot for an audience – almost all of it was filled up with the 20 of us plus all of our guests. I’m not sure how random people get into a taping – when we asked the staff who they were, they said they were “bigwigs”.
After everyone had their turn, we all went back to the “holding pen”. They were in the process of ordering some lunch for the contestants, but I didn’t want to eat anything so soon to when I was first up for my game, so I just hung out. After a little bit, they took the 20 of us up into the audience, off to one side. There was quite a bit of separation between us and our friends and family, and they said that this was intentional. They also gave us specific instructions that we were not even supposed to really look at the audience – the reason being that some people might not have people in the audience so it wasn’t “fair” that someone with a helper in the audience might gain an advantage.
I didn’t spend much time up in the audience before Bonnie, Tala and I were called down to the main set floor. We got ourselves ready and prepared, and then as they were going through the pre-show checks, there was apparently some problem with the actual wheel. I never really got to hear what exactly was wrong – I think that someone heard the wheel making a particular sound. In any case, they took the 3 of us back away from the wheel while they worked on it. Again, the 2 staff members were specifically blocking us from looking around at what they were doing or in the audience, though later my sister told me that at one point someone had actually climbed out from INSIDE the wheel (woah!) It actually took a good 20-30 minutes before they finally had things figured out, and then we got into place and we were off!!
Music came on, Pat and Vanna came out and we were starting the first toss-up question. As the letters popped in, I was waiting for it to come to me, but Tala buzzed in when the puzzle was only
H _ _ _ – _ O O _ _ D
_ _ _ _
and correctly solved it (Home Cooked Meal). At this point I still didn’t know it. Later on after the game when we were talking, Bonnie mentioned to me that she and her family had brainstormed possible puzzles based on the “theme” of our show (Home Sweet Home). Home Cooked Meal was actually one of the ones that they had come up with, and she was bummed that she hadn’t gotten it. After the toss-up puzzle, Pat went around and “introduced” us. When he got to me, I talked a little bit about my world records (Fastest time to visit Every County in Ohio and Fastest time to Jump in All 5 Great Lakes). I also name-dropped my “wonderful” wife and “amazing” kids. I had been worried that I might stumble over the names of my kids (there’s too many of them!!) but didn’t have a problem. Then it was time for the second tossup. For this one, Bonnie and I got it right at the same time
_ NE _F
but she was a hair faster on the buzzer (One of the Gang). I was definitely bummed that I hadn’t gotten either of the first two tossups, especially given how well I did against Tala and Bonnie when we were rehearsing. Why couldn’t we have had THOSE puzzles!!!
First actual puzzle came up, and Bonnie started. She guessed a few letters, but then landed on a Bankrupt, so it was my turn. During some of my pre-show spins on the wheel, I had come up with what I felt was a pretty “average” spin that made it almost exactly a full turn around the wheel, so I used that now. My very first spins landed on the 1/2 Car wedge. I was expecting a 1/2 Kia, since that was what it was for all the episodes that I had been watching, but apparently for this season they had it changed to just 1/2 of different cars (for different shows). For my show it was 1/2 a “Smart Car”. I picked “H” correctly and picked up the 1/2 car sticker, and was on the lookout for the other half! Then I bought an O and a U, using up my money and then spun again. I got an N and then bought the last vowel, an I. I got a G and then 3 R’s. At this point the puzzle was
RO_ _ ING OUT THE RE_ _AR_ET
So I had the puzzle solved (in my head) with $1800 in the bank. I knew there were still 2 Ls left, and I was feeling good about being able to avoid Bankrupts, so I spun one more time. Success!! $500 wedge, I guessed my Ls and then solved the puzzle for $2800, putting me into the lead!!
Then we broke for “commercial”, which for us just consisted of the two staffers leading us away from the wheel while folks messed around with the wedges (changing the highest value, or putting on stickers or the “Mystery” wedge, etc.) Once they were done, we again took our spots and it was my turn to start the round. The puzzle category was “Same Name”, so my first consonant was “N” (since usually these puzzles are something like “Tom and Caribbean Cruise”.
Then I bought the A (2 of them) and my next spin landed on the “Maxwell House Coffee” wedge, which for my show was just $7500 cash, but only if you solve that puzzle. The irony of a Mormon landing on the coffee wedge was not lost on me . I picked a D (2 of them too), and picked up the wedge. 2 Es and 2 Os left me with
_ _ _ _ O _ _
_ O _ E
I had some more money so I decided to go for one more vowel. I could tell that the third word had a vowel still missing in it, and since I is much more common (4th vs. 12th – nearly 2.5 times more popular), I went with an I. Later on I actually looked it up, and there are only 195 seven letter words in the English language with an O in the 5th position and no A or E. 121 of them have I and only 89 of them have U. Unfortunately, in this case, the word was “Support”, so I lost my turn, and Tala managed to go through it and solve the puzzle. (Garden and Support Hose)
Next round was the Prize Puzzle and Tala started. She guessed a few letters but then lost her turn by guessing R, which was not in the puzzle. Over to Bonnie, who filled in a few more letters and then went Bankrupt. I made a face like I was disappointed but of course inside I was going “Cha-Ching!!” . Unfortunately, on my very next spin I hit a bankrupt myself. I don’t know what happened with the wheel – whether I just wasn’t concentrating on my “average” spin, or whether they adjust the resistance on the wheel between rounds (I wouldn’t put it past them). After looking at the recording, the Bankrupt was 2 wedges past a full revolution, so I must have just spun it slightly too hard. Given new life, on Tala’s first spin, she missed the Bankrupt herself by only one tick. She got 2 Ls, an E, U and a B, and then 2 C’s With $3900 plus a trip (it turned out to be to India!), she was ahead by quite a bit at this point and I knew I was in trouble.
After another “commercial”, we went to a 3rd tossup, which was a living thing _ _ _ _ _ / _ _ _ _ _ _. Nobody was getting this puzzle – it went all the way to
before I buzzed in with “Saint Bernard” for a cool 3K ! I still knew that I was quite a bit behind, and my only chance was for Pat pulling one of his “infamous” $5,000 final spins. I had been decrying those beforehand as unfair, but now it was my only chance! Pat disappointed though – going for only $800. The category was “Things” so I started and went with an S, of which there was one. Tala guessed T and Bonnie guessed R – neither of which were in the puzzle, so it got back around to me and I went N (2 of em). Tala got 3 Ds and at this point I knew the last word was “Diamonds”, but I was still trying to figure out the first word. But Bonnie apparently had it solved, because she went with Z (2 of them) and then she solved it – “Dazzling Diamonds”. I gotta say that even at this point I did not know what it was, so even had it come back to me, I don’t think I’d have solved it.
Pat came by to shake hands and say goodbye, and Bonnie and I were ushered backstage and up to the “processing” room, where I signed my paperwork for the $5800. While Bonnie and I were up there, we could see Tala in the bonus round. It was “Thing” and the default letters came up
_ _ _ L _ _ / S _ E _ _ _ N _
She was guessing her letters, and I was urging an H, but she went with D, C, M and O. She only got one extra letter (a C at the end of the first word) and appeared to not really have any idea. I certainly had no idea so it was even more dramatic when with literally 1 second to go she pulled “PUBLIC SPEAKING” out of nowhere to collect 30 Grand!!
After my show was done, I went back into the audience to sit down with Kerry, Anne and PJ. I asked if we could stay for one more taping, just so that I could see what it was like from the other side, and they agreed. The taping wasn’t anything spectacular. One of the guys that I was trying to avoid (back when we were picking out teams) was on this episode and he did not do well. It wasn’t necessarily anything wrong with him – he had some bad wheel luck. There was one egregious misstep (IMO) – during the 2nd puzzle he had $2900 in the bank and a good chunk of the puzzle revealed. He landed on the “Mystery Wedge” (which is either a Bankrupt or $10,000). My plan was to almost never flip this over, since a 50/50 shot at $10K is not worth a ton, especially since if you’re wrong, not only do you lose all your money, but you give up (essentially) your shot at winning this puzzle AND let your opponent get the money for doing so. But when he called his letter and got 3 of them, which are worth $1,000 each, he was risking $5900 total on that flip, so to me this was the exact scenario NOT to do this. He flipped it over, and got Bankrupt . Later in the game, he landed on the $5,000 wedge but his letter wasn’t in the puzzle. After the taping as I was walking back to my car, I saw him consoling his girlfriend in the parking garage – she was really quite broken up about it…
After that 2nd episode was over, I decided I had had enough, so we made our way out of the studio. We met up with Tala and Bonnie and took a few pictures together.
Then it was on to the rest of the California trip