“Pat, I’d Like to Solve the Puzzle.”
April 15, 2019—“It was easily the best day of my life.” That’s how Caroline Fiske ’20, a communication major from Fairfield, Connecticut, describes her experience on Wheel of Fortune during its “College Week Spring Break.” A lifelong fan of the long-running game show, Fiske was one of 18 college students nationwide to fly to Los Angeles and tape an appearance. Her show aired on April 12, and her dream come true didn’t disappoint: she walked away with $10,400 in cash and prizes, including a trip to the Bahamas.
Growing up, Fiske and her family watched Wheel of Fortune “religiously,” so when they saw a promotional ad announcing tryouts, her mom encouraged her to audition. As a child, she would play Hangman on restaurant menus so, in a sense, Fiske has been preparing for this moment her entire life. The first step to getting on the show is to submit a video audition explaining who you are and why you would make a good contestant. Next comes an in-person audition, in this case in a hotel in New York City. Would-be contestants compete to solve puzzles and are eliminated on the spot, so the stakes are high. After the first round, about half of the group, including Fiske, advanced to a “fire round” in which contestants spin the wheel and call out letters.
When Fiske received the letter informing her that she had been chosen to appear on Wheel of Fortune, “I screamed so loud, my neighbors thought there was a murder being committed!” With Marist sweatshirt in hand, she flew to Los Angeles to tape the show. Along the way, she continued practicing her puzzle-solving abilities and watching Wheel episodes to observe the performances of both successful and unsuccessful contestants. Once in California, Fiske was joined by 17 fellow college students from schools around the country, including Providence College, Emerson College, the University of Delaware, Drexel University, and the University of Alabama.
The day of taping is always an extremely busy one. Contestants are in the studio from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., and no cellular phones are allowed. They fill out paperwork, get their hair and makeup done, practice spinning the wheel, receive tips from the contestant coaches, take a studio tour, and meet hosts Pat Sajak and Vanna White. Recalls Fiske, “Pat and Vanna were so friendly and down-to-earth. I remember that Pat noticed that I was nervous and pulled me aside for some advice: ‘Don’t let a little mistake get in the way. Just keep playing and enjoy the game.’ That reassured me. Also, I was amazed to find out that Wheel of Fortune is taped in the same studio where they filmed the 1939 movie The Wizard of Oz. I thought that was incredible.”
With her mother cheering her on from the studio audience, Fiske competed successfully against the other contestants, bouncing back from an initial stumble to win $4,000 in cash by solving word puzzles such as “Vegetable Spring Rolls,” “Ducks and Geese,” and “Overlooking the Ocean.” Solving that last puzzle earned her the trip to the Bahamas. Looking back at her experience on TV, she recalls, “It all felt so surreal. The members of the studio audience actually wanted photos with me!”
Having returned to her life as a Marist student, Fiske does have some special mementos and memories to remind her of “the quickest 20 minutes of her life.” She got to keep her contestant nametag, had her photo taken with Pat and Vanna, and made a lot of new friends. And she did come back with one item on her to-do list – packing for the Bahamas.