The Wheel of Fortune game show played a large role in junior Mary Schultz’s life years before she was a contestant.
Growing up, her family would gather at her grandmother’s house every Thursday night for supper. At 6:30 sharp, they would change the channel on the TV to Wheel of Fortune, no matter what. From a young age, the show was a weekly event that brought her family together.
“It was her favorite show,” Schultz said. “She never missed an episode.”
In early 2018, when Schultz’s grandmother was in the hospital going through chemotherapy, Wheel of Fortune was playing on the TV. Schultz decided then to enter to be a contestant. Sitting by her grandma’s side, Schultz entered for fun, not thinking anything would come from it.
Months went by before Schultz received an unexpected email in October. She had been selected to audition in Indianapolis. The audition was a simulation of the show itself. The auditionees practiced calling out letters on the board and took a written test. After a large cut, approximately 25 percent of the group was left, and they took turns simulating the show again. They were told they would be notified whether or not they made it within two weeks.
After the weeks went by, Schultz began to lose hope that she would get to participate on the show. So, when January rolled around, Schultz was not expecting any news. However, when she checked her email thinking she had received a message from Isidore, Schultz was overjoyed when it was actually from Wheel of Fortune, telling her she had been selected to compete on the game show. Even though her grandma had passed away before Schultz got to be on the show, she knew her grandma would still be proudly watching over her.
Schultz flew out on Valentine’s Day, meeting up with her mom and older sister, Rose, in Los Angeles. The next day, Feb. 15, was the day of the taping. Schultz showed up at Sony Studios in Culver City at 8 a.m., ready for a long day of filming. The studio was filming six shows that day, but Schultz’ group was first up at noon.
Prior to filming, Schultz got to spend time with the other contestants, 18 in total. All of them were from different colleges across the country, as the show was filming all the programs for “College Week Spring Break.” Before the taping began, the hostess of Wheel of Fortune, Vanna White, made an appearance to wish the group good luck. Schultz was ready to compete.
“I felt really prepared,” she said.
The taping went smoothly, and Schultz won a total of $3,000.
“It was very surreal,” Schultz said.
After the taping ended for Schultz, there were still five more shows to go. She went into the audience to sit with her mom and sister for a little while before leaving the Sony lots. As tempting as it was to explore the studio to see what future blockbusters were being filmed, the contestants were tightly confined to the Wheel of Fortune set.
Nevertheless, Schultz and her family did get to explore Los Angeles before going back home. They visited the famous Griffith Observatory (seen in the film La La Land) and Malibu beach.
Schultz had to keep her role on the show a secret until 10 days before it aired.
“It was tough to keep it a secret,” she said.
When March 18 finally arrived, Schultz had her friends and family over for a watch party. As for the prize money, Schultz will not receive it until 120 days after the air date of the show. Conveniently, that will fall around the time she will be in working in Spain for the summer.
Even though being a contestant on the show was a once in a lifetime opportunity, Schultz still enjoys playing Wheel of Fortune on her phone.
“I still love playing the game,” Schultz said. “It’s a guilty pleasure.”