Well, I didn’t win the million dollars but I had one of the most memorable experiences of my life. Many have asked if I could share some details about how I ended up on the Wheel of Fortune and what it was like to be a contestant on the show, so here it goes.
I have been watching the show for years and have always enjoyed trying to guess correct letters and solving puzzles along with the other players on TV. My two daughters also enjoyed playing along and we would often take turns in calling out letters. My oldest daughter, Brooke, who was 6 at the time, would ask me if we were able to go on the real show and play the game. I never thought much about it and would often respond with “You never know. Anything is possible.” Shortly after, my wife said that she had seen a commercial advertising that the Wheel of Fortune would be holding auditions in Charlotte, NC. I decided to give it a try and took my daughter, Brooke, with me so that we could share the experience together.
When we arrived there were hundreds of people waiting in line to fill out applications which would later be used to randomly call contestants from the audience. Groups of five people were chosen at a time to come up and play a mock version of the game. This also gave applicants the opportunity to show everyone their personality and presence on stage. Brooke and I spent the afternoon cheering the other contestants on and trying to figure out the answers to the puzzles. We were having a great time, but I could see that Brooke was getting concerned because my name had not been called. I reassured her that we were going to have fun, no matter what happened. The auditions ended, but my name had not been called. The producers said that they would be choosing some names from those that had not been called up on stage and that there was still a chance that we could be called back for a second audition. Brooke looked at me with excitement in her eyes and said, “Daddy, they could still pick us!” I simply replied, “You never know. Anything is possible.”
About a week went by and I received an email asking if I could come to a second audition which would be held in downtown Charlotte in just a few days. Surprised, I showed up at the audition, along with about seventy other people. We spent the next hour or so playing more games of Wheel of Fortune and taking a five minute written test to see how well we could solve puzzles. We were then given about a fifteen minute break in order to give the producers some time to narrow the contestants down to twenty people. If your name was called you were then asked to stay for another round of puzzle solving and given the opportunity to introduce yourself to the producers. Well, nineteen names had been called and I was beginning to think that this might be the end of my audition. I remember saying to myself, “If they call my name, I am going to yell out the biggest ‘Woo-Hoo!’ they have ever heard!” As they said, “The last name to be called today is Brian Ne…”, I raised my arms and yelled my cowboy “Woo-Hoo!” at the top of my lungs, terrifying the poor woman sitting next to me. For the next hour we played the game in groups of five, pretending to spin the real wheel and introducing ourselves to the producers. Once we were finished, our pictures were taken and we were told that if we were selected to be on the show that we would be receiving a letter in the mail in about two weeks.
While waiting, my daughter never gave up hope and was constantly optimistic about the thought of her dad being on the Wheel of Fortune. Two weeks later I received a letter notifying me that I had been chosen to be a contestant. I remember telling Brooke about the news during her ride home from school. I’m not sure who was more excited, but I think she won the prize. The letter stated that it could be up to a year and a half before actually appearing on the show, but to be prepared for a phone call at any time. Well, about eight months later I received the call and found myself boarding a plane, along with my wife, Jacquie, and heading to Los Angeles two weeks later.
While preparing for the show, I had only 3 goals in mind for the actual taping day: 1. Solve a puzzle. 2. Don’t call a letter that has already been used. 3. Have fun. No matter what the outcome would be, I knew that this day would only occur once in my life and I wanted to remember it as an enjoyable experience.
I arrived at Sony Studios the next day, along with 18 other contestants. There would be six shows taped that day and mine happened to be the fifth. After a morning of filling out paper work and reviewing the rules of the game, we were then taken on stage to practice a few rounds and getting used to spinning the wheel. I have to say that the actual wheel is much heavier than I anticipated (over 2,000 lbs.). With each spoke being made out of stainless steel, it is very heavy duty. During the practice rounds we were surprised by a visit from Vanna White, who was wearing a jogging outfit, hair pulled back in a pony tail, no makeup and eating a doughnut. Yes, a doughnut. She welcomed us and helped to calm our nerves a bit. After some more practice we were later escorted to the studio audience and waited for our game to start. After four shows had been taped I headed down to the stage for what would be the most exciting Wheel of Fortune game that I would ever play.
There is nothing like spinning the real wheel and having Pat ask you questions and seeing Vanna turn the letters on the life sized puzzle board. I should also mention that it is much different than playing at home. You not only have to stay focused on the puzzle board but you also have to pay attention to a smaller screen which displays letters that have not been used, another screen which displays the category, and another screen which displays the current score and inventory which each player has. You also have a set mark which indicates where to stand in order to not veer off camera. One interesting thing about the platform on which the players stand is that it is actually three different sections, one for each player. Depending on your height, your platform may be raised or lowered in order for all the players to look good on camera and to also give them a comfortable height for spinning the wheel.
When it was all said and done, I ended up with $2,900. Not bad for having fun and playing one of my favorite games. I can’t thank the crew at Wheel of Fortune enough for such a great adventure. Everyone at Sony studios was so kind and accommodating as well as Pat and Vanna being such wonderful hosts. If the Wheelmobile (the Wheel of Fortune RV) is ever in town, I highly recommend trying out for the show.
The taping was back in January but the actual airing of the show was on April 15th. My wife planned a viewing party and invited all of our friends to come. I think I was more nervous at the party than I was as a contestant on the show. During the game, I looked around the room and noticed my two daughters watching their daddy on the big screen and realized that I walked away with much more than $2,900. In fact, the real winners weren’t even contestants on the show. They were sitting right in front of me in the form of two precious little girls. The expressions on their faces told a story which could not be written in words. It was a life lesson that had been spoken of in the past, but one which they were now experiencing firsthand. On that day they knew: Anything was possible.