Lisa Gottschalk followed a longtime dream to test her wheel of fortune.
How’d she do?
Tune in to NBC at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 17, when the rural Maquoketa woman appears as a contestant on the game show “Wheel of Fortune.”
“I’ve always been a fan of ‘Wheel of Fortune,’ and I watch it most nights while I’m making supper,” Gottschalk said. “My husband Ray (aka Bouck) has encouraged me for a few years to take a chance and try out for the show, but I never really took it seriously until I heard that the Wheel of Fortune Wheelmobile would be in Iowa.”
Her journey began when she grabbed her sister, Wendy Westemeyer, and went to open tryouts in Osceola April 28-29. More than 5,000 people from across the Midwest converged on the convention center there those two days, with three sessions of 900 contestants each both days. Gottschalk was in the second group of 900.
“Pat Sajak and Vanna White weren’t there, but the entire WoF staff kept the event fun and moving very quickly,” she recalled.
Staff called up attendees in groups of five to audition for about 10 minutes each, so the crew could zip through 50 to 60 people at a time.
“Knowing there were 900 other hopefuls in the room didn’t build up our confidence,” said Gottschalk, who is typically a bubbly, optimistic person.
“When my name was called, I’m pretty sure I jumped about 3 feet into the air and let out a loud squeal of delight,” she recalled. “As I ran up to the stage — we were probably 30 rows back — to sign in, one of the Wheel of Fortune producers commented on my enthusiasm. At that point, I wasn’t quite sure if it was good or bad, but I sure was having fun.
“I didn’t get to solve the puzzle (it was Guitar Solo), but I spoke clearly, loudly, and didn’t get flustered when I had to introduce myself and answer questions.”
Gottschalk expected her “Wheel” journey to end there. But on May 2, she received an email from a “Wheel” producer inviting her to a second audition in Des Moines May 14.
“To prepare (not that I had a clue what to do since I didn’t know what to expect), I watched the show, I recorded the show and watched the re-runs, and I played dozens of word games and word puzzles,” the contestant said. “At the suggestion of my husband, I put everything away a few days before the audition on May 14 so that I could actually get some restful sleep. Seems I’d been so consumed with puzzle solving, I not only was sleeping restlessly, but I was keeping him from getting sleep too. Oops.”
The Des Moines audition became a family affair. Gottschalk took her mom, Eloise Rubel, as well as her sisters, Brenda Snyder and Westemeyer with her.
Some 94 people received call-backs. They were ushered into a room with 94 chairs, plus four chairs by the wheel and letter board.
Gottschalk described an intense three-hour audition in Des Moines.
“For the first 90 minutes, we’re calling letters and trying to solve puzzles. I get lucky and my name is randomly selected when I know the puzzle, so I call a couple of letters and then calmly solve the puzzle by saying ‘Playing in My Backyard.’ It happened again when the category was ‘same letter.’ This time I asked for the letter ‘H’ and quickly solved ‘Chubby Chipmunk Cheeks’ which was a real tongue-twister to spit out.”
The contestant wannabees next had to solve as many as 16 puzzles in five minutes.
Staff further culled the group of 94 down to eight. Gottschalk made the cut.
“We were really put through the paces,” she said. “We solved dozens of puzzles at lightning-quick speed. We practiced our introductions as if we were on TV. We practiced spinning the wheel – the one we spin on TV weighs 2,400 pounds. And we tried to stay calm, cool, and collected.”
The producer told them they’d receive a letter within three weeks if they were selected to appear on TV.
So, Gottschalk waited.
One week went by
Then two weeks.
Then three weeks.
“Dang it anyway, I didn’t get my letter and I couldn’t believe they didn’t pick me!” she recalled thinking.
But her letter arrived four weeks later on June 15.
“I stood at the end of our driveway and slowly opened it. Yes, I’m going to be a contestant! All of a sudden my mind switched from ‘I can’t believe they didn’t pick me’ to ‘I can’t believe they picked me!’ Stunned. Happy. Disbelief. All of the above.”
Gottschalk, Rubel, Snyder, Debbie Marcus and Karen Eckelberg Schnoor went to Los Angeles for the Aug. 9 taping of her “Wheel of Fortune” episode.
They watched five other episodes be filmed that day. It takes about 45 minutes to film each 22-minute episode.
“And if you’re wondering if Pat Sajak is as nice as he seems on TV … well, yes, he absolutely is. And Vanna White looks great and is incredibly kind too. She stopped into the contestant area early in the day to wish us luck,” Gottschalk said.
How did Gottschalk do?
Well, you’ll have to watch the show Sept. 17. She’s contractually obligated not to leak information about the outcome before the show’s airdate. If she does, she forfeits any cash or prizes she might have won.
Gottschalk will watch Tuesday’s episode with some close family and friends at her home.
“I’m anxious to see it all play out on national TV,” she said. “I was so incredibly nervous during filming that I only remember one of the puzzles from the entire show. So, I guess it’ll almost be like a new show for me, too.”