Part I of a III-part Series:
I have always been one to enjoy a good competition, a healthy one at that. I grew up playing sports, loved board and card games, and always found myself with my grandmothers watching TV game shows. I remember one night when I was in my teens, my maternal grandmother and I were watching Wheel of Fortune, and she turned to me and said, “Jerry, you always answer the puzzles so quickly, you should try out for the show.” Now mind you, I was maybe 15 or 16 at the time when Wheel was in its infancy or when Pat Sajak began hosting.
Now fast forward to 2004, and my then fiancé (now ex-wife) asked if I wanted to be in the audience when Wheel taped in San Francisco, because her law firm had some extra tickets. My answer was a definite yes. It had been not only a dream for me to be on the show (I had not submitted an audition tape yet), but to be in the audience would be just as good. When we got the tickets, I began to think if a proposal had ever been done on the show before. I researched and found a few email addresses to write and ask just that. To my surprise, I got a reply from a wonderful coordinator and she mentioned that at that time, only one contestant had proposed on the show to his fiancé, but no audience member had done that. After a week, she came back to me and asked if I were still up for the proposal as they would make it work. Of course, I said yes and was extremely excited, and yet a bit nervous as well.
As the night arrived for us to go to the show, I had told my fiancé to wait in line, I was going to see if I could work some magic to see if we could get closer! Sure enough, I had my coordinator there and I was able to talk to her to find out how this would work, and she explained it all. I got my fiancé, and I told her, “See, I still have the magic to say things and have the luck.” Little did she know! At that moment, I was quite worried as we had to go through metal detectors, and I was afraid the ring would set them off, but I was able to quietly inform the security guards of my plan. We got in, and we were seated in the second row. My mouth dropped seeing the setup and a portion of my dream coming true.
The actual proposal was a great set-up. In between tapings, Pat and Vanna go backstage to change outfits, and this was when the proposal was going to occur. There was a stand-in Vanna who was going to show the 3,000-person crowd what she does at the video board. There was a puzzle preset up and I knew what the puzzle was going to say. The stand-in Vanna would press a heat sensor by one of the last letters and then one by one in no particular order the letters began to pop up. Sure enough, my fiancé was trying to solve it and I was kneeling to the side of her in the aisle and as all the letters were revealed, she looked to me because the puzzle stated, “Jerry asks Lori, will you marry me?” The crowd was cheering, and she was tearing, and the host came over and took us aside and began to interview us. It was so amazing, and the host yells out to the crowd—”She said yes!”
In December of 2019, still watching Wheel of Fortune, I had heard that Pat Sajak was having emergency surgery and that Vanna White would be the stand-in hostess while guest stars took her place at the video board. No one had ever had to stand in for Pat, so I knew I wanted to see these episodes. It was interesting to say the least, and I remember at the end while the credits were rolling, they stated, as sometimes they do, if you want to be a contestant, send in a 1-minute video, and tell us what makes you an ideal choice. I knew I had a story, and I knew this was the time to follow my dream. I completed the applications and video literally within an hour and I had the ball rolling. In the video, I had shown the 2004 audience ticket that I still had, and said that this would complete my wheel dream, and I certainly wanted to do better being a contestant on the show than I had in the marriage because it had ended in a divorce. The good news is that my ex and I are still good friends.
I just remember after hitting send, and the video and application were now in the hands of the crew, I could not stop my anxieties and the not knowing if this part of the dream would ever come true. Then, a couple of weeks later, I got that wonderful email titled “Wheel of Fortune Contestant Audition in San Francisco.”
Look for part two of this story in next month’s issue.
By Jerry Milenbach, Resident Since 2020