I’ve had the pleasure of attending two tapings of “Wheel of Fortune”. The first was August 2009 during my first visit to Hollywood. I met the show’s announcer, Charlie O’Donnell. He was kind to me, and I was sad to learn of his passing a little over a year later.
The second “Wheel” taping was in January 2020 — about seven or eight weeks before the entertainment world shut down because of COVID. Pat Sajak had recently returned following his emergency surgery. Vanna White talked with the audience about her experience guest hosting.
“Wheel” is an exciting show to watch in person: the lights, the cameras, the contestants, the icons, the puzzle board and, of course, the wheel. But not everyone gets the chance to go to Sony Pictures Studios. So why not have “America’s Game” come to you?
“The Price Is Right LIVE” has been a national, touring success for two decades. It’s “Wheel”’s turn (at the wheel) to enjoy the cross-country fun. “Wheel of Fortune LIVE” recently came to my neck of the woods in Albany NY, featuring host Clay Aiken and co-host Kalpana Pot.
Growing up, I watched Aiken on a couple reality competition shows. Clearly at least one other person did the same. The moment Aiken appeared centerstage, she shouted from one of the first couple rows, “You’re MY American Idol!”
That audience member was in a good mood, and so was pretty much everyone else there — anxious to watch the gameplay and root for the contestants. (And for a few people, maybe a little too anxious to shout-out letters or the answers to puzzles, even after our announcer, Dave Styles, asked us all to take an oath. Security is there and ready to kick people out.)
It was a wild night, full of fun, unpredictable and truly captivating moments. Everyone who’s there gets a different color wristband. I was part of the yellow crew. We won a prize thanks to an audience game in between the ones in stage. It’s a commemorative “Wheel LIVE” keychain.
If you pay a certain amount of money and purchase a specific level-ticket, you have the opportunity to be one of the nine contestants called on stage to play.
I’ve been an avid Wheel Watcher for most of my life. I knew many, but not all, of the puzzles before the contestants did. Certainly did not get the Bonus Round solution before Robert, a firefighter from Altamont, solved it. It was a thrilling he moment. He won $1,500, plus $500 for making it to the end. Afterwards, a very humbled Robert told me it was MUCH different being on stage vs. the audience or at home. One of his competitors won a trip to Hawaii earlier in the evening. Incredible.
It was Aiken’s third night hosting. (Mark L. Walberg, of “Antiques Roadshow” and “Temptation Island”, was emcee in a couple dozen cities earlier on in the tour, and he’ll be back for a few more near the end of the year.) Aiken was jolly, cracking one-liners, like when the Dinner & A Movie prize came-up on the wheel: “We pick the movie. It’s ‘From Justin to Kelly’”.
He applauded the focus and dedication of the Albany contestants. As for what happened the night before, he joked, “Let’s leave that crap in Syracuse.” Aiken also hated when an audience member would try to mess up a contestant’s chances of winning. At one point he threatened that if someone shouted-out an answer, “I will come down there and beat your ass!” Now that’s something you won’t hear Sajak say on TV!
There are still plenty of stops on the “Wheel of Fortune LIVE” train now through December 10th, including Cincinnati, Detroit, Seattle, Reno, Kansas City, Denver, Omaha, Milwaukee and Des Moines. Visit wheeloffortunelive.com for complete ticket info.