For most of his life, Titusville native Jason Johnson has watched “Wheel of Fortune.” However, never did he imagine he would get the chance to be on the show himself.
Never, that is, until a stroke of luck and some successful auditions led him to fly out to the other side of the country to appear as a contestant on the long-running game show.
Johnson will appear Thursday on “Wheel of Fortune.” While the episode was taped roughly a month ago, the local man is required to stay tight-lipped on how he did until after it airs. In fact, the only people who know how he performed are his immediate family and his in-laws, the latter of whom accompanied him for the filming.
“I told my wife I was going to make her wait, but I didn’t end up making her wait,” Johnson said with a laugh.
An elementary school physical education teacher in Girard, Johnson grew up in Titusville. When he was a kid, Johnson would watch “Wheel of Fortune” with his great-grandmother. Now a father himself, his family turns on the gameshow for dinner entertainment frequently, becoming something of a family tradition.
“I used to watch it with my son, Cooper, when he was younger,” Johnson said. “He used to yell out letters from his high chair without knowing what he was yelling out.”
When a traveling version of the show called “Wheelmobile” held an event in Cleveland last May, Johnson was convinced by his wife to attend it and see if he could possibly get on the full version of the show. “Wheelmobile” events have a random drawing where attendees can put their names in to get a chance to audition for the show.
“Really, I thought the odds of me getting on the show were slim, because it was like a thousand names of people in a barrel,” Johnson said.
Despite the unlikelihood, Johnson heard his name called. He was given an audition on the spot, which consisted mostly of personality questions.
“The first one was just kind of... they wanted you to say who you were, if you had any kind of puzzle skills,” Johnson said. “I think they were looking for some kind of story.”
In addition to his teaching background, Johnson thought the fact that he’s a veteran impressed the interviewers at the audition. About a month later, he got a reply asking him to come to a second audition, one that was “pretty intense,” according to Johnson.
“It was more difficult than many of the job interviews I’ve been on,” he said.
This interview involved a lot of test taking, and while Johnson said he couldn’t reveal too much about the process, he said the whole process took roughly three hours to get through.
Later that June, he received the email confirming he was accepted to be on the show.
“I was pretty excited,” he said. “I wasn’t even thinking about how I could have won anything.”
For his wife and two kids, it was an unbelievable moment. The family were together to read the email, having waited in anticipation for many days for its arrival.
There was still a few days before the taping would take place, which would occur in Los Angeles. The producers of the show told Johnson about an app he could download that would let him practice puzzles in the meantime. While he did take up the chance, Johnson, as a long-time fan of the show, knew it was going to come down to just as much luck as it would puzzle solving skills with the random spins of the wheel.
“It’s a game of chance,” he said. “You never really know. You could win big or you could go away with nothing.”
For such a major occasion, the actual trip for the filming was relatively brief. Johnson said he was only in California for a “few days,” with the visit being so brief that his wife and kids stayed back in Pennsylvania.
Actually being on the show was quite a different experience for Johnson compared to his years of watching it.
“Yeah, I mean for sure I watched, I knew how it was,” he said. “It was just a little more nerve-racking when you’re there than when you’re in your living room.”
The thought of millions of people watching him made Johnson feel anxious. Having not seen the episode in its edited format, he’s a little bit worried about how nervous he’ll look in front of the cameras.
Despite this feeling, Johnson said the whole experience was a lot of fun, and that he’d gladly do it again, if given the chance. He was especially glad for the chance to meet “Wheel of Fortune” co-host Vanna White for a brief moment outside of the show, whom Johnson described as “really nice” in person.
Ever since the taping, the teacher has received a constant deluge of excitement from his friends, family and students, all telling him they’re looking forward to watching the broadcast. Those wanting to find out how Johnson did can catch the episode Thursday, at 7 p.m., on WSEE-TV.
Ray can be reached, by email, at firstname.lastname@example.org.