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Tuesday, July 12, 2011

What Wheel Of Fortune Taught Me About Myself

It seems unlikely that a game show could teach me anything about myself other than wishing that I could go on the show to win cash and prizes.

And, don't get me wrong.  One thing on my bucket list is to appear as a contestant on a game show.

There's one game show that I've always wanted to be on.  Not necessarily because of the cash and prizes (of course, if I ever won something on the show, I'd be happy), but because it seems to be made for an aspiring writer, such as myself. 

Wheel Of Fortune, which was a Merv Griffin creation.  A game show institution for over thirty-five years.  A game show that has had thousands of contestants and given away millions.  People spinning a wheel of many colours and guessing a letter in hopes of solving a puzzle to win money and the chance to earn even more money in the bonus round.

Would you like to see what I mean?  Okay, I'll post a video for you right now.  Here's a clip from an episode of Wheel Of Fortune that originally aired on September 11, 1990.

I could go on and on about how much Wheel Of Fortune has helped me learn so many life lessons, but I'm trying to make this blog a little more fun, and a little less boring.  So, I'm hoping that by doing a bulleted list of points and inserting video clips and pictures from the show that I can hopefully illustrate what this show has taught me about myself. 

Are you ready?  Would you like to buy a vowel or use your free spin?

No?  All right.  We'll begin.

1.  By now, I'm sure that you all know that the current host and hostess are Pat Sajak and Vanna White.  But, did you know that they weren't the original hosts who christened the program?  When Wheel Of Fortune debuted on television on January 6, 1975, the original host was Chuck Woolery, and the letter-turner was Susan Stafford.  It's hard to find clips of both of them in action, but I managed to locate this clip online from 1979.

2.  Chuck Woolery's last day of hosting Wheel Of Fortune was Christmas Day, 1981.  Pat Sajak began his hosting job three days later on December 28.

3.  Vanna White became the show's official puzzle board turner on December 13, 1982.  Below is a clip of her very first episode.

4.  Prior to appearing on Wheel Of Fortune, Vanna White had gotten noticed on a little game show known as 'The Price Is Right'.  In 1980, she appeared as a contestant in Contestant's Row.  Unfortunately, her ability to bid was not good enough for her to play a game of 'Plinko' or 'Safe Crackers', but I imagine she had fun anyways.

5.  It is here that I will talk about the first thing that Wheel Of Fortune has taught me about myself.  The first lesson I learned from watching Wheel Of Fortune is to not get too greedy.

Wheel Of Fortune has always been a game of chance, filled with lots of calculated risks.  There are twenty-six letters in the alphabet, and it's not a guarantee that every one of them will appear in each puzzle.  Some may not appear at all, while others can appear as much as nine times.  Again, it's a matter of risk.  You'd ideally want to land on a large amount when choosing a letter that appears a lot, but sometimes that doesn't happen.  But, you don't want to call out the wrong letter either because you will end up losing your turn.

And then there's the wheel itself.  Certainly there are lots of dollar amounts on the wheel, and the odd trip giveaway.  The Free Spin space is always a nice thing to pick up as well.  Of course, there are usually a couple of pesky black wedges that can spell death to anyone's game should you happen to land on it.

The dreaded bankrupt wedge.  The funny sound it makes is a nice little novelty, so as long as you don't happen to hear it during your turn.  In most cases, the Bankrupt wedge can be a really horrible game-crushing blow.

Well, okay, in that instance, the guy only lost $350.  But, I've seen instances where contestants have lost way more.  They lost prizes.  I remember one person ended up losing almost $34,000 in cash by landing on Bankrupt.  That had to hurt.

So, one thing that one must consider when playing Wheel Of Fortune is the fact that sometimes a time might come where you aren't sure of what the puzzle is, or what letter to call.  Or, sometimes, you might know what the puzzle is, but want to spin the wheel more for some additional cash.  The point is that whatever the case is, if the risk is incredibly great, and you stand to lose a lot, SOLVE the puzzle or BUY a VOWEL.  Don't just fake it like you know it.  Otherwise, this can happen.

I think now is as good a time as any to continue this list.

6.  The first letter Vanna White ever turned on the puzzle board was 'T'.

7.  The wheel on Wheel Of Fortune weighs approximately 2,400 pounds!

8.  As you've seen up above, the Wheel Of Fortune puzzle board used to be one in which Vanna would turn the letters around.  On February 24, 1997, Vanna's job became a lot easier when touch-screen technology entered the fold.

Beginning with that episode, whenever a letter appeared on the screen, the screen would turn blue, and all Vanna had to do was touch the screen for the letter to appear.  It also made Vanna not have to do nearly as much walking, as instead of her having to reveal each letter one by one, the solution would appear all at once.

9.  The most commonly picked letters chosen by early bonus round contestants were R, S, T, L, N, and E.

10.  And, that brings me to my next lesson that I have learned from this game.  Choose letters that make sense.

Sometime in the late 1980's, the contestant was given three additional consonants, and one additional vowel to solve the bonus round puzzle at the end of the show.  This was to accommodate the fact that the bonus round puzzles were longer, and more difficult to solve without additional letters.  Of course, R, S, T, L, N, and E were the six pre-selected letters, since those six letters were used the most often.  But contestants really had to choose their letters wisely, because if they made the wrong choices, they could lose the bonus round. 

Of course, if a contestant has a hunch, or is lucky enough to be able to solve the puzzle after the initial six letters are called, it can become quite easy.

It's not like that all the time though. 

Suppose I was on the show, and I got on the bonus round.  Which three consonants and one vowel would I have chosen, given the idea that the puzzle could be almost anything?

For me, the vowel choice would be easy.  I would pick A.  Behind E, A is a common vowel used in a variety of words in the English language.  In all likelihood, the letter A should appear in the puzzle, unless the puzzle solution was 'Bubble Bobble', or 'Linguini'.  It's a chance you take, but the odds would be in my favour.

Now, for consonants, one I would immediately pick would be H.  Why H?  Well, there's quite a few words that start with SH and TH, and there's lots of words that have an N and an H together, like ENOUGH, ANYHOW, NINTH, and NORTH. 

With the letter H in play, it leads me to choose my next consonant.  C.  Because with the letter C and the letter H, you have the CH combo, which appears in so many words in the English language.

As for my final consonant, it's more or less a crapshoot, but one letter I always liked was the letter M, and the letter M begins a lot of words like MUSHROOM, MACADAMIA, MINESTRONE, and, well...MATTHEW. 

So, my final bonus round letters would be R S T L N E, as well as H C M A.  It wouldn't have helped me out in the above bonus puzzle, but the odds would be in my favour.  And, of course, if I knew the puzzle beforehand, I'd make appropriate changes.

Okay, from one lesson to another.

11.  Wheel Of Fortune taught me how to spell

Or, at least I would like to think so, anyway.

When I was a little kid, my family would always gather around the television at 7:30 every evening to watch Wheel Of Fortune.  It almost became kind of a tradition.  And, I can't begin to tell you how many words in the puzzle boards happened to appear on elementary school spelling tests.  Who needed 'Hooked On Phonics' or 'Reading Rabbit' when you had Wheel Of Fortune as a study guide?  You all laugh now, but it really did teach me spelling tricks and mnemonic devices that helped me become a better speller, and ultimately a better writer and communicator.

12.  Vanna White holds a Guinness Book World Record for most frequent clapper.

13.  The set may have changed considerably over the years, but the podiums have always been red, yellow, and blue.

14.  The bonus wheel has changed a considerable amount as well.  In fact, during the early stages of the days in which contestants could pick their bonus prizes, there were only five options inside the word 'WHEEL'.  Now, you have dozens of cash prizes to possibly win.  The highest amount currently is $100,000, but if one was lucky to win the million dollar wedge and solve the puzzle, and if they got the $100,000 envelope, it became one million dollars.  Only one person has ever won the million dollar prize since its implementation.

15.  The longest serving announcer for the show was Charlie O'Donnell, who served as announcer from 1975-1980, and again from 1989 until his death on November 1, 2010.

16.  The theme of Wheel Of Fortune has changed over the years, but the most common musical theme for the show was a Merv Griffin composition called Changing Keys.  In fact, here are some of the theme songs for the show...the original version of Changing Keys being the first one on the list.

My personal favourite was the 1989-1992 theme, which is why I posted it at the beginning of the blog post.  :)

17.  Ready for another lesson I've learned from Wheel Of Fortune?  Here goes.  Wheel Of Fortune taught me the difference between a person, a place, and a thing.  Sure, it may seem like an insignificant thing, but as a kid, I was a bit confused, so it was nice to know that the show cleared things up.

18.  Before, contestants who left the show with nothing would just get consolation gifts.  Nowadays, every contestant who appears on the show is guaranteed at least one thousand dollars for their trouble.  Not a bad day's work.

19.  In the early days of the show, each round ended with something called a shopping round, where they would be taken to a themed display of various prizes, each one with a price tag.  Whenever a contestant won a round, the cash they earned would have to be spent on these prizes, with any leftover going onto a gift certificate.  So, if you had earned $2000 in the round, you'd have to buy $2000 worth of prizes.  Perhaps a state-of-the art typewriter and a fur coat?  Or maybe a $4000 vacation to Spain?  The practice was stopped in the mid 1980's in favour of the contestants keeping all of their cash.

And, finally...

20.  Sometimes, people just don't think about what they're saying when solving a puzzle, and it can make for some rather...awkward moments.

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