Team Jan: We Were Contestants on the Wheel of Fortune
If I had any idea that a producer from the Wheel of Fortune would have ever contacted me, I’m not sure I would have applied online all those times. Their website says millions apply each year, ten thousand get to audition and only 600 actually make it to the Wheel! So, what were the chances they would contact me? None, I thought.
DID I REALLY APPLY?
Well, three years ago I received an email stating “You’re receiving this email because at one time you filled out an on-line application to be a contestant (on our website www.wheeloffortune.com). The email went on to say that they were holding auditions in Atlanta and that the first step was to send a picture and a video. I set up my little iPhone 4 on a tiny phone tripod and proceeded to make about 50 video clips until I one finally met my approval. I sent it, still not believing that I would be selected for the audition. The email said if they liked it, I would get invited to the audition.
I didn’t think much more of it until I actually received an email invitation to the audition, which included a lot of instructions. I read through it carefully, not really sure if I wanted to do it because even though I liked words and puzzles, I didn’t think I was a particularly good puzzle/game player. I had watched the game for years but probably not as consistently as some players, simply because I am not an avid TV watcher. I can go for days without turning on the TV at all. I thought about it seriously, because one of the things they said in the email was to ask yourself, *Do you think you can solve puzzles under pressure on national television? (Everyone is a good Wheel of Fortune player in the comfort of his/her living room!). That one phrase almost caused me to delete the email because even on my sofa I was mediocre at best at the game (with a few good nights here and there), and I’m not one who wants to have the ‘attention’ on me … but then I thought about how many people would LOVE to have received that email.
The other thing that caught my attention was a little note in the email saying they were looking for TEAMS! Hmmm, I thought if I went with a friend who was a good puzzle/word person that would be a for-sure fun time. I also thought, if they actually stated they were looking for teams, then that would increase our chances of getting to the Wheel. A list of friends went through my head but my friend Jan M’s name always seemed to pop up. We’d been friends for about 8 years at that point (we became fast friends when we first met in church choir); she is fun, lively, smart, a WORD person, and I knew she was good at puzzles.
I called her and told her I had received the email. I wanted to see what her reaction would be with that news first. She was over-the-top excited. So then I told her about the WOF looking for TEAMS, and asked if she wanted to try out at the auditions with me as a team. I held the phone away from my ear as she screamed into the phone with joy. I emailed the producer back and gave her Jan M’s information and things worked out great from there. Jan M. and her husband Gary happened to have an appointment that morning in Atlanta and were able to scoot over to the audition at the hotel before our appointed audition time.
The audition was at a large hotel in downtown Atlanta. There were several teams that would be auditioning all day long over a three-day period. It was intense! As the time for our group of people auditioning came, there were several people lingering around waiting for the doors to open. I was so nervous, and questioned my decision to audition at all… too late at that point though. When the doors opened, each team signed in and we sat in chairs on either side of a center aisle. Up front there were long tables where producers of the show were seated on one side, and on the other side a big ‘makeshift’ paper replica of the Wheel. The puzzles were projected on a PowerPoint up on a screen. Not the real deal but a good way to audition.
They went through each team and we stated our names, how we knew each other, etc. Of course, when they got to us, with both our names being Jan, ‘Team Jan’ was born; a plus for us. From there, we played mock games where they watched how we played the game, how we played as a team, our voice levels, pronunciation, etc. You really do have to scream the letters. Those who couldn’t went home. We played several rounds of the game. About 60 teams (120 people) were in our audition. After all the rounds, I think there were 4 teams (8 people) left: Team Jan was one of the teams! We left that audition somewhat in disbelief, and ecstatic. We had made it through the auditions. Our excitement was tempered by the fact that although we made it through, we had no idea if we would actually get an invite to a taping. It was strictly up to the Producers. The audition was in June 2013, so we went home and continued on with life; hopeful.
On January 15th, 2014, we received an email from a show producer stating that we were invited to a taping on January 30, 2014. We couldn’t believe it! It was so exciting to see that email. We started preparing; playing puzzles online, practicing strategies, learning about the game, Wheel History, etc. Jan’s husband, Gary booked our flights and hotel; we were ready to go to Culver City, California.
SLAM! ATLANTA’S ‘SNOWPOCALYPSE’
Wait! What? … I do live in the South, right? The day before we were to fly out to California to tape, I went to work that morning, met a friend for lunch, then I decided to go back to work about two miles away to get my laptop and work the rest of the day from home. Between the time I left the restaurant (dry outside) and the time I left work to go home (about 20 minutes later), the snow started flying and the ice fell hard and fast! Atlanta was under sudden attack of winter weather, better known as Atlanta’s ‘Snowpocalypse’!
I live about six miles from work, an excellent commute considering Atlanta traffic. I got about halfway home and the side roads were bumper to bumper with summer-time drivers. I crept along as the snowflakes got larger and the street become icier and more slippery until a police officer started turning people around on my route home because cars were sliding down a hill and crashing into each other at the bottom. By the time I did a u-turn and was then headed away from home I drove about 1/10 of a mile and found myself in a complete snow/ice jam; couldn’t go anywhere. I ended up inching toward a bank and parking my car in the bank lot. I tiptoed across four lanes of cars in my summer shoes (you can typically wear summer flats in Atlanta in the winter) to a hotel I saw in the distance. My biggest fear then was being hit by a sliding car and not being able to gain traction to jump out of the way. By then, cars where stopped everywhere; a complete mess. I made it to the hotel and entered through the back door near the banquet hall and pool area. I soon learned that the entire city was in a jam and the hotel was completely filled because those who were to check-out, couldn’t. People were stranded everywhere. I saw cars and trucks sitting in front of the hotel on the road in the same spot for 6+ hours that evening.
Of course, I was thinking about The Wheel; how in the world I was going to get to the shuttle to take me to the airport?!? I called the shuttle company and asked them if they were still able to drive me. The guy on the other end simply said, “Can you drive out there?” Ha! No one was going anywhere in Atlanta. For about two days the city was out of commission, and clean up was even longer. The airport was at a standstill. I found out our flight was cancelled. We were basically stuck. I ended up sleeping on the floor by the hotel pool along with a group of six other girls who were stranded as well. Embassy Suites was awesome! Gave us blankets, pillows, and breakfast in the morning.
I found out Jan and Gary had made it to a hotel near the airport and once it was determined that our flights were cancelled, they made the slow slippery drive back home 90 miles south of the city. Unbelievable, we had done all that preparation, just to be grounded by a freak snow/ice storm. The next day (the day I should have been in CA taping) I left the hotel around 11am to an ice-covered outside. I drove about 5 miles per hour on ice and hills all the way home. It took about 45 minutes to drive a very short distance. When I got to my subdivision, which is elevated, a row vehicles was parked along the road at the subdivision entrance. No one could drive up into the subdivision, so my last mile home was by foot…. in summer shoes, up a slippery hill. Needless to say, I was somewhat traumatized by the experience.
We contacted the producer and she said that Team Jan would remain on the list for the next time they had a Best Friends theme week. We had no clue when that would be, or if it would really ever be.
I don’t know if I just tried to put the whole experience out of my mind or what. I moved on with life. Jan M., on the other hand, was on top of things… she continued to stay in contact with the producer, etc. I am sure her persistence got us another chance to tape on January 8, 2016, two years later.
Jan texted me a few days before Christmas 2015 and said check your email. I immediately knew the WOF had contacted us. I started having flashbacks (what I now refer to as WOF PTSD). The entire ordeal I had gone through two years previously flooded my mind. Jan could hear it in my response to her. I told her I’d call her after I read the email. Honestly, I wasn’t sure I wanted to go on the Wheel anymore. I had such bad memories of the previous attempt. It took a few hours for me to process everything, but then it clicked. I was ready to do it! We responded to the producer, and once again, we were prepping for the game.
We discussed the game, rules, puzzle themes, etc. There was so much to remember. Jan and I both agreed we would be okay except if the puzzle theme was music or movies: neither of us were pop music/movie people. As I said before, I don’t watch much TV, I might go to two movies per year if that, and I have never been one to listen to pop music (unless I was in a store or something).
I was ready though. I actually started having a good feeling about it, like we would win. However, I’m sure every team had that feeling. I was a bit nervous though: I remembered that I’m not THAT good of a player, I don’t like hearing and seeing myself on TV (for crying out loud, I’d stopped coloring my hair a year ago…I’d be representing the silver heads on the show), I thought about how cruel people on social media can be, a boatload of things went through my mind but then I thought again about how many people would love to be in my shoes. I remembered hearing Joyce Meyers say, “If you are afraid, then do it afraid.” … And I most of all thought about how excited and supportive my closest friends were for me for even being on the show.
We decided not to broadcast our second chance to tape on social media, or to share it with many people. The first time was just too overwhelming. We completely understood our friends’ excitement for us but the questions literally overwhelmed me the first time as my mind was trying to prepare for the flight, and then with the snow/ice situation, I repeated our sad story hundreds of times, replaying it in my mind each time. So we kept it close until after the taping. I needed to keep my sanity.
I am so thankful that Jan’s husband Gary handled all the flight and hotel reservations; just doing that is a stress factor to me; as I’m not a traveler. My manager at work made a parking reservation for me at the airport, which made the parking situation much easier! [Thanks Todd P.]. I hadn’t flown in 10 years and the whole airport process was a big stress factor. The day before the taping this time, we met up at the airport early in the morning, everything had gone smoothly and before I knew it we were in the air. The Delta flight was perfect…kudos to the pilot! We all had seats next to each other so Jan and I were able to discuss game strategies etc. while Gary shared his plane snacks with us.
HELLO CULVER CITY, CALIFORNIA
We arrived on Thursday afternoon, went to the hotel, then to dinner. We decided to eat food that we were used to as to now freak out our tummies before the big day.
The next day the shuttle arrived at 6:30 am and we were off to the studio along with several other teams who were also staying in the hotel. These ladies arrived from across the country. They were all so fun to train with! Instant comraderies were formed; we were all in the same situation: going to tape a segment of the Wheel of Fortune.
Once arriving, we were led into the Jeopardy studio. Before entering the building however, Jan and I got a quick photo in front of the Wheel of Fortune sign outside. Little did we know that this photo would become as popular as it has become.
As we entered the studio, I panicked a bit at first because I know my brain is NOT wired for Jeopardy at all – thankfully we were just going through our prepping there). Once seated, the rigorous, intense, orderly training/prepping process began. Let me stop right here and say, the Wheel of Fortune staff is incredible!! They are the most professional, detailed, incredibly nice group of people ever. I literally would have applied for a job there if they were on the east coast. That whole creative/productive environment felt like I was in my element! No plans to move to LA though.
WHEEL OF FORTUNE SCHOOL
OK, let me know say here for you and all the public to read. For every contestant I ever talked about or wondered why they did seemingly crazy things while playing the Wheel of Fortune, please forgive me, I’m sorry. I was once clueless to the process that contestants had to endure prior to taping. I now watch the Wheel with a completely different attitude, a much more humble heart and new camaraderie with all contestants.
We were instructed on everything, different game rules, how/when to clap, had makeup/hair done (and were instructed to pay attention to the training while getting that done), an attorney went line-by-line over legal papers and we initialed each paragraph, etc. We had to determine which day of the week we were taping for, our position at the wheel; we practiced spinning and calling out letters. Jan and I had to change our strategy because she was not able to spin the wheel. It is 2,400 lbs! I’m a big girl so I was able to do it. So, she covered the Used Letter board/timer and focused on solving. I have no idea how single-player contestants keep track of everything. I know I couldn’t have done it.
By the time we were ready to tape, about six hours later, my brain literally felt like Jello©. I’m a ‘rule-follower’ so I had all of our new rules rolling around in my head. I won’t lie, it was challenging for me to keep all the pieces of playing the game together. I’m so glad I chose to go as a team. I got the invite and the option to go as a team but I couldn’t have done it without my friend Jan M.! Shout out to ya’ girl!
WE’RE TAPING A REAL SHOW!
My heart was racing a mile a minute when we stood at that Wheel. We were about to tape a real show. I had this mix of trying to stay focused and trying to solve the puzzle, but I think I blanked out a few times. It was so overwhelming and exciting. I stumbled through my Pat-Chat. I’m not really sure what I said, although I had practiced it a million times. Ha!
Somehow, once it started, I didn’t even think about the television aspect of it all, which probably wasn’t the smartest thing, because I just spoke what popped in my head like I was sitting around the kitchen table playing the game with friends, not playing in front of millions. Ha!
We started out pretty rough I think, we were out of sync with each other, and it literally felt to me like we were a team playing separately. There was a situation that happened just prior to us taping our segment that seriously caused us both to lose our game groove for a bit. We laughed about it in the end but at the time it was a seriously tense matter.
SAME DIRECTION … DIFFERENT TRACKS
So, it was in this frame of mind, all worked up, that we started taping our segment. I was, admittedly, out of sorts… and we could both tell we were not on the same game page. It was a wonder I even remembered my name at that point. I told Jan, “I’m glad we have the same so I can look at your name tag to see who I am.”
After the first round, during the commercial break, we both knew we were out of sync with each other, so we stopped, held hands and prayed right at the Wheel…. we recognized that we needed some help getting back on track – quickly!. During breaks, makeup/hair/audio people, and producers came out with water, tips and encouragement for us. That helped a lot too. Again, they were awesome!
We entered the second round ready to play, a bit more in sync that round. We won the second round, which gave us a trip to Belize! Before we knew it we had won the most money at the end of the game and were headed to the Final Round. I was literally in shock. We could see the running total of each round but I didn’t even pay attention to that while playing.
During the next commercial break, we were led to the smaller wheel where we got further instruction on where to stand, how to spin wheel, etc.
The Final Round was incredible. During the commercial break, Jan and I held hands and prayed one more time. It was Him who had gotten us that far and we prayed again for clarity, peace and a sound mind. Then it was time.
I was next to Pat, and chose the card after Jan spun the wheel. As soon as she spun, I told her to choose the letters. Thankfully, she just did it and didn’t question my asking her to do it (I’ll explain this later). She chose the best letters ever! As soon as they all came up we could see what it was. My heart was racing like crazy. I wanted to scream it out but I didn’t – I remembered one of the rules they told us was that only ONE person should say the answer because if for some reason we said different answers and the clock ran out (15 seconds) to correct ourselves we would lose. No way was I going to blow that…. So she said it loudly and I said it softly. My knees got weak when Pat showed us what we’d won and our total for the evening. Even with all the faux pas this was our night! You know why, because what God has for YOU is for YOU! Believe it!
Game regrets. NONE!.
However, after we taped and I was home, I started to have minor anxiety attacks. My mind replayed every aspect of the game days after, including the faux pas. Then I remembered… “Wait girl! WE WON!!!!” Remembering that alleviated much of my anxiety… most of the time. 🙂
PAT AND VANNA: MY NEW LIFE-SIZE CARDBOARD BESTIES.
I’ve watched the Wheel off and on for years. I was always struck by how much fun it looked like Pat and Vanna were having and how they seemed so genuine and kind. Pat is always so great with people who have bad times at the Wheel. During the show, Pat was so nice and friendly; he cracked jokes, and made us feel so comfortable. Before taping Vanna answered questions for the audience. Such nice people, I was glad to see that.
Well, after we won, at the end we were led to where Pat and Vanna were standing to talk with them. For the guys who wanted me to check it out, yes, Vanna is as beautiful as she appears on TV. Pat looks great too! It’s like they’ve halted time or something. I would guess their workplace stress level is probably pretty low. Hee-hee!
GOD MOMENTS ON THE WHEEL OF FAVOR
I had a question about whether this was a God-thing from the get go. I even asked the Lord if He could be found anywhere in the Wheel of Fortune or am I totally off-base doing this. My heart is to honor the Lord in all I do. If this was not of Him then I was more than okay with walking away from it. A friend of mine even said, isn’t the Wheel like gambling? I hadn’t thought of it like that but I guess it could be considered to be some form of gambling. I totally thought of it as a word game, but I took it to the Lord anyway, fully expecting either a check in my spirit or a sense of peace. Over the following days, I had a complete peace and excitement about it, and I was reminded in my spirit that God owns it all and even this will be to his glory.
From the beginning of this journey, I had a sense that we would win but as I said before, I’m sure everyone has that sense. Jan M. and I hadn’t publically announced our second chance to tape again but we did tell those who we knew would pray for our safety, clarity, peace, love, and a sound mind. There were several people praying for us.
My friend Tish brought me a goody bag and some Scriptures to ponder and take with me. The friends in my Bible study group also did the most awesome thing. Each of them had written a letter to me to open after I got on the plane. My friend Monica actually wrote several cards and notes with Scripture and encouragement to be opened at different times during our journey (before the flight, on the plane, before the taping, after the taping, flying home, etc.) It was awesome food for our souls. The notes and letters were such a blessing for both Jan and me. Since we are both ‘rule-followers’ we opened the envelopes ONLY when they were supposed to be opened. It was such a wonderful thing for us to look forward to each day.
Another amazing thing was the voice message that Jan’s friend Beth Moore left for us. In her message she said she would call it the Wheel of Favor and pray for God’s blessing on us. I thought that was absolutely awesome. From then on, we referred to ourselves as the Women of Faith at the Wheel of Favor! … And I have NO doubt that God was in every bit of the journey.
When we got on the plane to fly there, I sat in my seat and this is what I saw on the little video screen: Winner Takes All!
This ad was totally not about the WOF but when I saw Winner Takes All I KNEW it was for us. It immediately struck me as another confirmation that we’d win. I said to Jan M., “Look! This is for US!” We believed it! We believed we would win, but who goes into the show thinking otherwise, right?
While we were at the final wheel, and about to choose letters, I literally felt I heard a small voice instruct me to tell Jan M. to choose the letters, so I did, and was completely fine with it. She chose excellent letters! I believe that was God’s direction as well. I am not sure what letters I would have called, and who knows now if they would have been good choices or not. I just knew I needed to ask her to select them.
Prior to the game, both Jan and I said we wanted to win but we also wanted everyone to win something. Neither of us liked the shows where one person got a big win and the others were sent home with minimum or nothing. It worked out that everyone on our segment won something. It was great! I think some of our faux pas actually helped others to win some money; I am so okay with that. It would have been a great experience even if we hadn’t won, but to have everyone win something makes it all the better.
Gary told us at dinner that night that while Jan and I were praying before the final round, the people in the audience around him whispering and saying, “Hey, look, they are praying.” It was during the chaos of the production staff changing scenes, etc. when we prayed so we didn’t consider that anyone would have their eyes on us, however, we always wanted to be a light wherever we were, so it seems that God honored our desire.
The most amazing thing to me was how the game ended. Even with the faux pasit seemed the wheel ended up back in our favor. People might not believe it but I believe we really did have God’s favor on us the entire time. It was somewhat a metaphor for life. No matter how we mess up in life, make wrong turns, do things that might not be optimal, take calculated risks etc., there is a God in heaven who is on our side and orchestrates things for those who love Him and are called according to his purpose [Romans 8:28]. So, yes it does have something to do with us but there is no expectation of perfection, only trusting in Him, Jesus Christ, who is the perfect One. This is not about using the Lord for gain, but trusting the Lord for all the details of life.
I had a zillion questions from friends and family so I posted the top ones here:
Questions and Answers
- Why do contestants scream the letters?
Because we are instructed to do so. We spent a good amount of time practicing yelling out letters. If you weren’t loud enough you were asked to do it again. Those who were not able to yell out letters even in the audition went home
2. Why didn’t you tell anyone if you won or not prior to the airing?
So many people asked me if we’d won. Remember that legal component I wrote about prior to the taping? Well, part of that was not to reveal the outcome of the show or you risked losing any winnings you might have gotten on the show. Our silence was hard for some to swallow, but again, after you gain some insight about the entire Wheel operation/process (a.k.a. been there yourself), you can more accurately judge what happens during and after the show/taping. I have some friends who know the game show process so they told me they would not ask me about the outcome.
3. How would the people at the WOF find out if you told?
First, I desire to be a woman of my word. If I say I will do something, I do my best to keep my word. Part of the deal on the Wheel was to not tell the outcome of the show. I told absolutely no one, not even my own mother. In today’s world of technology and social media, my guess is that it would take all of a few hours before it got back to the show that the outcome was disclosed, and likely just few more minutes before they found the source of the leak. Second, I desire to be a person of integrity.
4. Why did you choose to go as a team when you could have gone alone and won everything yourself?
When I got the email asking me to audition, I remembered I was a good player (sometimes) but not a strong player. Plus, in the email they said they were looking for teams. So, I thought, give them what they are asking for, it might increase our chances. Also, I thought if I did make it to the audition, it would be so much more fun if I had a good friend with me who was also an excellent player. I’m not sure I would have made it through the auditions as a single contestant. Jan M. is an exciting animated person in addition to being a smart word person. I knew that would work well on the Wheel. We were definitely a team. She was at the Wheel because I asked her to go with me and I was at the wheel because I asked her to go with me. Mostly, I was gladly willing to split any winnings to have someone to share the experience with.
5. Do they pay for your trip out to tape the show; do they wine-and-dine you?
Um, No. However, you notice on the show, even those who win no rounds get $1,000 for being on the show, so unless you booked first class flights and a penthouse the $1K should cover any expenses you might incur.
6. How’d you get on the show?
I started applying years ago on a whim; I mean while in my 30s. Sometimes when I watched, I thought, “Maybe I could be on there.” So, I applied. Again, if I thought I’d actually get called to audition, I’m not so sure I would have applied. I can be rather introverted at times, but I do play a good extroverted personality game when needed.
7. Why do people make sure goofy mistakes on the show?
Like I said, you have a completely different frame of reference after you have gone through this process. It’s one thing to sit on your comfy sofa, wiggling your toes, eating popcorn and solving puzzles, disparaging people for making errors. It’s a completely different situation when you are taping a show after hours of intense preparation in front of cameras, lights, etc. I’m still amazed how calm people look on the show. My stomach was in knots. I think Pat’s easy-going demeanor helps a lot. He really does try to make contestants feel at ease. [Again, I’m sorry to all former contestants who I commented about on past episodes. Amazing what a little knowledge and insight can do for your intelligence and compassion level].
8. Wont’ you be nervous and embarrassed with millions of people l watching?
Nervous and embarrassed doesn’t even explain the half of it. I felt I would get physically ill every time I thought about being watched on national television. I lost sleep for several nights after I got back home thinking about it all. I kept trying to remember if I made a fool of myself and if I did, who would make a point of pointing it out to me. Then I thought, there are some who will, it’s just part of the package though…. and it doesn’t matter, because we won! J
9. Would I do it again knowing what I know now?
YES! It was an experience of a lifetime! I don’t think you can be on the show more than once in a lifetime, but if I could I certainly would. It is a once in a lifetime experience. Millions apply to be on the wheel each year, more than 10,000 actually get called to audition, and only 600 per year actually make it to the wheel! Jan M. and I are Two in a Million!
10. What did you learn the most about your experience?
Well, I learned a lot including: 1) The thought of flying was much worse in my head than in actuality. I still don’t’ like it though. 2) Life experiences are so much more fun when there is someone to share it with. 3) Playing the game is way harder in real life. 4) California has beautiful skies, and 5) I have no desire to be a person in the public eye – I like my privacy too much.
However, the most important thing for me was the reconfirmation that the Lord Jesus is interested in every detail of our lives. I didn’t approach The Wheel as a spiritual thing to do, it was just a fun thing. I didn’t think there was anything spiritual about it. I even prayed that if it was not God’s will for my life to just close the door, and I would have been fine with that. From the beginning though, we could see God’s hand providing for us in every way, the flight, the people we met, the opportunities we had, the way the game went in the end in spite of where the Wheel landed, he opened certain doors and closed others for us. He allowed us to be a ‘light’ right on the Wheel of Fortune [Favor] stage when we didn’t even know we were being a light. I am grateful for that most of all because my heart is primarily to do the will of the Father.
In the words of C.T. Studd’s well-known poem, “Only one life, ’twill soon be past, Only what’s done for Christ will last.”