Ever daydream about scoring cash and prizes on a popular television game show? I did. Thanks to my cousin Mindy, this wish became reality exactly eight years ago today. The process is more complex than most people imagine. But I landed an appearance on the legendary show Wheel of Fortune. Since I wasn’t employed at the time, the timing was impeccable. I won enough dough to propose to Melissa, buy a new used car, and even had money to explore the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico.
When Mindy told me about an upcoming Wheel Mobile event in Atlantic City, New Jersey, I had just returned from teaching in Japan and spending my earnings on the way home. I was back living in my parents’ house, contemplating life after living abroad, and determined to continue a life of odd adventures.
Mindy knew that I’d be stoked to learn of the Wheel of Fortune contestant search. Our family had developed a long standing ritual involving both Jeopardy and the Wheel during dinnertime. Family psychologists may deride guardians who allow kids the opportunity to eat and watch the tube while chewing and digesting, but it worked out well for me. Even though I was the youngest in the family, I showed unique puzzle solving promise. One time I solved a long phrase with no letters revealed by simply analyzing the category and using my knowledge of pop culture.
Attending a Wheel Mobile Event in AC NJ
The Wheel Mobile event consisted of three one-hour sessions on three consecutive days. Mindy, Melissa, my brother-in-law Patrick, and I attended two of the sessions on one day at the Showboat Casino. Both Mindy and I had the fortune of having our names called and ambled on stage to try our luck with the selection committee. My nieces April and Julia were rooting us on from outside the auditorium because children were not allowed into these closed sessions.
The important thing to remember for prospective contestants is that you really need to bring the energy during your interview. The crew in charge of scouting talent considers the tryout more like an audition than a search. They let us know this before each session began. When my name was called I jumped up and started jogging down the aisle. I’d already been brainstorming how I would stand out from the dozens of others who had already been on stage that day. I had also planned out what I’d say to the interviewer who was playing the role of Pat Sajak. But when I heard them shout out “Neil Friedman” my brain improvised some entertaining moves.
How to get them to remember you
As I reached the end of the row I immediately beelined for the videocamera because I knew the footage collected would be paramount to making the next round of auditions. Autopilot took over as I began shadowboxing with the lens of the camera. I’m not sure exactly why I did this but I know it had to do with watching football. Over a decade earlier, the Philadelphia Eagles had a special teams standout named Vai Sikahema. The Tonga born player was famous for entertaining fans by shadowboxing with the goalpost after returning a touchdown. The mind works in mysterious ways and I mimicked this move which must have been hilarious for the team in charge of watching hundreds of would-be contestants simply walk up nervously.
Besides the faux-fighting I had another ace in the hole. I realized that the actor hired to impersonate Sajak would be interviewing hundreds of hopefuls during any Wheel Mobile event. So after answering briefly about how I’d recently returned from teaching English in Japan, I grabbed the mic and started interviewing him. In retrospect it was a brief interrogation but it would have definitely stood out for the selection team back in California. It proved that I wasn’t afraid to speak in front of a large audience. As I returned to my seat after a quick game on stage I was confident that I’d done all right.
A few weeks later I received an email inviting me to return to the Showboat Casino for a closed audition. This time I was accompanied by Melissa and my mother who never needs an excuse to hit a casino. The second round of interviews was much more serious and only a few dozen people were in attendance. We started with some games on a large computer screen, continued on to a written test with puzzles in various categories, and were honed to an even smaller group. After a short break we stood up three at a time and had to overact spinning a huge wheel as we played some more games.
Throughout the competition I kept my composure and made sure to smile and have fun. If you’re the type that stalls under pressure then you can’t progress very far in this process. I anxiously awaited a correspondence from the Wheel of Fortune and was elated to receive a positive letter in the mail. From that point forward I developed strategies, found jobs that would put me in front of large audiences, and bided my time until I received the call.