People like this guy is why you should not think you can win at game shows.
OK, where do I start? I guess just a play-by-play of what my mind was going through?
So, we all take our spots and all wish each other good luck and no hard feelings towards whoever wins. I hear Jim reading the slate (with a Popeye-esque accent) and I think “Here it comes…” and then we wait for that Carnival intro to finish for that famous opening spiel. Pat walks right up to us and I’m already picking up the buzzer before he even reaches his spot. I played along with every Toss-Up from the previous shows from the audience complete with me holding a pretend buzzer. I got almost all of them before the contestants (I know I didn’t get “STATEROOM STEWARD” because I had never heard of that). I did not solve the Toss-Up I played during rehearsal, however.
So, right off the bat is where things get interesting. The instant I got my theme, I immediately came up with an ever-growing list of puzzles themed towards cruises, sailing, fish, boats, anything on or in the water. Some I came up with in my head right away, like “PORT AND STARBOARD” ( ) and “POPEYE THE SAILOR MAN”. I opened up MS Word and began typing anything that came to mind. Then, I went to this extensive WOF episode guide and did a Ctrl-F search for “Cruise”, “Fish” and “Sea” and made note of the dates. Then I went to the compendium and wrote down all the themed puzzles from those weeks, marking such puzzles with an asterisk to note that they had been previously used on the show. I then alphabetized the list to organize it by category.
As you saw, having a list of possible themed puzzles and key words really paid off.
Instead of listening for Pat to announce the category, I just look at the Used Letter Board since it shows up there about a second before he says it. I see that it’s Places and I think “Could it really be PORT AND STARBOARD?” and then the blanks come up… with an ampersand where it’s supposed to go! It’s the answer after all! I can’t believe it! Let’s just make sure Vanna touches a D (poor choice of words, I know…) and BAM! I didn’t realize how much I spazzed when I pressed the buzzer. The crowd went nuts, and I’m really thankful that I had a great crowd.
The Pat Chat goes well. For those wondering why I didn’t mention BAV, I just thought it’d be best not to because it would probably seem a little shady if I mentioned that, plus I wouldn’t have been able to mention the name or URL of it anyway. That doesn’t mean I didn’t mention it off-camera, though.
Second Toss-Up: Song Lyrics. Oh, boy… the category that I’m always griping about because of the constant quoting of oldies and never newer stuff. Thankfully, that doesn’t matter. The “_ H” means it has to be “OH”, so “_ _ _ T” must be “WHAT” or maybe “JUST”. “OH WHAT… A NIGHT! *DING*”. Nice that they left my Jersey Boys comment in (my mom is actually the fan in our family, but I did see the Broadway show with her not long after it opened). I was afraid they’d have to cut it because of copyright. I kind of froze up when Pat asked me “Do you know what Jim is going to say?”, but I wish I had answered with “Here’s tonight’s featured prize?”. It’s during the Prize copy that Pat gives his first pep talk to all of us.
And I get the first spin of the Wheel! “Let’s go!” I made sure to keep my spin power in mind from the several times I spun during practice and I was expecting to land somewhere between the MDW and full-size Bankrupt. I got a little spooked when it slowed down near the MDW, but was relieved for it to go past to a decent amount. SIX T’s! Great start for me. Even better that I decided to go with T, figuring the first word was “DON’T” or “CAN’T”, rather than the other common apostrophe follower S, because S was a dud in this puzzle, along with R. Not only that, but with SIX three-letter words in the puzzle, surely at least one of them had to be THE, and I ended up with two of “T _ _” so of course the next thing to do is buy the E.
_ _ _ ‘ T / _ E T
T _ E / _ _ T / _ _ T
_ _ / T _ E / _ _ _
It’s at this point that I see “OUT OF THE” and know the top row has to be “DON’T GET” or “DON’T LET”. “Don’t get the ___ out of the ___”? “Don’t LET the… DON’T LET THE CAT OUT OF THE BAG! That’s it!” I know I have to keep spinning so I can have a good lead before the Prize Puzzle round. Far too often, people solve with around $2,000 in R1 with an early solve just to get one under their wing only to end up thousands behind because of someone else winning the PP.
Now, I knew I had to be cautious here. On my first spin, I went from the yellow $600 (starting position) to the yellow $700, which is five wedges clockwise (from the camera’s POV). Count another five wedges clockwise and that puts me at the pink $600 which is right next to Bankrupt. Uh-oh! I better put a liiiittle less effort into this spin. Obviously not like Alex Trebek’s infamous Final Spin, but I have to try to not land on the Lose a Turn three wedges from the Bankrupt, too! I put less force into the “push away” and it works! I land short of the Lose a Turn and on the Prize Wedge! Now, it was made clear that we could not aim the Wheel for a specific wedge, but they didn’t say you couldn’t put a little more or less effort into your spin. Very important advice for future contestants. There’s a difference between “aiming” and “avoiding”. I’m not the first person to use this strategy. On his episode, Josh Woo did some “Super Saiyan” spins, as he put it, to avoid drifting to the MDW’s Bankrupts and it paid off for him. Pat had kind of a smirk on his face and was giving some side-eye in Harry’s direction as if to say, “Did that spin look shady to you, Harry?” and I’m praying that they don’t embarrass me by asking me to re-spin. To my surprise, the audience cheered when I landed on the Carnival wedge and I called the sure H and I got to show off some cardboard!
Now that I have a bonus in my bank, I’m solving, plus all the multiples are gone anyway. I was extra cautious when solving to avoid any kind of involuntary slip of the mind. I’m a fast talker in general, so I often stumble over my words or correct myself if I get carried away. Some audience members actually gasped when I asked to solve, and it’s audible in the broadcast, too. $13K after Round 1?! WHAT?! This game is already probably mine, hence my sincere apology to Noelle and Bonnie. Everything’s smooth sailing (and spinning ) from here. Now I don’t necessarily have to worry about winning the “Trip Puzzle”.
Every commercial break, we step down and get our makeup touched up. Alex the CC comes with three bottles of water for us to take a sip from. They tell me I did a great job in that round, and I assure Bonnie and Noelle that was only the first round and there’s still way more opportunities for them to win some money.
Since I’m at blue, I’m the closest to the crew. I notice that there is a stagehand named Bob that holds all of Pat’s cue cards, so I can get a head start on knowing the next round’s category before the cameras are rolling. Surprise, surprise, R2 is Before & After. Before we start rolling, Pat leans to me and says “That was great, Robert, but now we have to let someone else play, okay?” and I make a playfully-pouty “Okay… “. Now, as awesome as it would be to sweep the game, I want both of these nice ladies to solve at least one puzzle each, so I really wanted to see the others play for once.
Unfortunately, Bonnie doesn’t get much of a chance because she hits Bankrupt on her second turn. Then, Noelle hits the purple $500 where the Carnival wedge went and I just want to apologize to her again. Once the E’s come up, it’s obvious to everyone both in-studio and at home that the “Before” is “HOME SWEET HOME”. But what’s the “After”? Noelle guesses a bad R, so I’m up once again. M is guaranteed to be up there at least twice, so if it could be “HOME GAME”, I’ll know if there’s a third M. I go for the M and Pat says there are only two. Darn it. I’m still stumped. Let’s buy the obvious O and hope that appears in the final word. Nope. Got to spin again… The S in SWEET still needs to be called, maybe it’s “HOME BASE”? Nope, only one S. I decide to try a risky vowel buy since I figure the second letter in the last word is a vowel, so I go with the most popular remaining vowel, A. Success, it’s in that spot!
Now to figure out the two consonants surrounding it… I figured neither of them were W, but I had to buy some extra thinking time… I’m still being cautious of where my next spins will land, and I notice my next spin might land near Free Play, which would be perfect for me at this point, so I go for it. At this point, a null cycle was edited out. I landed on the Mystery Wedge next to Lose a Turn. Oh, boy! I look at the ULB to see what common letters haven’t been called yet. N is still there, maybe that’s in the word. So I call N, hoping Pat can do the Mystery spiel on me, but it wasn’t meant to be. And for those who were wondering, had I called a right letter, YES, I would have flipped the Mystery Wedge. I was already ahead by $13K, so even if I did flip the Bankrupt, that would also remove the opportunity of finding the $10K for everyone else. Bonnie spun a Lose a Turn and Noelle called a dud K. Back to me again.
Once again, my spin pattern puts my next spin around Free Play, so I try for that and I get it this time! I think of what semi-common consonants are left and what could fit between the A and E, but this is a risk-free turn, so a wrong guess is A-OK. No L, but no penalty, as I state. More info out of the way, but now my next turn counts. I didn’t notice Pat’s “You’ve seen the show” comment until watching the show. I’m kind of frozen up at this point, so I just go out on a limb and guess C. Buzz. Oh, well. Bonnie spins and confidently calls a P. She must know something, and I’m glad to see her take a risk and go for that final consonant to avoid the minimum. Nice job, Bonnie. DUH! HOME PAGE! I should have known that since I work with computers all the time and I took two web design courses in college. Then again, most think of it as one word, not two. During the break, even the CC’s didn’t know the final word, they tell us. No sweep, but I’m glad Bonnie got to solve a puzzle, paltry amount or not.
It’s Prize Trip Puzzle time! AKA the most important round of Wheel of Fortune other than the Bonus Round, of course. I look over to Bob and see him holding a “FUN & GAMES” cue card. Okay, Fun & Games, probably -ING to start, should Noelle not call those herself. Good start for her with an N, then multiple E’s and A’s, then… B? When there’s an obvious G? Okay, then… My turn. Don’t blow it.
As I said earlier, I made a big MS Word document of possible sailing-themed puzzles and key words to prepare in advance. In said document, I also included key Prize Puzzle words. Words like SUNSHINE, BEACH, ISLAND, POOL, and… WATER! “_A_E_” has to be “WATER”! And the first word has to be some ridiculous brochure adjective. I skip the G for now and go for the 99% likely T. And there’s one in the adjective. Great! Now I see that the adjective has to end in “-ATING”, so I buy the guaranteed I in hopes of there being more than one. Three! The leftmost I reveals the adjective as “EXHILARATING” (bleh), so “EXHILARATING WATER –I-E”… SLIDE! Carnival commercials often show people going down water slides! That’s it! Again, many people write “waterslide” as one word, but it’s the only thing that makes sense, so I double check the ULB to make sure S-L-D are all still up, and I don’t waste any more time. I’m not risking another spin, especially because my spin pattern once again put me in the “danger zone” (everything between the pink $600 and red $800). I already have a trip, but I could use the extra score boost, of course. I didn’t really care where the trip was.
I had been hoping before I even got chosen for the show that I would get to call the Prize Puzzle the “Trip Puzzle” on air. Not only do I get to say it, but Pat echoes it! I got Pat to admit the Prize Puzzle is always a trip! More importantly, this game is mine, assuming nobody gets lucky with a long puzzle and a $6,000 Speed-Up.
During this break, we are told that the Final Spin will come sometime during this next segment, but we will probably make it to at least five rounds because of how quickly the game has been going. We go back up to the podiums and we get the Toss-Up buzzers ready and tested before the cameras roll. As we do this and Pat gets back into place, he tells Noelle and Bonnie, “You got those detonators ready? Are you ready to blow up Robert?”. They laugh and Pat smiles and winks at me. I would have loved for this comment to have been on-camera, but since so many people still don’t get that Pat’s deadpan attitude is part of his shtick, people would have taken it the wrong way. There were already people on social media who thought Pat hated me.
$3,000 Toss-Up is a Rhyme Time puzzle. Tricky category. Hopefully nothing stupid like that artichokes thing on the first show. Since I had buzzed in so early on the first two Toss-Ups, it felt like it took forever for someone to buzz in on this one. When it goes for quite a while playing at home, my mind gets kind of sidetracked, thinking “Quick! Someone’s going to buzz in right about now! Think!” Watch very closely at the video (I recommend Wheel’s montage video in 1080p) and you’ll see that Bonnie pressed her buzzer about a tenth of a second after me, then Noelle. All three of us within about a quarter of a second! When did this become Jeopardy!?
Yay, I get to start R4 and there’s actually time to play it! What Are You Doing?, once again, -ING is a no-brainer. I start with the N, then the I, and the only logical three-letter word that could follow “-ING IN” is “THE”, so I feel it’s safe to buy an E, then go for T. Once a T at the end shows up, it all comes to me: LIVING IN THE MOMENT, which I certainly am! M is the last multiple, and my spin pattern puts me near $5000, so I say those infamous words, “One more spin”, which I soon deeply regret, but it’s okay, because now I finally give Bonnie another chance to play, but then the same happens to her! And then Noelle makes another bad call with R! Man, every time they finally get a chance, they lose it. And both ladies just missed the $5000 (much to my relief). At this point, since I’m broke, I decide just to play the rest of the puzzle out. I’m already ahead by a ton, so with only a few consonants left, they can’t catch up if I do hit a penalty again. L… V… and I save the M’s for what I hope could be a $5000 spin, but I end up a little short and have to settle for the minimum, but I get another puzzle!
I’m glad for everyone’s sake that we have time for a Round 5. Things is the category and that unmistakable bell sounds. Vowels worth nothing, consonants worth… $1500! I’m in the clear! The game is over now but it would be nice to see Bonnie or Noelle get this last one. Bonnie starts with the logical S, so I decide to go for T on my turn, or N if Noelle would call it first. The T comes up as the first letter, and I’m thinking words that start with “TIR-“. “TIRED?” Hmm… nothing logical fits with this category, and I can’t think of any logical words starting with “TAR”, “TER”, “TOR” or “TUR”. What other letter could go between that T and R in a five-letter word? How about “THREE”? It does fit the plural category. Hmm…
Bonnie calls the dud N and right after that, as you all saw, a light bulb so huge that not even the Incredible Hulk could unscrew went off. Pat knew I was ready to pounce on it the way he called my name. The last multiple, H! Pat says “Let ’em come up”, which I know he always says when he thinks the contestant is ready to solve. “THREE WISHES!”, and that’s the game, and now Bonnie and Noelle’s families hate me. I hate to see anyone get the pity thousand. I really felt bad that these ladies couldn’t get any more chances to get a puzzle, but what more could I do? Call bad letters on purpose like Nura from Veteran’s Week?
I tell the ladies as we go to break, “Great game” and “No hard feelings”. They were both very happy for me, or at least they showed it. I can tell on the inside, Noelle wanted to punch me in the face, though, and I don’t blame her.
I’m going to Bonus Land! They walk me to center stage and explain the rules, including that the Bonus Wheel must go all the way around. The Bonus Wheel is set in place and John Lauderdale is my “coach” for this segment! I do a practice spin and then he sets it to the first A in AMERICA’S. My parents and Emil are moved to the center section of the audience for the camera and John tells me to introduce my guests from left to right: Dad, Mom, Emil. We rehearse my introductions of them, and I ask if I can refer to Emil as “Mr. New Baby Buggy himself”, but the lawyer (I believe Elli was her name) has to ask Harry Friedman if that’s okay, because they do not like time periods or moments from previous episodes being mentioned by contestants for some reason. She goes to ask him, and unfortunately, but understandably, it’s a no.
John and I actually get to have a little chit-chat in the meantime before Pat comes back on stage. I ask him if he had been with Wheel since the very beginning, which he was. I told him that the Shopper’s Bazaar pilot leaked online and I got to watch it. We agreed that it was hilarious. The prizes, the “Stop the Wheel!”, the screaming ladies… And then we talk about the Edd Byrnes pilots, and John confirmed that he was indeed drunk. Then I ask him if he’s heard of the Wheel fansite Buy a Vowel Boards and he said that he has! Hi, John! Pat’s ready to go and my heart is racing even more than it was as the top of the show.
I was caught off-guard by Pat’s “Solve the puzzle, Robert” comment. I wish I had come up with something good to say. No big deal, though. My maingame total is written in marker on a cue card for Pat to read off of, and then is the important question, “Who’s out in the audience with you?” Yay, everyone gets to see Emil again! And my proud parents, of course. I always wear a gold cross necklace that I have had since I was about 4, but the dress code prohibits necklaces, so I gave it to my mother to wear before I left the hotel. Now for the fun part, spinning the Wheel that’s actually not so heavy! I always get a kick out of the Bonus Wheel landing on a non-letter space, so it was pretty cool to see my spin land on the apostrophe, which I noted out loud, but the closed captions misinterpreted “The apostrophe” as “Awesome.”
Now we take the walk to center stage and I await the big news. Is my category the common Thing or Phrase, or something that might be easier, like Food & Drink, or Place? I check the ULB monitor rather than listening for Pat and it’s Things. I guess that’s a little easier than Thing. RSTLNE… Wow, that’s a lot of letters in that final word. It has to be PICTURES. Okay, so obviously, I have no idea on the completely-blank first word, but I figure it has to be an adjective, meaning this is one of those all-too-common “adjective/noun” puzzles. There’s a good chance it ends in Y, so I call that just to be safe. Normally, I would call P, but I’m not wasting the P, C, I or U in PICTURES, so I decide on H instead, then G. G H P O, which was called twice earlier this week, are indeed the most popular three and a vowel in bonus puzzles in Season 33. Y comes after P in consonants. Previously, B was ahead of both. You can thank Emil for them changing that, surely. Of course I call O for the vowel since it’s almost-always the best vowel of the puzzle.
Letters are in. Now we see how much more help I get. Pat makes a high-pitched “Hm” and I’m thinking “Is that good? Vanna isn’t moving yet…” and then the top row lights up from left to right, save for one letter. G… O… O… Y? IT’S GOOEY–wait, no, no E. What else could it… OH! Okay, I got this! GOOFY PICTURES! YES! This reminded me of that amazing “WACKY NEIGHBOR” solve. They didn’t really want this puzzle won. Probably a 6/10 on the BR difficulty scale. Now for the envelope. There was no car our week, so it was all cash. I know it’s probably going to be $33,000, but I do make a comment saying I would prefer anything but, and I know that comes off as cocky, but come on, we all know the minimum’s overabundance. Even the general public knows.
If it is $33,000, I’ll still cheer and everything, of course. I’d be like those Deal or No Deal contestants who clap and say “That’s okay, that’s okay” after eliminating a $100,000+ case. IT’S $45,000?! YESSSS! Oh, Lord, I look so stupid jumping up an down like that. And my voice, uggghh. I already hate my voice to begin with. I was trying to disguise it to make it sound deeper, but I pretty much disregarded that as the show progressed because I was too focused on more important things. But still, I WON SOMETHING ABOVE THE MINIMUM! Mom and Dad come running on stage (per the staff’s instruction) and we all hug while trying not to cry. I go to (hopefully) hug Emil, but he settles for a high-five instead. Okay. Sorry, Emil. My family is full of huggers. I loved the feeling of the audience cheering for us as the cameraman waved that camera in all directions like some crazy 90’s MTV video. The celebration was obviously a lot longer than what you saw. Pat walked back on stage and told Emil, “Good to see you again” and “I think he has you beat” or something like that. My mom was wiping away tears as Dad says “You did it!”. Heck yeah, I did! And I’m glad I did it right! I can’t wait to see how the site reacts to this! Everyone on the staff thought I knew the puzzle with RSTLNE, but I didn’t! That’s what makes it even more amazing, I think. My picks were really lucky.
I’m set aside at the front of the stage for them to walk me up to Pat and Vanna for the credits and we wait for the closing to begin. There’s a monitor on the floor next to the scoreboard showing the bloopers. Vanna is crouching down trying to look at it, since that’s the only monitor that one can see from the on-camera portion of the stage, other than the one facing the puzzle board that Vanna uses during the game. Man, that was a lot of takes! I was sure they would cut it down by about half when they air it, but they left all the takes in, and I’m glad they did. “Is that butter?”
As soon as the closing theme starts for the last time that day, John tells me to go to Pat and Vanna and they welcome me to that coveted spot on the stage. Vanna says “Robert, you’re amazing!” All I could say was thanks. The discussion is mostly between me and Pat as we talk about my Bonus Round strategy. “Why did you pick those letters?” “Well, I was going to do GHPO but the P was obvious so I did Y instead”. Pat said that he didn’t think anyone would be able to get that puzzle without at least the G and O and he’s well aware that puzzles can be trickier than others. He pretty much things what us dedicated fans/gurus probably think when we watch at home. I say “No offense, but those puzzles can get ridiculous sometimes” and Pat undoubtedly agrees. Then I say, “Have you heard of the Wheel fansite Buy a Vowel Boards?”… “Yes”. And I told him that I was so glad to do the site proud. I wish I could remember more of our conversation. The music ends and we have to say goodbye. I wish I had hugged Vanna. I didn’t think of it at the time. Pat’s last words before leaving the stage? “By the way, Robert just solved three more puzzles from tomorrow’s shows”.
The audience applauds as I exit the stage and I wave goodbye to them. Great crowd! What luck that a good portion of them was from New York, too! The first audience was mostly a group of kids from a school who were more interested in seeing their friends on camera than the game. I get taken upstairs to an office where I have to, as Emil put it, “sign my life away”. Promotional Consideration hands me a bunch of paperwork for what I won, including important information regarding the trips. In another room near the stage, what appears to be a lounge of sorts (it even has the WOF pinball machine), several Carnival employees cheer and congratulate me. Then I go to the green room to get my things and I receive more congratulations from the CC’s and hair and makeup artists. And I got to keep the powderpuff they used for me, labeled “Robert 5”.
I saved three slices of pizza (technically 1 1/2 since it was double-cut) for my parents and Emil if they wanted some, because I know they had to sit through the whole week of shows with not much to eat in between. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to check out the Wheel Hall of Fame, but that’s okay. Outside the studio, I meet Tris for the first time. Before we head to the parking lot, I wanted to take pictures, so we had to look for a good spot. The giant “WELCOME TO WHEEL OF FORTUNE” mural is a popular spot, but it was a bit crowded with cars and we had to get out of the way because the staff was going home. A Porsche drives past us and the window rolls down. It’s Pat! He says “Great job, Robert” one last time before driving off. Amazing! And some people still have the nerve to say Pat is rude to contestants.
We go around to the stage door, where there’s a mural of the WOF set. I take some pictures with my parents, Emil, and Tris.
We talk more about all the excitement that just unfolded on our walk to the parking lot. We had to drive Emil straight to the airport. The hardest part was having to text everyone back in New York that I was done with the show but couldn’t tell them what happened.
Two months goes by so fast. I wish we could do it all again. If only…
…That was a long read, wasn’t it? Thank you all for all your support, especially Emil and Tris for coming out to see it in person. And thanks to Bonnie and Noelle for being great sports and very fun ladies to play against and chat with before the tapings… and for not trying to kill me.
More posts and stories to come! I’m so glad you all thought I was a great contestant. I did the best I could and played all the strategies I could think of. I don’t think many other Wheel contestants stay aware of where their next spin will land. I was pretty lucky on me getting that TU1, though. That was the only themed puzzle that I had verbatim in my document, which I will post in the meantime. I may have taped last, but it was well worth the wait.