Clark native to be on ‘Wheel of Fortune’

Winchester native Susan Rice and her fiancé Greg Thompson watch “Wheel of Fortune” every night, but the upcoming March 12 episode may seem a bit familiar.

In August 2018, she saw an advertisement asking for auditions to be on “Wheel of Fortune,” so she pulled out her phone on the spot, filmed a quick one-minute video and sent it in.

Rice, who works in the college of education’s graduate department at Eastern Kentucky University, made it through the process, so she and her fiancé flew to California in November for the opportunity of a lifetime — to be a contestant on one of their favorite TV shows.

Rice’s episode of Wheel of Fortune airs 7 p.m. March 12 on CBS.

Winchester Sun: Why you decided to audition for Wheel of Fortune?

Susan Rice: It was back last August. I’m cooking dinner, and you know the TV is on for noise. I heard (Pat Sajak) say, ‘Hey, why don’t you send in an audition? Send it to us over the web and see if you can be a contestant.’ So (Greg) happened to be out of town and we talked about it before. We watch the show all the time. We should audition and see if we can get on and so one night while he was away I decided to take my phone and was like ‘Hey, I’m Susan, you guys should have me on your show.’

It had to be in one minute or less for your audition. I sent it in thinking, ‘I’m probably never going to hear from them. They have over a million people audition that way every year. That’s crazy.’ It was a few weeks later, and I got an email from them saying we’ve seen your audition tape and we want to invite you to an audition in Charleston, West Virginia.

At first, I thought, ‘Oh, I’m not going to go,’ but Greg insisted. He said, ‘Oh, no, we’re going.’ So I took the day off. My boss, I said, ‘Can I take the day off?’ He said, ‘Sure. What are you going to do?’ I said, ‘Well, I’m going to audition for ‘Wheel of Fortune.’ He said, ‘Well, I’ve never heard that excuse before.’ So we took the day, and we went up to Charleston.

WS: What did you say in your one-minute video?

SR: I truly just said, ‘Hey, my name is Susan. I want to be on ‘Wheel of Fortune.’” We watch it every night. One of the things they want to know is besides money, why do you want to be on the show and I said something to the effect of we watch it every night, it’s quality family entertainment and win or lose, it’s a great experience that I would be able to keep for the rest of my life.

WS: What was the audition process like?

SR: I didn’t realize what a big deal it is to get invited for an audition. Nationwide, they only select 10,000 people out of the millions that audition. They had people in West Virginia who came from Michigan and Pennsylvania. One guy came from Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Others came from Nashville and Atlanta. They came from all over the place to audition in Charleston.

So it was quite the number of people who were there. I didn’t realize there’s like this underworld of people who audition for game shows.

I’m sitting there talking with them, and this lady’s going, ‘How long have you been trying to trying to get on the show? Some people have been trying for two years, I’ve tried for four years, I’ve tried for a year and a half.’ She looked at me, and I said, ‘Two weeks.’

Then they call my name, and it wasn’t anything like you would imagine with the audition. It’s not about how you play the game. It’s more of what they’re looking for.

But it was a lot of fun. Then when you make that final cut, that’s when they turn on the lights and the cameras, and they have a mock wheel. They want to know how you’re going to look on camera. They want to how you carry yourself and how you enunciate and how you project your voice if you can smile and contain your composure and all that kind of stuff.

So we left that day. No matter what happened, it was just fun. It was a lot of fun.

They said, ‘OK, if we pick you, then you’ll get a physical letter from us.’

WS: What was it like when you found out you made it?

SR: About three weeks later I was at work and sitting outside of a big stone building, concrete and steel building and (Greg) sends me a text message with the letter that said, ‘Congratulations.’

So my office is on the fourth floor, and my boss heard me jumping and screaming that from the outside.

Of the people that audition, of the initial million or so, it’s less than 700 they pick to be on the show every year.

I was so excited. Let’s say the entire college of education stopped the day. We were all just jumping and screaming, and everybody was so excited and faculty and the administration over there they were so excited about it, and they even had me in “Wheel of Fortune” boot camp before I went. Every week, we would  set aside about 10 minutes each day to do just little puzzles online.

WS: How else did you prepare for the show?

SR: I did a lot of those puzzles. And at work, we played mock games. We watch on TV every night. We play every night. I can say, having had the experience, it doesn’t matter how much you prepare for it, or you think you prepare for it. You’re never ready for the wheel.

It all comes down to the wheel.

I’ve had several people say to me, did they send you a list of words to study? No, they did not send me anything to study. They didn’t send me anything ahead of time to give me any clues.

WS: What was something that surprised you about the show?

SR: The wheel itself is only about four feet around. It’s very small compared to what it looks like on TV. It weighs 2,400 pounds. It’s super heavy. So if it looks on TV, like people are struggling, they are …

They have a very strict dress code. A lot of people are surprised to hear that for both men and women. There were two pages of dress code. You couldn’t wear jewelry, big jewelry. They prefer only a wedding ring. No sleeves that are long, like bell sleeves that are going to get caught on the wheel. They want it to have a persona, very clean cut, Middle America.

If you have tattoos, they cover them up with makeup. They prefer two-piece, solid colors. I had to take two different outfits.

WS: What did you learn about Pat Sajak and Vanna White?

SR: It was a 14-hour day of taping. She came in first thing in the morning. It’s 7 in the morning with no makeup or hair up, and she’s wearing yoga pants, and she drives a Prius. She drives herself to work every day.

She made everybody feel very welcome and said, ‘Hey, this is really who I am. The only time you see me like I am on TV is when I’m on TV. Otherwise, this is me.’ She was just super, super nice.

And during the taping, they would take what would be commercial breaks, and she would go over and pick up the microphone and take random questions from people in the audience. And they can ask her anything about her life. And she was happy to answer it and talk about it.

Now, Pat Sajak, we met him when we went on. He was nice, but he was not as engaging.

WS: Does being on the show change the way you watch it now?

SR: No matter the outcomes of what people do, I will never again judge them sitting on my couch at home about why did you pick that letter because it’s a lot different when you have very bright lights and cameras and monitors and so many different things going on.

WS: What was the overall experience of California like?

SR: We stayed a couple of extra days. And we did the tour, the whole tourist thing. We just embraced being a tourist. We went to Hollywood, and we went to Beverly Hills and those sorts of things. And we did our Rodeo Drive thing and window shopped because that’s all you can afford to do there. You don’t see trucks driving down the street like you do here.

We did get to have drinks at the same bar where they had the “Pretty Woman” hotel. It’s not as big as it looks in the movie. It was a great experience. It’s beautiful.

WS: What was your favorite part about the whole experience?

SR: That whole day. Even though, it was a long 14-hour day on set, it was a fabulous day. It’s a once in a lifetime experience for every single person, every single contestant, it’s a once in a lifetime experience.

WS: Your episode is a week away from airing. Are you ready to share it with the world?

SR: Yes, I am. Like I said, it’s a once in a lifetime experience. How many other people in America get to say they did that? Very few.

I can’t tell you the outcome. But it was a great, great experience that I will not trade.