I'll preface this by saying that Wheel of Fortune did not ask me to write this particular blog, nor have they read anything I've said here. If the kind folks at Wheel or Sony Pictures Studios need to me to take anything in this blog down, just e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org and I'll be more than happy to! There's no rules that I know of against blogging about the experience, as long as you do it after your airdate. I'll try not to reveal too many wheel "secrets" just in case. Either way, I hope you enjoy!
Where we last left off (if you haven't read part 1 you can do so here), I had described the audition process, and the fact that I received a letter letting me know that I had been selected as a contestant. I knew those letters were rare, and I was super excited to be one of that lucky number who received one. I also counted my blessings because of the 10 of us who were in our Facebook group, about 8 of us received letters. Roughly 8/20 in our original small audition group had made the cut! We found a few other people through mutual friends-- New Orleans had been a big site for Wheel of Fortune to cast at this year, and so it seemed contestants were coming out of the woodwork everywhere -- my improv comedy school director wrote me and asked if he could blog about "us" -- apparently there was another student who had made the cut-- so Shawn became a friend, a friend of a friend knew a contestant, so we became friends, and the oddest of all-- one day, a couple of us contestant-friends were sitting in a Mexican restaurant laughing over margaritas... someone mentioned Wheel and how excited that they were going to tape soon, and the next thing you know we hear "Are you guys contestants, too?" -- that was how Dominic joined the group. Several lunches came and went, and then suddenly phone calls started coming. When you become a contestant for Wheel of Fortune, you receive notice only that you've been accepted, and no further information. You go into sort of a "contestant pool" in which you sit for up to 18 months. When a spot opens up for you on a particular show, you get usually about 2-4 weeks notice by telephone. Lacey received the call first to be on Tennis Week, followed by Steven who was on Family week, and then all of a sudden in April-- everyone else in the group got the call. Except for me. And then it came-- the call with the familiar, elusive, often spoken of 310 area code. I was PSYCHED. And then, the unthinkable-- I was an alternate. I hadn't even considered that option. I was devastated.
Wheel uses alternates, or standby contestants, all the time- there are 1-2 standbys present at every taping of Wheel and for good reason-- if another contestant gets sick, injured, misses their flight, etc-- they don't want to send everyone else home. They sub in the standby, and let the original contestant make it up at a later date. Standbys are always from the area in which the show is taped. In Culver City, for example, which is Wheel's home-- they use standbys from the LA/Culver area. Because I lived in New Orleans, I made the perfect standby candidate for Celebrating New Orleans week. Because I love New Orleans so much and everything this city stands for, I couldn't hide my disappointment and not being on the themed week-- I also know that statistically theme weeks have better payouts, easier puzzles (because you're familiar with the geography-- MISSISSIPPI RIVER, for example), and a more enthusiastic (and larger) audience. The one consolation was that I got to watch one or two of the guys from my audition group play.
New Orleans was a ton of fun. The more I thought about it, the more I realized how lucky I was to be a standby contestant. I got to go through the entire process (and boy is it a process) and get used to all of the things you have to get used to. You practice spinning the wheel (it is VERY heavy and SUPER hard to spin), you practice looking at the used letter board, you practice looking at the clock and the banks of each contestant, and getting in your position, and you talk about the categories and which letters you should call and when to clap and where to put your buzzer, and it's just a lot to take in at one time. It's a very long day and requires a lot of stamina as well-- so it was good to get used to that. I also had the unique opportunity of seeing Wheel on the road and also seeing Wheel at its home at Sony Pictures Studios. It's definitely the same show anywhere you go, but there's a lot of components that change (dressing rooms, contestant green rooms, stage set-up, audience seating) -- so it was nice to be able to see the differences. I was also a huge part of one of the top Wheel moments of Season 28, and maybe the top Wheel moments of all time. One of the guys from my audition group, Josh Duffy, I'm sure you've heard of him, was getting ready to go on before his show. He had a Voodoo bracelet from a friend in Canada for good luck-- and I told him he needed to touch my lucky Robert Meachem jersey. (I mentioned I love New Orleans, especially the Saints, and Meachem, #17, just happens to be one of my favorite players). The day I received that jersey, I got it signed by Robert Meachem, and headed immediately to the casino to bet $35 on #17 on a roulette wheel. It hit. Three times in a row. Because of that, I thought the jersey was lucky, and I brought it with me to wheel. I insisted Josh touch it before his show. He did. Not only was his puzzle "Do Do that Voodoo that You Do So Well" -- full of multiple consonants.. but you might remember him... he spun the $3500 wedge THREE times in a row. 35 X 3 for me, 3500 X 3 for him. Voodoo bracelet. Voodoo puzzle. What are the odds? It was a moment I'll never forget, and Josh and I will be lifelong friends because of that. I'm so happy I was there for that moment.
The only other bummer about not taping in Celebrating New Orleans week, or College week, or Fabulous Foods week, was that those were the 3 end weeks of Season 28. So, now I had to wait through the hiatus until Season 29 started. It seemed like forever, but I finally got the call in July-- it was so weird... I hadn't thought about Wheel in the longest time, but for some reason- that particular day, I remember saying-- they should be calling me any day now, and they did. I had two weeks to get things together and get out to California. I had been waiting forever, but somehow, I was so unprepared. I remember spending a week frantically running around to hair (Thank you AHB), makeup, manicure, eyebrow, etc. appointments. I went to the gym 3 times a day to get rid of as much arm flab as I could (you clap a LOT, for pete's sake), and I even got contact lenses so that I could see the letter board better. (Shoutout to America's Best, they were the greatest and were SO patient with me!) I also have this lifelong fear of flying, and even though I had taken many many flights before, I had had a SUPER bad experience immediately before 9/11 and hadn't flown since. Ten years. I almost drove and then I realized that I wanted to have fun on my trip and driving 3+ days there and 3+ days back would not accomplish that. My best friend Brian gave me a pep talk, and he, my mother, and I booked our flights to Los Angeles! Culver City, lookout!
The night before the trip I could not sleep at all. I was half terrified about the flight, and half excited about the trip ahead. My best friend (yes, I have a male and a female best friend) Taryn came over and helped me pack until 2am. At 4am we went to the airport, and boarded the flight. John Goodman was on our plane- and that made me feel tons better-- that way, I knew that if something happened to us, at least we'd make the news! We flew to LA and arrived at 11am our time (9am Los Angeles time), and because I hadn't eaten in 24 hours because I was terrified, immediately wanted lunch. We waited around until they were actually serving lunch, and tried to decide what to do-- should we take naps? Go to bed early? Try to sightsee? Go to the beach? I immediately terminated the idea of the beach--- I didn't want tan or burn lines when standing anywhere in the vicinity of the gorgeous Vanna White. I didn't want to go to sleep or take a nap because I didn't want to not be able to sleep that night. So, we did what any red-blooded Americans would have done-- we hailed a cab and went to the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
The trip was supposed to be easy enough--- go sightseeing, catch an early dinner, meet my friend Holly and debrief her on the plans for the taping the following day, and maybe get a little shopping in somewhere along the way. Right? Wrong. Our sightseeing ran late, our dinner ran later, and after dinner we ducked into Forever 21 (the restaurant was in this open air mall called Hollywood & Highland, and the store was in the same open air mall)-- just to make sure there wasn't a better option for sweater or blazer for me for the big day. I've heard the studios are FREEZING and the contestants I knew who had taped in Culver City warned me of this, so I wanted to find a cute outerwear item. Unbeknownst to me, this was the evening that DJ Kaskade had decided to have an impromptu carnival/parade in the middle of the street, and it caused a huge riot. RIGHT OUTSIDE WHERE WE WERE. We had no idea. Police responded, then SWAT-- and I'm minding my own business trying a sweater on when all of a sudden I hear "IF YOU ARE NOT AN EMPLOYEE OF THIS STORE, GET OUT *NOW*! MOVE MOVE MOVE!!!! " My first thought is that Los Angeles sure does take shoplifters seriously, and then I realize that it's cops in full riot gear. My second thought is that there is a shooter taking random people down. I wonder why the cops are making us go OUT of the store instead of locking us INSIDE said store, and then I realize that maybe they don't know who the shooter is. I run outside with everyone else, and it is mass chaos. Police kept making us run farther and farther away, until finally we were about 7 blocks away from where we originally were. At this point I thought it was a bomb scare. Long story short, we didn't get home until about 10 Cali time, or 12 our time-- way later than I wanted to go to bed.
If you're interested, here's a picture of Brian and I on the street in front of all the riot cops, and also a video detailing the "riot" :