Keeps on Turning
Marsha Moore of Anesthesiology brings home almost 19K from game show
by Nancy Humphrey
An unfortunate case of bankruptcy cost Marsha Moore $6,200 plus a four-piece set of luggage.
It also kept Vanderbilt’s anesthesiology residency program coordinator from being the top winner in an episode of “Wheel of Fortune.” After a great start, she was only four letters—P, B, A and C — away from solving the “Before and After” jackpot—“Teeth Whitening Strips of Bacon”—when she went bankrupt. Bankruptcy is a “Wheel of Fortune” term for landing on the “bankrupt” flag during a spin of the wheel and losing everything you’ve won while you’re trying to solve that particular puzzle. She was disappointed about losing the cash, and the prize, too. The luggage was the only prize she won during her TV appearance.
That’s the glass-half-empty version.
Here’s the glass-half-full version: She came in second place, and walked away with $18,950 in cash. Well, before taxes were taken out. And she actually didn’t walk away with the money. “Wheel of Fortune” has 120 days to send the money to the recipient. The show aired last October, but she didn’t actually receive the money until 16 days before that deadline, on Feb. 1.
“I’ve been watching ‘Wheel of Fortune’ for years. My kids and my husband tease me because I’m such a fan of game shows,” Moore says. “I always told my husband that one day I would be on ‘Wheel of Fortune,’ and I made it!” she says.
First, the Wheelmobile
Back in August 2005, Moore saw a story on Channel 2 News about an upcoming visit of the “Wheelmobile,” “Wheel of Fortune’s” 32-foot-long, 13-foot-high bright yellow bus that is driven to towns throughout the country to give fans a chance to try out for the show. The Wheelmobile acts as a screening process before the second and final contestant audition.
Moore drove to Murfreesboro for the Wheelmobile event. She and the other fans filled out applications and put them in a barrel. Participants were randomly selected for interviews, and, in groups of five, given a chance to solve a traveling version of the puzzle board. The most promising candidates received phone calls to come back to participate in final auditions. Moore was one of the lucky ones, and was asked to come to the Opryland Hotel in March 2006.
“I just got lucky,” she says about her first audition in Murfreesboro. “I didn’t even do that great. I didn’t know the puzzle, and it got solved before it got back to me. I guess they just wanted to see how you’d react in a crowd, and if you were energetic and knew the game. I knew I stood a chance,” she says.
She was one of about 150 contestants who took part in either a morning or afternoon audition at the Opryland Hotel. It was a busy day at the hotel; in addition to the audition, President George Bush was also speaking there. Moore was assigned to the morning session. Only about a dozen of the 150 who were auditioning were invited back in the afternoon to take a written test with different puzzles and categories. The contestants had five minutes to solve them.
“I did pretty well,” Moore says. “They told us, at that point, ‘if we like you, you’ll hear back from us in two weeks. If you don’t hear back, you weren’t chosen.’” About two weeks after her audition, as she took her mail out of her mailbox, she saw the “Wheel of Fortune” logo on the return address. “I just started screaming,” she says.
But she wasn’t packing her bags yet—the letter said she had been chosen, but they had 18 months to contact her. It didn’t take quite that long. Around the first of July, she got a phone call asking her to fly to Los Angeles for a July 13 taping. Moore says her supervisors were supportive, and she had no problem getting the time off with such short notice.
What’s Pat really like? Short.
So, with a friend accompanying her, she arrived in L.A. on July 12. Her husband didn’t come along, since the family was building a new home and he had some deadlines to meet.
Surprisingly, Moore had to pay for all trip costs—her airfare, accommodations and meals, and transportation to and from the studio. The only thing “Wheel of Fortune” provided, besides the experience, was a mediocre lunch in the studio cafeteria.
On the day of the taping, she had to be at the studio at 7 a.m. Six shows a day are taped. The contestants were divided into groups of three and one person from each group pulled a ball from a bag to determine their taping. Moore’s group got the last taping, which was unfortunate, because they had to stay there all day long, but fortunate, because they could watch the first five tapings to see how it was done.
“I was a nervous wreck, but I was able to calm myself down. That was the only advantage of sitting there all day,” she says.
Before a taping, each contestant is pulled aside to film a “hometown shout-out,” a short promotional commercial that is supposed to air in the contestant’s hometown prior to the broadcast. “I’m Marsha, from Hermitage. Watch me play Wheel of Fortune on News 2!” she said in her promo. But her shout-out didn’t air because it was so close to Election Day, and the airwaves were inundated with election ads. “I’m kind of glad,” she says. “I was nervous when I taped it.”
Moore shared some “Wheel of Fortune” secrets. Contestants are told not to wear stripes or patterns with large flowers. She was warned not to mention VUMC by name. When she introduced herself, she just said that she had a “handsome” husband of 21 years and three daughters, and that she was “an anesthesiology program coordinator for one of the best hospitals in the South.” Not exactly a media placement for Vanderbilt, but at least her colleagues know she is proud of her employer.
Also, Vanna White, the letter turner, looks good without makeup and is very nice. The wheel is very heavy, and host Pat Sajak is very short. “They have to raise him up. They fix it where everybody is on the same level,” she says.
Moore’s co-contestants were Stephanie, a 21-year-old college student (the game’s top winner), and Lori, from Colorado, a self-proclaimed “domestic goddess.”
Moore lost the first “toss up,” where nobody spins the wheel but letters begin randomly popping up on the board. But she solved the first puzzle. The category was “things.” The answer: “Designer Perfumes and Colognes.” The best part of solving this puzzle was some running good luck (missing the bankrupt flag on every roll) and landing on a new $10,000 spot on the wheel, which had just been added last season. She won $12,050. When she solved the puzzle, it looked like this: D E S I G N E R P E R _ U M E S A N D _ _ L _ G N E S.
Moore won a “toss-up” puzzle, in the “fictional character” category, and won $3,000. The answer: “Hello Kitty.”
When Moore guessed, it looked like this:
_ _ _ _ O. KITTY.
“I knew that one,” she says. “When my girls were little they loved the Hello Kitty merchandise.”
She also solved the “occupation” puzzle, “United States Senator.” She solved it when it looked like this: _ N _ T _ D S T _ T E S S E N _ T O _. She won an additional $3,900 on that puzzle.
Moore began to lose her lead in the “Teeth Whitening Strips of Bacon” puzzle. Lori, the domestic goddess, won that one. And her bad luck continued in the “people” category—“Professional and Amateur Surfers,” when Stephanie won $18,658 and a trip to Hawaii.
One of the questions Moore always had about “Wheel of Fortune” was why contestants on the show bought vowels. Wasn’t that just a quick way to eat up some of the money they had already earned? “One of the pointers the planners told us was that even though you’re pretty sure there’s an “e” in a particular spot, there could be others throughout the puzzle. And buying vowels in some of my puzzles was actually what made me be able to solve them.”
All in all, Moore did much better than she had ever hoped. “I thought I might bring home $5,000. I’m planning to use what I won to decorate our new home, and I might save some too.”
When she came back to work, her co-workers celebrated with her. After the show aired, they used a staff meeting for a viewing party.
Next on her agenda, other game shows: maybe “Deal or No Deal,” “1 vs. 100,” or even “The Price is Right.”
“Being on “Wheel of Fortune” was an experience of a lifetime, but harder than I thought,” she says. “I really did think I was real good at “Wheel of Fortune,” but I’m here to tell you, when you get there, it’s a whole different ballgame. It’s easier at home.”