BAYVILLE – She was told if she made the cut, she would get an envelope in the mail in 14 days. So when the United States Postal Service didn’t deliver that envelope on day 14, Gina Maslen’s heart sunk a bit.
“The 15th day, the letter was in the envelope. I was literally running around, screaming. Nobody was home. I was the only one home,” Maslen said. “And I then of course texted and called everybody I knew.”
On a whim during a lunch break one day, Maslen filled out the online application to audition for Wheel of Fortune. She’d been a fan since the days when contestants had to buy items with their round’s winnings, long before Pat Sajak cracked jokes at the wheel or Vanna White spun letter tiles.
“I never thought I’d get picked,” Maslen said.
She didn’t have a video of herself, as the application required, and sent a still photo instead. Producers must have liked what they saw, because she along with 70 other hopefuls were called in to audition in Philadelphia. That email arrived two weeks after she applied.
In Philly, would-be contestants would be called up, three at a time, and play a mock round as if they were actually on the show. Then, contestants were given five minutes to solve as many hangman puzzles of the 20 they were given.
The show is filmed in Los Angeles. And the plan was for Maslen, her boyfriend Rob, her three children and his two children fly out for the taping. From the time she was accepted, she would get called to appear within the next 18 months. That was the middle of November.
A week-and-a-half later, an email arrived saying she had to be in Los Angeles on Nov. 29. It happened so fast, that the only one who could accompany her was Rob. They arrived on Wednesday, taped the show on Thursday, did some sight-seeing Friday, and flew home that Saturday, Dec. 1.
“She is the nicest person. She came into our dressing room before she went into hair and makeup. She had no makeup on, hair in a bun. She drives to the studio every day in her Prius. And she makes millions of dollars,” Maslen said of her first encounter with Vanna White. “We were all floored about that. But she was so genuine, and so nice.”
Even during commercial breaks, White would interact with the audience. But Pat Sajak goes in the back, Maslen said.
“He’s very nice on the show. He makes you feel comfortable. He’s funny and everything. But we didn’t get as much interaction with him,” Maslen said.
From the comfort of her living room, where it’s always her turn, Maslen is a master word puzzle solver. Friends always encouraged her to audition for the show.
“But it’s different when you’re there,” Maslen said.
The object isn’t to simply solve a puzzle. Contestants are there to win prizes. Maslen admitted it’s difficult to know when you should keep spinning and risk losing a turn or going bankrupt, or to just solve the puzzle and take what money and prizes you got. She spun as much as possible until she was confident she knew the puzzle. Then she solved it.
“It’s hard, because you might know the puzzle but it’s not your turn. You might spin and hit a ‘lose a turn,’ like I did. It’s different because, there’s pressure. You see the cameras on you, you’re a nervous wreck. My heart was literally leaping out of my chest,” Maslen said. “There’s so much more stress. Plus, I hadn’t slept in three days. I got myself so worked up. I was so sleep deprived. I was just a wreck. You don’t think the same as when you’re relaxed and you’re watching it on TV.”
And that wheel.
It weighs more than 2,000 pounds, and Maslen said she struggled to spin it.
More than Vanna driving a Prius, or Pat hiding away during commercial breaks, the weight of the wheel was the most surprising thing of the entire experience, Maslen said.
She ultimately won one round – “Baseball and Bottle Caps” – and one toss-up. She went home with $4,300 in cash and a $1,000 gift card from an online shopping site.
“I was so excited I hugged [Sajak],” Maslen said. “He did not expect it.”
The moment she realized she wasn’t going to the bonus round was “bittersweet.”
Even when another contestant solved the puzzle the third round, Maslen said she didn’t know the answer, so she wouldn’t have won anyway.
“I was just so happy to be there. I never really felt disappointed at all,” Maslen said.
Contestants can only appear on Wheel of Fortune once, ever. And, she can’t apply to be another television game show for at least two years. So is there another game show she wants to be on?
“The Price is Right, 100 percent.”
Watch out Drew Carey. This one’s a hugger.