A Dacula woman describes herself as “incredibly blessed” after having the opportunity to appear on her favorite game show.
Heather Bonner, 31, a “Wheel of Fortune” fan since the age of 5, had long dreamed of being a contestant on the popular game show. Bonner said she submitted applications at least a dozen times over the course of several years in hopes of getting an audition.
The problem, Bonner said, was finding a “Wheel of Fortune” audition in the Atlanta metro area.
As a member of the “Wheel Watchers Club,” Bonner receives regular updates about the show including audition information. One day, Bonner received the email she had been waiting for — one announcing an upcoming audition in Atlanta.
“You had to submit a video before [auditioning],” she said. “We made the video that night.”
Bonner, who is married and has twin boys, said the whole family knew how badly she wanted to be on the show.
“My twin boys — they’re 5 — they learned their alphabet from watching ‘Wheel of Fortune’,” she said.
In the video, Bonner had 60 seconds to explain why she would be a great contestant. Her pitch worked because a few days later she received an email advising that she had been selected to audition.
According to Bonner, the audition — held this past November at the Four Seasons Hotel in Atlanta — was rigorous. Bonner and 300 other potential contestants had to take a written test and then pass a live audition in which “Wheel of Fortune” staffers randomly called on applicants to solve word puzzles.
“It sounds comical to say a ‘Wheel of Fortune’ tryout was hard, but it actually was,” she said. “It was really neat how they did it.”
Bonner said the audition was structured to mimic game conditions. The purpose, she said, was to make sure those who auditioned understood the rules, were enthusiastic about the show and capable of being good sports. If a potential contestant stumbled when called upon, they were eliminated.
“They said ‘You can’t do that on the show.’ So immediately, after a few rounds of that, they weeded out about three-quarters of the room,” she said.
The field was eventually narrowed down to 22 potential contestants.
“When I made it to 22, I said 'I’m not screwing this up. I’m putting on my best ‘Wheel of Fortune’ face',” she said.
Though optimistic she was about to make her dream of appearing on “Wheel of Fortune” come true, Bonner knew she faced stiff competition.
“You’re in a room with the most perfect people who would be suitable for a game show,” she said. “Everybody’s clapping and excited and cheering everybody on and really loud.”
The next test, however, was one for which Bonner was well prepared. The “Wheel of Fortune” staffers asked each remaining applicant to give their best introduction — just as contestants are asked to do on the show. The staffers gave each applicant 10 seconds.
“Good thing I’d already thought about what that would be because when it got to me I didn’t stumble or anything. I already had the whole thing I was going to say in my head,” she said.
The rest of the three-hour audition involved asking the applicants to demonstrate how they would spin the 100-pound wheel on the game show as well as more puzzle solving.
Bonner said she and the other potential contestants were told they would receive notice by mail within two weeks advising whether or not they had been selected to appear on the program. That evening, while she and her family were having dinner, Bonner told her husband she wished the show would just go ahead and call her with the news so she did not have to wait. No sooner had the words left her mouth, the phone rang.
"The caller ID showed a California number," Bonner said.
Sure enough, it was a “Wheel of Fortune” staffer. The person asked if Bonner would be available to come out to the West Coast the following week and tape a show.
“I said I would leave that night on the red-eye,” she laughed.
Bonner booked her plane ticket and eight days later was in California at the studio. The day Bonner’s episode was taped, five other episodes were also being filmed. “Wheel of Fortune,” she said, is in production only 39 days each year. Since multiple shows were being taped, Bonner had the opportunity to watch two games before it was her turn to take the stage.
While many people might have been nervous about appearing on a nationally broadcast show, Bonner was not.
“I felt so incredibly blessed to be there,” she said.
Bonner realized the whole experience would be over quickly. She said she did not even care about the outcome, but was simply thrilled to see her dream coming true.
“I felt overwhelmingly blessed to see Pat (Sajak) walk out and he was not on my TV, he was two people down from me,” she said.
As it turned out, Bonner walked away with $4,000 but could have won more had she not made a small error. According to the rules, contestants solving puzzles must answer with only the phrase in the puzzle. In Bonner’s case, the puzzle answer was “floppy wide brimmed hat.” What Bonner answered was, “It’s a floppy wide brimmed hat.”
“Now I can laugh about it,” she said. “But at the time it was devastating.”
Taping was halted for about 20 minutes while “Wheel of Fortune” legal staff reviewed the tape and confirmed that Bonner’s answer was not technically correct according to the rules of the show.
In spite of what happened, Bonner thoroughly enjoyed the experience and would encourage other “Wheel of Fortune” fans to pursue the opportunity to be on the show.
“You’re only going to have a chance of getting on it if you try,” she said. “So, don’t set your mind to thinking there are millions of people who want to be on that show a year because there are millions of people, but you just never know if you can make it until you try.”