Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Memories of a 20-Years-Ago Stint on 'Wheel of Fortune'

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Memories of a 20-Years-Ago Stint on 'Wheel of Fortune'

Article excerpt

California resident Emil de Leon became an Internet sensation last week after guessing the correct answer to a 12-letter "Wheel of Fortune" puzzle worth $45,000.

People have been solving 12-letter puzzles on this show for decades. But not in quite the same way that de Leon did, immediately coming up with "NEW BABY BUGGY" in the show's bonus round, with only two letters -- an N and an E.

That was it.

Incredible? I thought so. So did the show's host, Pat Sajak, who tweeted, "Most amazing solve in my 30-plus years on the show. No kidding."

And therein lies a flashback.

Twenty years ago, in the spring of 1994, my then-editor called me into his office and asked if I'd like to cover the upcoming "Wheel of Fortune" contestant search in Manhattan.

"The producers and a few other staffers are coming to New York to find contestants from our area," he said. "All you have to do is interview some of the aspiring contestants from New Jersey, then get a few quotes from the producers and make a story out of it."

Easy, right?

Strangely enough, things didn't work out that way. The search was taking place in a ballroom of the Loew's New York Hotel, beginning at 2 p.m. The press person representing the event helped me find some Jersey natives. (There were several, including a woman from Montvale who'd sent in 1,400 postcard requests, hoping for an audition.) But I was told I wouldn't get to speak to the producers for several hours.

HOURS?

"Of course, if you want," the press rep added, "you could go through the process yourself. Take the tests etc., and write about that, too."

That option seemed a little more interesting than just sitting around all afternoon, so that's what I did. I took the written tests. And I played several rounds of the game using a pint-sized version of the mighty wheel. After each round of tests, about half of the remaining aspirants were eliminated.

We started with about 280 people. Eventually, we were winnowed down to nine -- yours truly included.

I assumed I had made it to the end because the producers knew I was a reporter. But -- surprise! -- they didn't. When the auditions were over, I went up to introduce myself, and the producers SCREAMED at me. …

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