Emily Fagan, a junior in Northwestern University’s Bienen School of Music, never knew she wanted to be on “Wheel of Fortune,” but that’s exactly where she’ll appear for the show’s College Week series. You can watch Fagan’s episode on Tuesday, April 8 (check local listings for exact air time), and read below about her journey to game show fame.
It was a run-of-the-mill summer night, and I was eating dinner at a restaurant with my mom. As fate would have it, it was 6:30 p.m. and we were sitting close to a TV. When Wheel of Fortune came on, I didn’t think much of it. I had always enjoyed the show, but we weren’t regular “Wheel Watchers” in my house. That night, however, changed everything.
I was on a roll. The guys at the bar thought they had all the answers, but I was sitting at my table answering every puzzle way before anyone in the restaurant. My mom said, “Hey, Em, you’re pretty good at this.” Not thinking anything of it, we moved on with our meal.
Later that night, as I was surfing the web, I remembered our experience at dinner and I thought about trying to get on the show. My search led me to the Wheel of Fortune website, where I filled out the simple online application and promptly forgot about it.
Nine months later, I got an email asking me if I would like to continue with the process. If so, I needed to submit a picture and a one-minute video explaining why I would be a good contestant. At this point, I still never thought being a contestant on “America’s Gameshow” would be a reality, but I began contemplating what would set me apart from the rest of America. My thoughts immediately turned to my oboe, already sitting next to me. I quickly recorded a video of me playing the original Wheel of Fortune theme song, “Changing Keys,” by Merv Griffin. I sent off my video, fully expecting to never hear anything about this again.
The next morning I woke up to an email inviting me to the live auditions at the Palmer House in Chicago. Obviously I was excited, but still didn’t think I could possibly ever be on this show.
Two weeks later I was on a train to the Palmer House to go through the rigorous audition process for Wheel of Fortune. The producers made it very clear that there were multiple days with multiple audition times, and actually getting on the show would be very difficult. When I arrived at the hotel, the line of people for my audition was going out the door and down the hall. I almost left, thinking this was a huge waste of time, but a few of my friends convinced me to stay. “Hey, you’re already there, why not have fun? Either way, it’ll be a great story to tell!” Luckily for me, I stayed.
About 200 of us sat down in chairs lined up in one of the Palmer House salon rooms. The audition started with us filling out another application. Then they spun a fake wheel, put up a phrase and called on everyone to guess a couple letters. This was to see if we were loud, articulate, and enthusiastic, and did not guess letters like Q.
Next, we were given a timed written test. It had several different categories, each with a few blank phrases. We had to figure out the phrases to the best of our ability in the allotted time. I remember thinking I had failed the test, but so did everyone around me. They gave us a half hour break for the grading. When they came back, they called the names of the people they wanted to stay. I remember being one of the last names called. This was getting real.
The last part of the audition was playing actual simulated Wheel of Fortune games. We got up in groups, pretended to spin a wheel and guessed letters. I had won a (fake) trip to Hawaii; it seemed to be a pretty good day. When everyone finished, we hoped for an announcement of who would be on the show. The producer then explained that everyone will get a letter in the mail – if you’ve been accepted as a contestant, the letter will come within two weeks. If you weren’t, you will get a letter after two weeks. For the first time, I was starting to imagine myself on this show.
Two weeks went by, and I had received no letter in the mail. I just figured, oh well, and waited for my rejection letter. The day before week three, I opened my mailbox and found my Wheel of Fortune letter. I didn’t even get excited – obviously it was a rejection, after this amount of time. However, I opened up the letter to find that, surprise, I had been accepted!
Running through the dorm screaming, I read the letter about 20 times. It informed me that I would be placed on the show sometime within the next 18 months, and that I would receive a letter in the mail two weeks before my show telling me when and where to arrive. I had no idea waiting would be so hard!
Nine months later, on Jan. 18, after months of playing WOF on my phone and watching reruns, I got an email instructing me to fly out to Sony Studios in Los Angeles for my taping on Feb. 14. Luckily, it was the one weekend of the month I didn’t have something going on.
On the morning of Thursday, Feb. 13, my mom, dad, and best friend from high school, Amanda, flew to Los Angeles with me. We were able to do some sightseeing for the day, but I could barely contain my excitement about what was to come.
At 7:15 a.m. that Friday, I was picked up with 19 other university students dressed in our respective college sweatshirts and driven to Sony Studios in Culver City. We all immediately clicked and became great friends. I could tell this was going to be an amazing day! Once we were at the studio, we were ushered into our green room. Throughout the morning we were read the rules of Wheel of Fortune as we had professional hair and makeup artists get us camera-ready. We learned that Wheel of Fortune is filmed every other Thursday and Friday, and that all the shows for the week were filmed in one day (hence there being 20 of us there at the same time). Two local students were there as alternates, in case one of us got sick, and they would come back as real contestants another day.
We also received wheel-spinning lessons. The wheel is about half the size it looks on TV, but it is extremely heavy. The first time I spun it, it only moved two spaces! We were all shocked by how much larger everything looks on TV. The room, the wheel, and the puzzle board are all about half the size everyone thinks!
We filmed our “Hometown Howdys,” which are promotional videos that our local news channels play of us on the days leading up to the show. Then, at about 11 a.m., the audience filed in and we started filming. I was randomly drawn to be in the second show filmed.
The shows go by so fast…it’s incredible! We contestants have to be on our toes every second. There is a used letter board that allows us to see which letters have been taken and a prize board to keep track of how much money we have. It takes a lot of logic to figure out when to solve and when to spin or buy, and there are lots of tricks to figuring out which letters to call. For example, if the subject is “What are you doing?” you are probably wanting to guess an I, N or G.
I cannot tell you how I did yet—you will have to stay in suspense until April 8, when my show airs. However, I can tell you how honored I was to represent Northwestern at such an exhilarating event, and how exciting it was to meet so many different and amazing college students. Plus, hanging out with Vanna White and Pat Sajak wasn’t too bad of an experience either!
Please watch me spin away on Wheel of Fortune on April 8!