Friday, December 18, 2009

Wheel of Missed Fortune

She used to drive me crazy.

It was our routine to watch television while eating dinner. We liked to sit on the floor at the coffee table in the living room. And, like so many other American families, we frequently found ourselves stranded in the waste land between the national news and prime time. In our part of the country that meant Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy.

“The category is ‘Titles’”, Pat announces. The contestant spins the wheel and calls out, “Give me an ‘R’”. “There is no R,” replies Pat. The next contestant spins the wheel. “Give me a ‘C’”. “There are two ‘C’s”, announces Pat. The audience applauds. Vanna turns the letters.

“The Iceman Cometh,” spouts my life mate. “Who?,” was my informed reply. It takes the contestants another five minutes to figure it out.

The next puzzle is two words comprised of about 25 letters. The contestant spins the wheel and before it stops, “Chronosynclastic infundibulum,” announces my partner with glee.

“WTF! There aren’t any letters on the board!” I exclaim. Another ten minutes confirms her answer.

At the end of the program, Pat and Vanna, standing arm in arm, announce that if you would like to be a contestant on the show, the Wheel of Fortune motor home will be in the following areas. Sure enough, there it is, Baja Georgia. Wifemate has a gleam in her eye.

A month or so later she gets a phone call during dinner and starts jumping for joy. We’re headed for La La Land and the Big Wheel in the Sky!

It seems the Wheel of Fortune motor home did indeed visit Baja and wifemate decided to audition. She didn’t say anything about it because she was afraid she wouldn’t be selected. I could have calmed her fears for I knew that anyone who could rip through the Daily Jumble and the NY Times crosswords like her was a shoe-in.

“So how does this work?,” I asked. “Do they send us plane tickets?”

“No,” she replied, “We have to buy them ourselves.”

“Well, do they put us up?” I asked.

“No,” she answered, “We have to get our own rooms.”

“Well what the hell do they pay for?” I asked.

“Nothing,” she responded. “But we get a discount at the Universal Hilton.”

Okay, two round-trip air tickets and a week at the Universal Hilton (We decided to hang for a few days to visit friends and family.)… $2,500 (in late 80’s dollars).

“Dang,” I thought, “for that kind of cash we could go to Paris. She’d better win or we’re screwed.”

The day of the show dawned bright and early. Had to be there by 9:00am. Caught a cab for the short ride over to Universal Studios.

She was impossible to live with. PMS on steroids. The ultimate stage fright anxiety attack, although we were both on-air television veterans. By the time we got to the studio I was the most inconsiderate and worthless SOB God had ever created. We were off to a good start.

Fortunately, we were separated immediately upon arrival, contestants off into the nether-world, the rest of us into the studio audience where we were given instructions on proper behavior and told to keep an eye on the guy with the “applause” sign. No food, no drinks, no nothing.

After about an hour I decided to go in search of a cup of coffee. The security guard informed me that the only place for such was a vending machine. I opted to go across the street to a cafĂ©. The guard informed me that if I left the building I might not get back in. I informed him that I had a medical condition that required me to have a bottle of water at all times and pointed out that none such was made available by the studio, nor any mention of lack of same in the instructions sent to us from the show’s producers, and that I was going to go across the street and buy some and if I died, the responsibility would be on his shoulders. Luckily he bought the blarney and I enjoyed a badly needed cup of coffee and bagel before returning with a bottle of water.

I got back and took my seat just as the proceedings began. The first three contestants came out, my wife not among them. It took about an hour to tape the show followed by a forty-five-minute break for costume changes. Next group. My wife not among them. Repeat same. Again, no wife, no food, no refreshments, no nothing. By now, it’s late in the afternoon and I’m the one with PMS on steroids.

Finally, the last group comes out and there she is, somewhat bedraggled but giggly and chipper. Dutifully, I applaud and violate the rules by hollering out, “Go Punky!” Evil-eye from floor manager. I look around me like, “Who did that?” Floor manager knows he has a wise-ass on his hands.

First contestant up, Punky! Big puzzle. Lot’s of words. She’s playing it like a pro. Milking it for all it’s worth. Her prize total is something like $18,000!! Now I really am hollering and cheering. Not only that, I’ve got everyone around me hollering and cheering as well cause they’re all just about as tired and ready for some action as me. The floor manager is pissed but he can’t figure out what to do about it. There’s safety in numbers.

Then it happened. The inexplicable. Punky got flustered and called for the same vowel twice! BUZZZZZZER!! “Sorry ‘bout that,” quipped Pat. On to the next contestant. The whole thing… visions of grandeur, new car, new TV, Bermuda… down the crapper. Punky was devastated. Me too.

Fortunately, she managed to recover her composure in time to rack up $2,300 in cash on the last puzzle. But still, there it loomed before her, The Big Winner… $63,000 in cash and prizes and a new car... and it wasn’t her.

When we got back to the hotel we went straight to the bar. Martinis, straight up, with a twist. After a few of those babies things looked somewhat better and we decided to go up to the rooftop restaurant and get a bite to eat.

The elevator opened and we got on, joining another person already there. It was Telly Savalas. We looked at him. He looked at us. You could see the “Oh shit” in his eyes. Trapped with two crocked tourists. After a moment I muttered, “Wheel of Fortune.” He cracked up laughing and asked, “Did you win?,” to which Punky replied, “What does it look like?” He laughed even harder, as much relieved not to be faced by two pawing autograph seekers as the humor of the situation I’m sure.

Over dinner I apologized for causing a commotion in the audience and distracting her from the game. She said, “Forget it, you could hardly hear the audience from the stage anyway.” “I just got over-excited and blew it,” she continued. “But thanks for the thought.”

At least we got an almost-free vacation out of it and for several weeks thereafter, strange packages arriving at the door. A cheap-ass vacuum cleaner, some sort of kitchen gadget, a variety of food stuffs and more I’ve since forgotten. And, of course, a story for my blog these twenty-odd-something years later.


  1. fantastic! just how i always imagine it when my kids say "you could win sale of the century"

    not bloody likely

  2. I'd freeze like a rabbit in the headlights I fear..... sounds like a real experience and you're right - great blog material later on.

  3. Kylie... don't give up before you try. Got for it girl!

    Thanks Barbara. I'm like you Matthew, I'd surely blow it. Even though it was mostly a pain in the arse it was a good trip and gave me a chance to see LA.

  4. So near yet so far, still a great story though. I love crosswords too and my weakness is Jeopardy, Clifford C. Clavin Jr, my favorite contestant. Did enter a Pub Quiz Night years, but I totally froze, knew all the answers, just umd and ard. Shocking experience for me in front of about 50 people. People who go on TV and pull it off, deserve it.

  5. I love Jeopardy too. My favorite, of course, was Ken Jennings the wonderboy.

  6. A most wonderful story, Sir. And now I wonder...was that IT for the lil' woman's game show tryouts? Or did she go on to master the craft of game show contestant? Oh my God I would NEVER. Hell, I COULD never! I can't even play the damn things at HOME, nonetheless in front of an audience of 250,000 thousand (+/- a few thou here 'n there).

  7. Yes DonnaJean. That was the end of her game show career.

    Thanks JenJen. I'll be by your place afterwhile.

  8. what a great adventure for you both! I probably saw that show too! between news and prime time tv it was Jeopardy or Pat & Vanna!

  9. Memory making and Kojack in the martini of your life. Pretty good stuff Mr. C

  10. I love when you pull out those old stories. Fabulous imagery.

  11. Well, at least you got up close and personal with Telly Savalas!

  12. That was back when if ya won U would've been allowed to purchase a set of marble inlay coasters for a mere $1500.00 out of the fake living room right? She should give it another go now. Much better prizes. Great story!

  13. I have never met PMS on steroids, but I've met her cousin, and so I appreciate how nasty she might be.

  14. Bella... it was even more painful to watch the show when it aired. Poor Punky, there was even an article in the local newspaper about her mistake.

    WM... the martini of life, I like that.

    Peach... thanks, glad you enjoyed it. I did too looking back on it.

    Eva... Telly was a total gentleman, for the one minute or so I was his best friend.

    Heidi... you're right, she should give it another go. She has a different last name now and there would be no record of her having been there in the first place.

    Mo... stay clear my friend, stay clear.

  15. Great story C. Reminds me of the time when I was living in L. A. and I auditioned (if you can call it that) for the New $25,000 pyramid.

    Got past the initial test and then those who were left (6 as I recall) were led into a room with chairs in a circle. We were paired off and then played the game. I had gone in quite full of myself with a beefy ego. I left as mincemeat. Simply drew complete blanks. Reality is a harsh, spiteful mother.

  16. JJ... it's so much easier to play football. All you have to do is clobber somebody, anybody it seems.

  17. That's cool! I always wondered about how all that worked. Telly didn't have a sucker did he?

  18. Tex... A sucker? I guess I must have missed something but now that I think about it I have this vague memory of Kojak with a lollypop.


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