Wheel Of Misfortune: My appearance on Wheel Of Fortune
This isn't "music related"... but it does have to do with me, and this IS my blog, so I thought I would put this up. Many people who know me know that I was on Wheel of Fortune a few years back. It wasn't an easy task getting on. Initially they didn't want to have me be a contestant on the regular show, but were going to farm me off to the "Friends and Family" show since I couldn't spin the wheel myself. The David in me decided to go up against the Goliath of the show and be persistent. Eventually I convinced them to allow me to have my brother spin for me. I figured they would have initially proposed it based on the principle that could bring them some good PR.
Out of my whole experience, I wrote an article which appeared in New Mobility magazine and made me $250. The biggest contention they had was that the other contestants would think it was "unfair" of me to have someone with me. As you'll see in the show... it didn't really matter. My feeling was that it was purely a game of chance and even with me having my brother spin for me, I would have just as much a chance as everyone else. (Oh...with the money I won, I bought the video camera I use for my concert shots).
The conclusion in the article below was added by the editor, but everything else is mine.
"WHEEL OF FORTUNE CONTESTANT AUDITION ON WEDNESDAY NOVEMBER 20, 2002 AT 11:00 AM (BY INVITATION ONLY)."
This was the subject of the e-mail in big, bold capital letters. I must have somehow, somewhere, expressed interest online in being a contestant. I read the instructions and it sounded legitimate (you can’t trust 75% of the e-mails you get these days). They were having a cattle call for contestants and I was invited. All I had to do was leave a phone message confirming my reservation. I checked through all of the qualifications, and I was eligible--I lived close to Los Angeles and thus wouldn’t need to foot the travel bill, was over 18, not related to anyone working for “Wheel,” hadn’t been on the show before, etc. I wasn’t doing anything on Wednesday the 20th, and a road trip to L.A. sounded fun. I called and gave them all the necessary information and made my reservation.
Wednesday came and I got in my adapted van with my trained service dog—a Canine Companion--to head to L.A. I’m a C5 quad, paralyzed from the chest down with no use of my hands, but I’m able to drive with hand controls. I arrived at the audition with time to spare. When I found the area where everything would happen, the other prospective contestants were standing around waiting to be told what to do. When we were finally called in, everyone cheerily descended upon the room (you have to show your cheery face because you never know who might be watching you). At first, everyone filled out a form that told who they were. I needed physical assistance filling this out, so an assistant kindly helped me. The sheets were methodically picked up so that the people in charge could figure out who was who when addressing them.
Next was a practice run-through: We called out letters to show that we could enunciate and be enthusiastic (in the most mundane of settings). An assistant spun a mini wheel and we played the puzzles that the computer projected on the screen. When it was my turn, my enthusiasm was evident, and my vocal abilities were among the best.
The next part of the audition was paper-and-pen puzzles. These were “Wheel of Fortune” type puzzles, with some of the letters filled in. You needed to guess the answer based on the category and number of letters for each word. There was no problem having an assistant help me fill this out. After this test, the staff collected everyone’s papers and went to grade them. When they came back, they told us that if our name was called, we were to stay. The rest were excused. The third from the last name called was mine. I was staying!
The final round of the audition was a practice game between three of the contestant candidates, with the assistant spinning the mini wheel and puzzles projected by the computer. Now they wanted to see how we could do under pressure of competition, and they wanted to make sure we didn’t call out letters that had already been called. In other words, they wanted to see that we could pay attention and maintain composure. What they didn’t want to hear was, “You know Pat, I think I’d like a ‘D’ because I think there’s a few up there.” They wanted a simple and forceful ”D!”
I was pitted against my fellow herd mates in two games, and both times I was appropriate in my letter picking, and both times I solved my puzzle. This was good, I thought. I showed them that I’m intelligent and can fill in the missing blanks. After they went through everyone twice, the coordinator let us know that they had all the information they needed and if we were chosen, we would get an invitation in two weeks. Otherwise, we didn’t make it.
As everyone was getting up to leave, the contestant coordinator approached me, leaned over, and asked, “Larry, if you were to be a contestant, would you be able to spin the wheel?” I held up my arms, adorned with braces that I use to type, and said, “I have no use of my hands. I was thinking that maybe you could provide me with an assistant to spin the wheel.”
He thought about it and said, “Well, I don’t think that would work.” He then seemed to have a spontaneous idea: “Do you have a friend or family member that could help you?” I thought he was going to allow someone to spin for me on “‘Regular’ Wheel,” but then he proceeded to shoot down that idea with, “But we’ve taped all our ‘Friends & Family Week’ shows for this season and won’t be doing it again till next year.”
“Well,” I said, “couldn’t you just get me an assistant, like a Vanna, to spin the wheel?” This was a useless proposition to him. He insisted that this just wouldn’t work. Then I said, “If you’re worrying about me suing if they spin poorly for me, that wouldn’t happen.”
“It’s not that,” he said. “I don’t know how the other contestants would feel about it.” Then he inquired if my “pooch” would need to come on stage with me. My service dog is legally allowed to accompany me in to any public facility. I told him, however, that he would not “need” to come with me--just to appease him. He left me with the promise that he would think about what to do.
Two or three weeks passed, and I hadn’t heard back, so I put in a call to the studios. The woman I spoke with assured me the coordinator would get back to me, but he was out of the office. We finally made contact a few days later, and he told me I was chosen to be a contestant but I would need to find a friend or family member because I would be on “Friends and Family Week.” And he reminded me that they wouldn’t be taping till next season. And, before they gave final approval, they wanted to see my friend or family member in action. When I asked why I wouldn’t be able to be on the regular show, he told me that there never is a guarantee that contestants will be on a particular show, and thus I was chosen for the “Friends & Family” show (even though that’s not the show I had auditioned for).
I thought about it a long time, with mixed feelings. At first it seemed they were being reasonable, but the bottom line was “Wheel Of Fortune” was not willing to allow an assistant to help me spin the wheel, so they farmed me out to “Friends & Family” week rather than accept the idea of a “reasonable accommodation.” They refused to allow me to play as an individual. I could only play in a family setting, as if my worth as an individual was somehow in question. The message came through loud and clear: “If you don’t have use of your hands, you can’t play on the regular show.”
The last time I checked, “Wheel of Fortune” was a game of chance paired with a game of intelligence in trivial things. You spin the wheel, which is pure chance. Stronger people aren’t any better at spinning the wheel than weaker people. Men aren’t any better than women, and vice-versa. There’s no rocket science in spinning the wheel. You spin the wheel, take your chances, and it lands on an arbitrary dollar amount. Pure luck. Every space on the wheel has an equal chance, theoretically, of being landed on.
The important part of the game comes after the wheel is spun. That’s when the brainpower kicks in and the contestant attempts to guess letters and solve the riddle of the puzzle. But the contestant coordinator seemed so hung up on how the other contestants would feel about having someone else spin the wheel for me that he was unwilling to consider a workable solution to allow me to compete as an individual. More than likely this policy decision was handed down from the powers that be.
What I learned from my sojourn behind the scenes of TV game shows is the Wheel of Fortune truly is unpredictable: “Round and round it goes. Where it stops, nobody knows.” But the wheel of discrimination is easy to predict. For some of us, it always seems to stop just short of “Jackpot.” Not until we are seen as individuals whose unique gifts are more important than our physical limitations will we get the real payoff.
In the meantime, I think I’ll try my hand at “Jeopardy.”
Besides auditioning for game shows, Larry Singer, PsyD., is working as an intern in preparation for becoming a practicing psychologist. He lives in Irvine, Ca.