Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Opinion: Thank you, Pat Sajak, for your help in my life’s wheel of fortune


“Wheel of Fortune” fans everywhere are grieving Pat Sajak’s retirement, but I’m excited for him. I know a little something about big life changes. Spinning the wheel on “America’s Game” back in 1996 led me to embrace a more authentic version of myself in a terrible year when I almost lost everything.

Pat — I always think of him as Pat — has actually shown up in my life twice.

The first time was in 1985 when he hosted the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. I was a young, struggling actor performing on the Care Bears float with Miss America. As “Bedtime Bear,” I had to straddle a fake crescent moon 20 feet above street level. Because it was raining and the moon was slippery, I almost fell off and plunged to my death. NBC cut to Miss America just in time so no one at home saw it and — I checked the tape — Pat didn’t mention my near-fatal mishap on the air. Thank you, Pat.

A decade later, the producers of “Wheel of Fortune” called me, years after I had auditioned in New York City to be a contestant. A lot had changed in the time since I was “Bedtime Bear.” I’d left New York, moving to Fresno, where my husband had gotten his first job after medical school.

But being dubbed a “wife and mother of three from Fresno” when we taped felt bleak. At the last minute I added “writer” to that title. And Pat was so kind. He asked about my family and then wished me, “Good luck with the writing.”

He taught me a lot about luck that day. He helped us ordinary contestants manage our emotions, understanding that when we shouted “Big money! Big money!” at the wheel, what we really meant was, “Change my life! Change my life!” He stood with us as we won and lost, helping us feel that our losses were temporary. When we did win, he acted pleased but not surprised. And he taught us the power of letting go. He showed us how to spin that heavy wheel and warned us that if we didn’t let go, it would pull us down into the pit below.

When I made it to the bonus round, Pat offered his arm and helped me down the steps, making me feel like Vanna White. I was so nervous and he was a gentleman. Thank you, Pat.

My bonus round category was “THING” and the studio audience groaned because everything is a thing. Pat groaned, too. Seven letters. He gently reminded me that I had 10 seconds and to just “talk it out.”

One second passed before I blurted “CAPTION!” and Pat said, “That’s right!”

I’d won a new Chevy Blazer!

The cash and prizes totaled to $81,743, and that number lit up on TV sets across America.

At the moment I truly believed I had won everything I could possibly need: cash to pay off my husband’s medical school debt, vacation prizes for my family and more. It felt like “Wheel of Fortune” had solved all my problems.

What I didn’t know at the time was that my husband was having an affair. Every cent of my winnings went to the divorce attorney who helped me end my marriage and win a rare move-away order from the state of California, which allowed me to move back East with my kids. It was a different prize package than I’d thought, but “Wheel of Fortune” gave me the ultimate winnings: my children and my freedom.

My kids are grown now, and I found my calling. I work with students from all over the world, helping them discover their authentic voices and speak out about what matters to them.

On Friday, Pat let go of the game-show wheel to start his own next chapter. I will miss seeing him on television, and will never, ever forget the impact he had on my life. The wheel of fortune turns for us all. Now it’s his turn to spin. Thank you, Pat.

Susan Daniels teaches public speaking at Amherst College. Her story, “Riding the Moon,” won a humor writing prize, and she just completed a memoir, “The Before and After Girl.”



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