Pete Schoenberger​​​​​​: The fastest 22 minutes of my life

  • Pat Sajak hosts an episode of “Wheel of Fortune” in the 1990s. TNS/Joseph Juarez

Published: 11/7/2018 1:02:30 PM
The fastest 22 minutes of my life

Last June, in the retirement spirit of carpe diem, I drove to Foxwoods Casino after reading there would be auditions for the “Wheel of Fortune” game show my family watches as dinnertime entertainment.

If you don’t know “Wheel,” it’s a popular half-hour game show where three contestants compete to solve word puzzles (think “Hangman”) to win cash and prizes up to $1 million. I was selected at random with dozens of others to audition on stage, and in July, I was invited back for a smaller audition and a written puzzle-solving test. Next an email invited me to travel at my own expense to Sony Studios in Culver City, California, for a show taping on Aug. 9. They tape six shows in one day, and as a recreational fisherman, I was excited that I would probably compete in a show with a fishing theme.

My son William was on college break and joined me on the trip as my wife Karen could not. Early on taping day, I was picked up at the hotel in a limousine and met other jittery contestants representing a range of ages and home states. We met first with a lawyer who warned us we would not be allowed to disclose our winning or losing until after the show appears. The penalty is to forfeit any cash or prizes won, which are awarded 120 days after the show airs.

Next was hair and makeup, practice spinning the enormous prize wheel, reminders to smile and applaud no matter what happens, and tips on game-winning strategy. We also taped individual promo spots for our local NBC markets. The lovely and gracious hostess Vanna White stopped by to greet us all personally before she went in for her own hair and makeup. We rolled dice to determine the order of appearance — I came up last — on the one non-fishing show of the day to be taped at 5 p.m. My son waited patiently in the studio audience all day, watching others compete, until my time came. After a frantic last-minute wardrobe change (I spilled pizza sauce on my shirt), the taping started.

After several rounds of the game, I babbled something to the longtime host Pat Sajak by way of introduction, chugged bottles of water and had my face fanned and powdered during the brief commercial breaks. They said it would be “the fastest 22 minutes of your life,” and they were right.

I simply want to encourage people of all ages to tear up their bucket list and to just DO something that they’ve always wanted to do. Be open to taking a financial risk, even an emotional one.

Am I slightly embarrassed in this academic community filled with highly-learned “Jeopardy” game-show winners to appear on “Wheel,” a perhaps more mainstream game? Maybe, but you play the cards you’re dealt, and playing on “Wheel” was grand fun from beginning to end, and an experience I will always treasure.

Pete Schoenberger​​​​​​

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