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Wheel of Misfortune

By Jerry Zezima

I know I’m not letter perfect — my last name begins with the last letter of the alphabet, which is good only for catching some Z’s — but I never realized just how imperfect I am until I flunked an audition for “Wheel of Fortune.”

I applied to be on the show by going on the “Wheel” website and filling out a questionnaire with basic information, starting with my name, which I spelled correctly.

Then I recorded a video on which I said I am a longtime “Wheel of Fortune” fan who could bring a lot of good-natured humor to the program.

“Who knows, I might even win,” I added. “And I’ll bring some loose change so I can buy vowels.”

About a week later, I got an email inviting me to try out. If I did well, I could get on the show, where I’d meet host Pat Sajak and letter turner Vanna White. And if I had good luck spinning the wheel and I solved enough puzzles, I might win a fortune.

Little did I know that I would hit “BANKRUPT” before I even started.

My audition, which was conducted on Zoom, was hosted by Jackie Lamatis, the show’s personable contestant coordinator.

Also trying out were Meaghan Polensky and Bianca Addison, who were very nice, very young and, unfortunately for me, very smart.

In the first round, Meaghan and Bianca solved all the puzzles. I did buzz in first on one of them and shouted, “Volleyball tournament.” But I didn’t realize until a nanosecond too late that the last word was plural, which prompted Bianca to buzz in and say, “Volleyball tournaments.”

“Was the S really the dollar sign I didn’t get?” I asked.

“I think so,” said Jackie, who asked us to introduce ourselves.

Meaghan said she is a fourth-grade teacher and Bianca said she wants to get into the entertainment field.

When it was my turn, I noted that both women are in their 20s, making them four decades younger than I am. To compound matters, I added, I am on the same intellectual level as Meaghan’s students. I also said I am a nationally syndicated newspaper columnist whose work has no redeeming social value. And I’m the author of five books, all of which are crimes against literature.

“You’re really funny,” Jackie told me.

“If you insist,” I replied. “At this rate, it’s probably the only thing that would qualify me to be on the show.”

Sadly, I proved it in the subsequent rounds. A few days earlier, when I practiced online, I solved every puzzle. Of course, I wasn’t competing against anyone. In the audition, two things stood in my way of victory: Meaghan and Bianca.

Round 2 was a blur. The only thing I remember was the jingle that played while I tried futilely to guess the answers. It sounded like this: Dumb-dumb-de-dumb-dumb DUMB DUMB!

In the last round, each contestant played alone while the other two waited, unable to see or hear what was going on.

Naturally, I went last. Jackie showed me four groups of four puzzles, each of which was partially filled with letters. The first three categories were “Thing,” “Before and After” and “Place.”

I didn’t solve even one puzzle.

The last category was “TV Show Titles.” Miraculously, I got three of the four.

“How come you didn’t have ‘Wheel of Fortune’ as one of the titles?” I asked.

“We get asked that question a lot,” Jackie replied.

But my rally clearly wasn’t enough to make up for my overall performance, which was — to use a word that would have been perfect in the “Thing” category — pathetic.

At the end of the hourlong audition, Jackie got me, Meaghan and Bianca back on and thanked us for participating.

“Wait a month,” Jackie said. “If you haven’t heard back from us, you probably weren’t chosen to be on the show.”

“Would I get some lovely parting gifts?” I wondered.

“Back in the day you would,” Jackie stated.

“I guess this isn’t the day,” I said.

“No,” said Jackie. “But you’ve been a lot of fun.”

“Give my best to Pat and Vanna,” I said, knowing I wouldn’t be called back. “And now that I don’t have to buy vowels, I can keep my loose change.”

— Jerry Zezima

Jerry Zezima writes a humor column for Tribune News Service, which distributes it to newspapers nationwide and abroad. He is also the author of five books, Leave It to Boomer, The Empty Nest Chronicles, Grandfather Knows BestNini and Poppie’s Excellent Adventures and Every Day Is Saturday, all of which are “crimes against literature.” He has won seven awards from the National Society of Newspaper Columnists for his humorous writing.

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